Redrawing the body map for musicians

Jeff Christoff

How well do you know your own body? You may want to think again.

Barbara Conable, an Alexander Technique specialist and developer of Body Mapping for Musicians, held a three-day residency over reading period in which she divulged “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body.”

Both students and faculty from different instrument groups attended to hear Conable’s words of experience.

A body map is the self-representation in the brain, and it is based on this map that people move, Conable claimed.

“If a map is good, movement will be good,” Conable said. “If a map is incorrect, movement will be consistent with the error.” With body mapping help, she said, one can identify errors in the body map and thereby correct them.

Janet Anthony, who organized Conable’s visit, found the workshop to be useful to her both as a cellist and as a teacher. “There is a lot that I will be able to use in my own playing, and I have already put into practice some of the principles in my teaching,” she said. “One of the things I liked most about the workshop was that the information she gave could be used by anyone, no matter the level.”

Conable has found body mapping to be extremely successful; in fact, in her work with injured musicians, she estimates that she is successful nearly 100 percent of the time. She has also worked with actors, dancers, and non-musicians uncomfortable at their computers.

When not leading workshops, she gives private lessons or writes books.

Conable especially enjoys training music teachers to teach body mapping. “The objective is to get this information to as many people as possible,” she said.

She suggested that body mapping should be a part of freshman orientation at any music school.

In order to improve the body map, Conable recommended a good anatomy book, such as Kapit and Elson’s Anatomy Coloring Book. She also advised students to watch the movement of great performers and imitate them.

Conable has led body mapping instruction since 1975. Body mapping grew from her former husband’s observation that in the school of music where he taught, students that moved badly did so because of the way they perceived their structure. Once they changed their maps, however, their movement generally improved.

Conable and her husband identified hundreds of possible errors for musicians, and even now, she continues to develop the theory and practice of body mapping.

The Seeley G. Mudd Library recently acquired a number of books recommended by Conable. For the list of books and further information, visit her website at