Feldenkrais® for Musicians
How Can Feldenkrais for musicians help you?
Feldenkrais Trainer & Musician
Aliza Stewart began piano lessons at the age of four. She frequently describes music as her “first and most enduring language.” She went on to receive an Artist Performance Diploma from the Rubin Academy of Music of the Tel Aviv University, and studied with Maria Curcio Diamond in London. She performed internationally in Israel, England and US for over 40 years.
As a developing young musician, Aliza attended a workshop held by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. Although she had approached the workshop as a way to improve her piano performance, she left the workshop with the beginning of a lifelong passion for the Feldenkrais Method®. She began to seriously study the method to improve her playing and increase her overall quality of life. She participated in a four year Feldenkrais method training to become a practitioner. During her 34 years of practicing the method she became an accredited Feldenkrais Trainer and Educational Director and is now internationally known for her advocacy of The Feldenkrais Method.
Aliza also has a private practice in Baltimore MD and since the Pandemic, an international virtual practice. She also works with many of the top music schools, festivals, and programs in the US and abroad.
Aliza is affiliated with these notable music schools, program and festivals:
Feldenkrais For Musicians teaching experience:
– Peabody Conservatory of Music
– Mannes School of Music (Graduate Credit Courses)
In residence annually:
– Marlboro chamber Music School and Festival
– Yellow Barn Music Festival
introductory workshop at:
– Juilliard School
– Manhattan School of Music
– Mannes School of Music
– University of Wisconsin in Madison, music department
– Wappinger‘s Falls, NY (workshop for public school music teachers)
– El Sistema – “Music for Social Change.” Aliza traveled to Venezuela where she worked with students and teachers at the acclaimed national Venezuelan classical music programs.
Aliza has also presented classes, workshops, and presentations for many other institutions and organizations, some of which research playing related injuries.
– Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
– The Maryland Medical and Chirurgical Society, at a conference about playing related injuries.
– The University of Wisconsin at Madison, music department
– George Mason University music department
– University of Maryland Medical School
“Embodied Music” is Aliza’s term to describe the philosophical and practical relationship of the Feldenkrais Method with music and musicians.
Dr. Feldenkrais used to say: “movement is life. Without it, life is inconceivable.” Even sucking, the first action a baby takes to ensure its survival, is a movement pattern involving the muscles of the face. Like all human activity, it has to be learned. Movement is the first subject of our brain’s remarkable capacity for learning.
As babies, we all went through this process of learning through moving, developing our brain and achieving new levels of mastery over our environment. The success or failure of this process determines the quality of our life. We had no teachers and no verbal instruction. Sensing, feeling and moving were interwoven for one biological purpose – becoming a functional, healthy and fulfilled human. We musicians know that studying music in early childhood provides a great advantage later on. Why do you think that is?
This magnificent kind of learning – integrating feeling, thinking and moving – is available to us throughout our life. However, the introduction of socialization and formal schooling into a child’s life often interferes with this organic process. By using sensory input and movement, the Feldenkrais Method makes organic learning available to us again.
Creating a body map: With each new movement we learn as infants, the connections in our brain multiply to create a map of ourselves, literally a self-image, which in turn is used by our brain to send signals to our muscles when we want to do something. There are several versions of this map and I will mention three of them.
The Homunculus, which is a neurological representation of the ”real estate” in our brain used by our limbs, mouth, eyes, etc.
The map that describes an external self-image based on our general knowledge of human anatomy and what we see in the mirror.
The sensory map, which allows us to move in the world, and which is fundamental to learning a skill like playing an instrument. Through sensory input we feel our spatial relationships with the outside world and an internal sense of distances between parts of our body. If we did not possess this sense, we would not be able to go through doorways without bumping into them. As a matter of fact, there are neurological deficiencies where this sense is distorted and the afflicted person keeps bumping into things. A healthy person can feel his or her weight shifting, recognize their spacial orientation and sense when muscles are tight or the work is too hard.
Playing is a complex process that begins with a musical intention, which is then translated into a series of movements involving changes in weight, speed, orientation in space, and relationship to gravity. These elements combine to produce the sounds needed to realize the original musical idea. Without this internal, sensory map, none of this would be possible. In order to refine our musical skills, we have to refine and complete this sensory map of ourselves. We are the primary instrument when we play. The more accurate the internal map, the more accurate the movements are that produce the music. The more complete and detailed the self- image, the more the whole self is involved in music making.
When the movements are inefficient and not optimally organized, the result is excessive strain and unnecessary wear-and-tear on the muscular-skeletal system and, of course, unsatisfactory musical results. Magnified by long hours of practice, these physical stressors produce many of the playing-related injuries.
Using the sensory map as data, our nervous system constantly solves new problems and evolves to meet the world we live in. Muscles don’t think, bones don’t think, human brains do. If we have pain – back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, etc. – we need to learn to move differently so as not to put the same pressure on the same joints all the time. If we want to hone a performance skill like playing an instrument, we need to learn how to better use ourselves. If we don’t find a way to change the map in our brain so that the orders given to our muscles are more efficient, every other solution will be temporary and will not enhance our life. Solutions that do not engage our basic self-image will not bring lasting improvement.
The Feldenkrais Method is unique in its approach to solving these problems of self-use. Through carefully developed movement lessons based on developmental stages, it accesses the brain’s innate capacity for learning and adaptation. The method uses the language the brain understands best – the language of movement. While the results may seem miraculous to us, they are no more miraculous than the learning a baby does in its first years of life. Improved self-use and better adaptation to the demands of a given task, are natural outcomes of returning to an organic way of learning.
Improving your performance
When Aliza first experienced Feldenkrais as a young musician, she felt that the Feldenkrais Method not only changed her physically, but also changed her perceptions of the music she heard and played. Her ability to move more gracefully, allowed her to understand and feel the flow of the music in a way she did not experience before. Because of this observation, she’s always been strongly committed to helping other musicians learn more about their own patterns of movement and how to use the Feldenkrais method to improve their musical imagination.
Aliza’s understanding of how the brain learns to move was and is expanded by her work with many people suffering from serious deficits from strokes, cerebral palsy, paralysis, multiple sclerosis and other movement deficit disorders. She has also worked with actors, dancers, athletes and people interested in moving elegantly and gracefully in everyday life. She brings this broad experience to her work with many world-class musicians and music teachers.
Properties of sound – time, space, weight, rhythmical impulse, gesture, momentum towards an action (a leap against gravity), process of speeding gradually and slowing down gradually – are all properties of movement. These properties of movement need to be present in the movements the performer brings to their instrument. If the movements are clumsy, they reduce the ability to play spontaneously and they cause injuries.
We derive meaning from music as we connect one sound or note to another. The flow and movement of the notes as they relate to one another create our sense of music. Feldenkrais releases the resistant forces in limbs, joints, and body to provide more nuanced movement. This new freedom can greatly improve musical performance.
“When audiences are deeply touched by a piece of music, they report, “It moved me.” Why do they use the word “Move”? Because we know instinctively that movement and music are deeply connected.” -Aliza Stewart
Every time Aliza works with a musician, a unique lesson is produced to address that musician’s individual needs. The lesson generally begins with Aliza observing the musician playing. She then identifies, through visual observation and through the sound produced, where the roots of the problems lie. She can then find a way to change the patterns of tension which are particular to the client. The musician leaves the treatment table or the class feeling not only physically rejuvenated, but with a new excitement about performance potential.
Muscle Pain and Injury
Musicians are susceptible to a wide range of injuries generally attributed to overuse. The combination of intense practicing with an overwhelming desire for excellence can result in hours of muscular stress. Pain and discomfort are not a necessity for acquiring good technique. Consistent pain can actually cause long-term damage that is difficult to repair. Pain should be addressed as quickly as possible. Aliza Stewart has extensive experience working with musicians who suffer from playing related injuries. Frequently, a musician will work with a physician, and a physical therapist to diagnose and treat their pain. Aliza can become a valued member of any treatment team providing an additional layer of therapeutic and educational help geared specifically for the needs of musicians.
Aliza addresses the musician’s movement flow of the entire self. This practice is wholistic, individualized, and highly effective. Please read more above about how Feldenkrais for Musicians can assist with overall musical performance.
Here are examples of playing related injuries that can be helped by Aliza and Feldenkrais for Musicians:
Back pain and neck pain are frequent complaints for musicians. They come from the shapes of the different instruments and the strain of holding them if the body is not organized to do it well. The constant stress will produce a disproportionate wear and tear on different parts of the body. The Feldenkrais Method helps organize the body and allow the adjustments needed to alleviate and resolve back pain and neck pain.
The Carpal Tunnel is the area of the wrist where the median nerve enters the hand. When repetitive movements are not organized well, this area becomes inflamed. It can create numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the hand, fingers, and wrist.
Pianists, string players, and percussionists can suffer wrist pain that comes as a result of moving the hands from the wrist in vulnerable angles. It can express itself as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or Tendonitis.
Tendons are bands of tissue that connect our muscles to our bones. When they become inflamed by over use, it can create Tendonitis. Aliza has found in her years of practice, that most of the time the solution lies in the organization of the spine and the ability of the torso to support the weight of the person so that the arms can be light and fast in their movements.
Constant contraction of the muscles that connect the head to the torso can decrease the space in the thoracic outlet, which will create impingement of the nerves and blood vessels that run through it. This syndrome results in pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the neck, shoulder, hand or forearm. Aliza can educate you how to let go of this tension at will until there is less and less time spent in this contracted position.
As Aliza specializes in musicians, the following issues that are specific to musicians are addressed through her Feldenkrais private lessons and classes:
Contact Aliza to schedule a consultation and discuss your particular issues with playing your instrument or improving your voice.
The private sessions not only help with playing related injuries, but can also improve your overall state of being. The sessions will involve not only hands-on treatment, but also working with your instrument.