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Endgaining Practice?

November 20, 2006 at 11:31 PM

A few more idle thoughts on Alexander Technique. In spite of the diversity of approaches to this method (?) now floating around, all Alexander teachers have one single concept as the basis of the work they help their clients to begin: primary control. This is the most efficient relationship between head, neck and back. Any teacher who moves away from this is no longer practicing Alexander Technique. This is no small point, since the deeper one gets into the technique the more diverse/philosophical and experimental it is possible to become and I have seen both teacher sand teacher trainees lose sight of the underlying premise in the process. If they are committed to working with other teachers, attending seminars and the like they are usually yanked back to the basics of the Technique at some point, but it can be a rude shock.
Having said this is the underlying premise, there are a few other concepts integrated with this that raise AT to the level of a deep art rather than a helpful party trick. Of these, one of the most important is endgaining. I had been learning about this for some time, but the point where declarative became procedural knowledge was in a Buddhist style meditation session. At that time I was on an Alexander Technique retreat on a mountain directly adjacent to Japan’s Mount. Fuji. Apart form the all day sessions of AT a pre breakfast meditation was on the menu. The tiny wooden chapel it was held in was beautiful and through a huge window we could have an uninterrupted few of Mount. Fuji at its most splendid. Unfortunately, or not, a –very- large bumble bee entered the room at the same time as us. As the teacher talked it alternately thundered around our heads and played Bartok`s concerto for orchestra on the window. After a while the teacher stopped and smiled. He then said `You are all now endgaining. All of you are wishing that this bee is gone. In other words, you are wishing for a present reality in which the bee is not present. However, that wishful reality is not real, but your act of wishing makes it the unreal reality you are now occupying. In other words, you are not actually present in the present.`
For me that was a big light bulb going off. Finally I could feel what endgaining was. We do it all the time of course. Simple mundane actions like not undoing our shoelaces when we get home because we want to save time the next day. Except that the next day we lose the time because ewe have to bend down, undo our laces , stick our finger son the back of our damaged shoes and so on…And violinist are the worst endgainers of the lot. The wish to play like -------------- (insert the name of any famous violinist) is a major block to being present with our own playing. During practice how often does one have a generalized wish `that this sounds good.` Or if I play it again it will sound `better.`? Moving into those realities we don’t actually listen to what we are doing at all.
Why do we actually practice? Is it to `get better` which is a reframe of the idea `I want to be better than everyone else and as famous as ----- (insert name of famous violinist)? Or is it because one simply wants to pay attention to a particular passage and notice what one is doing, non-judgementally? The difference is qualitatively very profound.
One of the simplest ways to improve is to bring ourselves into the real present during practicing by noticing the way or body feels. This morning I had an interesting experience with this. I was practicing one minute bow strokes and thinking `What would happen if I worked on where my body is now instead of straining and stressing to play a stroke for one minute?` So I paid attention to the sole of my left foot. Then my right, comparing the sensations, then my left calf and right and so on, all the time doing the slow bow stroke. Within seconds there was a small release of energy in my left toes. Interesting, I had been storing up unnecessary and unhelpful energy in tensed toes while trying to do this bow stroke. Even more interesting, I had been keeping an unfocused awareness of how the bow stroke was going as well. The moment I began releasing that tension in the legs and feet the bow speed slowed dramatically. I didn’t count that precisely but the stroke went on for about a minute and a half.

From AnnMarie Benson
Posted on November 21, 2006 at 1:37 AM
Very, very, very interesting. Thanks for sharing Buri.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 21, 2006 at 5:42 AM
Most nifty! Thank you!
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on November 21, 2006 at 7:54 PM
I wouldn't have been wishing the bee wasn't there. I would have been engineering its demise. Bringing forth a whole new reality, misfit that I am.
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on November 21, 2006 at 11:48 PM
I like this. We are always wanting to know how to focus and concentrate better. There are many blocks. One is thinking "am I focusing?" and the analysis that follows in our head, totally making focus impossible.

To each his own all-too-real thoughts that are about how to get better, which hinder the progres...

I'm amazed that when you left the bow stroke to do it's own thing, and focused on your slowed down. When I continue to play while thinking body position and sensation thoughts, when I come back to what I'm playing, it has speeded up.
I suppose this means that my thoughts about relaxing are actually stressful.
How frustrating! And normal!!!


From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on November 21, 2006 at 11:52 PM
"sped up", not "speeded up". Urgh.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 22, 2006 at 12:37 AM
>I'm amazed that when you left the bow stroke to do it's own thing, and focused on your slowed down. When I continue to play while thinking body position and sensation thoughts, when I come back to what I'm playing, it has speeded up.

Well, not necessarily. Speeding up requires being in a more relaxed state. It requires much less use of effort than slow playing.
When I read your words though I get a veyr strong sense of separation between mind and body. I think you are just too damn bright.
Is it possible you are actually sending instructions to yourself along the lines of `oh, I seem to be a bit slumped here. Time to sit up straighter, that should improve things, blah, blah.` Simple awrness of the self , which has no disticntion between mind and body is qualitatively different. It might help to do a whole body awareness exercise before you practice so that the thinking you associate with `playing the violin correctly` is not triggered. I mena just sitting and obserivng whatver sensations oyu have in your left foot, then your right, then both, Then the left calf (and foot) then both slowly workign up the body.
Idle thoughts,

From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on November 23, 2006 at 1:19 AM
I will try that tomorrow. Now I'm interested to know what will happen to my playing when I'm thinking about my toes! Usually it is the opposite. Trying to reign in the concentration to focus so strictly on what aspect of a certain detail needs attention.

I think my toes do need some extra attention anyway!

Definately think performers have a hard time from letting the body and mind seperate. Partly out of fear...survival on the stage. I call it a "stage coma". It is amazing how far apart our mind and body can go with the push of adrenalin and many eyes watching.


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