The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music interview: How the Feldenkrais Method helps both the physical and artistic-expressive side of making music. Part 1 of 2

June 3, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Saturday, June 5, and running through June 19, UW cellist Uri Vardi and his flutist-Feldenkrais practitioner wife Hagit Vardi, will be conducting major workshops at the University of Wisconsin School of Music about using the Feldenkrais Method, and its application to voice and other instruments and especially to the cello.

Since The Ear knows little or nothing about how this methodology works, I asked Uri Vardi (below) to explain about it and to recap about his history with it and his experience with it.

So, for the next two days, I will post a question-and-answer session that Vardi provided. I hope to attend some sessions and report back on them.

You can also check the websites:

Members of the public are invited to audit individual cello master classes  (with Timothy Eddy from Juilliard, Steven Doane from Eastman, and myself), and seminars on a range of topics.

Some of the topics besides the Masterclasses are: “Creating the Foundation: Tools for the Developing Cellist”; “Mind-Mapping the Fingerboard:  toward a Systematic Approach to Intonation Practice”; “Kinesthetic sense for fluency and  tone production”; “Natural Resources”; “Kinesiological Considerations for Musicians”; “Brain Plasticity and its Relevance to Musicians”; and a Baroque Dance seminar, conducted by a professional Baroque dancer who will teach participants the actual steps and gestures of the dances from Bach’s Cello Suites.

The cost is $20 per session and $60 per day.  Students and seniors may attend for $15 and $50, respectively. Detailed schedule information can be found on the National Summer Cello Institute’s website and at

Background about Uri and Hagit Vardi can be found at

I hope you find it as informative as I did.

Feel free to ask questions and add comments, so that I and Vardi can respond.

What is Feldenkrais and its basic principles?

Feldenkrais is a unique method that helps people become aware of the way in which they habitually use their body. This method exposes the learner to all the other options within their body, which they are not aware of.

While exploring options in movement that enhance flexibility and ease of movement, people often discover more than just ease.  We usually are accustomed to learn new things intellectually and cognitively.

The Feldenkrais Method takes us back to processes that we used as babies, when we explored the world and learned new things through our bodies.

Are injuries common among string players and cellists in particular?

Unfortunately, injuries are extremely common among musicians in general and among string players in particular. I find the saying ” NO PAIN, NO GAIN” detrimental to human health. Injuries occur when we ignore warning signs, and continue to act without changing any of our actions in spite of the discomfort.

Musicians need a rich vocabulary of movements in order to meet the demands of their musical communication. Unfortunately, I find that there isn’t enough attention given by instrumental teachers to the enhancement of their students’ repertoire of movements when playing. The deficit can lead to constant tension, to wear and tear.

Why did you personally turn to it?

My teacher at Indiana University, Janos Starker, gave me an amazing insight into the importance of maintaining good balance in the body while playing. We constantly explored easier, comfortable ways to achieve musical results. He taught his students how to organize physically and intellectually in order to achieve the best artistic outcome, how to sound better.

In the early 1990’s, a chiropractor pinched a nerve in my neck, which prevented me from performing for about eight months. I was introduced to the Feldenkrais Method by some friends, and was fascinated by the potency of the work and the on-going creative learning experience it provides.

In 1999, I received the UW-Madison Art Institute Creative Arts Award. That enabled me to undertake four years of training in the Feldenkrais Method, at the end of which I was certified by the Feldenkrais Guild of North America as a Feldenkrais Practitioner.

How long you have been doing it?  Where and how many workshops do you give in a typical year?

For the last six years, I have offered a two-credit course: “Feldenkrais for Musicians” at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. The course has grown in popularity, and last semester 27 students, who played a wide variety of instruments, enrolled in the class. It is one of the elective courses that fulfill the requirements for piano and string pedagogy.

I have been teaching the course together with my wife, Hagit Vardi, who was a professional flutist and is a certified Feldenkrais Practitioner. Hagit (shown below with a class) works at the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Program. Together, we held two workshops for members of the Cleveland Orchestra and a three-day workshop for fellows of the New World Symphony Orchestra in Miami. We have just received an invitation from the New World Symphony Orchestra to return and work with their fellows in November of this year and February 2011.

I have also given a number of seminars on the application of the Feldenkrais Method to musicians in major music schools around the country (Juilliard, Oberlin, Indiana, Cleveland Institute of Music among others) and abroad (the Paris Conservatory, a Summer Festival in Taichung, Taiwan and the Jerusalem Music Academy among others).

How does the Feldenkrais Method apply to music?  To string players? To other instrumentalists or singers?

Since our real instrument is our body, the sound that our instruments produce, depends on the way we move and activate the instrument.  It is extremely important that we keep upgrading and refining our movement abilities.  A heightened awareness to minute changes in movement while playing, allows the player to become more flexible.

Flexibility is a key injury prevention and musical expansion mechanism.  The focus of the Feldenkrais Method is on allowing the body to act harmoniously. That’s why we don’t advocate stretching, but rather figuring out new ways to organically move and not to allow different parts in the body to fight with each other. I’m interested in the artistic expansion that this method allows, and I look at the injury prevention more as a side product.

Tomorrow: How musicians use the Feldenkrais Method and what it can do for amateurs and professionals

In the meantime, here are explanations and testimonials from Feldenkrais users:

Posted in Classical music

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