Monday, June 18, 2012

An Introductory Alexander Technique Class for Musical Pre-Teens and Teens

Today, I taught an introductory AT class to approximately 45 young musicians, ages 11-17.  I decided to start the class with a rather crass definition of the Technique:

"The Alexander Technique is a way of observing yourself and your environment so that you can have better control over getting what you want."

I took a quick poll; not a single student didn't want to be in control, and everyone except one girl said that they typically want something, so I think everyone could relate to that definition.  Since I was asked today how I taught the rest of the 55-minute class based on that definition of the Technique, I thought I'd share a brief overview of the class here, for anyone who might be interested.

I decided to base the class loosely on these words: WHAT, WHO, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW.  We never really got to "why", "when", and "how", but we have two more class periods to delve into those!

My basic questions were:

- WHAT is music?
- WHO makes music? WHO are you? (My favorite response: "An Awesome Thing...")
- WHAT are you in connection with now?
- WHERE are you?  WHERE do you make music?

After much interesting discussion, we played some games, first seated and then moving around the room, to explore our sense of space--personal and in relation to objects and other people, and including the directions of space.  Then, we discussed the exercises and related them to performance, for instance: how can you think differently if you're on stage in an orchestra, feeling cramped and claustrophobic?  Maybe it could help to expand your sense of personal space to the edges of the room and beyond, even into infinitude...

Next, we did an exploration in which the class was divided into two groups: the "performer" group and the "audience" group, with the performers in the middle of the room, and the audience in a large circle around them, at the edges of the room.  I led them through two elaborately-constructed imaginary scenarios, simply put: (1) very critical and hateful audience; and (2) loving, approving audience.  How did they feel?  As expected, most students much preferred the second scenario, but I was admittedly surprised that there were about five students who preferred the first scenario.  They felt that they "performed" better under adverse circumstances, when they had to "work harder", it "mattered more", and they had "something to prove".  Most students felt more tension and "performed" worse when the audience was very critical, and they felt their bodies relax and "perform" better when they felt loved and accepted by their audience.

The main point of the "performer/audience" exercise was to show the students that--no matter which scenario they preferred--they were responding physically with either more tension or freedom in their bodies, depending exclusively on their thoughts.  There were real effects that were created ONLY by their own imaginations.  "What you think is what you get"; which means, in effect, that through your thinking, you can have constructive conscious control over yourself and your performance.

By making good use of your thinking, you can have better control...and you're more likely to get what you want.

I'm looking forward to the next three days, in which the group will be split up into three smaller sections.  Their third class will be on Friday, when all 45 get together again.  What an adventure!

I'd love to hear your reactions to this post.  If you're an AT teacher reading this, do you have any other games you like to play with this age group to illustrate any AT concepts?


  1. Hi Jennifer,

    It sounds like you had a great class!
    I teach teenage acting students, and am always bowled over by their energy, enthusiasm, and their total belief that they know everything. It's a potent mix, and makes for exciting classes.
    I teach that the Alexander Technique is a set of tools, concepts and principles that can enable you to be successful in whatever area you choose to apply them. And one of the games that I use is a simple drama game called the Evolution Game (or king of the jungle). In order to reach the objective of becoming the lion, the students have to analyse the conditions present, reason out a means to achieve the goal of the game, and then carry out the means they have reasoned (Evolution of a Technique). They have to be able to prevent their enthusiasm from dominating their reason (MSI), and to make the experience of receiving a stimulus and refuse to do anything immediately in response (Evolution of a Technique).
    And then once they've become the lion, they have to realise that their goal has changed, and they have to do the process over again!
    I particularly like your sentence "By making good use of your thinking, you can have better control..." I think this is a wonderful gift to give our young people, and one that they can't learn in the same way anywhere else.
    I can't wait to hear how the next classes go!

  2. Thank you so much for your comment, Jennifer. I love hearing about your Evolution Game--it sounds like a wonderful way to introduce AT concepts in a colorful, playful way! The next classes last week (one class per approximately 12 students) explored the "Why" do we make music and the "How" do we make music. The students seemed especially interested in talking about what to do when they are "supposed" to go practice but they don't want to, so most of the class was focused on that dilemma and how to re-focus their intentions. One student commented, "So, I guess you're saying that AT is a way to re-kindle the fire?" I liked that. Unfortunately, the last class, with all 45 together again, didn't work out that well, but I learned my lesson. I had agreed to do a stretching class, on request, and I will not be doing it again, because I was unable to keep them focused on what I was doing, especially because I'd begun by bringing them into a huge circle, so I always had to have my back to half of them. Not a good idea. Next time, I will plan my own class, arrange them so that I can always see them, and realize that kids will be more rambunctious on the last day of a 5-day camp!


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