Musicians As Movers – Part One

As musicians, we all have a number of things that we want to have happening during our music making.

We want beautiful phrases, free and easy articulation, maximum breath control and fluidity throughout all technical passages. Reliability and consistency are important because we want access to these things for every performance. The way we consistently achieve these results is through the use of free and efficient movement.

Musicians move for a living. All of the sounds we make are produced by some type of movement. Some movements are very obvious, such as finger movement required to operate flute keys, while other movement is more hidden, such as the internal movements that happen during breathing. The movement of the spine during breathing is very subtle, but so important. For every sound that you want to make, there is a movement that results in that particular sound. Music making is a whole body activity, not just the result of finger and face movement. Yet, most musicians are not taught how their bodies actually work in movement. We are taught to listen to ourselves and others, to read the notes, to learn the fingerings and rhythms, but we rarely are taught to monitor the quality and ease of our own movement. Consider athletes and dancers—they always consider themselves movers by definition. Professional athletes retire in their 30s and 40s, while musicians are still going strong into their 70s and beyond! The movement we do as musicians is highly refined, complex, rapid and demanding. It requires much training, yet we seldom received dedicated movement instruction.

So What?

Many musicians are injured and many are playing in pain. In 2012, Dr. Bronwen Ackerman, Professor of Biomedical Science at the University of Sydney, surveyed members of the eight professional full time orchestras in Sydney.

84% of the musicians had experienced pain that had interfered either with playing their instrument or participating in orchestral rehearsals and performances.

50% had pain at time of the survey. Another study, done in 2008 by the American Association of Physician Assistants, found that there was a 50-76% of musicians reported musculoskeletal injuries. In comparison, a 2009 study found that the injury rate for Cirque du Soleil artists was 9.7% compared to a 15.2% injury rate for NCAA collegiate women’s gymnasts.

Does an injury rate of 50-84% for professional musicians, depending on what study is referenced, seem alarming to you? The numbers are probably higher because musicians continue to struggle through pain because they need to work and many don’t have adequate health insurance. Some, but not all, of these injuries are caused by repetitive movement that is not performed in agreement with how the body is designed to move. Learning to move more efficiently can help prevent some of this type of injury.

How can we learn more about how we are designed to move?

One way to build this awareness is through the use of Body Mapping, which is a tool that musicians can use to enhance performance, maintain wellness and prevent injury and discomfort. The same information that helps keep you moving with ease and freedom can take you to a whole new technical level. Body Mapping seeks to put music education on a secure somatic foundation. The key word here is somatic, which means relating to the body. Other somatic methods that you might be familiar with are Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Structural Integration and Awareness through Movement,. The three main goals of Body Mapping are to 1) train movement as movement, 2) train all the relevant senses, and 3) systematically train awareness.

Training Movement as Movement

Training movement as movement begins with the idea of a body map, which is our own internal representations that we have in our brains about how our bodies work. We have maps for our body’s size, function, and structure. When our body maps are accurate, our movement is good. When our body maps are not accurate, then movement suffers.

As we become aware of inaccurate body maps, we can correct them. This leads to improved whole body movement, which, in turn, leads to more embodied, authentic music making.

Mapping Your Spine

I invite you to access your body map of your spine. If you were asked to draw a picture of your spine, what would it look like? What shape does it have? What does it do? Where is it? How big is it? If you have no idea, then put one hand on the back of your head and the other hand on your lower back and go for a walk. What do you feel happening under your hands? If you have no idea, then that’s a clue that your body map needs some correction and that’s OK!

Would your picture look like this?

Does your spine map have curves or it is straight up and down like a broom stick? Does it have 26 individual vertebrae with discs in between? Does it have a smooth half in the front and pointy parts in the back? Do the vertebrae get bigger from top to bottom?

In regards to function, does your spine move? That’s why it’s made up of separate pieces instead of one, inflexible piece. The back half is for protection of your spinal cord and nerves. The smooth half in the front is for weight delivery. When your spine is doing its job of supporting you, then you don’t have to use extra muscular work to hold yourself up. Arm and leg movers are free to do their jobs instead of being recruited to stabilize you in unbalanced positions.

How big is your spine? It’s not skinny like a broomstick. The lumbar vertebrae are massive. Barbara Conable, one of the creators of Body Mapping, used to say that lumbar vertebrae are much closer in size to a dollar bill than any coin that’s currently in circulation. If you bring your hands to your sides, pointing in towards your belly button, then you’re pointing at your lumbar vertebrae. The spine is much bigger and more central that most people think.

Correcting your spine map to account for its shape, full size and function will allow you to access its full weight-bearing role in how your body moves.

How does one access body maps?

There are lots of ways to gain information about current body maps. My favorite way is to palpate, which means to explore by touch. There are many anatomy books and anatomy apps for iPads to study. Ask yourself questions such as “How do I think this works?” or “How big is that structure?” Look at yourself in a mirror while your play. Videotape yourself and watch it with the sound off. You can also work with a Licensed Andover Educator, which is the name of the organization of Body Mapping teachers. ( is a process of self-exploration and self-observation through daily activity. Correcting body maps doesn’t happen overnight and is a mode of practicing, just like learning a new clef or practicing scales. It requires brain work to refine and clarify your body maps.

Movement Choices

Movement is movement and you can work on clarifying your body maps when you’re not playing the flute. The body you live in is the same one in which you perform and it’s always with you! You can start to observe other people’s movement – you might notice that some people are really fluid movers and others are not. You have choices in terms of what movements you choose, as well as a choice in how you choose to perform a certain movement. For example, how much work do you actually need to do to close a flute key? Is it really necessary to grip so tightly that the the fingernails turn white? The more you learn about how your body is designed to move, the more movement choices you have. Then you can choose the movement choice that gives you the sound you’re looking for and eliminate those movement choices that cause discomfort.

The second goal of Body Mapping, training all relevant senses, will be discussed in Musicians as Movers – Part 2.

Kelly Mollnow Wilson has nine years of teaching experience in the instrumental music department of the Wooster City Schools in Wooster, OH.  While at Wooster her responsibilities included directing the Freshman Band, assisting with High School Marching Band, teaching fifth and sixth grade woodwinds, and coaching middle school girls basketball and volleyball.

Since 2007, Kelly has been a licensed member of Andover Educators, Inc., a consortium of music educators dedicated to preserving and enhancing the careers of musicians through accurate anatomical information and somatic awareness as applied to music-making. Through a unique and powerful tool called Body Mapping, Kelly helps students in all disciplines avoid injury and become better musicians. She has presented Body Mapping workshops for students throughout the US and she teaches a semester long class, Body Mapping for Musicians, at Oberlin Conservatory.

Kelly holds a Master of Music degree in Flute Performance from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Baldwin-Wallace College. Her teachers include Katherine Borst Jones, Mary Kay Fink and Liisa Ruoho.

In the movement education category, Kelly will complete her training as massage therapist in December 2017.  She is a certified Neurokinetic Therapy Practitioner – Level One and a Certified Restorative Exercise Practitioner.  Combining all of these skill sets will allow Kelly to expand her work with musicians with injuries and provide movement education and manual therapy in one location.

In her free time (is that a thing?), Kelly loves to read, run, hike, spend time outdoors doing anything, listen to her favorite bands (Great Big Sea and Home Free) loudly and spend time with her husband and two children.

For more info, See  For more information about Body Mapping, please go to


Ackermann, B., Driscoll, T., & Kenny, D.T. (2012). Musculoskeletal pain and injury in professional orchestral musicians in Australia. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 27(4), 181-7.

Heinan. M. (2008). A review of the unique injuries sustained by musicians. Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. 21(4), 45-6, 48, 50.

Shrier, I., Meeuwisse, W.H., Matheson, G.O., Wingfield, K., Steele, R.J., Prince, F., Hanley, J., & Montanaro, M. (2009). Injury patterns and injury rates in the circus arts: an analysis of 5 years of data from Cirque du Soleil. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 37(6), 1143-9.



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