The well-being of musicians: trying the Alexander technique
Being aware of the musician’s gesture can avoid pain, tension or even pathologies in the long run, this is what the Alexander technique advocates. Explanation.
"Before playing, try to see if you feel your feet on the floor, if your pelvis is sitting well on the stool, how are your shoulders, do they feel contracted or not, and now you can play... try to imagine that your head is a balloon that floats over a solid spine and that your arms are free of movement... if you think about it, you become aware of your back, which is actually your structure. You get the impression of a simplified skeleton, a solid structure that allows members to remain free."*
I'm at Musicora in Paris, sitting on the stool of a beautiful Steinway and about to serve as a guinea pig for an improvised session of the Alexander Technique. Alexandra Fridricci, teacher, has agreed to analyse my piano habits and give me some tips for the purposes of this article.
I lean forward slightly and put my hands on the keyboard. A delicate hand encourages me to reverse my movement and straighten my back. "Without forcing …" and to keep myself at a slight distance from the piano. It’s true, I would have never thought of doing so...
_"_For pianists, what often happens is that when you get caught up in deciphering a score, for example, your neck goes forward. You lean forward, and your head, which still weighs five kilos, pulls on the spine, makes the back muscles work, and breaks the structural balance. Hence the contraction and the pain. With the Alexander Technique, you learn to stay on your axis and avoid the muscular efforts that interfere with the performance."
Originally, the Alexander technique was not specifically intended for musicians. It’s a technique for psychophysical re-education that we tend to associate with the teaching of actors, but which is in fact a re-education of the way we live our body. Individually, it can be taught from an early age.
"We address the individuals’ personal issues, his way of moving and his behavioural habits as a whole," explains Veronique Marco, Alexander Technique Professor and President of APTA.
Founder, Mathias Alexander, began from the idea that thought made the body fit. Therefore, working body by activating our conscious. We will ask ourselves the question: what do I do when I do it? What is my habit and what do I put in place? How can I optimize all this so that I do not have pain or a more natural posture?
Musician’s pathologies, a subject which is still taboo
At the Musicora tradeshow, Alexander technique professors come to remind us that practicing music can cause pain:
"It's a bit of a taboo subject because if you suffer, it may suggest that your technique is not very good, which is totally false. It's just that the Alexander technique is not sufficiently taught in academies, although it can accompany musical education right from the start, as it can intervene later, at any point in musician’s lifetime. "
Alexandra Fridricci teaches musicians an instrumental awareness that goes far beyond mere gesture.
"Bringing the flute to your mouth, for example, if you have worked for years for hours every day, this triggers many emotional and physical aspects. Contraction, tension and curbing which can be avoided if you learn all the mechanisms that begin in our head and in our body. That is why it is a psycho corporal approach, because a balanced and well organized body will allow for better mental availability."
In the musical environment, the Alexander technique has been used for many years: it is taught at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris and in some regional conservatories. According to Alexandra Fridricci, 80% of musicians come to learn Alexander technique after trying everything else to relieve pain, and many suffer from pathologies due to years of bad practice: "They must relearn to play. It takes a lot of motivation and investment, because often you must change everything - which is not easy! But indeed, we can unlearn bad practices related to our instrument and therefore, treat and remove pain."
At the Maîtrise de Radio France, the Alexander technique has been taught for fifteen years, to the point of becoming second nature. Veronique Marco's office door is always wide open:
"Sometimes, the Masters come to see me outside of class, during busy periods, to help them deal with stress or stage fright." Working with younger individuals goes through a more humorous approach: "Young people do not have the same concentration or the same capacity for internalisation as adults, but over time we can activate this element of consciousness during singing exercise. First, he must become aware of his body, which very difficult when it comes to teenagers. Sometimes, I intervene in the middle of singing lessons, and we observe what is happening and how to remain free and relaxed within the vocal cords. Relax the shoulders, the neck, open the ribcage, work on breathing, all this can be learned!"
A discipline that requires guidance at first, but ultimately transforms your lifestyle:
"By working with the Alexander technique while using your instrument, you end up applying it to everything you do: you learn to bend, move, grab an object, and even read or express yourself differently!"