October 2, 2006 at 11:07 PM
Just finished a really tough week making presentations on language teaching between concerts. It’s so annoying when I don’t have time to write、sleep.
Got back to school yesterday knowing that I really do need to sit down and continue the Alexander Technique writing, but not feeling terribly motivated (about anything , actually).
I also recognize that writing about the Alexander Technique is intrinsically misleading. It can only be transmitted by trained hands. Alexander himself was vociferous on the subject of how misleading the word is. Every interpretation is individual.
Anyway, I arrived about a minute early for my first class and was standing at the back of the classroom, looking at a group of fifteen 8 year olds looking up at their homeroom teacher from those cute little chairs.
What a miserable sight!
Every single one of those students had a hunch back and was misusing the body in a most horrible way. The cause of the problem was clear enough. Tiny children on tiny chairs -looking up- to listen to a tall teacher. But what is actually happening here?
The Alexander Technique can get really deep if one wishes it to be so. But the bottom line is something called `Primary Control` which is the basic relationship between head, neck and back. Exploring that a little more deeply, first it is important to realize that the spine runs down the center of the body. The usual description one gets from people when asked is that it runs down -the back-. This is incorrect. The mental misconception probably arises from the fact that when we hug someone or stroke a back in post coital languor we run our fingers down the knobbly bits. This is not the spinal column. Nature has designed us like a tree with the trunk right in the middle going from narrow at the top to extremely thick at the base. Doesn’t that make sense? Again, when one asks someone how thick the spine is, especially at the base the answer is generally two or three times too little. The diameter of the base of the spine is massive, especially in men. Okey dokey. This central position means that the top of the spine emerges behind the back of the mouth rather than the back of the neck as our mistaken beliefs often tell us. Again, nature is being logical. If you are going to balance a round object on top of the body then the balance point is going to be in the middle of the body, nest pas?
At this balance point the skull rests on two little indentations via a pair of small rockers. The skull can rock backwards and forwards on this balance point. In order to locate this central point one can insert both index finger sin the soft hollows behind the ears. Imagine they are a pencil going through the brain and connecting up. The middle of the pencil is the balance point. This is from where the head must move with absolute freedom and does in animals and toddlers.
Unfortunately the incorrect belief that the skull is balanced at the back of the neck results in commands from the mind to turn the head from that location , a problem which is ubiquitous and highly damaging to all and sundry. Try turning the head deliberately using the muscles on the back of the neck. Then try imagining and turning from just below the balance point. The freedom is remarkably different.
So, what was happening with the hunchbacked kids I saw? Well, they were dropping their head back to look up. The result was the top of the spine was crushed causing the rest of the spine to essentially collapse instead of springing in an upward direction.
It’s what almost everyone does. We are told by our parents, grandmother, teacher sto `sit up straight, look me in the face, keep your head up etc` and we don’t really understand the instruction . We believe that head up, back straight, involves the head dropping backwards slightly which automatically crushes the spine. Indeed, when I teach new students and ask them to play with their heads up , off the chinrest to alleviate the horrible Squeezing pressure they are using the -face- comes up but the back of the head drops down. In the most extreme cases I actually hold on to the students ears to get the point across….
If anyone is interested they might spend a week watching people stand up and sit down, or put the violin up. Watch the back of their heads. Awareness of the drop, even when standing (!) comes very quickly.
From Kelsey Z.
Posted on October 3, 2006 at 3:57 PM
Thank you, Buri! Excellent post!!!
So glad to see you post this.
I am a voice teacher who has only been playing violin for about a year. Although I used to play cello quite well, the switch-over was much harder than I thought it would be.
I began making fast progress once I realized the many, MANY correlations between playing the violin and singing. these include, staying loose but in control, aproaching the instrument with confidence, relaxed but deep breathing, and CORRECT POSTURE.
I studied Alexander, as well as other relaxation & balance aproaches, when in collage. I use these methods today in my voice teaching, and it makes a world of difference.
I highly recommend that all violinists take voice lessons. There are things you will learn that can take you playing to a new level.
Hey I'm a vocalist who took violin lessons. Being a vocalist does help my violin playing.
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