by Ruth Kasckow
Quite often flutists, and all musicians get stuck in a certain way of thinking that restricts their playing. When starting to play flute your instructor or your book probably taught you how to stand in the proper position, hold your arms up in the proper position, or blow into the flute with the proper embouchure. You were instructed how to tongue, breathe or move your fingers the proper way. These instructions, well-meaning and helpful at the time probably did not take two important things into consideration. Anatomy and movement. How are we actually structured and designed to move?
Getting stuck in a certain way of thinking can restrict your playing. For example, if you think there’s only one correct, proper way to stand, such as with your left foot forward and your right arm forward, you may think that you need to stand in that fixed position all the time. That in turn can create tension and limit your expression. That thinking is your body map. It is the body map or self-image you have that is telling your body how to move. The body map is powerful and almost always wins over the anatomical reality.
Inaccurate body maps - misconceptions about anatomy and movement, are common to all musicians. Flutists have their own set of inaccurate body maps common to many players that can cause problems. The good news is that inaccurate body maps can be changed with a clear understanding about the body’s true design. So even if you feel stuck by a self-image that is holding you back, you can do something about.
Here is one common misconception that might be familiar to you, and the anatomical reality that can help you get a clearer understanding to correct and refine your body map through body mapping.
Original instruction: “Hold your head up to play the flute.”
Flutist interpretation: “I need to hold my head up with my neck muscles while I’m playing my flute.”
Result: Tense and stiff neck, lack of movement in the jaw, lack of movement in the head, arms tense, breathing restricted.
Reality: The body is designed so that your head is balanced at a joint between the skull and top most vertebra called the atlas. This joint is called the atlanto-occipital joint, AO for short. The joint is located in the center of your skull at the level of your ear holes and top of your teeth-you can draw an imaginary circle around your head to get an idea. The actual movement is a tiny nod, like a bobble head doll.
What to do: Explore the movement at the AO joint by first locating the joint with your fingers. Look at anatomy books, models, videos. Practice the gentle nodding movement. Observe how the gentle nodding movement can release your neck muscles, jaw, head movement, arms and breathing.
What you can expect: Less unnecessary work for your neck muscles, less tension in the jaw and easier tonguing, able to move your head easily to make adjustments for tone and pitch, arms are able to release and balance better over the torso, breathing is freer with less tension in the neck.
We all have body maps that can be changed. The process of body mapping is simply learning more about your body through observation, study and practice so you can become more kinesthetically aware. It’s possible to do it on your own, or with the help of a Licensed Andover Educator. Through conscious effort you can learn to play without being restricted by old thinking patterns that get in the way. In the process you’ll find a new sense of freedom in your playing.
Ruth Kasckow is a flutist, Andover Educator, and flute educator based in the greater Los Angeles area. She has presented body mapping workshops throughout California as well as presented at PAMA (Performing Arts Medical Assoc) conferences. To find more, go to www.flutemuse.com, and to learn more about body mapping and Andover Educators, go to www.bodymap.org