Seminar 3: Alexander Technique (AT)

Written by Piano Festival Clavis

Seminar 3 with Elisabeth von Hoesslin

is a psycho-physical educational method that helps to release unnecessary muscle tension and re-educates non-beneficial movement patterns.The AT teaches constructive conscious control of functioning.
Actors, singers, musicians and dancers use the AT to relieve performance anxiety while improving concentration and stage presence.

Elisabeth von HoesslinAT helps to improve breathing, vocal production, speed and accuracy of movement.

With a teacher’s guidance you develop increased awareness of habits of thought and habits of posture and movement.
As you learn how to refrain from - or inhibit - habitual patterns which are not useful to you, you'll become more aware of tendencies towards unnecessary muscular patterns of tension or collapse.  Undoing these habitual patterns provides the opportunity for something new to occur: natural movement and spontaneity.

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955)
was a Shakespearean actor challenged by a recurring voice problem. Chronic hoarseness interrupted his burgeoning career and he frequently lost his voice while performing. Because doctors found nothing wrong with his vocal mechanism, he reasoned that the cause might be related to how he was using his voice.  After years of rigorous self-observation and experimentation, he found what he was doing that was causing the problem and figured out how to speak without those habitual patterns of tension.  He then no longer experienced vocal problems, regained a full, rich voice and returned to the stage.  
His discoveries evolved into core principles, the basis of his practical educational method.

Basic concepts
Recognition of the force of habit
We develop many habits over the course of our lifetime, some of which are helpful and some of which are not. Our habits come to feel right or normal. Recognizing habitual reactions is a first step in enabling change.
Faulty sensory appreciation
The force of habit interferes with the accuracy of our kinesthetic feedback. This often results in a faulty sense of how we are functioning and limits our ability to make productive change.
We often react automatically and habitually to the various stimuli of life. The Alexander Technique teaches how to take advantage of the space between stimulus and response to choose a course of action. This is inhibition. It is a skill that we already have and can learn to develop and refine.
We all have the ability to send a message from the brain through the nervous system to our muscles. The Alexander Technique teaches how to use this ability more effectively, resulting in more efficient functioning of the muscular system.  
Primary control
The relationship among the head, neck and back is what F.M. Alexander called the primary control. The quality of that relationship — compressed or free — determines the quality of our overall movement and functioning.
How is the AT taught?
The Alexander Technique is typically taught through a series of private lessons but also in group classes in performing arts schools and other venues.
In an ATlesson your teacher instructs you — with verbal and manual guidance — to approach movement differently. You will learn to recognize habit patterns that may be interfering with ease and flexibility and you’ll learn how to discontinue them.
There are two parts to a lesson:
Table work
To more easily experience the body’s muscles in a neutral state, part of the lesson takes place lying down (fully clothed) on a lightly padded table - on your back with your knees bent. Your teacher will teach you how to recognize and release any unnecessary tension you may be holding, promoting an enlivened sensory awareness and quieting the nervous system. You are an active participant: your eyes are open and conversation takes place.
Guidance during activity
Using simple activities such as sitting, standing, walking, speaking your teacher gives you verbal, visual and physical cues to help you perform those activities with greater ease and efficiency. Guiding you in movement, your teacher will elicit your body's capacity for dynamic expansion and you will learn how to maintain that ease and freedom on your own.
By helping musicians improve the quality of the physical movements involved in playing an instrument or singing, the Alexander Technique also helps improve the quality of the music itself. By helping musicians release undue tension in their bodies, the AT makes possible a performance which is more fluid and lively, less tense and rigid.

The AT is taught at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, The Royal College of Music in London, The Boston Conservatory of Music, The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and at many other schools of music, universities and colleges around the world.


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