I’ve recently had the pleasure of teaching the Alexander Technique to a marvelous young professional bassoonist here in the Los Angeles area. In general, musicians pick up on the principles of the Technique fairly quickly, as most have a well-developed capacity to pay attention (not to mention tenacity).
But this young woman (I’ll call her Christi) was a standout. She was attending a six-week course on the Alexander Technique that I teach regularly in the community through the YMCA. Each week she came to class I was easily able to discern significant improvements in how she was using herself as she played her instrument. I would say, “It appears you’ve been thinking about this.” She’d reply, “Yes, quite regularly.”
In our last class session, after commenting in front of the class how significantly she had been able to change her habits in such a relatively short period of time, Christi shared a real gem of a tip with the the rest of the class.: Use sticky notes.
When she practices, she posts one or two simple reminders at the base of her music stand:
“Don’t pull your face forward.”
“Don’t arch your back.”
“Don’t take a noisy breath.”
“Don’t pull your left arm in toward your ribs.”
And so forth…Notice that all her reminders are to stop doing something. To stop the habitual response patterns of tension that interfere with her ability to play at her best.
She told me she got the idea from one of her bassoon mentors. There are two rules: First, she has to stop and consider whatever she has posted on her music stand before she begins or resumes playing. Every time. Second, she must limit herself to no more than two sticky note posts at any one time. (I might even suggest just one sticky note reminder.)
This gives her a chance to work against her habit each time she practices. Rather than addressing every habit she’d like to change all at the same time (which is not only overwhelming, but ineffective as well), she just goes after one or two things at a time and keeps at it until it comes under control. Easily manageable, lasting changes. Simple. Effective. Brilliant.
Not only is this a technique you can specifically use as you practice, but also, you can think of this as metaphor for effectively changing your habits: Keep it simple (one or two things at a time). Be persistent (every time you stop yourself from doing your habit, you weaken it). If you follow this model you’ll find a practical way to address any habit that is not serving you well.