Over the past year I have continued my studies of the Alexander Technique. I have both added to my previous knowledge and learnt new aspects of the technique that have helped me both in my musical and non-musical life. Looking back over the past year I feel that I have made so much progress in terms of becoming aware of my body, parts of which I have not be using correctly for many years.
I have made changes to my violin warm up routine that I intend to keep now for the whole of my musical career. Semi-supine takes a prominent role in this routine as well as throughout my daily violin practice. A few years ago I really struggled with back pain and I am now happy to say that by practicing the technique my back pain has improved massively. I am certainly more aware of the tension I tend to hold in my neck, shoulders and hands and feel that I am now more able to actively correct this whilst playing the violin. I am able to practice for longer, as well as perform a piece to a standard I’m happy with, without being interrupted or otherwise impeded by pain. Other people have noticed these changes, too; my teacher has reported to me a massive transformation in my violin playing since I started studying the technique. I now hold my violin in a much better position, something that myself and my teacher have been working on for the past 4 years. This new violin hold seems to have now fallen into place over the past few months, and I honestly think that by remembering my Primary Control during the learning process, I have been able to improve at a much faster rate, with the violin hold becoming something that comes very naturally to me now. We both have also seen a massive boost in my confidence. Being able to perform in my Alexander Technique classes regularly and having aspects of my violin playing highlighted to me has definitely helped. I have worked on these aspects, implementing Alexander procedures to overcome these difficulties in my playing and I now feel so much more solid and secure in my technique, and more able to trust in my own musical abilities, particularly in realising the music in the way I envision it during practice. This is something which I felt to be incredibly difficult and limiting before being introduced to the Technique, and I hope this is something that will continue to improve as long as I continue to think about the Technique and my practice of it.
During the Alexander course this year we all made three videos of our playing. Two were of a performance in class, and one was of a mock audition. I do regularly record my violin playing, but normally this is in audio only, and more and more as I have studied the Alexander Technique I have realised I have been missing a crucial aspect of my musical performance by doing this. It has been really beneficial to look back and analyse these videos and to see where I have improved and which aspects of my playing still need improvement. Looking back at the 1stvideo I was actually shocked. At the time it didn’t feel as if I had played that well, but it was a nice surprise to hear that it wasn’t actually too bad. I think this gave me more confidence in my playing, the difference of which is apparent in the two videos. By comparing these performances I am able to see a noticeable transformation in not only the sound I am producing, but also in the way I hold myself and the violin. My left hand is much more over the strings of the violin, which has a huge, positive effect on my tuning. Another point to mention is that in the 2ndvideo my playing is much more relaxed and organised. I can tell that over the past year I have become much more comfortable performing in front of people and I feel that the Alexander Technique has played a big part in this. Performance anxiety has been by far the biggest hurdle that I am currently trying to overcome and the Alexander Technique has provided me with different ways and methods to deal with it. It has been a difficult process, but I finally feel that I am getting further along the way to comfortably cope with performance anxiety and reduce its overall impact on my playing. Methods such as the whispered ‘ah,’ for example, have been extremely beneficial as a subtle and unobtrusive way to calm down before a performance. I have been able to put into practice the methods and exercises learnt in our lessons in a number of performance classes, particularly those that my teacher has put on throughout the year, and both she and my peers have been able to see the improvement. Looking back on the 1stperformance class I played in, and then the most recent one, I am able to see such a difference in my confidence and level of anxiety that it almost feels like I am a new musician entirely.
There are, of course, still aspects of my violin playing that need improvement as is apparent in the videos. In all three of the videos I shift my weight onto one leg whilst playing. I need to take time to find the balance as well as being able to free my knees. I know, too, that I can improve my use of vision in my playing. My eyes have been a big part of my Alexander Technique journey; before learning about the Technique, my eyes were something I didn’t really think about at all. However, in my 3rdyear of Alexander Technique I completed a lengthy written work on the role of vision and its relation to the practice of the Technique, and having learnt about the eyes in so much depth, I soon came to understand that they play a huge part in my violin playing. This is still an ongoing process, however; the main reason I have found it so difficult to free my eyes, I think, is due to memory issues. I definitely rely a lot on the music being in front of me, so I tend to over focus on the notes, which has knock-on effects to other aspects of my playing. This is something that I am currently working on improving, and hopefully in time I will be a lot freer in my eyes.
Around a year ago now I started teaching the violin. I hadn’t really thought properly about introducing the technique into my lessons as there are so many technical aspects of teaching the violin that I needed to get right, and if I’m honest, at the start it overwhelmed me so much that Alexander Technique took a back seat. Now that I have become much more experienced and comfortable with teaching the basic techniques of the violin, and happy working with a wide range of individual students, moreover, I have begun to incorporate the Alexander Technique into my lessons. Recently, I took on a student that was of Grade 6 standard. She knew how to play the violin, however many aspects of how she held the violin were not up to a standard that would allow her to progress any further. I talked to her about Primary Control and how that would affect not only how she holds the violin but how she sounds. After explaining this, she was able in a short while to be so much more free of tension. This was a great feeling for me and also for her! I now feel much more confident and capable of applying the Alexander Technique to my teaching as a whole, and this example has proven to me first-hand that the Alexander Technique and teaching an instrument do go hand in hand. Another thing that has become apparent to me is that when teaching young children, they tend to copy exactly what you do. Therefore this has been a very useful tool to help me continue to think about the Alexander Technique outside of the classroom, and in a way has made me more disciplined about my own practice. If I maintain good use of the self, then so too can my students.
It is not only musical aspects of my life that Alexander Technique has an impact on. My walking, for example, has changed. Walking seems like such a simple thing, but it is apparent that I have picked up many bad habits over the years prior to studying the Technique. During the course I received a lesson on how to walk both on flat ground and up and down stairs. This was an incredibly eye opening lesson for me as it made me realise how much I tend to look down at the ground in all aspects of walking. This has been incredibly bad for my posture and is very likely one of the reasons why I carry so much tension in my shoulders and neck. This is definitely one of the aspects of the technique I can keep looking back to when I am no longer actively studying the Alexander Technique at College. It will allow me to be reminded, in the simplest way possible, of the basic principles of the Technique and help me further solidify these into my everyday life.
The Alexander Technique is something that I have enjoyed learning about over the past 4 years, it has been an extremely rewarding experience and is something that I fully intend on continuing to integrate into my everyday life, both after leaving college and in the years ahead. I am very grateful for the positive and transformative effect it has had on my life so far, and no doubt in future, too. There are many exercises that I have learnt that I am yet to put into practice, and I am excited to make a start on integrating these into my life as I continue to grow and learn. With exercises such as ‘hands on the back of the chair’ and ‘semi-supine plus,’ for example, I initially did not feel confident enough to practice them correctly. However, after working on them more and more in a guided class environment, I feel that I am more able and ready to do these exercises outside of the classroom, and look forward to seeing how they affect my violin playing as well as everyday life outside of my education. I am extremely grateful for having been able to learn a small chunk of what the Alexander Technique is all about, and it has definitely been a huge help in undertaking every day activities as well as practicing the violin. The improvement I have seen in both of these aspects has been something I do not think I would have been able to achieve if I had not been able to study the Technique. Looking back over what I have learnt and how I have grown I would 100% recommend any musician to look into the technique and if given the opportunity, take part in lessons.