Anatomy and physiology are long and largely underrated topics and areas of understanding for musicians that are finally gaining traction as an important component in the regular instruction of how we both teach and become musicians.
Even with the sudden surge of popularity and acceptance both wellness and anatomy are experiencing among musicians, we have a long way to go to make up for both our lack of understanding and our deficit in awareness.
There are many entry points to developing your own understanding of your anatomy and its role in your music making. Playing an instrument can be one. Yoga, strength training, physical therapy, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, working with a personal trainer, body mapping, swimming, running…the list is seemingly endless. Anything that helps us draw a connection between what we are experiencing and how the body works is moving us in the direction of understanding.
Before we can really put our knowledge of anatomy and mapping to use, however, we have to learn how to read our body’s cues and become comfortable doing so. I’ve written before on embodiment, and it’s something that many of us lack in our personal experiences and in how we teach.
Embodiment by definition is the tangible form of an idea, feeling, or quality. If we are embodied, we are present to our emotions, mind state, and physical state, and able to stay engaged with them.
Modern life gives us many ways to escape the tangible form of ourselves - TikTok, Netflix, food, plenty of numbing substances - there is no shortage of methods or advertisements encouraging us to check out from whatever unpleasant or real thing is happening for an alternate reality.
Our cultural habits of escapism make it hard for many of us to truly “drop in” to our body and use the information it is giving us in a positive and beneficial way. Even for musicians, who do a physical and tangible thing for many hours at a time, the normal encouragement and instruction we receive when it comes to our craft is mostly cerebral.
The first step to incorporating any knowledge of anatomy into our playing should always be a development of our felt sense. We must learn to be open to what our body has to tell us and willing to feel whatever it is. Sometimes this is pleasant, and sometimes it is uncomfortable or even painful, but all of those varieties of somatic clues have one important thing in common - information. (It’s worth noting that the path to finding this comfort in sensation can look quite different from one person to the next.)
Are you feeling pain at it’s source of origin, or is your shoulder pain referred from the way you are allowing your hips to kick to one side? Do you feel suddenly tense and grippy in your hands because you are now on stage and in a nervous mindset? Our mental state can be manifested in our perception. and the appearance, of physical sensations.
Growing your felt sense of the body means that you can intelligently use the information you receive somatically about your very personal experience in tandem with your knowledge of anatomy. You can start to understand the reasons why your shoulder might feel the way it does, and whether there is a physical or mental habit or cause at the root of what you are experiencing.
The other, perhaps deeper and maybe even more important, benefit of pairing our knowledge of anatomy with our felt sense of the body is that we learn how quickly things change. If you’ve done yoga or meditation you know how much your thoughts and physical feelings can shift from moment to moment. Even if you haven’t done those practices but you practice your instrument multiple days in a row, it’s likely that you have realized each day feels different in some way and that all of those different sensations are in fact part of your experience of playing your instrument.
Being more in tune with ourselves means that we can see these ongoing changes clearly, recognizing what part of them might actually be a useful habit or pattern to address and what is simply a passing observation or sensation.
Growing your knowledge of anatomy is a must for every musician, but we stand to gain the most benefit by simultaneously growing our knowledge of ourselves and our internal experience. Anatomy is simple a template for understanding. By becoming more acquainted with ourselves we become more efficient observers and more accurate and efficient managers of our construction.
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.