The Skeleton As Foundation of Efficient String Technique
Inspiration From Canada..
After leading a nos. of classes & private sessions here in Canada I'm going to share some key points for the benefit of attendees and others.
Thank you. RW
Feeling The Bones
Many teachers focus on muscle use in explaining technique. But the issues go deeper straight to the bones. In many respects the muscles are informed by the skeleton because the weight and momentum of the larger bone mass creates a natural momentum that should be utilized. The skeleton has various ways of moving that are optimal along with the weight of the bones that contribute to physical momentum particularly when cultivating balance and use of weight to produce sound.
Teachers must understand efficient movement sufficient to be able to guide student in differentiating between efficient and inefficient movement, as well as
awareness of uncomfortable, excessive movements that effect the natural positioning of the bones.
Players often hyper extend the shoulder. Unfortunately this cuts off the utilization of the back muscles & weight of the rib cage.
It is the skeleton and the weight of the larger skeletal regions that creates the momentum needed for the bow arm, with the help of the rib cage and hips. This is quite different from using force to produce sound. While it is possible to isolate the arm alone and produce movement and sound, it is ultimately a much more natural and efficient approach to use the torso to initiate movement such that it feels as if the arm is being moved rather than initiating movement. The weight of the bones themselves creates momentum for violin and viola technique. The ideal is when the student comes to discover these possibilities for themselves.
Micro Practicing' describes the kind of work where the most basic components of ones movements are isolated and 'observed'. Differentiation is a key component because noticing a movement has to have a reference point. The reference point is really 'healthy and efficient movement' vs. discomfort. If the player has ingrained a 'bad habit' to the point where it becomes the 'new normal' then recognizing patterns can seem nearly impossible.
If only an ideal technical command was as simple as copying what a teacher instructs the student to do. Many teachers focus on verbal instruction and many students try to follow these instructions. In theory this approach seems to make sense, and yet it is one reason students may develop physical habits that do not feel natural. Unless our own bodies and kinesthetic awareness helps the player fine tune movements, there will remain a level of unnaturalness if the brain is unable to refine the movements through information received kinesthetically. This refers to the players ability to learn from their physical movements such that the brain can help the body reorganize the movements based on the information provided by the body to the brain.
When Mistakes Are a Good Thing!
Practicing often entails making mistakes. But one of the greatest sources of confusion is the attitude players have when mistakes happen. From the standpoint of utilizing ones natural abilities, it comes down to how the student notices or observes mistakes. One of the problems that often mistakes are noticed after the fact. But everything leading up to the mistake is important for learning through 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 necessary to refining our ease in playing.
Awareness studies like those taught in the Feldenkrais Method 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 brain, what was actually happening. He understood the value of awareness preceding any real organic change in the way the body organizes itself to move. He also realized that effective teaching meant helping students notice what they're already doing as a starting point for change.
How does this translate to violin or viola practice? Most players are focused on the mistake being made, but by that point it’s really too late. Or students try their best to play ‘perfectly’. 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. Playing ‘perfectly’ really comes down to moving efficiently along with fine tuning the movements to the point where accuracy is likely.
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.
According to Mark Reese*, in an article about his studies with Feldenkrais, he speaks about how Feldenkrais described movement. These lessons are not physical exercises such as calisthenics; they are somatic psychic 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. 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"
*Moshé Feldenkrais's Work with Movement - A Parallel Approach to Milton Erickson's Hypnotherapy , Mark Reese, Ph.D.