The University of Ottawa Piano Pedagogy Lab is as busy as ever researching and challenging pedagogical theory and practice. I recently participated as a test subject in a study researching the effects of Feldenkrais sessions on piano playing.

Many musicians believe that disciplines such as yoga, Tai Chi, Alexander Technique, and Feldenkrais Method are beneficial to us. Since we spend hours practising while in one position, we face issues ranging from muscle tension to repetitive strain injuries. Pianists are on a perpetual quest to have the freedom of movement that will yield smooth technique and artistic sound.

The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education [pertaining to the body, experienced and regulated from within] that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement. You can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. It is named after its originator, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. (1904-1984). Feldenkrais was a Russian born physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator.

The University of Ottawa hosted the Alan Fraser Piano Institute July 14-20, 2014. Alan Fraser is a Canadian pianist, teacher, and author. He has made extensive inquiries into Feldenkrais and has written a book and created a DVD series titled The Craft of Piano Playing that presents an original approach to piano technique.

I have watched the DVD series in the past, so I was curious and enthusiastic to participate in the study and meet Professor Fraser. Before the study began, I had several stickers placed at various locations on my spine, shoulders, elbow, and wrist. Here’s what I was asked to do:

  • play two prescribed pieces, scales, triads, and perform a sight reading selection
  • receive a Feldenkrais session with Alan Fraser
  • play the prescribed pieces, scales, triads, and perform another sight reading selection
  • rest for 30 minutes
  • play the prescribed pieces, scales, triads, and perform a third sight reading selection

The results are still being tabulated and should be published later this year. I’m not going to say how I felt after the Feldenkrais session until I get a chance to read the study conclusions.

The timing of this couldn’t be better though – my teaching theme for this season is developing technique in my students. One of the books on my reading list is The Craft of Piano Playing, 2nd edition.