A little over a year ago, I gave two workshops at the Royal College of Music, after which the players filled in a questionnaire. I was hoping to do more, so I could produce a longer article, but here it is so far:
The workshop took three parts- starting with a classic lesson on flexors and extensors; a central exploratory more hands on session, working in pairs whilst playing; ending with a lesson whose themes were co-ordination of head, eyes, trunk movements. I wanted the students to experience a direct corrollation between quality or movement, and ease of playing, and see an immediate relevance of what we were doing with Feldenkrais to their journey of perfecting the art of their instrumental playing. So I asked the students to play at the beginning and end of each lesson to compare any differences, and to notice whether the work they were doing with self-sensing made any small changes to their ease of playing/quality of sound.
The 25 students were a cross section of instrumentalists: brass, wind, strings and piano.
The exploratory work in playing in the first workshop included guided touch: experimentation of outlining the bony structure of each other’s spine, (on the back) shoulders, arms, hands and digits, whilst static, and then whilst playing. The students were mostly engaged and enthusiastic about this part of the workshop. They took the weight of instruments from each other where possible, and then changed to moving arms, hands, individual fingers and thumbs from different joints for each other, to experience movement as a more passive action in playing. In doing so, for many it was then clearer to sense some muscular activities which were superfluous, and making their task harder. Some of this they were able to let go of, having discovered it for themselves.
Other discoveries they found were:
Some of the string players hadn’t thought of the thumb having so much of a role in moving the bow across the strings. Others found that leading the movement from different parts of the fingers and hand made a difference to ease and speed of movement of the fingers. For some just the exploratory nature of what we were doing allowed lateral thinking- the sackbut player and trumpet had to think of ways to carry out the task of moving the arm- in the end they settled for one taking the weight of the moving arm, and the effect was that the instrument felt lighter after the person took back full control. .
As the teacher I noticed large differences, of increase in volume and quality/roundness of sound across the board. The string players talked of greater ease of bowing across the strings, and lightness of fingers, and wind/brass an increase in ease and support of the sounds they were creating, both low and high.
In all of wind and brass I noticed a large improvement to co-ordination, and support of the sound with the breath. Most were able to notice this themselves, but a few not, even though it was evident to myself and those listening.
As this was my first questionnaire some of the questions were a little repetitive, so I’ve missed out a few. I realised afterwards the “a little” or “a lot” answers should have been qualifiers from “yes”- I ended up with some students circling both yes and a little/a lot and some only circling one or the other. Where this happened I’ve included the a lot/ a little answer rather than yes, but all three answers are obviously yes. I felt most of the questions self explanatory.
I am concerned that two thirds of the group suffer pain during playing already, at the physical peak of their adult life, Although I know many colleagues in the profession suffer pain on a regular basis, I hadn’t expected it would show up so early in their careers.
I was pleased by how enthusiastic they all were, even those who couldn’t recognise their own changes in playing. It was gratifying to see that they all felt they would benefit from further work, and that they really all felt it should be provided for them as an ongoing resource.