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Association for Body Mapping Education Training Manual

Section Three Supplement: Arms

Throughout these supplements, Barbara Conable’s language will always be indicated with this font style.

The information found in this supplement is intended to provide additional help for Trainees who may need a deeper understanding of the arms for their own remapping work. It is not information that would be expected to be taught on a Trial Course but of course can be incorporated if the Trainee wishes.

Image 3.1 a: The Whole Arm

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From Barbara Conable on “See How They Move” and “Amazing Babies” videos:

I strongly recommend (though, of course, do not require) that you have video footage of infants and toddlers running during the arm hour. The little ones’ moving makes a powerful case for a whole arm. In the videos that I use--See How They Move and Amazing Babies--the little ones never move their arms except as a whole in relation to the whole torso. They always organize their arms from the tip of the  little finger, across the wrist, through the ulna, up the humerus to the underarm, and then on through to the lowest tip of the shoulder blade, like an orangutan hanging from a tree branch. The little children also always display perfect humeroscapular rhythm. So students watching the videos get to witness one solid hour of beautiful arm movement, and we must make the point that all we have to do as teachers of young children is to preserve this innocence of movement. 

I generally spend some time coaching the students in how to watch the video, using my laser pointer on the screen to trace the organization of the arm from tip of little finger to tip of shoulder blade. I ask the students to be especially attentive to humeroscapular rhythm, and I ask them to experiment in their own bodies with allowing that rhythm to emerge if it has been lost. I’m a big fan of using video for this purpose, especially in this hour and in the breathing hour.

Related to Image 3.3 : The Beehive Shape of the Ribs


Beehive Shape of Ribs

People who have mapped the arms as starting at arm joint #2, will not have an accurate beehive curve of the ribs mapped in the upper torso because they feel their torso needs to meet the humerus. In their conception, the side of their torso has a 90 degree angle: straight up to the humeroscapular joint and then straight over to the sternum, like the top of a Barbie doll’s torso. These people will not find arm balance in the Section Three movement explorations until they discover how much space or “clearance” the whole arm -including shoulder blade- has to move in its explorations around the tapered, curved shape of the upper ribs. 

Finding Release of Chronic Pulling Arms Down or Up

The underarm tubes help create space in the area when arms are pulled in and down past the place of balance. There is a similar teaching idea running through the upper-string pedagogy world . The idea that drawing  awareness to the “armpit” or underarm region can help prevent fatigue while supporting the arms and instrument in the air to play has been variously attributed to great upper string players/pedagogues  such as Karen Tuttle, Joseph Gingold and Donald Weilerstein by former students.  Notions such as “making space in the armpit”, “shining lasers out of the armpits” or “airing out the armpits” have seemed to be useful for some students when their arms feel heavy and fatigued.  We can speculate that those helpful fantasies worked for students because they triggered support from some of the deep postural muscles for the arms, like the serratus anterior.

Related to Image 3.5 c : Serratus Anterior Muscle

The serratus anterior, one of the deepest shoulder blade moving muscles, is usually substantially weakened when shoulder blades start to protrude (sometimes known as “winging” shoulder blades). For more details on support for the whole arm at neutral, see J. Johnson’s Body Mapping book Musician, Heal Thyself: Free Your Shoulder Region Through Body Mapping.


Back View


Front View

Image 3.7: Suspension of the Arm Structure

Tracy Dillon Image from Jennifer Johnson’s WEV


Richard Nichols, PhD. (ABME Science Advisory Board) has recommended that when teaching the course we emphasize the suspension of the collarbone and the shoulder blades over and around the ribs.  The suspension system is a combination of the shape of the bones (a minor factor), the action of muscles in those “automatic muscular responses” that the neuroscientists are so interested in, and the internal forces set up by the shape of the connective tissue.

From Dr. Richard Nichols regarding the role of muscles and fascia in the suspension of the arms: 


When we relax the shoulder completely, it is likely that connective tissue, such as fascia, limits the descent of the scapula.  Within its normal range of motion, however, scapular motion (and therefore clavicular motion) is under muscular control.  For example, the levator scapulae muscle helps to support the scapula in the vertical direction.  Since these muscles are surrounded by fascia, this connective tissue is certainly important in transmitting muscular forces in the appropriate directions, but I would say under normal circumstances the scapula is suspended by muscular action (except at complete rest).  In persons with limited ranges of motion, the connective tissue might be altered or the relevant muscles may have some structural changes. - Dr. Richard Nichols, ABME Science Advisor


Video excerpts from Body Worlds Fascia model

Dictionary definitions of  suspension, suspensible, suspensive, and suspensory:

Suspension, noun: act of suspending; state of being suspended.

Suspensible means capable of being suspended. The shoulder blade and collarbone are suspensible.

Suspensive means pertaining to or characterized by suspension. The shoulder blades and collarbones are suspensive.

Suspensory means serving or fitted to suspend or hold up, as a ligament, muscle, bandage, etc. The connective tissue is suspensory to the collarbone and shoulder blade.

Arm Joint #2

Related to Image 3.14 : Humeroscapular Joint

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Mismapping this joint accounts for a lot of misery amongst musicians.

When you see this area bunched and curled in a student, and the use of it poor inquire: 

“What does the upper arm meet at the ‘shoulder joint?’ ” 

The student who is really in trouble in this joint will not say, “Shoulder blade,” but something else instead, often, “A socket,” conceived as separate from the shoulder blade, the shoulder blade probably being thought to be a flat thing somewhere on the back, unconnected from the shoulder joint. 

When the student reveals this fantasy, the teacher knows the student is suffering from this serious mapping mistake.  


If the student answers correctly by saying the upper arm bone meets the shoulder blade, it is necessary to inquire further: “What kind of socket is it?” The student will say, “Ball and socket,” which is correct, but when the inquiry continues, and the teacher asks for a description of the ball and socket, generally the answer is that the socket is big and the ball small. 


These students will have created in their body maps a large socket and when asked to gesture to the socket, they will demonstrate their misconception by cupping the whole humeroscapular area in their hand. 


Show these students that the opposite of their misconception is true: the socket is small, about the size of a thumbprint, or a quarter, and the ball is large. 


Show them that the area they think of as “socket” and are cupping with their hand is actually comprised of a chunk of shoulder blade, a chunk of collarbone, and a piece of the upper arm bone. 


It’s important you have a good anatomical model of the upper arm bone and the shoulder blade. You can pass the model around the room and ask the students to put the joint through its range of motion by placing each portion of the articular surface in relationship to the socket. 


Watch them carefully for any expressions of surprise or revelation- many musicians feel extremely relieved when they see the truth about the socket on the model. 


Also watch them to be sure they don’t put the articular surface in relationship to the upper, overhanging portion of the shoulder blade. If they do, it reinforces their big socket fantasy.”

Image 3.16: Humeroscapular Rhythm

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Neuroscientists are very interested in humeroscapular rhythm because it is built into us, apparently from the start of life. Humeroscapular rhythm is apparent in the movement of babies in the womb, and the very first movements infants make lying there in their cribs display perfect humeroscapular rhythm, as do the infants and toddlers on the videos recommended at the beginning of this section.

The term humeroscapular rhythm was the one Barbara Conable created rather than the traditional kinesiology term “scapulohumeral” or “glenohumeral” because she wished to be clear that in most movements for musicians, the humerus moves first and leads the scapula and clavicle into any direction that the humerus is traveling. In kinesiology terminology, “scapulohumeral rhythm” refers only to movement in the frontal plane.


Here is a blog discussing scapulohumeral rhythm as anatomists address it . This article also addresses the problems arising from the mismapping of “shoulder blades down and back”.

Image 3.18a: The Elbow Joint

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Radial Notch Exploration

One can use palpation to experience how pronation and supination is initiated at the elbow joint, not the wrist joint. First recognize that the big bump that many people commonly call the elbow is actually the ulna bone, and palpate this. You can also palpate the two bumps on either side of the elbow joint, and recognize that these bumps are the sides of the humerus bone. It’s useful to look at an arm model as you palpate. 


You can see in the illustration above how the radius aligns with the ulna near the elbow joint. The radius fits into a groove on the ulna called the radial notch. Bend at the elbow, palm facing you. With the opposite hand, palpate the big bump of the ulna. Let the palpating fingers travel toward the hand just above the “big bump” of the ulna, and then move toward the thumb-side of the arm. Gently pronate and supinate, and you should feel the radius rotating at its head. This rotation of the radius bone may help clarify the origin of its rotation, as contrasted with the stability of the ulna.

Demonstration Video

Image 3.19: Stationary Ulna and Rotating Radius

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The muscles for rotation are located close to the bones of the forearm and are not the superficial muscles we can palpate. These superficial muscles are used for flexion and extension of the fingers.

From the ABME listserve, circa 2002

Further Observations on Rotation at the Elbow Joint by Tom Mark and Susan Riggs:

Tom Mark: It has to do with organizing arm movement around the little finger rather than around the thumb.  Most people seem to believe that the thumb and index finger are the strong fingers, the ring finger and pinkie the weak fingers.  I say that's wrong and offer to prove it to them.  They are skeptical.  Then I point out that you can grip a bar in two ways, with a "baby grip"--little finger oriented--or in a thumb oriented way.  When they have that concept I hand out foot long pieces of broomstick and tell people to pair up into A's and B's.  I tell A's to hold one end of the stick with a baby grip, B's to hold the other end with a thumb oriented grip, and each pull as in a tug of war.  Then I have them trade grips.  Everyone is always amazed. The superiority of the baby grip comes as a complete surprise.


Susan Riggs, in teaching pianists, speaks of “mapping the elbow as multiple joints.” 


Susan Riggs: First of all, I ask people to palpate the width of their elbow, and to identify this as the lower end of the humerus. You can find the stability of this place as you raise and lower, and rotate your forearm. Then move your palpating fingers to the pointy bony place in between the "sides" of the lower humerus. This is the body part that we usually identify as the elbow. It is also the end of the ulna! Not everyone has it clearly mapped this way.


The fancy name for this end of the ulna is the Olecranon process. Now, hold onto that process and raise and lower your forearm, and rotate it as well. Notice how stable it is. For those of us who can't quite get it straight that the ulna REALLY doesn't rotate, holding onto the Olecranon process, or the end of the ulna, rather than the middle of the bone, makes it really clear. The other thing to notice is how big this end of the ulna is. Structure fits function. The hinge joint and size of the ulna at the joint support the ulna's job which is to be sturdy for lifting, and stable in relation to the radius.


The radius has a different job. The job of the radius, in the context of all of the joints of the arm, is to bring our arm (by rotation) to just the position we need for self care, to play music, to touch the world. The radius has a more flexible relationship with the humerus. You can find this connection near the Olecranon process. Raise your forearm to piano playing level. Palpate the width of the humerus, and then the Olecranon process. Now ease your finger forward, and to the outside, and you will be able to feel the end of the radius. There is less muscle on the "back side" of the elbow, and it is easier to find the bony structure there. You can feel the circular shape of the end of the radius, and the space between it and the humerus as you rotate your forearm.”

Barbara Conable: I offer Susan’s description of the elbow for two reasons. One to illustrate that different instruments will require differing degrees of detail in different structures, and you AEs who teach a particular instrument will have to collectively determine over time what the correct degree of detail is. The other reason is to show that different people will describe the same structure in different ways, and y’all will have to determine over time which works best. I myself would not use this description of “multiple joints,” though I have accepted it for the wrist, but it is a description that has benefited some people, and I offer it to you as a possibility.

Related to Image 3.27 : Co-contraction


From Dr. Richard Nichols:

Co-contraction is defined as the condition in which both agonist and antagonist muscles are active simultaneously.  Movements of joints generally require reciprocal activation, in which activation of the agonist (the shortening muscle) increases while activation of the antagonist (lengthening muscle) decreases.  However, during dynamic, sequential movements requiring changes in direction such as bowing, some co-contraction occurs prior to the direction changes to decelerate the limb segments in preparation for the direction change.  This brief period of time in which both muscle groups are active actually is energetically advantageous.  Co-contraction can also be used to stabilize a joint against mechanical disturbances, but when used excessively consumes considerable energy and has other disadvantages as well.

Related to Image 3.28 : Interosseous Muscles of the Hand

Musicians, like string players and pianists, who need to access the elasticity in the hand for spreading the fingers and for the maximum stretchy rebound needed for very fast, facile playing will want to include more detail on their courses about the interosseous muscles and the ligaments connecting the fingers. See excerpt below from What Every Violinist, p. 117

hand bones.gif

The interosseous (“between the bones”) muscles form one of the few finger-moving muscle groups found in the hand itself, and have two main functions: the bending of the fingers at FJ2 when FJ3 and FJ4 are not being bent; and the spreading from side to side of the fingers from FJ2.  Note, however, that the interosseous muscles cannot perform both the bending and the spreading movements from FJ2 at the same time.


Recall that when the fingers actively bend at 90 degrees from FJ2, there is no spreading movement available to the fingers.  We also saw that when the fingers bend passively at FJ2 there is a small amount of spreading afforded the fingers from FJ1. 


This video gives more information:

Now try this:

1. Spread your left-hand fingers while extending them straight out from FJ2.

2. Contrast how much spreading you achieve this way with how little movement is available when you try to spread them while actively or passively bending at FJ2.


This is important for anyone who wants to increase the span of his hand by doing stretching exercises.  Any effort to stretch the fingers apart from FJ2 without first allowing these joints to come out of active flexion risks strain and injury to the hand.

Image 3.31: Finger Facing Thumb

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“Cross over and cross under” are good examples of what I call abstraction, naming a movement in such a general way that it obscures the specificity of the movement and makes the musician’s job much, much harder than it would be if the description were not abstracted. There are dozens of these abstractions- “leap and stretch and shift” and “hand position” come to mind-and they all need to be weeded out and replaced with language that more accurately and specifically names what’s going on in movement terms.

Image 3.32: The Whole Arm

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Repetition of images is very important in the course. Repetition occurs within the one day and two day courses, but in another way in the five day courses. I almost always try to do a review of images on the afternoon of the fifth day. I just flip through the images, dwelling on each for about thirty seconds, sometimes saying something, but mostly not saying anything, asking people to stop me if any image prompts a question. People find they have developed an affection for the images even in such a short time as five days.


I often recommend to students that after they have purchased a Body Mapping book, they photocopy relevant images ten times, color them brightly, and put one on the refrigerator door, one in the car, one on the bathroom mirror, one on the music stand, one on the piano, one in the instrument case, etc. “Paper the world with the truth,” I say.

See ABME policy on copying images:


Link to Agenda Helpers:

© Association for Body Mapping Education June 2024

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