The Alexander Technique is taught in music and drama schools all over the world. Musicians spend hours in one position practising the same thing over and over again. They are often very ambitious and want to be the best. Quite often the combination of these factors leads to a state of exhaustion. However, because of the pressure of meeting deadlines for concerts, musicians tend to ignore the initial aches and pains they get. They think they must practise in spite of the pain, or else their performance will not be good enough. What they don’t realise is that if they keep ignoring the early warning signs of a problem, eventually the pain can be so severe that they cannot play their instrument for months.
In the last seven years I have gained considerable experience working with different musicians. I have given Alexander lessons to pianists, harpsichord players, violinists, viola players, cellists, double base players, singers (both classical and pop/jazz), choir conductors, woodwind players (oboe, clarinet, flute, recorder), brass players (trumpet, trombone, horn), drummers, guitarists (classical and pop/jazz).
The Alexander Technique helps musicians to be more in touch with their body. If the musician’s body is without undue tension and the mind is calm then playing the instrument is so much easier.
My tips to musicians:
- Take frequent breaks in your practice.
- Practise without your instrument. When I was preparing for my last piano exam in the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre I could play piano for only an hour a day. Normally pianists practise about six hours a day before an exam, but I could handle only an hour. So how did I do it? I studied the score of the pieces I needed to learn away from the piano. I imagined all the right fingering. While sitting looking at the score I made sure I wasn’t collapsing. I also mentally thought my body to be free, long and wide, meaning I mentally gave my Alexander directions.
If I spent some time studying the music score, I found that when I came to sit at the piano I found it much easier to play; I needed a lot less time physically practising.
I learnt the music by heart away from the piano. I used to suffer a lot of memory lapses during my performances which caused me to have panic attacks. After I started to memorise my repertoire in this way, my panic attacks reduced a lot in intensity.
Eventually I was able to play my music pieces entirely in my mind and imagine all the correct fingering, pedalling, dynamics, etc. The result was that I was a lot less nervous during my performances and I wasn’t worried about whether I would remember the music or not. The music was much clearer in my head. To some people this ability to hear the music in your head comes naturally. However, others, like me, have to learn it. Thanks to this way of working away from the piano, I didn’t need to physically play the piano so much; I could reduce the amount of playing considerably.
Just looking at the music can make you tight as well. Take frequent breaks and make sure you are not collapsing while sitting.
- Learn how to do the semi-supine on the floor. It feels wonderful to lie on your back on the floor with your head resting on some books and your knees bent. I did it several times a day during my breaks from practising. Even if I had tightened my body and arms during practising, lying on the floor helped me to undo this tension. Lying down in semi-supine really calms you down before a performance.
- In addition to the Alexander Technique, it is helpful to do some stretching or exercise. If you do your exercises together with thinking about your body in an Alexander way, you considerably reduce the risk of injuring yourself.
For musicians I recommend about 30 Alexander Technique lessons. Having played your instrument for many years there is normally quite a lot of tension to undo. And you will probably find that your attitude towards your instrument and towards your practising will change.
When we study music we constantly get feedback (or criticism) from our teachers. I used to be extremely unhappy sometimes and blame myself for not being good enough. After having had a considerable amount of AT lessons I noticed that I was much stronger inside and didn’t get so upset listening to critical feedback.