Refining the Instrument That Plays the Instrument
Saturday, January 1, 2005
by: Barbara Goldberg

Section: Performers

Billie read about the Feldenkrais Method® in Candace Pert's book Molecules of Emotion. She had been having difficulty sitting for any length of time, and her hands and shoulders would hurt after playing the harp for short periods. Billie looked forward to playing the harp, and wanted to find a way to continue.

During our lessons, we explored how her fingers and hands were connected to her arms, her shoulders, and even her pelvis and feet, and the other way around. We did a lesson, moving the pelvis around an imaginary clock. As you move from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock, you begin to notice how other parts of yourself are also involved in the movements, as well as when you move from 3 o'clock to 6 o'clock and discover another set of movements, and another and so on. Slowly, you begin to notice where you don't allow yourself to move, and where you do allow yourself to move. Becoming aware of these differences is one of the main functions of the Feldenkrais Method. Our brains are designed to notice differences and to discover new movement patterns to make our actions easier and more efficient.

I also encouraged Billie to intentionally make mistakes, to just try playing without pressure of performing, or thinking she had to do it a certain way. This was not easy for her, but I wanted her to try it anyway. By allowing herself these mistakes, she was actually teaching herself to relax, and explore the piece she was playing, rather than seeking the finished product. Through this kind of exploration, she began to make new discoveries for herself.

What attracts us to certain musicians is their ability to create variation and refinement in a familiar piece of music. This doesn't come about through just repetition, but through discovery and creativity. What happens if I hold this note longer, shorter, skip it, etc? What happens if I hold my breath, tense my fingers, hold my abdomen tight, or tighten my jaw? How do these movements effect my playing?

After several lesson, I was pleased to hear that Billie was able to sit and play for longer periods of time without pain in her arms or shoulders. Most important, she was now gaining the awareness to be her own teacher. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Billie plays her harp for school children once a week, as well as for herself.

Here's a mini-lesson you can try to increase your awareness of your fingers. Take hold of your left thumb with your right thumb and forefinger, and gently begin to glide the fingers of your right hand up and down, and around your left thumb, sensing the sensations, noticing your breathing, noticing your attitude. Continue to do this with each of your fingers, taking all the time you need to explore each finger. When you reach the little finger, continue back on the same hand. When you reach the thumb, rest for a moment and notice what you notice. Then do the same with the right hand using the two fingers of your left hand. Then, enjoy your playing!
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