Sample Essay Writing Paper on Alexander Technique in relation to Music Education

The Alexander technique is an effective way of managing and changing tension habits
and improving body coordination. This technique is especially good for musicians who are
dealing with some sort of injury, stress, pain or for those who want to improve on their
performances (Barlow 1947: 13).
By definition, the Alexander Technique is an education system aimed at improving
posture and movement. It is aimed at making the muscles work effectively. The Alexander
process comprises of three inter-relating skills; body awareness, the ability to undo excess
tension and use of thought instead of physical force to create movement. This technique utilizes
these three skills to elicit awareness, muscular release and the body’s ability to find its own
balance. (Joan 1997).
This technique is te brain child of F. Matthias Alexander, a teacher and an orator. He
developed breathing problems and when his doctors informed him that there was no physical
cause for the voice loss, he went on a self-study. He discovered after observing himself in the
mirror that he was stiffening his body before speaking. Alexander further discovered that people
with similar problems like his were also stiffening their upper part of the body and neck in
anticipation of speech.
Alexander found out that, pulling the head backwards and downwards habitually
interrupted the normal functioning of the breathing, vocal and postural mechanisms. Alexander
was after some time able to control the unnecessary tension in his neck, his voice problem was

In so doing, he invented the Alexander Technique as a form of training for singers and
actors in the 1890’s. He intended for the technique to aid the breathing mechanism to function in
a better way. The basis for successful vocal education, there is need for an efficient and natural
functioning of the respiratory mechanism. (Alexander: 1932)

The Alexander Technique underscores the importance of breathing and vocalization as
part of how the body functions. Breathing and vocal patterns are parts of the body’s general
coordination. In the same technique when dealing with stress, he found a way of inhibiting the
stress and he would be able to vocalize.

Alexander found out that he had the will and power to inhibit his reaction to a stimulus
that would set up the precedent of tension. This technique does not involve the use of exercise,
therapy, medical treatment or any kind of spiritual healing technique. Generally, this technique
has many benefits: there is relief from strain, chronic pain, one has comfortable movement, relief
from excess tension and one becomes more invigorated ( Barlow 1947: 31).
The Alexander Technique and Musicians
Majority of musician’s injuries are as result of repetitive stress. They perform highly
skilled performances and coordinated repetitive motions at high speeds. Because of their desire
to be perfectionists, they make high demands on themselves and this can cause tension. They
also have to deal with high competition and anxiety performance which also can cause tension.
Musicians have also to deal with stage fright. As a result, they have to learn how to deal
with it so as not affect their performance. In so doing, the Alexander Technique will come in
handy and the musician will be able to observe body reactions and mind and create a balance
between movement and thought. When about to stage a performance, it is normal for the

musician to experience feelings of stress, excitement, pain, frustration, fear, discomfort and
happiness but through the technique, one gains control of body and mind. (Averino 1984: 45)
This technique has over years helped singers to perform with less stress and with few
chances of sustaining injury. A musician’s career demands them to undergo demanding physical
movement. By helping musicians in releasing undue pressure and tension in their bodies, the
technique makes it possible for the performances to be fluid, less rigid and tense. Some of the
musicians who have publicly endorsed the Alexander Technique are Paul McCartney, Sting,
Julian Bream and Yehudi Mehuhin.
The body muscles’ relationship in as singer is positively affected when the head is
allowed to be free on the neck. When the vocal chords work in an optimum where the muscles
are working together and coordinated, the vocal cords are lengthened and stretched and as a
result they are brought together.
Under these favorable conditions the cords execute the sound quickly and efficiently and
as a result they produce a clear, clean tone with very little effort on the singer’s part. In
Alexander’s Technique, the throat is ‘lengthened and widened’ in Alexander’s terms. When the
cords do not close properly, the sound is breathy, husky, limited, uncomfortable and powerless to
both the performer and the listener. The healthy tension in vocal cords is responsible for the
execution of top notes. (Alexander: 1941)
Poise and direction of the head balancing on top of the spine does have an effect on tone.
Both help focus the tone because they aid the lengthening and approximation of the vocal folds.
In turn, this helps project the sound forward and high, round and full. All of these qualities are
held as ideal. In this technique, freeing the head and neck prevents the vocal mechanism from

collapsing. The vocal muscles are allowed in this condition to reach their proper length and to
work to maximum efficiency. When the singing mechanism is well poised and balanced, a
musician is ready for a good singing. (Alexander: 1941)
The Alexander Technique and String Players
One of the major issues for string players and teachers is neck and head problems. This
effect is so profound in the West because the Violin and Viola are the only instruments that are
played while tucked under the chin. As a result, the possibility of upsetting the neck and head is
quite high. (Slaze 2003).
In a study by Paul Rolland (1978), surmised that a string player student will fair in string
playing depending on their overall coordination and the use of their movements. In some cases,
students who had good use of their movements and their coordination was intact showed a
certain amount of determination after taking up musical instrument classes.
When one plays the Violin and Viola, these instruments will most definitely affect the
head-neck relationship and in doing so will interfere with what Alexander called the ‘primary
control.’ Carol Porter McCullough, the writer of Rolland’s study, developed back pain, migraine
headaches and numb fingertips that made practicing the viola almost impossible. She enrolled
into Alexander Technique classes and after several lessons, the feeling of numbness in her
fingertips disappeared. The back pain was not as intense as before and the migraines disappeared
altogether. (Gildern 1929).
According to Rolland, playing movements originate from the back and the movements
from the lower limbs are necessary but secondary. In relation to string players, the Alexander
Technique teaches a player how to use the back to full advantage, while taking advantage of the

power and leverage that the back part holds in an healthy human being. However, few will be
able to utilize their backs to their maximum potential because by adolescence, most people have
lost the back’s full capacity.
Due to the loss of the back’s full potential, it has made the learning of the violin and viola
to students harder. Most students by the time they are half-way in their courses develop neuro-
muscular pain that is excruciating.
The Alexander Technique and flute players
Most instruments like the flute are not ergonomically designed and most injuries
sustained to the muscle are associated with abnormal postures, muscle imbalance and movement
disorders. Flutists just like violin and Viola players are at risk of sustaining muscle injury
because of playing with the arms at shoulder level. They hold the flute in a horizontal position
with their heads turned to the left for longer periods of time. The players are required to play
without over-tightening the upper body, shoulders, arms, neck and the jaw. They are also
required to play without tensing up the legs and feet and constricting the diaphragm and ribs
(Sazer 2003).
Flute teachers often face the problem of undue nervousness, fear of poor coordination
from their students. This can be exhibited in the way a student picks the instrument. Do they pick
it in an angular manner or are they plainly awkward (Moore 2000). Then the teacher faces the
question of how this pattern can be changed to a student who is unrestrained poised and graceful.
A poorly coordinated student will approach playing with a non-musical problem before he opens
his flute case. In dealing with awkwardness and hoarseness while playing the flute, a player must
strive to attain stance but not firmness, good poise and lightness. Again, the player has to balance

themselves and the instrument in order to be dynamic in their play, shaping the music gently or
vigorously, and applying pressure where necessary (Barlow 1947: 25).
Pianists and the Alexander Technique
All pianists would like a situation where they can play without pain, injury or any kind of
limitation. Free and efficient movements are key piano techniques and to achieve them pianists
have applied the Alexander Technique. Alexander’s discovery on freedom and ease of
movement in the body come in handy to pianists.
This technique outlines freedom in the neck and how that freedom affects the body
movement. Alexander found out that if the head is pulled back and down, many muscles shorten
and they do not function as well as they ought to. In attempting to resolve his voice issues,
Alexander discovered that freeing the neck and allowing it to grow to its full length had positive
impact on the body’s movement as whole (Barlow 1947: 25).

The Alexander Technique does have some disadvantages. His lessons, which are
recommended to be taught in private classes because this is how the full benefits are fully
realized, are quite high. On another level, results are not instantly realized after the twenty or
forty lessons which are the recommended hours.
Workshops which are conducted on the Alexander Technique are not able to cover all the
recommended lessons and do not last long enough for students to gain. Again, this technique and
its effectiveness has not been fully realized outside the United Kingdom.


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Averino, O. (1984) Principles and art of singing, London: Macmillan.
Barlow, w. (1947) “Anxiety and muscle tension” the British Journal of Physical Medicine, May-
Gildern, C.E. (1929) Anatomy and the problem of behavior, London: Macmillan.
Moore, S. D (2000) Correct posture for singers, Wallingford: CABI.
Rodd-Marling Y, & Husler F. (1967) ‘Singing’ The physical nature of the vocal organ, London:
Sazer V. (2003) (3 rd Ed) New directions in Cello playing: How to make cello playing easier and
play without pain, Los Angeles: Ofnote.