It has been a deeply rewarding educational journey for me to study the Alexander Technique since 1997. I have loved the challenge of learning new ways of thinking and, in F.M. Alexander’s term, “using myself.” Both my teaching and my music making have become more exciting than ever. Working with my superb Alexander Technique teacher, Cathy Madden, I have learned how I can coordinate all of myself so that I can make music as I want to. This means that I consciously give myself directions on my thinking, on how I use my whole body (including my fingers on the piano and my voice when singing) and on how I want the music to sound.
This might sound very different to you than how you now think about learning to sing or play an instrument. Let me assure you that there is nothing “woo-woo” about applying the Alexander Technique! It is a very conscious, logical process of gaining awareness and control of our whole selves and learning to give moment by moment directions to ourselves. It is not a relaxation technique, as some have suggested, but rather a way of learning to “decommission” some of our muscles when they are not needed so that the “right” muscles can function at their best, unimpeded by unnecessary tension in other parts of the body. It is also not a posture technique, which has also been suggested, but a way of learning to use our bodies in the most efficient and coordinated ways.
I do not give lessons in the Alexander Technique itself, but all of my music teaching is deeply informed by the principles of that technique. For instance, I do pay close attention to how students use their fingers on the piano and their breathing apparatus while singing, but, more importantly, I see those physical mechanisms as part of the exciting and complex web of systems that work together in coordinate with each other when we make good music. Of course, I also employ a very large variety of traditional and innovative strategies from the music teachers’ repertoire, such as working on tone quality, counting, fingering, breathing, pedaling, and so on.
If you’ve read this section and find yourself feeling uncertain about what the Alexander Technique is, you’re just like everyone else who has tried to grasp it in reading a few paragraphs! It doesn’t lend itself very well to written description and is most successfully taught with direct interaction between teacher and student in lessons that are designed in the minute in response to the student’s interests and needs.