How do you learn how to play an “intuitive” instrument?
By Feeltone US Trainer Joule L'Adara
When I first attended the “Secrets of the Monochord” training, it was after I had already been playing my feeltone Monolina for 3 years. Initially I’d been invited to help translate the workshop from German as the instructor who beautifully created this course, Martina Gläser (having grown up in the former East Germany where Russian was taught in school) doesn’t speak English. Attending this weekend intensive was for me (mind you) after obtaining a Masters degree in Music, having “achieved”: years of voice lessons, piano lessons, music theory, a technical diploma in audio engineering, multiple sound healing certifications, being a Reiki Master, and having developed my own group vocal sound facilitation method I was teaching through workshops and intensive retreats. So when I came across the Feeltone monochords, I thought I only needed to tune this instruments, start strumming them, and glorious tones would emerge. (Partly) this was (totally) true.
I loved the feeltone Instruments from the first moment I was introduced to them back in 2006 at a sound healing conference. My first encounter with the portable Monolini was at my 2011 sound retreat I produced in Hawaii, during which we incorporated the monochord into our group vocal protocol. Playing monochord seemed pretty simple: basically you take your fingers and strum them across the strings. There didn’t seem to be much more to it than that, and when I later interviewed the maker of the Instruments, Ingo Böheme, on my radio show, he’d explained he founded his company with the vision of creating instruments anyone could pick up and play instantly and which have no “wrong notes.” For me, the monochord tone produced a beautiful background drone to my free-form vocalizing. I loved using it in both group sound work and in one-on-one healing sessions that I combined with Reiki and the Acutonics Tuning forks in which I’d also undergone training to know how to use on acupuncture points.
So when it came time to fly to Miami to learn the “Secrets of the Monochord” in a weekend intensive taught by the instrument builder's wife Martina, I was asking myself, “What the heck do we ‘learn’ about playing this instrument for 2.5 days- let alone what would she teach in the “upper level” advanced classes she offers in Germany?
I’m happy to share I was pleasantly surprised. Martina’s course as it turned out, was much less about “mastering playing techniques” (though it does introduce different playing possibilities) and more about gaining mastery over one’s presence by deepening one’s personal relationship to subtle energy. While anyone can strum a monochord, there are certain ways of playing it that elicit a relaxation response in those listening by entraining the brain to meditative states. This workshop was about going beyond mere ego-level improvisation, to develop the awareness of what you are doing, what the effect is, how to reliably recreate it again and again, and ultimately to learn how to bring archetypal forms through sound variations. I discovered tiny changes in parameters could create totally different responses in the body and that the key to mastering these subtle variations was to be able to listen with focused expanded awareness. I came to understand that “Presence" - that illusive but all-important mindfulness concept- came not from pushing one’s energy to be a certain way, but rather from emptying out and thus increasing one’s capacity to receive.
I left the training having felt the monochord and I had been on a couple’s counseling retreat. “OMG!”, I imagined saying to my Monolina, “I’ve been playing you all this time but I haven’t really been LISTENING to you! I’ve been singing over you when all along you had a LOT more to say.” In my mind, I could hear “her” answering, “Yes, Joule: I’ve been waiting patiently all this time just wanting your to HEAR me: to hear the subtleties of the overtones and to sing WITH me in duet instead of over me. I’m so grateful that now we get to co-create together!”
The following year, I attended and translated for this live workshop again after which Martina expressed her wish for me to teach an all-English version of the workshop in the US. I was humbled she would pass her “baby” (the training) on to me and entrust me with bringing through my version of her vision: a magical weekend deep-dive into the current of sound.
(Martina Gläser and I in 2015)
In this course Martina created and which I now have the privilege of teaching regularly in New York, one learns the basics of the monochord: how to tune it, how to care for it, how to change a string, how to play it on a body, how to play it in group, how to pace yourself, and yes, some different playing techniques. However, much more important than technique is the ability to discern, to feel, to allow the music to flow through you, to deepen the ability to transmit energy in the form of acoustic vibration. It’s something that has to be experienced in real time, and being in a live group with these instruments invites the possibility of initiation and attunement: where the group-playing creates an amplifying effect as the combined energy comes into cohesiveness via the stacking of harmonics. The monochord itself functions in this way and the effect grows exponentially with a group playing in unison. Participants emerge from this workshop feeling expanded, whole, clear, creative. The energy coming through the instruments brings the body/mind/spirit into alignment while opening your inner ear to be able to listen deeper and receive more. It is a process of unfoldment that accelerates over two days.
I’m always amazed when trained and accomplished solo musicians come out of this course having gained new perspectives they can apply to their art. Practicing Music Therapists have likewise as much to learn about simplicity and the effects of subtle energy as complete beginners who know nothing about music prior to touching this instrument. Here we find a level playing field where all are welcome and everyone has something to gain.
Monochords are the ultimate mindfulness teachers. Setting their strings into motion initiates a process of beautiful unraveling, peeling away the layers of “knowing” until what’s left is an openness to what is coming through in the moment. Even if we think we know, that practice of unknowing is the “secret” that opens up all the dormant possibilities within us.
Update: in-person Secrets of the Monochord Training NYC is currently on hold due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. No in-person workshops have been held since 2020. We have been offering Part 1 of "Secrets of the Monochord" Online in live small group format. We hope to relaunch the in-person workshops by mid 2022. If you're interested in receiving more information, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org for registration details.
Martina Gläser offers Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Feeltone Monochord and Sound Therapy Trainings in German: ma-mer.de
CE Credits for this course can be obtained - inquire for more information.