HOW THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE CAN IMPROVE YOUR SINGING
As a singer, we are expected to be, vocally, on form and perform at optimum levels all of the time.
We carry the burden of being physically, mentally and vocally fit all of the time to ensure that our voices function and our performances are outstanding…especially if we want to be successful.
However, the stresses and pressures have a significant impact on our instrument and, in some cases, our ability to make a living.
I used to frequently feel stressed and tense and my voice was starting to suffer. And the more I stressed, the worse my voice was getting.
Until I unlocked the secrets of the Alexander Technique.
Read on and see how Alexander Technique may well be your answer to improve your voice and performance…
Hi, I'm Rebecca! And I truly love everything about the art, science, and teaching of singing. If you're looking to build an effective and healthier singing technique so that you can sing with more ease and confidence, then you're in the right place! Here's a few other blog posts you might also like to read:
4 alternative therapies that will improve your posture for singing
And of course, grab a copy of my ultimate vocal health starter guide where I'll share how to create a vocal health routine and reset your voice in 14-days!
What is the Alexander Technique?
I first heard of the Alexander Technique some time ago, when I was at university, and my initial understanding, like so many others, was that it was just about improving posture.
How can this be helpful? I thought.
After some additional research, and taking one-to-one and group lessons myself, I now know that this is a common misconception, and not (entirely) the truth of the Alexander Technique.
Although, to some extent the Alexander Technique is about posture, it is also about alignment and balance, and the ways we use our bodies in everyday activities.
Undertaking one-to-one or group lessons helped me to develop a conscious awareness of how I use my body, not only in performance but also in daily life too.
I’ve covered tasks like, sitting, walking, using a backpack (now, that was an eye-opener), brushing your teeth, and getting a hot tray out of the oven.
During lessons, I’ve learnt to create an awareness for myself, as to whether certain habits help or hinder and create unnecessary, and unwanted, tension, which ultimately reflects in my voice.
For example, I’m now very aware of my head when I’m using my phone or reading.
And I’ve implemented strategies, like using a pillow to prop up a book, so that it is elevated, to try and reduce the stress and tension building up in my neck.
It’s given me the tools to make these decisions and to actively work towards re-educating old bad habits.
At its core, the Alexander Technique is about free up our movements and become one in body and mind.
Unsurprisingly, the Alexander Technique also has other physical and mental benefits, which include:
relieve back, neck, and chronic pain;
improve respiratory function,
reduce high blood pressure;
assist with sleep;
assist during pregnancy
reduce and improve repetitive strain injury;
prevent injury; and
assist in the recovery from injury.
“You have learned damaging postural habits by repetition and repetition is the only way you will unlearn them” - Penny Ingham & Colin Shelbourn
What does this mean for us singers?
Unlike instrumentalists, we singers carry our instrument with us all the time.
The consequences of this is our voices are affected by the food we eat, the beverages we drink, how we use our voices, how we use our bodies and how we feel emotionally, to name but a few.
There is strong evidence that suggests that the Alexander Technique can help.
By practising and re-educating habits you can learn to free up the vocal mechanism so that it can perform at optimum levels and allow an emotional interaction with the music and the audience.
Some of the vocal benefits include:
improvement in vocal quality and performance;
reducing vocal pain;
prevent voice loss;
extend vocal range; and
help with confidence and performance anxiety
“We speak and sing with the whole of our body” - Judith Kleinman & Peter Buckoke
RELATED: Ultimate Guide to Vocal Health
How did the Alexander Technique start and…who was Alexander?
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor who, for extensive periods of time, suffered from vocal problems, which traditional experts of the time (1890s) were unable to fix.
At an important point in his acting career, he became determined to find a solution, and thus took up a journey of conscious awareness.
He did this by studying his habits and experimented with trying to correct them.
After some time, Frederick Alexander began to teach others what he had found, and thus the Alexander Technique was born.
Over one hundred years later, the Alexander Technique is still being practiced.
Today there are approximately 22 schools worldwide training Alexander Technique teachers – you can also search for qualified teachers in your area at https://alexandertechnique.co.uk
The Key Principles of the Alexander Technique
In the simplest of terms, Primary Control is how our head balances on our spines.
If the head is not balanced this creates tension and pressure on your neck and spine, which affects breathing (and we all know how important breathing is for singers), coordination and our sense of wellbeing.
Obtaining the correct balance is not just about holding your head in a static position. It is also about movement. It’s a matter of learning to constantly rebalance.
Surprising as it may seem, Primary Control is difficult to achieve by yourself without first getting guidance from a qualified teacher.
Inhibition is choice. The choice to stop repeating an unhealthy habit and making a conscious decision to replace it with something else, preferably a better and healthier habit.
It’s not always easy to remember to do this as life can be hectic and time restricted, but wherever possible I try to take small steps to make choices about how I use my body.
For example, I often do this when I’m queuing to make a purchase, or when I’m browsing the shelves at the library or bookshop.
“If you stop doing the wrong things the right things will happen automatically” - Richard Brennan
Direction is an important part of the Alexander Technique but, again, it is difficult to fully explain in words.
Direction is a thought that invites a subtle change or movement.
Direction should be effortless, and not forced, but requires assistance to ensure that the desired results are achieved.
Instructions on direction commonly sound like, allow the neck to be free or sense your feet on the floor.
One of the ways Direction can be practiced at home is through Semi-Supine, also referred to as constructive rest.
Taking one-to-one lessons is preferable, but using YouTube videos can be useful.
I try to use Semi-Supine as much as possible, both in my daily routine, practice and performance.
Semi-Supine is great to release any of those built-up tensions and prepare the body for singing.
Personally, I tend to do Semi-Supine for a least 10-minutes before I start my singing practice (and sometimes afterwards, as well).
I also find Semi-Supine useful in the morning and evening (especially before bed) and prefer to do it outside on a sunny day (UK weather permitting).
Incorporating Semi-Supine into your daily routine is a small way to practising Alexander Technique every day.
Attention and Awareness
Attention and awareness is largely about being present.
Present in both practice and performance.
“Awareness…is a general, unfocused condition in which a person is wide awake and alert to whatever may be going on without being concentrated on anything particular. Attention on the other hand, is focussed on some particular aspect of the field”
Basically, the more we are aware of ourselves, the internal feedback, and the external (the practice/rehearsal/performing space etc.), and the more we can create balance, the the more we can optimise performance.
As I am sure you can appreciate, there is more to the Alexander Technique than can be shared here.
In fact, Alexander Technique teachers are required to complete 3 years of full-time education to become full qualified.
This involves both acquiring a theoretical knowledge as well as supervised hands on experience.
Whilst at first it may seem that taking regular Alexander Technique lessons is an unnecessary additional cost, the benefits to body, mind and voice, are more than can be explained in words.
The Alexander Technique, in my opinion, should be part of every singers training, whether you train privately or through an institution.
Learning to looking after our whole selves (body, mind and voice) is important for singers’ career and voice longevity.
Invest in your voice…and keep singing
And don't forget to grab your freebie:
The Ultimate Vocal Health Guide
- a 14-day plan to help you improve your voice!
#RRVSBlog #AlexanderTechnique #Singing #teachingsinging #improveyourvoice