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The Feldenkrais Method Can Expand Musical Freedom, Experimentation and Imagination

By Uri Vardi, GCFT

The Feldenkrais Method has been used to improve body awareness and enhance the functioning of a wide variety of populations. I use the Feldenkrais Method in my work with musicians because the principles of the Method correspond to my teaching philosophy. I believe that my principal role as a teacher is to help my students become aware of who they are and to help them grow. It is not to define their faults nor cure them. When teaching a musical composition, instead of setting concrete, simple goals and teaching prescribed tools to attain them, I engage the student in a process of experimentation with different ideas that provides him/her with the freedom to choose among a whole array of options for expressing a musical intention.

The same principle of encouraging the search for a variety of options applies to the technical mastery of the musical instrument. In order for my students to gain the ability to meet any composition’s demands, they must have a vast repertoire of movements that will give them the freedom to use their bodies with maximum efficiency. Most of us accept the ways we move as if they are a part of our genetic makeup, whereas in reality, we learned to move by trial and error, and our nervous system is wired according to our experiences. Unless we are challenged to question this wiring, and to explore new possibilities of movement, we limit our range of expression. I constantly challenge my students to explore new ways of moving while playing, and to correlate them with subtle differences in the quality of sound. Through my experience, I have found that when students discover the power of becoming aware of minute differences in their movement, it is not only their sound that changes, but also their coordination, and overall technical proficiency.

The most fascinating aspect for me in approaching teaching in this manner is that my students come to not only discover their personal involvement in the communication of a musical composition, and their ability to efficiently express it on their instrument, but they also very often gain self-confidence and imagination. The benefits of body awareness also help them in the prevention of injury, and in the healing after a disabling injury.

Bernard Scully, a horn player who took my Feldenkrais for Musicians class, described his experience: “When I was asked to initially play for the class, I was a bit nervous and not totally centered on the music. The process of differentiation that I was asked to do next gave me the awareness I needed. By standing on one foot, playing in a more and more contorted fashion, and walking while playing, it took my mind off the class, my nerves, and everything outside of me at the time. It made me look inward and focus more on basic things like taking a big breath, blowing lots of air into the horn, etc. As these unnatural positions became more and more complex, I had to go further and further inside myself to draw out the music. Finally, when I went back into my normal playing position, I was aware of how much more I could give to my performance! I was also more focused, more limber, and more in tune with my music-making.

About the changes that he went through as a musician, Scully writes, “I began to just let myself do things, explore sensations, do a ‘bizarre’ interpretation of a piece, all the while just observing what was going on and relating it to everything else I had learned. I feel more freedom to simply go through a process to make things the way I want them, rather than adhering to the ‘correct’ methods or forcing things in place. It is a little like the idea of jumping off a cliff at first, but after I’m flying in the air, I feel much more at ease letting myself ‘miss’ notes, produce ‘bad’ sounds, do things differently, all for the sake of becoming more attune to what actually does work.”

Uri Vardi is a cello professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison. He regularly conducts masterclasses in music schools throughout the country. This spring, he will conduct Feldenkrais for Cellists masterclasses at the Julliard School.

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