Ask The Teacher
A violist from Nevada asks:
“I’ve heard of the Alexander Technique.
Can you tell me more about it?”
Answer from Harvey Thurmer, Violin,
If you are teaching in a college studio, I bet you get this question regularly: “Why do I have pain here?” At this point the student invariably points to somewhere in the area of the arm structure, usually at a joint. Of course, to really be of any help, I have to look at the whole person to discover anything that could be the cause of the pain.
All musicians are experts at ignoring themselves for the “greater good” of producing the perfect sound, with just the right intonation and projection. In fact, musician or not, we all tend to organize ourselves around the particular “tool” we are using at the moment: the cell phone, the laptop, the steering wheel, the scalpel. As soon as we get involved in that task to be accomplished, we usually forget everything we might know about ourselves: the location of joints, their size and range of motion, and whether we are locking parts of our anatomy that we consider unimportant to the task at hand.
A vicious cycle then begins. As the task at hand becomes more difficult, we “try harder” – after all if we just could focus more and repeat it one thousand times, it’s bound to get better, right? But “trying harder” usually equates to tightening and narrowing some part of our anatomy.
And that tightening and narrowing invariably begins to haunt us, with numbness first, and then finally pain that cannot be ignored. This is exacerbated when we receive adulation for what we have just done. Applause tends to solidify our bad habits!
I had to look outside the arena of traditional violin teaching to begin to unravel this vicious cycle in my own playing and thinking. I found my way to the Alexander Technique (AT) thanks to my own solidified bad habits, and PAIN. In order to get to the bottom of that cycle, I had to eventually address the way I thought. As I learned about my anatomy and discovered the location, size and function of parts of my skeletal system, I realized I had choices! The more informed I was about my structure, the more I could use what I knew to make good choices.
So now, when a student asks the proverbial questions “Why do I hurt here?”, I may start with questions about how they stand, where they believe their hip joints are, where they believe their arms “start”, or where their head balances on the top of their spine. None of these questions sound like your typical violin lesson, but they can begin to unravel how we think-which informs all our movements.