Alexander technique: Thoughts that count

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Violinist and Alexander technique specialist Alun Thomas details pathways to effortless expression using three real-life student examples

Over the course of the recent lockdowns I’ve been re-evaluating some of the fabulous body of violinistic exercises and methods – and how, possibly, we might use them more profitably. These comprise, among others, the studies and methods of such luminaries as Auer, Capet, Dounis and Stolyarsky, as well as the publications of more recent pedagogues such as Galamian and Rolland – whose work, in particular, I have presented in workshops and masterclasses. Nowadays, we might also add excellent and deservedly popular resources such as Basics by Simon Fischer.

All these methods serve to inform us wonderfully well about the essential building blocks of playing – and sometimes the larger patterns. But I often feel they don’t consider in necessary detail the higher levels of neuromuscular organisation, particularly the way in which thinking itself might inform violinistic action. It is an understanding of the deep, collaborative, psychophysical processes involved in how we perform any exercise – the ‘invisible’ inner dynamics of a consciously directed ‘use’ of ourselves – that helps harmonise mind and muscle. In our individual bid to actualise our playing aspirations, it is this immanent agenda that makes all the difference.

Great players are often so impressive because of the wonderful ease that defines their playing. This appears to be, in large part, a result as much of what they don’t do as it is of what they actually do. This profound sense of ‘non-doing’ is a central operational principle of the Alexander technique, and this non-doing, paradoxically, does not mean ‘nothing doing’. It’s always a puzzle trying to figure out why similar pedagogic strategies and methods can result in players of wildly differing skill; and why we or our pupils can progress at such differing rates – swiftly at times, haltingly at others…

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