#13 Alexander Technique
Alexander Technique is a movement method which is used by singers, actors, dancers and instrumentalists as a system to develop ease and effective coordination. It is taught in private studios, colleges and universities, including The Julliard School of Performing Art, The Royal College of Music in London and The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. The technique addresses and corrects the problems that may occur with repetitive use, and teaches one how to reorganize movement to reduce strain.
Alexander Technique was created by the Australian actor, F. M. Alexander (1869-1955). Alexander suffered bouts of hoarseness when projecting his voice on stage. He discovered by using three sided mirrors that he made subtle contractions with his neck and head just prior to speaking. By learning to stop those preparatory reflexes, he was able to free his voice considerably. Alexander then over the next 35 years developed a system for working with others using descriptive terminology, a method for using the hands on as a guide, and sequence of directives for retraining and freeing movement.
The descriptive terminology in Alexander Technique is unique.
“End-gaining” is what one engages in without regard to how the physical system may be harmed in the process. Singing with tension, or with the body out of alignment, is an example of end-gaining.
The opposite of end-gaining is the principle of “the means-whereby” where intermediate steps are used to reorganize the body to function with freedom, ease and flexibility.
Not all habits are good ones, and tension may be a physical habit that may feel right simply because we’re used to employing it. One may have to learn to “inhibit” what feels right, in order to discover what is kinesthetically correct.
In the absence of experiencing lessons hands on with a teacher I recommend a few good books on the subject.
Indirect Procedures, A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique, Pedro De Alcantara; Oxford University Press is a wonderfully detailed book designed especially for integrating musicianship skills with Alexander Technique. De Alcantara is a cellist, yet all his references to the cello may be applied to the art of singing.
The Voice Book, for actors, public speakers, and everyone who wants to make better use of their voice, Michael McCallion; Faber and Faber Publishing
is an excellent resource with plenty of information about voice function as well as an abundance of vocal exercises for the singer/actor.
Body Learning, regain your natural poise, Michael Gelb; Owl Books is simple and concise, and a good introduction to whole body movement exercises. .
This is a resting on the floor exercise which uses an Alexander Technique sequence of directives for helping reorganize the body.
Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and a book 1 to 2 inches thick under your head.
Let your lower back release comfortably into the floor.
Now, without trying to move specific parts of your body, give yourself these verbal directions silently:
I stop, and I let my neck be free,
I let my neck be free, to let my head travel forwards and up,
I let my neck be free to let my back lengthen and widen
I let my neck be free to let my shoulders travel sideways and away and fan out into the floor,
I let my neck be free to let my back lengthen and widen and let my hips lengthen out of my waist to let my knees travel up towards the ceiling.
Let yourself rest for a few minutes this way, and then when you’re ready to get up, slowly roll to your side and come onto all fours. Take your time getting up.
This is an exercise that can be done daily.
Have a very fine week,
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Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs