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The Magic Piccolo

By John Tarr

Linda, a piccolo player came to see me because her fingers were stiffening up when she came to a difficult passage in a piece she was working on. As a trained musician and Feldenkrais® Practitioner, I see instrumentalists and vocalists who come to me to work on their breathing and posture, or have excess tension and pain. I wasn’t really sure I could help Linda with her finger speed, and mentioned this to her, but she wanted to continue.

I always ask the instrumentalist to bring their instrument along, when possible, so I can observe them while they play. This is also useful in comparing the differences before and after the Feldenkrais lesson. As Linda brought her instrument up to play, I noticed she tended to tilt her head forward to the instrument. This was causing her to crane her head and neck as she played. When she came to the troublesome passage, she craned her head and neck forward even more. I asked myself if this craning might be related to the stiffening of her fingers? I wasn’t sure, but I thought it would be a good place to start.

I had Linda place her piccolo in a safe place and asked her to lie down on the low table. I began to work with her shoulders, arms and neck, and her breathing began to deepen and slow down. I gently worked with the muscles in her neck so she could begin to feel some of the excess tension there. After a while, she noticed that her shoulders and arms were lying more fully on the table. When I was finished, I had her roll to her side and come up to sit on the edge of the table. She reported that sitting and breathing felt freer and easier.

At this point, Linda wanted to play again, but I asked her if it would be all right if I brought the piccolo to her. She said this would be fine. I told her that while we were working on the table, the piccolo had become enchanted with a magic spell, which enabled the instrument to come to her instead of her having to pick it up. I slowly brought the instrument closer to her embouchure and asked her to take the piccolo and bring it up to play. I had her repeat this motion of bringing the piccolo to her lips and asked her to notice if the position of here head changed as the piccolo came closer. She began to notice that she was not only bringing the piccolo to her lips, but also her head to the instrument. I reminded her that the piccolo was magic and would come to her, and that she didn’t have to go to it. She laughed and began to experiment with bringing the instrument to her lips and felt the difference in her neck and shoulders. When she played a few notes and scales, her sound was clearer and more resonant.

I asked her to experiment with this idea at home for a few days before playing the difficult passage. She did and later reported that her fingers remained lighter and quicker when she wasn’t craning her head forward. About a year later I saw her again and she told me that she still hears me saying (in my German with American accent), “Remember, the piccolo comes to you, not you to it.” Additionally, she reported that her colleagues say she looks very professional when she plays.

It may seem that finger dexterity and head/neck position are unrelated. However, the way you sit/stand, position your feet and carry your head on top of your spine will affect the freedom and mobility of your fingers and arms. Having a neutral, comfortable posture while sitting/standing (what I call “dynamic stability”) will also increase your expressive capabilities while playing and performing. This lesson demonstrates one of the unique aspects of the Feldenkrais Method: that increasing and refining the awareness in one area of yourself will also have an effect elsewhere in your body.

John Tarr studied Trombone Performance at the Univ. of Northern Colorado and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (Bachelor’s and Masters Degrees in Music Performance respectively).

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