Andover Educators

What Every Musician Needs to Know

by Deena T. Grossman

Musicians move! Watch any musician playing, then stop listening to the sound and just pay attention to their movement. You will notice movement. Lots of it; large expressive movements, subtle repeated movements and micro-movements. Like athletes and dancers, musicians move. But unlike athletes and dancers whose active careers are limited to their youth, musicians expect to be able to play or sing for an entire life-time. Unfortunately, many musicians suffer limitation, pain and injury resulting from how they move when they play.

If your experience is typical, few of your teachers have taught you how the body is actually constructed, how your body moves when you play and what that has to do with the creation of sound. This crucial information is rarely taught. One teacher who has investigated the relationship of what we know about our body’s structure and how we move when we play is Barbara Conable. Based on her background as an Alexander Technique teacher and on the conceptual groundwork done by her former husband William Conable, Professor of Cello at Ohio State University, she has written a book and created the course What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body.

How we conceive of our physical structure, our internal self-representation, is our body map. Everyone has a body map, whether conscious or not. Our body map develops in early childhood as we learn how to move. The body map is significant because musicians move according to how we think of our structure. If the body map is a little off, a musician’s movement will be a little off. If the body map is grossly inaccurate a musician’s movement will lead to limitation, strain, pain and can lead to injury. The quality of sound a musician makes is linked directly to the quality of their movement. William Conable developed the concept of Body Mapping to describe the process of investigating our internal representation of how we are structured (our body map) and comparing that to our actual physiology. Using this process, a musician can refine the body map to reflect a more accurate and adequate inner representation of the physical structure.

If just the knowledge of human anatomy guaranteed a perfect and free use of the body in musicians movement, then every doctor ought to be able to play like a natural, free of strain. A musician must be able to connect the aural, tactile and visual senses with their kinesthetic sense in order to enhance their performance and prevent pain and injury. The word kinesthesia comes from the Greek kinema; motion, and aisthesia; perception. We don’t have just five senses, we have six including the kinesthetic sense. If you hold your hand behind your head and move your fingers you will be able to clearly sense the size, position and movement of the hand. This is your kinesthetic sense at work.

Musicians need to learn to pay attention not only to sound, sight and the tactile sense when playing, but also to their kinesthetic sense. How am I moving? Am I balanced? Is my neck tense? Do I have an awareness of my feet, my legs, torso, arms, spine and head? In short musicians need to learn to cultivate inclusive attention, the ability to simultaneously sense and respond to sound, movement, the space around us, and the music we are playing.

Imagination is crucial to expressive playing but when it comes to the physiological use of our bodies in movement, we need to cultivate accurate perceptions aligned with the reality of our physical anatomy. The book What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body addresses these issues.

The body map is not a rigid or fixed entity. We can change our body maps by studying the construction of the body and then learn to apply that new information to our playing by paying attention to our kinesthetic sense, our sense of movement as we play. You can improve your body use and enhance your playing by learning to map the body’s structure and the natural way it moves and supports itself. As we refine our body maps and attend to our movements and the sound we are creating; our movements, thus our sound will become progressively more efficient, free of strain, direct, expressive and powerful.

The workshop What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body is designed to help musicians by providing information about the body and then directly applying that information to playing in order to alleviate strain, prevent injury and promote facility in performance and practice.

The Author

Deena T. Grossman is an Andover Educator.