Laura Klein is an Alexander Technique teacher and professional jazz musician in Berkeley, California.
Laura tells Robert Rickover: “In a way, musicians and singers are athletes. We don’t think of ourselves as athletes, but we are athletes of small movements. We need optimal coordination. If you are doing something that is even a little bit problematic and you’re doing it hundreds of times a day, it’s going to start to cause problems. The majority of musicians suffer some kind of injury during the course of their career so we need all the help we can get.
“We need to be able to execute our musical conceptions without any hindrance — mental or physical. There are lots of things that can get in the way of our playing or singing at our best.”
“When somebody comes in for lessons, they’re usually concerned about specifics. A pianist or guitarist might be concerned about their hands. A singer might be concerned with breathing.
“We really play and sing with our whole selves, not just one part of ourselves.
“One of my tasks as a teacher is to be concerned with the person’s general use of themselves and what might be getting in the way. I used to work with a young man who was on track to be a professional conductor. He was having a lot of pain conducting. He was getting his shoulder inappropriately involved in his conducting movements and his standing balance was not optimal and was interfering with the length of his spine. When you compress your spine, you’re not going to breathe as freely.
“We were able to resolve those issues and he was able to conduct for long periods of time comfortably.”
“People come to the Technique for many different reasons. One of the most common is if they’re having some kind of difficulty, pain or injury. Maybe they feel they’ve hit a wall with their technique and they’re not improving. Sometimes people come because they’re having stage fright and anxiety. Many times we find we can change that by changing the physical response to performing. How to use the excitement of performance to enhance performance and not to detract from it. ‘Don’t get excited. Be exciting.’
“Alexander Technique can improve your stage presence. If you don’t like the way you look on stage, it can give you more poise and more confidence.
“A lot of musicians when they’re trying to express themselves musically make movements that detract from their performance. We all know musicians that might play like angels but they’re hard to watch. Maybe they’re making funny facial expressions or grimacing or compulsively hunching over their instruments. It’s nicer for the player and the audience if they’re moving in a way that helps the playing and is visually attractive.”
Robert: “What was your original reason for taking Alexander lessons?”
Laura: “I had a lot of back pain. I tried various approaches. Nothing was working. A couple of people advised me to try the Alexander Technique. As soon as I started taking lessons, I loved it. I didn’t really understand it but I felt it was helping me.”
“Once I started taking lessons, I realized that all the habits I brought to playing generalized into all of my activities. Not only was the Alexander work helping me to play better and to feel better while I was playing, it was helping me in all aspects of my life. I felt calmer. My general coordination was improving.”
“When you’re paying attention in your daily activities, if you’re using yourself well, then when you sit down at your instrument or it is time to sing, you’re well set up. You can be improving your musical performance even when you’re not practicing.”
“As you go through your day, whatever you’re doing, speaking on the phone or getting dressed or taking a shower or reading a book or using your computer, in all of those activities, you’re moving. The way that you sit, stand, walk, bend, you can do those things with efficiency or ease. We call that using yourself well. Or you can be doing those things with contraction and unnecessary tension. That’s not good use and often leads to problems.”
Robert: “One of Alexander’s great discoveries was that patterns of misuse tend to carry across wide degree of activities. Somebody who tightens his neck to play his guitar in all likelihood tightens his neck to drive the car.”