Tips for Musicians: Experiments (part I)

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This is the first in a series of companion blogs for the article about the discoveries of Frederick Matthias Alexander which I wrote for the Colorado State Music Teachers Association. (See my previous blog post or visit https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/54205182/Leathwood_article_alexander_technique_CSMTA%20Notes%20%26%20News%202015%20copy.pdf to read the article). Each blog entry in the companion series will contain an experiment for you to try on your own.

Please note that I do not claim to teach you the Alexander Technique by means of the written word, and I highly recommend that you find a qualified teacher who can guide you in your explorations.

Since these experiments will rely on your perception of what you are doing (which, as Alexander discovered, is likely to be inaccurate), it may be helpful to video yourself or to do them with a partner. If you have a partner, one of you can read the instructions aloud as the other carries out the experiment. Aim for assessment without judgment. It is perfectly normal that you will have many habits you are unaware of and/or cannot feel yourself doing.

Experiment #1: “At rest vs. getting ready”

Choose ahead of time whether to do this experiment sitting or standing—choose the position in which you usually play or practice. If you are a singer, use this exercise for the purpose of finding out what happens when you hold a score or a choir folder.

  1. Go to your usual practicing location and get ready to start practicing.
  2. Now go to a different room, without your instrument, sit or stand easefully, and continue to be aware of your surroundings.

Do you think you stand or sit differently when you were not in your practice location and not getting ready to practice?

  1. Go back to your practicing location and sit or stand easefully, without any thought of practicing. Continue to be aware of your surroundings.

Are you able to sit or stand in your practicing location without thinking of playing or practicing? Is your sitting or standing easeful, as it was in the other room?

  1. Now bring your hands to your instrument, or bring your instrument to your body. If you are a singer, bring your score up in front of you.

Did you change your easeful way of sitting or standing when you moved into a practicing position?

  1. Go back to your easeful way of standing or sitting, without any thought of practicing.
  2. Pretend that your instrument is not an instrument, or that your music folder is not a music folder. Imagine it is some kind of neutral but pleasing object. Continue to notice your easeful sitting or standing, from head to toe, not thinking of playing or singing, while you move yourself into a position that approximates one in which you could play or sing, without disturbing the ease in your torso and head.

Was the movement and the sitting/standing different when you were not thinking of practicing?

Often when sitting, standing or moving without the idea of practicing, we move more easefully, simply because the thought of playing or singing brings all of our habits into play. If we can approach our instrument without the thought of music-making, we may be able to break the cycle of habit associated with playing/singing. Can we continue to be easeful while getting ready, and even once we begin?

I hope you have found the experiment interesting and useful in learning more about your habits, and I would love to hear from you about what you have discovered. Please feel free to comment in the space below, or go to our Facebook page (Alexander Technique Denver) to comment there. Below you can subscribe if you would like to be alerted when new posts appear.

Photo of a musician at rest by Heidi Leathwood

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