By Rozanna Weinberger
Practicing often entails making mistakes. But one of the greatest sources of confusion is
how to deal with mistakes effectively. From the standpoint of utilizing our natural abilities it may come down to how we notice things. A skilled teacher will help provide the student with the necessary parameters to observe perceived limitations in technique, in turn influencing a students sense of self.
One of the problems is we often notice mistakes after the fact. But generally speaking everything leading up to the mistake is all fodder for learning, observation, and ultimately reorganizing how we move and what we move. Whether we breath, hold our breath, exhale or inhale, all these tiny details are part of the observations we make that lead to refining our ease in playing an instrument.
Awareness studies like those learned in Feldenkrais and which lead to optimal functionality are really a means to learn how to learn. The art of learning is in the process. Feldenkrais didn’t address change by forcibly getting the body to act a certain way. Rather he might actually accentuate what the student was already doing, making more obvious to the kinesthetic self, what was actually happening. He understood the value of awareness preceding any real organic change of the body function. He also realized that an effective teacher was one that could help student notice what they’re already doing as a starting point to reformation.
According to Mark Reese*, in an article about his studies with Feldenkrais, he speaks about how Feldenkrais described movement studies in the lessons he taught.
...These lessons are not “physical exercises” such as calisthenics; they are somatopsychic explorations which foster improvement by accessing inherent neurological competencies, increasing self-awareness, and facilitating new learning.
The movement studies sometimes led to a ‘trancelike’ state where the process was more important than the destination. Reese likens the teachers work to partially disclose or hint at a functional motor pattern, and the student’s nervous system responds with altered muscular responses. Gradually, with repetitions and variations, the student assembles or synthesizes-mostly at an unconscious level- a new neuromuscular image of movement which can later be translated into active performance.
“Immense activity goes on in us, far greater than we appreciate or are aware of. This activity is related to what we have learned during our whole life from inception to this moment” (Feldenkrais, 1981a, p. 6)…When giving lessons, Feldenkrais will say, “Don’t you decide how to do the movement; let your nervous system decide. It has had millions of years of experience and therefore it knows more than you do”
How does this translate to violin or viola practice you ask? Most players are focused on the mistake being made, but by that point its really too late. The learning comes from observing what we do before the mistake is made and trusting that the information we provide on a neuromuscular level will lead to new and better possibilities in ones technique. If shifting to a a particular note for example, what does it ‘feel like’ to over shoot the note? What does it ‘feel like’ to freeze before a shift for fear a mistake will be made? Where does that ‘freeze’ occur? What part of the body unnecessarily seize up?
Feldenkrais believed that discovering everything about the learning experience could be a good thing in that they were a point from which the student could discover infinite possibilities beyond the walls of difficulties, influencing a students potential and ultimately their self esteem. Bottom line, our experiences when practicing has the ability to defy mere labels of the experience if we trust our bodies abilities to learn from our experiences.
* Moshe Feldenkrais’ Work with Movement: A Parallel Approach to Milton Ericsson’s Hypnotherapy, Author: Mark Reese