Without a doubt, the greatest tool I possess as a musician is the Alexander Technique.
By applying the Alexander principles, I’ve been able to not only solve a very serious problem that threatened my musical career, but also, continue to find growth, improvement and insights into the challenges that I, and many other musicians encounter.
After years of studying and teaching the Technique, I continue to be amazed at how potent it is.
But the Alexander Technique isn’t a fail-proof guarantee that you’ll play better, or that you’ll solve all your musical performance problems. Instead, it’s simply a skill you can learn that significantly increases the likelihood that you’ll play better. It improves your odds, so to speak.
In essence, the Alexander Technique teaches you how to become aware of, and address, harmful and inefficient movement and postural habits. You learn to uncover many of the subconscious habits of tension that interfere with your natural coordination. You learn to replace strain with ease and efficiency.
These unconscious habits are a manifestation of how you react. The way you react, even as you start thinking about playing your instrument (or doing anything, for that matter), begins to condition the coordination involved in the playing itself.
If you react by compressing yourself in tense anticipation of playing your instrument, you’re simultaneously decreasing your odds of a successful outcome.
And yes, you still might be successful in your attempt, despite doing this (many musicians are!) But to increase your chance of a satisfactory outcome, you need to improve how you respond. This is the key to conistency for many musicians.
There are two distinct disadvantages that an overly tense habitual response brings to your music making. Both are inextricably related:
1. Mechanical disavantages-By unnecessarily stiffening muscles, compressing joints, and holding yourself perpetually out of balance as you play has a very real impact on your coordination. Often, you’re creating effort in your body that you need to overcome to do the work that is actually necessary to play your instrument.
2. Cognitive disatvantages-When you respond in a overly tense manner, you’re also bringing a kind of “fear/urgency” response into your efforts that interferes with your ability to think as clearly as you could. I call this the “deer in the headlights” response. Your thinking becomes muddled, hurried, rigid, and ultimately disconnected to your intentions.
These two disadvantages are so closely linked that you can often see how they go hand in hand. Watch somebody truly struggle with the fast tempo of a particular piece, and you see not only a tight neck, compressed shoulders, stiff arms and hands, but also, a knitted brow and narrowly fixed eyes that seem to broadcast desperation and strain. (Not to mention the breath holding that comes along with all this!)
None of this helps you play any better. (Am I being too obvious here?)
With the Alexander Technique you learn how to play your instrument with less effort (and with fewer counterproductive movement habits) because you learn to better control how you react as you play your instrument.
You learn to replace compression and urgency with expansion and calm alertness. You gain a clearer understanding of how you function naturally (in accordance to the design of your body), so you can say “no” to stressful, counterproductive reactions, and say “yes” to the possibility of ease, control and confidence.
You learn to better stay in the present moment with your thinking, responding effectively to whatever comes your way, instead of tensely anticipating the unknown. You increase your ability to choose your responses, and in doing so, improve your odds.
If you’d like to find out more about the Alexander Technique, visit the world’s most comprehensive website on the topic. If you live in the U.S. and would like to find a teacher in your area certified by the American Society for the Alexander Technique, take a look here. If you want to contact me personall
And maybe like me, the Alexander Technique just might become your most useful tool as a musician, too.