Alexander Technique in Music

Introduction

Playing a musical instrument can be a challenging task for many musicians because of the stress and interference from the environment. Those who are playing the instruments must adapt to certain techniques that can enable them to change effectively and respond to the environmental condition in a manner that improves their experience with music. They need to achieve better functioning by responding to different stimuli in the environment during the process of playing the music. One way of overcoming the stress challenge is to use the Alexander Technique. This technique has a long history of association with music where it has been used to help singers and instrumentalists to perform in an environment that is less stressful and less risky. Using this technique means that musicians are able to do some of the most demanding and complex physical movements in their work. Recently, the scientific term Repetitive Strain Injury is being used to describe the effects that musicians experience even though complex muscular actions have always been linked to musicians who perform over and over again. According to Alcantara, “the Alexander Technique is an approach to movement that helps in meeting the demands, a reliable way to reduce or eliminate tension, nervousness or pain .” The technique can be used in any profession to prevent injury, reduce tension, and overcome repetitive strain and other problems. The present research paper provides an insight into the use of Alexander Technique in music and how this method can help to meet reduce stress. The paper also introduces the discovery of the technique and how it has developed into a tool for professionals to avoid injury and reduce tension. 

The invention of Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique was named after its inventor, an Australian named Frederick Matthias Alexander. The inventor of the technique later devoted most of his life to teaching the technique. Technically, the technique is based on the discovery that unconscious but habitual interference with the head-neck-back activities are likely to affect the overall functioning. Thus, the relationship between these activities can be controlled consciously. In the book The Use of the Self, Alexander offers a vivid description of the process of discovery in a chapter aptly named “Evolution of a Technique” whose aim was to indicate his experiences and show that “it is impossible to separate ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ processes in any form of human activity .” Alexander was skilled in reciting plays by Shakespeare before developing a hoarseness of voice which later impacted his good performance. Through the advice of his doctor, he rested his voice but the problem reoccurred during critical performance. To understand his problem, Alexander thought that there must be something wrong that he himself was doing during performance which affected his voice. By watching himself in the mirror performance, Alexander concluded that his voice problems were a result of misuse of his crucial body parts. He noted that he was not able to separate his mind from the workings of his body and that thought preceded actions. According to Alexander’s discovery, there is a primary control which is defined as a “certain use of the head and neck in relation to the rest of the body”. During actions, primary control brings about an integrated freedom of movement around the body. Through natural actions, most human beings unknowingly interfere with the critical relationship of their head, neck, and back. This interference, which is unintended, distorts the workings and subsequently the quality of the outcomes . The findings by Alexander gained prominence, first, in music, and later in other professionals with wide ranging benefits for string players. 

The principle calls for a non-interference with the crucial body parts; head, neck, and back, to achieve better quality outcomes in sound and music. Musicians and instruments’ players should also not spend much of their time to focus on hands and arms as much as they focus on the rest of the body. Problems with hands or arms are linked to the use of the whole body and must, therefore, be accompanied by a balance in muscular movements. The instrument player must gain easiness and awareness of their environment in order to get the intended balance. As a technique, Alexander Technique has found application from its initial profession which was to help musicians to avoid the effects of complex muscular actions. The technique is used to improve the quality of the physical movements during the playing of an instrument or singing. It is also helpful in improving the quality of music, for instance, a violinist’s stiff shoulder and arms can be stretched by use of the technique. A singer can release tension in the jaw or neck whenever the technique is used and, therefore, achieve high quality voice resonance. Through these actions, they singer can release undue tension and the technique is responsible for performance with more lively, fluid, rigid, and less tense environment. 

 

The Alexander Technique has been described as a process of re-education and free the professional form unwanted behaviors. Through this technique, the user become more aware of different ways they use to operate their daily life and ensure efficiency and coordination during the implementation of these processes. The technique is founded on the understanding that the inherent relationship between the head, the neck, and the back has a serious consequence on the way tasks are accomplished. By achieving the correct alignment of these parts during the implementation of any task, the person is allowed to achieve a dynamic and balanced change in the overall muscular system. Thus, they are able to release some if not all of the unnecessary tensions in the body. As argued by Rolland, Alexander Technique does not present anything new to the person who uses it but rather a new way of dealing with the habits they already possess and also be able to bring more practical intelligence into their actions . The technique recognizes that habitual behaviors play an important role in the actions being undertaken by a person including playing musical instruments for example. 

Most of these habitual behaviors are unconscious and deeply hidden from the individual. The unconsciousness can be such that an individual is unaware of the actions such as holding the instrument. It, therefore, contributed to pulling down the results. Other unconscious actions can be tightening of the neck to interfere with voicing, and narrowing of the shoulders that inhibit resonance . These actions have the effect of affecting the breathing pattern and, therefore, the ability to generate high quality sounds during the process of playing an instrument or singing. Alexander Technique also takes into the account the difficulties associated with shifting the attention from the action such as playing an instrument to controlling some of the body parts. Thus, it relies heavily on making the person aware of the activities and enabling them notice the movement of their body parts which could ultimately affect the quality of the sound of the music they are producing. The technique requires the person to become skilled observers of the movement of their key body parts. This process may take a long time since people are often not conscious of their movements and thoughts. It is also important to learn how to stop one from certain thoughts or actions which are likely to interfere with the quality of the key event.

In order to make use of Alexander Technique, it is important to understand the principles behind the technique. The technique is basically a way of learning through a conscientious approach to actions in life. It is a process that illuminates on the inefficient habits of patterns and movements that human beings are likely to accumulate in the course of their interactions and hence leading to heightened tension and strain. The outcome is interference with the inherent ability to act normally in accordance to the natural design. The Alexander Technique; thus, provides a simple but powerful method to give an opportunity for anyone to take charge of their own habits and behavior and allow them to embark on a healing process. This method is not a series of passive activities but rather active exploration of the dynamics of life and in response to the new stimuli in the environment and thought. As a result, the person who engages with Alexander Technique is able to acquire skills that are useful in every situation and hence become freer, lighter, and more grounded in their interactions. At its simple form, Alexander Technique can be conceptualized as a method to change movements or habits in daily activities. It allows for improvement in easiness and freedom of support, coordination, balance, and movement by teaching a person on how to use appropriate amount of effort to accomplish a given activity and, therefore, leave the person with enough energy to do other activities. The technique does not present a series of exercises or treatment but simply a re-education of the mind and body. It is a method that can be used to discover a new balance of the body by having unnecessary tension released. It can also be applied in standing position, lying down, walking, sitting, and other numerous activities of the day. As a result, there have been misconceptions about the really nature of Alexander Techniques .

Misconceptions about Alexander Technique

One of the most common misconceptions is that Alexander Technique is a form of physical therapy that can be used to relieve pain in back, shoulder, and neck. This misconception is largely fed on by medical practitioners who have advised their patients to try the technique to relieve backache. There is increasing evidence that many of these patients find help with their backache problems when they start on Alexander Technique . Nonetheless, the approach used in the technique is such that the material is presented as education in nature. Thus, people are taught how to become more sensitive to the messages they are getting from their bodies. They are also taught how to respond to the messages that are generated by the body and to do it in a constructive way. It is a way of showing the user how to get their natural way of functioning by learning how to stand, sit, move, and perform without harming their bodies. The relief gained following removal of excessive tension is part of the Alexander Technique, but the instructor cannot predict how fast the tension will be released. Thus, there is no absolute guarantee that the technique can be used to relieve backache and other forms of pain caused by using an instrument or engaging in an activity for a long period. However, one in a while, it is possible for the user of Alexander Technique to experience some form of unexpected therapeutic benefits. 

The other misconception is that Alexander Technique is only good for performers and professionals. Whereas this technique is of great benefits to actors, dancers, and musicians, it also provides numerous benefits to professionals from other industries. Most of Alexander Technique teachers are found in music, dance, and drama schools which contribute to the misconception that the technique is only suitable for people in this context. The fact is that Alexander Technique is used in all kinds of occupations including massage therapists, dentistry, carpentry, teaching profession, and even in financial management. The technique has received a huge following because of how it impacts the quality of body functioning and, therefore, the quality of performance. It is just that many performers and musicians find the technique more applicable to them because of the nature of their activity, which means that they work in a painfully demanding environment. The fact is that anyone has to perform some action or activity in one way or the other in their professional and private engagement . While the experience from such activities may not be equitable to the demanding experience f dancers and musicians, they way they do these activities still has an impact on the quality of performance and ultimately the overall well-being and health of the person. Thus, Alexander Technique can be used as a powerful tool to mitigate the impact of activities that present challenges to a person engaged in those activities for an extended period of time.

Another misconception is that Alexander Technique is only suitable for old people because of their problems in posture and movement. These activities normally change after a certain time. The argument is that young people can easily change their habits as compared to the old people. However, according to the inventor of this technique, the most appropriate place to teach is in early grades in school because at this time, most children are particularly interested in coordination and posture. In addition, it is also at this time that the acquired harmful habits of children are not yet causing discomfort or pain, unlike in the old people . Young people also have so many things going on in their lives that they are not mindful of their movement and posture patterns and, therefore, are unlikely to be concerned with such activities. In practice, many of the beneficiaries of Alexander Technique are not particularly young people. Lastly, there is also a misconception about the duration and difficulty involved in learning Alexander Technique . The basic principle for this technique is very simple because it involves the use of common sense. In fact, the technique has been sometime called applied common sense because of the ease with which it could be learn. Most people are able to learn the technique and make significant changes in the way they interact with others within a few weeks. The cost is also not beyond the ordinary cost for massage or any other therapy .

Learning to Use the Technique in Music Setting

Alexander Technique is only part of the major techniques that music major can learn in their training. It is often easier for learners of music and dancing to think of one magic posture for every activity that they need to gain self control into a right posture. However, whatever it is that they do in a single posture cannot work even where it means a single first note, breathing after the first phrase, typing or conducting the first downbeat, the technique can be useful in all of these moments. The Alexander Technique does not present one-fit-all posture for standing or sitting but the user must learn the posture depending on the activities they are engaged in . The user of the technique must learn how to use their senses to control subtle distortions that can introduce tension or strain and, therefore, allow the body to use inner support system. It is a method that encourages everyone to use the entire body during performance as a means to save time and correct many problems at the same time. For young learners, Alexander Technique has been found to be useful in learning how to improve the use of the body because young people are always occupied with some form of activities. Following the high entrenchment in simple activities, young people are susceptible to discomfort and pain, which can be relieved easily by applying the Alexander Technique principles. Furthermore, learning the basic foundations at the beginning of a career such as dancing or music can have a positive impact on years of bad habits and, therefore, prevented injury. In fact, many learning institutions are now recognizing the technique as an integral part of the compulsory course work for their learners .

Conclusion

Alexander Technique is a process that has found application in many professionals because of its ability to allow individuals to have control of their own activities. By having control, they are able to avoid injuries and overcome stressful situations associated with their work. The technique originated from music and dancing and, therefore, is inadvertently associated with the profession partly because the profession has embraced it more than other techniques. Nonetheless, the technique provides numerous benefits especially to the young people who have not slid into bad habits. For older people, Alexander Technique is about un-learning of years of accumulated bad habits in what the founder described as the primary control of actions. Most of the students who have learnt Alexander Technique have benefited from its basic principles even before they learn how to use any musical instrument. This has helped to minimize the tendency to focus too much on the outcome rather than focusing on the process. The process is more like music because it presents an opportunity to learn progressively and developing a deeper sense of awareness. It is not something that can be completed and there is no perfection.

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May 14, 2019 in Communications
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