These before and after photos are useful in demonstrating the changes that can happen after Alexander Technique instruction with musicians.
As you can see by the photos below, this pianist’s tension is held in her raised shoulders and upper back. Her legs are not being used to “ground” herself. Her left foot is not flat on the ground, which causes balance issues and her legs are caving in towards each other. The legs are not being used for support and thus the lower back, which is being tightened and pushed too forward, must work harder than it should. The lower back is taking all responsibility for stability of the torso when it should be shared with the front core of the torso. Her head is pushing down into the front of her neck, shortening her spine.
Many pianists typically sit like this, where the core and legs are not stable and all of the work is being done in the lower back, shoulders and neck, creating excess tension. The tension across the shoulders and in the upper arms can restrict technical abilities and facility around the keyboard. All of these habits can result in a produced piano tone that can be somewhat harsh or pinched, especially with louder passages.
Heather works with the student to release the head forward and up so that the spine can be lengthened. This will help the student to find her ground and use her body in a more balanced fashion. As you can see in the third photograph, after some lessons, this student is now using her back, core and legs with greater integration, allowing her shoulders to move away from her neck and relax more. The energy of her body is more evenly distributed and less held, which allows for a warmer, fuller piano tone.
This student’s habit is to lift and squeeze the shoulders. The head is not balanced well on top of the neck and the neck has excess tension, with the head being pulled into the spine. The elbows are stiff and “fighting” the flute. The shoulder is being squeezed into the torso. The lower and upper back are not integrated and working well together. Breathing will be more challenging as a result of the diaphragm not having enough space and the flute tone produced potentially will have less clarity.
The instinct to close off the space under the arm and tighten the shoulder is strong in flutists because of the position that the flute must be held in. It is counter-intuitive for the flutist to open up the shoulder and lengthen the arm that crosses in front of the body.
Heather works with the student to encourage a widening of the shoulders and release of excess tension. As you can see with the third photograph, the student’s head is more poised and is no longer being pulled into the neck. There is less tension in the shoulders and arms and the body is “quieter." Overall the balance of her body is more centred and improved, which should lead to better breathing.
This student tightens and pushes his lower back forward and compensates by moving his upper body back for balance. His jaw is tight and locked towards the front of his neck. There is unnecessary tension in the arms and fingers. His body is not well-balanced over the legs.
Saxophone players will often have this kind of stance when performing. When they stand like this there is further tension in the legs as the calves push back to find balance when the hips are too far forward. With a tight jaw and lack of freedom of the neck and head, breathing and the embouchure can suffer, which can affect the quality of the timbre produced.
Heather works with the student to free his neck and head, which will directly impact his entire back and how he positions his hips. This in turn, affects how he uses his legs.
In the third photograph you will notice that the student’s body is much better aligned and balanced over his legs. Overall there is much less tension in the lower back and the jaw is more relaxed.
This student is lifting and squeezing her shoulders towards her neck as she plays the harp. This effectively locks in the neck and head. The elbow and upper arm are tightly held in towards the torso and have no fluidity. The fingers have too much tension.
It is counter-intuitive for musicians to think of lengthening their fingers when plucking strings. Instead, the immediate instinct is to close and tighten the hands and fingers.
Heather works with the student to widen and open the shoulders and lengthen the arms, allowing greater freedom to the arms and ultimately the hands.
The third photograph demonstrates the improved opening of the shoulders and widening across the upper torso. The arm and its elbow are much freer. The hands have less tension. The neck and head are no longer locked.