Musicians as Movers: Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique for Musicians and Music Educators
by Amy Likar, DMA, AmSAT Certified Alexander Technique Teacher and Licensed Andover Educator
Body Mapping is the study of the brain maps or the conception of the structure, function and size of our own bodies and how that conception affects the use of our bodies.
William Conable, professor of cello at the Ohio State University School of Music, discovered the practical application of Body Mapping. Conable found that when students misconceive their muscle, tendon and joint structures, they move in ways that reflect their faulty conception, leading to dysfunctional motor habits predictive of future injury.
Conable found that with a brief retraining course in Body Mapping, student’s movement in playing becomes based on accurate conception of the functional mobility of their structures. Harmful movement habits are reduced and playing becomes efficient, expressive, and appropriate for making music. These observations have broad applications for psychomotor retraining and rehabilitation and are supported by recent studies on sensory discrimination, cortical somatosensory responses and motor performance (Byl NN, Nagarajan SS, Merzenich MM, Roberts T, McKenzie A., 2002).
This finding has important implications for university music departments and music education programs aiming to reduce the rate of injury in students.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the high incidence of injury among performing musicians. The largest study is by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians stating that 76% of musicians had at least one problem sufficiently severe to interfere with their ability to play and that 36% had four such problems (Fishbein M, Middlestadt SE, et al, 1988)
Body Mapping is the practical application of anatomy to movement. In a Body Mapping course, students learn how the bones, muscles, tendons, nerves and joints work together to perform an action, and how this applies to the movements of singing or playing an instrument. Music students learn to question their conception of how they are designed.
How is Body Mapping different from learning anatomy?
Body Mapping is the practical application of anatomy to movement. In a Body Mapping course, students learn how the bones, muscles, tendons, nerves and joints work together to perform an action, and how this applies to the movements of singing or playing an instrument. Music students learn to question their conception of how they are designed with the reality of anatomical structures and how correcting inaccurate maps improves facility, ease and efficiency of body mechanics. Because a body map is learned over time, it is necessary for a person’s conception of their body to change over time. Another component of Body Mapping is teaching inclusive awareness so that the student is aware of their whole self within the larger world.
As a sub-discipline of somatic education methods, Body Mapping teaches students to attend to the functioning of their entire body, not just the parts ostensibly concerned with playing music. Students learn how misuse in one part of their body (i.e. head/spine) affects other parts (neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands), and how integrated functioning provides greater protection against re-injury (Caccitore TW, Henry SM, Horak FB, 2001).
Research studies supporting Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique:
Austin JH, Ausubel P. Enhanced respiratory muscular function in normal adults after lessons in proprioceptive musculoskeletal education without exercises. Chest. 1992 Aug;102(2):486-90.
Byl NN, Nagajaran SS, McKenzie AL. “Effect of sensory discrimination training on structure and function in patients with focal hand dystonia: a case series.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2003 Oct; 84(10): 1505-14
Byl NN, Nagarajan SS, Merzenich MM, Roberts T, McKenzie A. “Correlation of clinical neuromusculoskeletal and central somatosensory performance: variability in controls and patients with severe and mild focal hand dystonia.” Neural Plasticity. 2002; 9(3):177-203
Cacciatore, T. W. Henry, S.M. Horak, F. B., (2001, August) “Preliminary evidence that neuromuscular education reduces low back pain and improves coordination of automatic postural adjustments.” Unpublished manuscript available from Tim Cacciatore, Neurological Sciences Institute, Oregon Health sciences University, 505 NW 185 Ave. Beaverton, OR, 97006. Will be published June 2005 in Physical Therapy.
Dennis RJ “Functional reach improvement in normal older women after Alexander Technique instruction.” Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 1999 Jan; 54 (1): M8-11.
Shafarman E. S, Geisler, M. W. (2003, August). Effects of Alexander Technique on EMG activation during a computer-mouse task. Poster Session presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada.