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November 6

King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” ​as a Structure for ATM Lessons

King Crimson 21st Century Schizoid Man

This year marks the 50th anniversary of King Crimson's groundbreaking song "21st Century Schizoid Man". At the time, critics reviled the song. But now it is celebrated as the origin of progressive rock and metal. Rolling Stone Magazine recently did an excellent two-part series on the song and the band.

It had been a long time since I listened to "21st Century Schizoid Man". I could remember the main riff and the vocal melody and quality, but I could not recall the progressive nature of the song. So I pulled it out for a listen.

Song Structure of "21st Century Schizoid Man"

The song essentially has three parts to it. It begins with a 30-second ambient intro and then launches into the primary, powerful riff played by guitarist Robert Fripp and saxophonist Ian McDonald. This heavy riff alternates three times with Greg Lake’s distorted vocals, which are punctuated with a heavy downbeat.

From here, there is a transitional movement that accelerates and takes us into the mid-section of the song known as “Mirrors.”

“Mirrors” begins with an upbeat tempo sax riff, which reprises itself between instrumental variations, which include riffs, solos, timing and tempo changes, as well as unique combinations of instruments that create intriguing aural textures. The first variation consists of a long and relatively slow guitar solo by Robert Fripp with a rapid background tempo of drums and bass. Laid on top of the same drum and bass tempo, the next variation comes in with dual saxophones playing different yet similar patterns. We return to our upbeat tempo sax riff for a few bars, which gives way to a rapid precision drum, sax, and guitar pattern. We return to the main upbeat tempo sax riff one more time.

In the final part, we return to the main riff and alter once with one last vocal verse before returning to the main riff and the ascending into an improv conclusion.

It truly is a fantastic piece of music.

It is a simple structure performed with precision and technical prowess.

In a nutshell the structure in three parts:

  • Part 1 – Main riff and vocals
  • Part 2 – “Mirrors” – A sequence of variations comprised of riffs, solos, instrument combinations, with differences in timing and tempo
  • Part 3 – Return to the original riff and vocals and ends with an improv conclusion

You can find this structure in many progressive rock and metal songs. Deep Purple’s lyrically enigmatic “Child in Time” and Opeth’s dark masterpiece “Blackwater Park” are two excellent examples.

The song structure as an Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) Lesson

You can think of the structure of the song like an ATM lesson with a reference movement established in the beginning and revisited at the end with a lot of interesting variations between them.

If we look at the structure in terms of a lesson, we could consider the opening riff, a reference movement, the vocals, and instrument parts as variations, which then return to the reference movement.

The mid-section “Mirrors” would be a series of variations related to the first section yet different. Variations can include movements, awareness, tempo, timing, trajectory, separation of parts, pairings of different parts, and so on.

And we are then concluding with a return to the original riff and vocals. Which is to say, return to the reference movement and notice the changes.

Moshe does this often in lessons. He works with an idea, then goes off and does something which seems completely different and then returns to the original idea to find that it has changed. The lesson I did this morning, “Alexander Yanai 258 Bending and going down on one knee 1,” closely follows that same structure.

How “Alexander Yanai Lesson 258” Fits the Structure

In “Alexander Yanai 258 Bending and going down on one knee 1,” we begin by standing behind a chair with the hands resting on the back and folding. Then turn to the right, so the left hand is on the back of the chair, hold the left foot with the right hand and lengthen the leg and lower the pelvis. Next, we turn to the left and do the same thing. Throughout this first section, Moshe introduces small variations in movements and awareness.

Now we go into the mid-section of the lesson. We move to the front of the chair, where Moshe takes us through two major variation sequences. First, we place the left hand on the seat over the right leg of the chair. Hold the right foot with the right hand and explore variations, including timing, trajectory, and tempo. We do this to the other side as well. In the second significant variation, we place both hands on the front of the chair and lower the head and pelvis. Moshe then takes us through many unique movements with the feet and knees.

We conclude by returning to the back of the chair and coming back to the original reference movements with a few more variations introduced to facilitate generalization.

Mapping the outline of “21st Century Schizoid Man” into an ATM

Let’s go into a more detailed outline of “21st Century Schizoid Man” and map it into an ATM lesson.

Quiet Intro – Scan

Part One

Main Riff – Primary Reference Movement
Vocals with Heavy beat riff – Variations
Main Riff – Primary Reference Movement
Vocals with Heavy beat riff – Variations
Main Riff – Primary Reverence Movement

Transition to Mirrors – Change position, sides, the plane of action, etc.

Part Two (Mirrors)

Sax Riff – Secondary Reference Movement
Guitar Solo – slow guitar with rapid background tempo of drums and bass – Variations with differentiations
Dual Sax playing similar but different themes – Variations
Sax Riff – Secondary Reference Movement
Quick drum, sax, and guitar – Variations
Sax Riff – Secondary Reference Movement

Part Three

Main Riff – Primary Reference Movement
Vocals with Heavy beat riff – Variations
Main Riff – Primary Reference Movement
Accelerating improv – Conclusion / Generalization

My tribute lesson to King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”: It’s not heavy, it’s not metal, but it is progressive

My tribute lesson is asymmetrical, which begins on one side that you choose based on your experience of the opening scan. The scan establishes the criteria by which you make this choice by sensing your pattern of resting on the floor.

In part one, we work with one side with a simple movement of the rolling the leg out to the side and drawing it up to stand on the foot and then reverse the movement. Drawing the leg up to stand is the primary movement of the first section of the lesson.

The variations we explore are with the breath, head, and eyes. I introduce some of the variations in combination with the primary movement, and others are awareness oriented.

In the second part (Mirrors), we transition into working with the other side. We explore a new series of variations. We establish a secondary movement to which we return periodically. Unlike “21st Century Schizoid Man,” I introduce a more extended sequence of variations in this section.

The secondary movement is drawing the leg up to stand and then pushing through the foot to lift the hip. This movement has an indirect influence on the other side with which we first worked. It cultivates the same action with but by a different means.

The lengthy variations explored are with the head and eyes, which create a neurological overlap with part one of the lesson.

In part three, we return to our first movement and notice the differences. As Dr. Feldenkrais does in so many lessons, we take the final variation and generalize it to both sides with the movement of the head and eyes.

You can listen to the entire lesson here

A Feldenkrais Tribute to King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man

If you like it, or if you want to own it, click here.


I had contemplated this idea for a long time. The idea being that progressive rock and metal have similar structures to Feldenkrais lessons. When I read the articles in Rolling Stone Magazine and heard “21st Century Schizoid Man,” I was motivated to put my ideas into action. I am an unabashed metalhead. I love progressive metal and rock because of the emotional and intellectual stimulation I get from it. So the idea that the overlap of the structure progressive rock and metal fits with the structure of learning strategies says something amazing about progressive music and why it is so compelling.

If you are a practitioner, I would love to know if you have used external structures to organize a lesson. I know people have used music or song as an analogy to a lesson. But have you used a song, story or some other structure to organize a lesson? If you have, please post it below.


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