I was first introduced to Alexander Technique about 10 years ago at a flute masterclass with Keith Underwood. It was a useful tool for discovering unhealthy habits and sources of muscular tension. Since that time, I haven’t pursued additional training in Alexander Technique, but I am realizing tension in my playing that I think can be addressed through it and through a related idea, Body Mapping.
For me (and I think a lot of others), everyday stress leads to tension in my playing. My sources of stress include trying to balance my life: many jobs, frequent driving, practicing, and time for my family. It is very easily to allow these things to become overwhelming, resulting in tense practice and very little progress made.
So what is Alexander Technique? According to an introductory article on www.alexandertechnique.com, the technique is a “method of releasing unwanted muscular tension throughout [the] body which has accumulated over many years of stressful living.” In fact, it is quite possible that these harmful behaviors have become our “default” setting and we aren’t even aware of the fact that they’re causing tension and possibly other ailments.
The technique is named for F.M. Alexander, an actor who developed the technique out of sheer necessity. After beginning to lose his voice while working as a Shakespearean orator, he faced either addressing the problem or finding another career. His discoveries form the basis of Alexander Technique.
Alexander Technique is frequently used by musicians. We are often referred to as “athletes of the small muscles.”As with other athletes, we make intense demands on our bodies and we also make a significant number of repetitive movements. Imagine the stress and injury that can happen after years of recurring movements made when your body is holding such tension!
I’m challenging myself to remain more aware of sources of tension. I hope that, in the next month, my practicing will become freer and less tiring. I know this is nearly impossible to quantify, but I know my own playing well enough to have a clear idea of my progress. I encourage you to think about sources of tension in your own playing and make some deliberate efforts to eliminate that tension.