Music to my Ears
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
by: Marsha Novak, GCFP

Section: Performers

Sample ATM lesson

• Lie on your back. Get an overall sense of your contact with the surface you are lying on.

Raise both arms so that they point toward the ceiling (or about ninety degree angle from the surface you are lying on). Your elbows are straight, but not locked. Slowly and gently reach one arm a small amount toward the ceiling noticing how your shoulder blade begins to leave the surface. Also notice any movement in your chest, spine or ribs. Repeat several times. Pause and rest.

Are your arms resting differently now? Do the same with your other arm. Again rest and compare.

• Roll onto one side. You may lay your head on your arm or place some folded towels underneath it so you are comfortable.

The arm on top should be long (elbow straight) at about a 90-degree angle from your trunk with your palm resting on the surface you are lying on. Gently slide your arm forward and return- again noticing movement in the shoulder blade, chest, spine and ribs.

Lie on your back and rest noticing differences between your two arms. Roll over and repeat on the other side.

Roll onto your back, rest and sense yourself lying with particular attention to your arms before you get up.

I really enjoy working with performing artists. Back when I lived and worked in a good size city, I did so quite often. Since moving my practice and myself to an island, however, this happens more rarely.

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to be simultaneously working with two string players. One plays viola and some violin. The other plays cello. One had repetitive strain injury in her right arm; a car hit the other while she was walking and injured her left arm.  

At first glance, these may seem like different situations. That said, my Feldenkrais® training and teaching has taught me that no matter the story of our difficulty, when movement of our arms is supported by our trunks, meaning that our ribs and chest are mobile, the strain in the arms and hands is greatly reduced. In the case of musicians, there is a greater physical connection with the instrument and their sound is typically richer.
When we started our lessons both of these women played as if their arms and hands alone were responsible for playing the instrument. There was a limited connection between the instrument and themselves. In both cases I did hands on work, Functional Integration® lessons, to help them sense the possibility that they could initiate the movement of their arms from their backs. I also helped them discover increased ease of movement in the chest and ribs.

I also worked with these women directly with their instruments. Before having them play, I asked them to draw an imaginary “infinity” symbol with their instrument using their whole self. This task was performed on the ceiling for the cellist and on the opposite wall for the violist to promote the appropriate movement in the trunk to support playing. Sitting on an inflated cushion made this easier. Only after this did we begin to work directly with playing music, starting with easy “open strings” and progressing to more difficult passages, always stressing that “mistakes” are just variations that enhance learning.

Here is what these two women had to say:
The cellist …
“After a car accident making it difficult to play my beloved cello, finding Marsha has changed everything. Within the first session I was amazed at how she could pinpoint exactly where my issues were and create a depth of sound and control I had been missing.”

The violist …
“I had to let you know that after just two hours or so of practice time to implement the flexible ribs thing, I played a Brahms piece for my professor yesterday and she could not believe what a difference it made in my sound. That was the missing piece!”

Thank you ladies.

Yes they were coming to see me about some pain- but my work is so much more than just getting out of pain- it is about moving in more comfortable and effective ways that help you to do the things that make your life more wonderful.

-In gratitude to Feldenkrais trainer Mary Spire for her advanced trainings in working with musicians.

Marsha Novak, GCFP (Berkeley 3 2003) lives and practices on Bainbridge Island, WA. She is so grateful to have found work that she finds so personally interesting and creative that also improves the lives of others. Marsha particularly enjoys working with performing artists and other “high performers” as well as children with special needs. You can learn more about her and her practice at
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