Amy LikarBarbara Conable  

Body Mapping: What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body

Amy Likar & Barbara Conable
February 5, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

My college friend and ROPA colleague, Sherill Roberts, has been telling me about Barbara Conable for many years. Sherill is a cellist who had to overcome some pretty serious health issues in her past, and thus she is particularly attuned to the needs of her body in terms of movement. She recently became certified to teach the Andover Educator Body Mapping course, and suggested that I contact Amy Likar, who has taken over as the group leader now that Barbara Conable has semi-retired.

Amy explains what Body Mapping is and how it can help your playing, and then presents a fascinating and inspiring interview she conducted with Barbara.

- Ann Drinan

As a performer with injury, I was very lucky as a university student. When I mentioned to my teacher some pain I was having, I was advised to take an Alexander Technique class. The class was a revelation to me, not only because I was learning how to play pain free, but because I was able to play with the tone and the concept of sound I had always had in my mind but could never achieve consistently. The foundation for my Alexander Technique study was something my teachers, Barbara Conable and William Conable, called Body Mapping. Learning how to move more efficiently based on a corrected and refined body map allowed me both to play for long periods pain free and to achieve more musically-consistent results.

Barbara and Bill had been working with the concepts of Body Mapping since the mid 1970s, though the concepts had been implicit in the earlier dense writings of F.M. Alexander. The Conables made them explicit and wrote of them in simpler language.

Dancers learn kinesiology and fitness professionals learn exercise physiology, but musicians have had no equivalent training until recently. Musicians had instead relied on teaching traditions passed down from generation to generation that were not always based on accurate information about how the body is actually designed and efficiently used. Fortunately, organizations like the Performing Arts Medicine Association are changing this by hosting annual symposiums and sponsoring conferences concerning the health and well-being of musicians.

Barbara Conable decided to bring basic anatomical information into a single course called What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body, with a text by the same name. In the late 90s, she formed Andover Educators to train musicians themselves to teach the course and bring them together into a network for the benefit of the rest of the musical community. The goal of the network is to put music education on a secure somatic foundation. Given the discoveries concerning the body map that have come out in neuroscience in the past few decades, we can now add music training on a secure neurophysiological foundation.

Your body map is your self-representation in your brain of your own body – how you think it is and how you think you move. Body Mapping is the conscious correction and refinement of your body map. If your map is accurate, you don’t have a problem because you already move well, but if it’s a bit off or totally off, you can have pain and potentially face the end of your career from injury caused by the faulty map. Of course, a thorough medical check up with a physician is always necessary to rule out disease. But if yours is a problem of misuse, overuse and abuse, you must gain a clear understanding of how the body was designed and made to work as a whole to create music. Then as artists, we can make musical choices based on movement choices that work well with the design of our bodies rather than against them, and we can make movement choices that enhance our music making rather than limit it. Thus the information that permits us to move more easily also freely enhances our performance. Having a basic understanding about the body in movement can also clarify movement choices for us when we are in more stressful situations, helping us recover more easily when we are more apt to feel tense.

The foundation of Body Mapping is understanding how weight delivery and balance work throughout the body. It is through the genuine understanding of weight delivery and balance that free breathing, and free use of the arms and legs, can occur. When we play, well we play with our whole bodies, which are supported and organized centrally around our spines. We may perceive balance and poise around our spines using our lively, on-going body awareness. Within our bodies we may feel:

  1. the balance of our heads on our spines, at the center,
  2. the balance of our arm structures over our spines, at the center,
  3. the balance of our thorax on our massive lumbar vertebrae, at the center,
  4. the balance of our upper half over our legs, at the center,
  5. the balance at our knees, at the center, and
  6. the balance of our bodies on the arches of our feet, at the center.

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