A Feldenkrais perspective on teaching and playing the cello
Here are a few examples of the many ways in which the Feldenkrais Method has informed and enriched my approach to helping cello students of all ages and aptitudes overcome the challenges they meet along their learning pathway.
Establish equilibrium throughout the body
Sitting to play a cello is not as straightforward as it might look. Balance, meaning an equilibrium which is mobile and responsive, is central to the Feldenkrais Method and crucial to playing the cello. A dynamic balance on our sit bones gives the spine a stable yet responsive foundation. In turn, a poised alignment of the spine allows the shoulder girdle to rest comfortably and move freely, liberating the arms. It can be a revelation to discover the true length and extraordinary mobility of our arms when we realise that they actually extend to our collar bones and free-floating shoulder blades. Exploring and establishing equilibrium from head to toe, fingertips to spine, can provide the conditions for releasing habitual tension patterns so that our muscles are free to respond to our intentions, and self expression can flow with effortless ease.
Shine the spotlight of conscious awareness
I express comments as questions: “Is your bow straight?” “What is your thumb doing?” This approach directs the student’s awareness to something they can improve and also hands them the responsibility for making the improvement. If an unwelcome habit is intractable I ask the student to exaggerate it deliberately. A Feldenkrais principle is: “if you know what you are doing you can do what you want.” Once a habit becomes conscious we open up other possibilities. Through guided exploration of viable and preferable alternatives we can learn by trial and error, discriminating subtle differences between more or less efficient options.
Awaken curiosity and engagement
Our brains come alive when occupied with unfamiliar and intriguing stimulation. Games and tricks help students to have fun developing their technique, awakening their sensory experience of bones, joints, and complex coordination possibilities. Spontaneously invented exercises are intended to pique interest and engagement with the process, firing up new neural pathways in the brain.
Build skills gradually from small and manageable component parts
For beginners, coordinating the left hand with the bow (right hand) can be an overwhelming and discouraging challenge. I use a ‘hands separately’ approach to build that coordination gradually. When facing a new skill, I first establish each component, then combine them at a manageable rate. To promote effortless ease the learning process must be finely tailored to the student’s capacity and rate of learning.
Exploit the power of imagination and visualisation
I have found that transforming my image of my hands has the effect of transforming the way my hands function when I play. Similarly, we can transform our attitude to challenges by visualising ourselves sailing through them with effortless ease. Indeed, the pleasurable sensation of effortless ease can be used as a yardstick to assess whether a challenge or skill has been fully mastered.
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