Some musicians, professional and amateur, may experience discomfort when practicing an hour or more with their instrument. Some will feel pain in various parts of the body – most commonly the back, shoulders, neck, forearms or hands. This discomfort or pain comes from strained muscular patterns, held tension, lack of muscular balance and inefficiency of movement. In more extreme cases the professional musician may develop serious conditions, such as tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. In less dramatic cases, the musician may feel like he or she is fighting the instrument and the music and the resulting performance is not what the musician intends or desires.
Musicians are so focused on their music, that they do not realize what they are doing to their body during the process of playing the music!
Alexander Technique can transform a musician’s approach and provide deep insight into their musical difficulties. By improving the quality of the physical movements involved in playing an instrument or singing, Alexander Technique also improves the quality of the music.
Many of Heather’s Alexander Technique students have reported feeling “lighter” and having greater ease with their instrument. They come to recognize that just playing a passage over and over again in an attempt to master it is counterproductive and not an efficient use of their time. There has to be active thought put into figuring out why they are having difficulty with the passage. Musicians begin to reason through their musical challenges as their level of self-awareness improves from Alexander Technique training.
With some Alexander Technique experience, musicians see that they play in a much more fluid manner, often with striking musical results:
Singers - a singer’s tone production can be fuller and more powerful and vocal range can actually increase when the vocal folds are not strained and pressing down into the neck and spine.
String Players - Violinists and violists often remark on their warmer, fuller tones when they do not pinch the head and shoulder toward the neck as they cradle their violin/viola and when energy is not trapped as tension in the shoulder or elbow of the bow arm. They also find relief from shoulder and wrist pain.
Wind Instrumentalists - Wind instrumentalists notice a change of breathing that is less strained and able to carry on longer. As they take a breath, they learn to recognize and inhibit their tendency to set up, in quick succession, a series of harmful physical habits that compress their spine and tighten their chest, which are counterproductive to achieving a full tone and long breath.
Pianists - Pianists learn to stop holding their shoulders up and let go of back, arm and hand tension so the energy of the body flows right to the fingertips, with a resulting rounder, “fatter” sound. They come to recognize that tight shoulders, forearms and wrists can create harsh tones and unnecessary technical difficulties. They realize that severely curled fingers create tension throughout the hand and forearm, while extended fingers allow for greater tactile control. They become aware of how often their energy and movement is directed away from the keyboard when it should always be directed into the keys.
Concepts Heather works on with musicians include:
The importance of the use of the entire body when playing an instrument.
How power is derived from the base of the spine and core, not the shoulders.
How to take away harsh tones by releasing the shoulders and allowing direction (an Alexandrian principle) or energy to flow from the spine through to the finger tips without tightening the various joints.
Working with the legs (which many musicians ignore and consider irrelevant) to recognize how critical they are for “grounding”, which helps to decrease upper body tension and improves tone.
Discouraging the tendency of musicians to go on “automatic pilot” or mentally disengaging when practicing.
You may know of musicians who are amazing artists despite their physical contortions at their instruments. Indeed, there are performers who are astounding despite their physical misuse. Glenn Gould and jazz pianist Keith Jarrett are perfect examples! Musical genius can absolutely overcome physical bad habits. Unfortunately, most of us are not musical geniuses and so we could profit from understanding how we negatively impact our own performances.
Alexander Technique is widely recognized in musical institutions around the world. It has been taught at several Canadian university music programs, including Toronto, McGill, Western, Victoria, Alberta, Capilano, Manitoba,York and at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Internationally, the Technique can be found at the Julliard School of Music, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Manchester School of Music, Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music, University of California, University of Maryland, University of Texas, Boston University, New York University and University of Michigan, among others.
Over the years, a number of prominent musicians have publicly endorsed the Alexander Technique including Yehudi Menuhin, Paul McCartney, Sting, Julian Bream, James Galway, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Colin Davis, to name but a few.