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Alexander Technique Diary

It has been very interesting learning about the Alexander Technique. Having learnt
the basics of it this term I have become increasingly aware of how the theories behind
this technique could help me with my playing, both in practice and performance. This
diary explains how I have applied this technique in my playing over the past fourteen
days.

Day 1
Today I endeavoured to think about everything that I have learnt so far in my
Alexander Technique classes. I tried to think about how it could help me with my
playing. I quite often practice in front of a mirror but I generally only ever concentrate
on my embouchure. Today I thought about my posture. I became aware for the first
time that when I play, I tilt my head quite far backwards. I have learnt now that this
can only hinder my playing by causing the muscles in my neck to contract. This
essentially is unnecessary tension. Tension in this area can be very restricting,
especially as these muscles are positioned around my spinal cord.
I worked on trying to keep my head balanced and free on the top of my spine. I found
this very hard to put into my practice at the same time as maintaining concentration. I
decided to think about inhibition. Just becoming aware of myself and what I was
doing before I started to play and correcting the position of my head when possible.
However I still found that as soon as I became involved in playing, I went back to my
old habits. I think that this is just a matter of practice and adjustment.

Day 2
Today I worked again on being very aware of my posture and of trying to keep my
neck totally relaxed. I found that thinking about direction in an illustrative way really
helped. I imagined my head being pulled up towards the ceiling, whilst feeling my
spine lengthening. I have thought more about other reasons how this change could
assist me in my playing. I have realised that by creating unnecessary tension in my
neck, this could inhibit my breathing. As a trumpet player, this could be very
detrimental to my playing, especially when I perform as I will have the added
problem of being nervous. Tension in the muscles surrounding my oesophagus could
restrict my air flow causing a very thin and constricted sound. After I finished
practicing I decided to try the semi-supine position for about ten minutes. I found this
immensely relaxing and refreshing. I think that tomorrow I will try to involve this in
my practice.

Day 3
This afternoon I had a master class with professional trumpet player Michal Laird.
One of the topics that he covered was practice methods and routines. He said that the
way of practicing to produce the optimum result was to practice for seven minutes on,
and seven minutes off. His theory was based around the concept of keeping the
muscles in the lips refreshed, enabling a more focused and efficient practice for longer
periods of time. This also helps to build up stamina. Equally, this also ties in with
what I have been taught about the Alexander Technique, and how involving the semisupine position into a practice schedule can be very beneficial. After the lesson, I tried
this technique, timing myself practicing for 7 minutes and then timing 7 minutes in

semi supine. I found that my level of concentration was far higher than usual and I
was able to practice for considerably longer. After each break I felt refreshed mentally
and physically. I also found that this helped me with my posture somewhat as I felt far
more relaxed.

Day 4
This morning I had a trumpet lesson. As I have a performance class tomorrow I
decided to treat this lesson as though it were a real performance. I thought that this
might be useful for me to do as I usually suffer from quite bad nerves and
consequently dont give my best performance. It was very interesting to actually be
fully aware for the first time of how the nerves physically affect me. I noticed that my
whole body changes. I curl my toes and my legs become locked. I think that this
happens because I throw myself off balance by arching my back so that I am leaning
backwards. I also noticed that my shoulders became very tense. I know that this
inhibits my breathing which consequently makes me more nervous. It has been very
useful to become aware of what I am doing so that when it comes to performing
tomorrow, I can hopefully make a conscious effort not to do these things by using the
theory of inhibition and direction. I spoke to my teacher about my posture and he
made me play standing with my back against a wall. I really had no idea how far
backwards I actually lean. He told me that this kind of posture really restricts
breathing. I worked again in front of a full length mirror this evening to try to
straighten myself out, lengthening my spine upwards.

Day 5
Today I had my performance class. When it came to my turn I found that I was far

less nervous than I was yesterday in my lesson. I think that this was perhaps firstly
because I had already performed the piece so I knew that I could play it without
problems, and secondly because I wasnt thinking so much about how I was playing
in front of other people and what they might be thinking but I was concentrating on
breathing and posture and ways in which I could give my best performance. I found
that without the tunnel vision which I normally have, I was far more relaxed. I was
pleased with my overall performance. I think that lying for 15 minutes in semi supine
position before the class also really helped me to relax yet stay focused.

Day 6
Today I worked more in front of a full length mirror. I realised that I can now control
my posture when Im playing without loosing concentration. It is just a matter of
constantly being aware. I have thought a lot about how much a practice performance
helped me when it came to an actual performance. I think that I could simulate this
feeling more in my practice. Another thing that I have decided to change is the fact
that I quite often sit down to practice. I think that by standing up more to practice, it
will help to recreate how I might feel in a lesson or when I perform. Now standing, I
started thinking about where my centre is. I find I seem to have more weight on my
right side and I also stand slightly on the sides of my feet when I am playing. I
worked on keeping my feet flat on the floor, my knees just balanced rather than
locked and trying to spread my weight evenly. I also worked on lengthening my spine,
whilst still maintaining the lumbar curve, relaxing my neck and imagining my head is
just balancing at the top. I think that my posture is definitely improving.

Day 7
Today I performed in my Alexander Technique class. I found it quite rewarding to
know that I am working on the right areas but it seems that I still have a long way to
go as some of the positions that I was moved into whilst I was playing felt very alien
and quite uncomfortable. The next thing for me to work on is my hips. I was told that
when I play, I roll them forwards. This would explain why I lock my knees and would
be the reason why it is difficult for me to stand straight without leaning back. This
kind of posture can apparently also cause a beer belly which is definitely something
that I want to avoid! Today was also the first time that I have ever performed without
music. It was a completely new experience but I found it far easier to give a just
performance of the music without hiding behind the music stand. This will be
something that I will work on in the future.

Day 8
Today I spent most of the day completing an assignment on the computer. I found that
taking regular breaks and using the semi supine position was a real help. It gave me a
better concentration span and I felt a lot more focused and able to work far more
efficiently. I also tried to think about how I was sitting and having the least tension
possible in my arms and back. Being aware of my posture and how I was spreading
my weight evenly seemed to prevent the back ache which I often get from sitting in
front of a computer for long periods of time.

Day 9
This morning I had to travel to Brighton. This involves quite a lot of walking. Half an

hour to the tube station in London and then an hour walking once back in Brighton.
This is usually quite tiring with a trumpet, a lap top and a bag of over night things. I
found myself thinking about how I was walking. I tried to imagine my legs being
pendulums and consciously thinking about my head going forwards in the direction in
which I was going. It made a huge difference to the pace at which I was walkingmoving faster with my head pointing further forward. I also tried hard to keep the
weight of my baggage evenly spread across my back, changing positions whenever it
became uncomfortable. This evening I worked again on my posture whilst practicing.
I have noticed that the position of my head relative to my spine now is much
improved. This in consequence seems to be preventing me from leaning back quite so
much. I have definitely noticed a difference in my breath control and the depth of my
breathing. I am starting to feel far more relaxed when I play.

Day 10
Today I had a quintet rehearsal. As this is something we sit down for, I had a lot of
time to think about my posture in this position. I also found myself comparing my
posture to that of other people in my quintet. I found that I generally sit on the front of
my chair so there is no possibility for me to be slouching against the back. My back
seemed fairly straight, though I could still feel the lumbar curve. The position of my
head felt quite natural but did not feel like I was tilting it backwards. I found that I felt
quite relaxed, and consequently I was playing better. However, I did notice that I
cross my feet under my chair. Although when sedentary I am not weight bearing on
my feet, by not having them flat on the floor, I am causing unnecessary tension in my
legs. I made an effort to keep them uncrossed.

Day 11
This morning I had another trumpet lesson. I tried consciously to think of all of the
things that I have been working on this week. I found that concentrating on all of
these things really does seem to improve my playing. I am slightly confused as to
whether this is because I am actually making these changes or whether by thinking
about all of these things which I want to change it is just distracting me from the fact
that I am nervous. Either way, I am happy with the result that I am getting.
I have had quite bad back ache today. I think that it is from travelling back to London.
I lay in the semi-supine position for a while. I found that it really relieved the pain and
made me totally relaxed.

Day 12
I woke up this morning and decided to start a new fitness regime. Part of this was to
go for a 30 minute jog. I have to be careful running on the roads as I have had knee
problems in the past. I found that although its something that you do naturally, if I
actually thought about my head going forwards in the direction that I was running in it
really helped to run faster and became less tiring. This afternoon I did some more
practice, still using the seven minutes playing, seven minutes semi-supine routine. I
tried to work on stopping my hips from rolling forwards. I found that keeping them
directly in line with my head shoulders and feet made me feel like I was pushing my
backside out even though I could see in the mirror that this was not the case. I found
this very uncomfortable.
This evening whilst writing this entry I have thought about tension in my back and
arms when I am writing. I worked on keeping my shoulders even and trying not to
bend down over the desk, maintaining a straight but relaxed posture. I also became

aware for the first time of how hard I grip my pen. I know that this is totally
unnecessary but it is obviously a habit. It feels very strange to loosen my grip.

Day 13
Tomorrow I have a quintet concert. Looking back in my diary, I can see that last week
by simulating the feelings of nerves before the day of the concert, I was able to give a
far better performance. I managed to make myself feel quite nervous, imagining the
pressure I might be feeling tomorrow. Again I recognised my body becoming tense. I
played my parts through in order as if it was the concert. This time, every time that I
noticed for example my knees locking I made a conscious effort to relax them giving
them a feeling of fluidity. I was aware of my head, neck and spine and tried to prevent
any old habits from reoccurring just because I was in a more stressful situation.
Thinking about all of this did not seem to distract me from playing the music. I feel
quite confident that I will have much more of a handle on my nerves tomorrow. I
think now that I know that there are ways in which I can help myself I can feel far
more positive about something that essentially I love doing.

Day 14
This morning I woke up feeling quite nervous about this evening. I found that by
lying in semi-supine position for a while and concentrating on relaxing and thinking
about my breathing really helped to calm me. I then did a gentle warm up thinking
about staying as relaxed as possible, keeping my neck and my throat muscles
completely relaxed. It gave me confidence to hear that I was making a full sound and
I didnt seem to have any problems with my range or stamina. I know now that this is

because I was breathing properly. For the rest of the day I concentrated on staying
relaxed. Before the concert I spent some more time in semi-supine which seemed to
focus me. The concert went well. I was pleased with my ability to stop myself from
sitting back into my old habits, even when I was nervous. I think that yesterdays
rehearsal had a huge impact on todays performance.

Overall the Alexander Technique has helped me in many ways. It has brought my
attention to a number of virtues that I will need if I am to be a professional musician.
It has given me insight into how physically I can help myself improve, by working on
things like posture. I have also seen proof that it has helped me mentally, being able to
find coping strategies for stage fright and learning about psychological preparation. It
is very comforting to have these strategies that I know I can now rely upon.