Coordinate Movement Program for Pianists
Portland State University

Discover Freedom of Movement and Expression While Pursuing Your Degree

If you are a musician experiencing pain or tension in your playing, you are not alone. Injury among musicians is well documented, and studies show that as many as 40% of musicians suffer from physical symptoms that affect their playing. Fortunately, change based on the incorporation of sound physiological principles has successfully rehabilitated many musicians. In fact, the application of these principles for musicians represents some of the most important new thinking in the field of music education today. These concepts also guide teachers in developing a pedagogical approach that reduces tension, prevents injury, and improves artistic expression.

Portland State University now offers a curriculum based on these proven somatic principles. Courses are designed to teach participants about the structure and function of the body as it applies to playing and singing, and how to make the changes necessary to become free of pain and injury. The curriculum includes the study of anatomy and physiology, performance anxiety, hearing loss prevention and attention to daily living activities such as handwriting and use of the computer. Students will complete the courses with an understanding of how to teach these principles. Selected students may continue their studies with Professor Lisa Marsh to obtain licensure in Body Mapping.

As you achieve efficient, coordinated movement at your instrument, you will also experience increased ease and freedom. Most importantly, all that you learn about movement at the instrument will be consistently and profoundly united with artistic expression.

Student       Lisa teaching

Topics of Study

Body Mapping Course: Sensory discernment and responsiveness, the core of the body and places of balance, how to sit and stand, the four arm joints, whole body support for arm function, the structures and movements of breathing, leg movement, performance anxiety, hearing loss prevention, handwriting, computer keyboard skills, activities of daily living. Instructor: Professor Lisa Marsh.

Yoga for Musicians Course: Yoga, flexibility and relaxation for the performing musician. Instructor: Professor Melissa Robinson.

Private lessons: Coaching on literature of all styles. Emphasis on an organized learning and memorization process with attention to technique from a somatic perspective. Focus  on expression through the lens of the composer’s intention. Individualized instruction in Body Mapping and health related concepts such as nutrition, sleep, exercise, how to practice, and stress reduction.
Instructor: Professor Lisa Marsh.

Teacher Training

Selected students will be invited to return to the class for a second and third year to serve as teaching assistants. In this capacity students will deepen their knowledge of course concepts while participating in lecturing, coaching other students and assisting with course research. Teaching assistants may also apply to train for licensing in Body Mapping.

Medical Referrals

The Coordinate Movement Program interfaces with the Portland State University Health Service and local physical therapy and hand surgery consultants. Referrals are also available for alternative therapies including massage, acupuncture and naturopathic physicians. For more information, visit the Community Referrals page.

Lisa with students

Testimonials from Students

“Before beginning the Coordinate Movement Program I was unable to play due to tendonitis in my right shoulder and general tension that had become severely debilitating. Lisa's ability to pinpoint weaknesses in my technique made it possible for me to free up my arms, hands and fingers to such a degree that I was able to play again. With the addition of the Body Mapping information my physical freedom at the piano has increased significantly. Understanding the relationship between movement and expression at the piano has enhanced my abilities in practice and performance. The healthy environment promoted by Lisa Marsh and Barbara Conable is an essential factor in the recovery of musicians limited by pain or injury."

- Monica - Graduate Student

"For nine years I was unable to play the piano without constant, sharp pain in my right arm and elbow. Since working with the instructors of the Coordinate Movement Program I have made many changes in the way I play and rarely experience any discomfort. I find it strange that pianists know very little about anatomy. The courses in this program present movement anatomy in a very basic way, then students can apply the information directly to playing. We also work on maintaining awareness of our entire body, all of our senses and our emotions. I feel more freedom when I play and my recent performances have been more musical and without memory slips. I would strongly recommend this program to anyone serious about creating beautiful music, injured or not."

- Chantal - Graduate Student

This course has been so valuable in many ways. Through discussions with fellow pianists I have learned about what it means to be an artist and musician and the feelings we share with one another. By having to articulate concepts about the anatomy of our bodies I have a much clearer sense of these things and plan to continue to explore and fine-tune my knowledge. I have never experienced such a "team-like" feeling of support amongst musicians before. In performing I have found that when I feel tension or anxiety I can go to different places in my brain to deal with it and make adjustments. It is a continual process of sensing, feedback and adjustment. This couldn't have happened at a better time for me and I am truly grateful to have been part of this enlightening group."

- Juli - Undergraduate Student

Excerpt from the Oregonian Article by Bill Graves published April 24th, 2003 "Monica Halseth's slim body sways like grass in the wind as her long fingers race up and down the keys of the grand piano. "I think you torso is getting ahead of your arm,” observes Lisa Marsh a pianist and music professor at Portland State University. During the hour-long session, Marsh comments on the way Halseth holds her arms, touches the keys, turns her body, relaxes her hands and uses her feet on the pedals. The private lesson is part of Portland State University's Coordinate Movement Program for Pianists- studies headed by Marsh to heal injured pianists.

A large proportion of serious and professional musicians play in pain and experience injuries. Yet most do not know that precise movement techniques can help them. Marsh and other teachers at Portland State hope to change that. Their program, in its first year, saved Halseth's musical career. A year ago, her hands moved over the keys like claws- stiff, slow, clumsy. Sometimes her fingers went numb. Tendonitis pain needled her right shoulder. "I couldn't produce the sounds I wanted," recalls Halseth, 30, who has played the piano since age 5."I couldn't play fast, I couldn't play accurately." Today Halseth plays without pain. Her fingers dash over the keyboard, deftly delivering a fast and complicated Beethoven sonata that will be part of her final recital next fall for her master's degree in music teaching."

Contact Information

Lisa Marsh, Program Director
Phone: 503-227-6699 Email:


What's New


New Book:
Fundamental Principles of Coordinate Movement
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