Making music can be surprisingly cruel to the body, the mind and the emotional life of the musician. Music offers cathartic satisfaction that few other human occupations can match, but for many it exacts a heavy price in the form of chronic afflictions of acute tendonitis, repetitive motion injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, and perhaps most worrisome of all, in the debilitating burdens of mental stress, stage fright and the unrelenting pressures to excel.
In many schools, conservatories, and professional settings, patience with injured or troubled musicians is relatively short. Therefore musicians keep silent when they experience difficulty and tend to be secretive about their problems. In this very competitive profession where jobs are few, musicians who are perceived as having problems risk losing their positions. Many find it difficult to find appropriate and effective help.
The F.M. Alexander Technique offers original and far reaching solutions. F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) realized that education must consider not what is done to us, but what we do to ourselves. His technique does not consist of exercises, focusing on getting it right, or “trying harder”, rather it helps us observe how we do all that we do. As Alexander wrote: “It is what man does that brings the wrong thing about, first with himself and then in his activities in the outside world.- it is only by preventing this “doing” that he can ever begin to make any real change.”
An Alexander student learns to identify those habits of thought and movement that create strain (which Alexander called the “misuse of the self’). He learns to reorganize himself by freeing his head and neck and by lengthening and widening his back, allowing the entire organism to function with greater ease. Everyday habits are magnified many times over in performance; therefore it is important for the student to learn how to”re-think in the moment” over a wide range of activities, minimizing needless tensions and restoring energy in daily life as well as in performance.
Good use of the self is characterized by an overall pattern of economy and freedom of movement. It means, for example, using no more and no less tension than necessary for a bow stroke or a chord at the piano, or having the time to breathe with the phrase. The F.M. Alexander Technique develops skills that prevent useless habits and self-defeating ideas, all the while awakening the student to his remarkable capacity for change and growth.
- Misuse/overuse syndrome – Differentiating between misuse and overuse, and recognizing how both affect daily practice and performance.
- Injuries and pain – Addressing performance-related medical problems from a holistic perspective. Differentiating between stress and strain. Using the Alexander Technique to balance and strengthen the entire muscular and skeletal system.
- The Art of Breathing – A sense of unity between the breath, the body, the instrument, and the music results in an energized quality of performance and increased pleasure for the musician.
- Pacing and Timing – Using rhythm, time and silence in music to clarify decisions and direct musical energies.
- Learning – Clarifying and memorizing musical conceptions before the execution of a passage.
- Stage fright – Understanding the causes of stage fright from a psycho-physical point of view. Eliminating stage fright, and dealing with it when it is present in performance.
- Improvisation – Using improvisation to heighten the connections between the musical impetus of a phrase and its physical execution.