Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: andrea kleesattel

Highlights of the Last Two Months

In case you're new to the site or want to revisit some of the earlier material, here are a few highlights from the last two months of posts. 

Look at the postural change from adding heels!

Look at the postural change from adding heels!

Shoulders- From anatomy to stretches, learn about what constitutes the shoulders and how to work with restriction.

Stance and Posture-  Musicians are often told to stand in a certain way which may or may not be good alignment for their body. 

Feet and Shoes- From flip flops to heels to thick padded running shoes, we often pick shoes that don't support us while performing, walking, and standing.

Developing Awareness of the Body, by the fabulous Andrea Kleesattel.

And as always, you can search at the bottom of the site for anything you might be looking for, or click on the tags at the end of each post to see related posts.



Beginning Self-Inquiry of Movement

by Andrea Kleesattel

      As musicians, we are constantly working with the limitations of our own physical and mental self-control.  Whether we are trying to coordinate our body movements, trying to increase our ability to focus, or dealing with the anxiety of performance, we are always trying to extend our capabilities and self-awareness.  We seek to become more than we are.  

      However, over the course of living and playing an instrument for years, we all naturally establish habits.  Some of these are intentional but others, many others, exist without our even knowing that they are there and can be damaging and limiting.    

      In order to break out of these habits we must exercise our self-awareness and ability to change.  The more we come to know ourselves and the more adept we are at trying and assimilating new ideas, the easier it will be to learn new ways of playing that might be more efficient than the ones we are currently employing.  In so doing, we can mitigate unnecessary stress on the body and hopefully save ourselves from injury, while at the same time opening ourselves to greater spontaneity and more choices for artistic expression.

We carry many movement habits with us, known and unknown, especially in the act of making music.

We carry many movement habits with us, known and unknown, especially in the act of making music.

      One method that can be helpful in this process is the Feldenkrais Method, which exists in two different formats:  Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration.  In Awareness Through Movement, students are verbally guided through a series of slow movements which help them to increase awareness of their body and its integration.  In Functional Integration, students work in a one-on-one session with a Feldenkrais practitioner who uses touch to help guide the body towards greater integrative awareness.   (Awareness Through Movement lessons are available commercially in CD and DVD formats.  One can also find a local Feldenkrais practitioner for Functional Integration lessons as well.)

      Through moving slowly, it becomes possible to redirect a movement before it happens automatically.  We can open a space in our actions that used to be closed to our awareness, allowing it to come within the sphere of our self-control.  In the process, we can cultivate greater awareness of the body.  Through these sessions, students become more aware of how the parts of the body work together as an integrated whole.  And through this awareness, students can begin to move more efficiently and create more options for the movements they make.

Which shoe do you put on first?  Which foot/leg is dominant in walking?

Which shoe do you put on first?  Which foot/leg is dominant in walking?

      You can start to exercise some of the Feldenkrais principles before you purchase a CD or find a teacher simply by observing your habits and slowly (and patiently) starting to change them.  You can do this for everyday actions.  Find a habit that you have in everyday life.  Which tooth do you first start brushing?  When you get dressed, which leg do you first put in your pants?   How do you habitually cross your fingers?  Is the right or the left thumb on top?  How do you cross your legs when you sit cross-legged on the floor?  Is there a specific way that you open your instrument case and take out your instrument?  What is the first thing you do when you sit down to play?  Think of any habit that you have. First see if you can observe it in the context in which it occurs.  Next, see if you can stop yourself before you perform the habit and try doing it in a different way.  

      Try doing this for your playing.  Are there certain physical habits that you have when you play that are independent of your playing?  Perhaps you raise your eyebrows or close your eyes when you are doing something that is difficult.  Perhaps your foot tenses in certain places, or you move your body in a certain pattern.  Go slowly.  Before you perform the habit, stop yourself and try something new in its place.  Have a friend watch you as an outside observer.  As you practice non-habitual behavior in place of the habits you have identified, see if other habits become more noticeable to you and easier to change.

      You can also ask yourself questions about your body posture and usage.  How does the position of your hips effect your neck and shoulders?  If you put your weight on the front part of the pelvis while you are sitting on a chair, what does this do to the spine?  How does this change if you move your weight to the back part of the pelvis?  How is the body affected if you put the majority of your weight on one sitz bone or the other?

      You can try these things with or without your instrument and can try them in different patterns or in isolation.  Be curious, inventive, and playful in your exploration.  Play lying down, or standing on one foot, or looking at the ceiling, and see how this changes things.  Even if you don’t know what changes or how it is different, don’t be afraid to keep looking and asking.  It’s not the answer, but what we learn in the search and the process.

      We will always come up against the limitations of our own self-knowledge.  There is no end to it.  But we can become more and more comfortable with ourselves the more we seek and explore, and this can bring us closer and closer to the full self-expression that we desire.  It is a process to be enjoyed. 

Looking Beyond the Music

by Andrea Kleesattel

What does it mean for a body to be in good health?  What is our goal in finding balance and well-being in our bodies?  Does it mean to be without pain?  To have greater control of our physical actions, greater mental acuity and self-awareness?  Does it mean to have less anxiety, tension, and frustration in the practice room or on stage?  Does it mean more spontaneity in our expression and performance?  

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Likely it is a combination and balance of all of these things.  Perhaps it is good to take a step back even further and ask:  What is it that we are trying to achieve as musicians?  Sometimes in the midst of preparing for an audition, a recital, a performance, or a lesson, we become blinded by the goal that we think is pulling us.  We become stressed about our intonation, about our rhythm, about our phrasing or our sound, or any other of the countless aspects of music that need our attention. It is important to play in tune and in time, it is important to have ideas about phrasing, it is important to have a good sound.  These make us more reliable musical colleagues, they help us communicate the message of the composer and allow the audience to listen more freely.  It is important to give them attention, but are they the final goal we seek?  

In the same way that it can be important to give attention to individual aspects of the musical picture–pitch, rhythm, phrasing, sound, character–so too is it important to give attention to our individual body parts and aspects of our health–wrists, shoulders, backs, muscles, tendons, sleep, diet, energy, artistic satisfaction.  As musicians we must put a great deal of our focus on the parts, but after we do this, it is important to step back and think about the larger goal.  What do we want to accomplish?

Sometimes we have pain.  Sometimes we have frustration.  Sometimes we are limited and don’t know the block that is keeping us from moving forward.  The answer may lie in examining the part of the body that is hurting, or the phrase that evades us; but sometimes taking a step back from the acute problem may also encourage the answer.  The shoulder may hurt because of the way we are holding our hips, the way we are sleeping, or breathing, or stress from known or unknown factors.  A phrase may be stilted because of our intonation, or tempo, or the way we are breathing, or a habitual tensing of a certain part of the body.  The answer may lie somewhere beyond the usual places we look.  

What can we do to transcend the limitations that we sometimes experience in the body?  What can we do to become more unified so that we have the full resources of ourselves?  There are many practices to help us focus on various aspects of mind and body, to improve our technical, mental, and expressive approaches to music.  Each person is on their own journey, coming closer to something that is uniquely theirs.  And while there are many different paths that have been worn before us, offering us something from the experiences another has collected, in the end it is important to gain trust in ourselves and strengthen our inner guide.  Why do I do this?  What do I need in my practice right now?   Perhaps the answer lies in the mind or the body, in some combination of the two, or in another aspect of life.  It is important to stay open to many different possibilities.

In the course of sharing on this blog, I hope to offer some different perspectives from my own experience with various mind-body practices and how they relate to the technical and expressive elements of making music.  I’ve personally learned a great deal from the practices and ideas of Moshe Feldenkrais and Rudolph Laban and look forward to sharing more about them in the coming weeks and months, as well as others whose ideas about movement and artistry have inspired me.  I hope it can be of some help to you as we each find our way.    


ANDREA KLEESATTEL currently plays cello in the Hyogo Performing Center Orchestra in Nishinomiyakitaguchi, Japan. Prior to this appointment, she completed her masters and doctorate degrees as the cellist in the graduate resident string quartets at the University of Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, respectively. She earned her undergraduate degree at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Her doctoral thesis, Applications of Somatic Practices to Cello Playing and Pedagogy draws from work in various movement disciplines including Feldenkrias, Alexander Technique, Bartenieff Fundamentals, and Laban's theories of movement and expression.  Dr. Kleesattel's primary teachers were Ellen Shertzer, Norman Johns, Lee Fiser, Benjamin Karp, and Uri Vardi.  When not playing in orchestra, Dr. Kleesattel enjoys playing chamber music and teaching. 

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