The Problem with “Technical” vs. “Musical” Practicing

Alexander Technique musiciansWhen you practice, do you think of different ways of practicing as either “technical” or “musical” practice? That’s a common misunderstanding about how to work on a piece of music. I think it’s very problematic, and goes contrary to what we are really trying to achieve.

As I was recording today’s video for “Jennifer’s 30-Day Practice Challenge – Day 8″, I had an important insight towards the end on that topic, which I’d like to share with you. (I’ll be talking about it more in tomorrow’s video – Day 9.)

Just as it is unhelpful and unhealthy to think of the mind-body-soul-Spirit in separate parts, it is unhelpful to divide musical practice into technical-musical.

I realized today that the problem is that we are putting our emphasis to much on the end result than the process, and on our “doing” rather than our “Being”.

The unified Being of our mind-body-self must be our primary focus of attention as much as humanly possible. When we do this, we gain a better perspective on how everything else falls into place relative to our Being. Our Being becomes the point of reference – the coordinate point in the center of space.

The self includes emotion already. We don’t have to work to “put” emotion into our music if we are in right relationship with ourself and the music.

Our job is to become more and more aware of what already IS inside of us, and to choose to focus on the aspects that are useful to pay attention to because that has a positive effect on our “doing”.

Alexander Technique practice

What I mean is… when my self is well-coordinated, and I am aware of my role in the coordinating process (mainly to get out of the way and stop trying to control everything with my thinking mind), the technical aspects work themselves out, and the emotion that is already in me is able to flow out through my open (not overly contracted) arms, through the unrestricted instrument, and out into the music.

My job is to stay centered, open, and responsive, constantly taking in new information about the changes that I see on the page (new notes in a new moment) and in my environment(the conductor just sped up the pulse), so that I can respond with appropriate tension for technical accuracy along with a spontaneous emotional response to the meaning the music has for me.

By paying constant attention to the primacy of our centered Being-ness while including the awareness of the more “technical” aspect of mind-analysis and the more “musical/emotional” aspect of the heart-synthesis, we will be improving our music-making as a WHOLE instead of risking the creation of either an overly mechanical piece of music devoid of emotion, or an impassioned and undisciplined mess of notes.

To summarize:

  • Make paying attention to your Being primary; the actions you carry out are secondary (The Art of Freedom / Alexander Technique helps tremendously with cultivating this ability – contact me to learn more)
  • Become aware of the analytical mind AND the emotional heart
  • Have the intention to let the mind and heart speak through everything you do, without trying to “do” the analysis or force the emotions.
  • Allow the centered self and the music to develop a constantly flowing partnership which contains and unifies all aspects at once.

I’d love to hear your comments here! It was a simple experience I had this morning which has been very challenging to put into words, and I’m wondering what you think…

Join me for “Jennifer’s 30 Day Practice Challenge!”



Won’t you join me and improve your music-making? It will be sure to be LOTS OF FUN and EXCITEMENT, and we even have a Facebook Group where you can meet up with other musicians following along, too. I look forward to seeing you there!



Expose Yourself in Public! The Best Way to Get Motivated!

Alexander Technique for musiciansNo, you do NOT have to take your clothes off (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that hilarious photo)!

But, you do need to share just a bit of what is deeply meaningful to yourself if you want to take advantage of the very best way to get motivated. There’s nothing like making yourself vulnerable in front of others to get YOU to pay attention to what you’re doing!

Here’s how I’m putting this idea into practice to make myself accountable for my violin practicing this month, and how you can join me and piggyback on my self-exposure! :)


Last Spring, after taking a look at the score, I accepted to perform Rossini’s “Un Mot a Paganini” on October 2nd because I knew that saying “yes” would cause me to keep practicing over the summer, and maybe even improve my violin technique. The piece is NOT easy. In fact, it’s a little daunting…

The LAST thing I thought I’d do was to expose my practice sessions to the public while learning the piece! But, that’s exactly what I decided to do yesterday, by recording every single session and posting it online. (Yes, I’m crazy!!!)

I figured… what better way to motivate myself to practice what I preach to all my students, than to show them that I really practice what I preach, and show them how I’m going through the same stuff every other performer goes through, and how I deal with it. The technical, mental, emotional, and all other aspects of performance. Every day.

I’ve often told my students that “practice is performance, and performance is practice”. Well, my practice sessions sure will feel more like performance over the next 30 days, FOR SURE. So, wish me luck!!!

Actually, can I ask you to please do more than that for me? Just take 2 minutes to sign up and watch the welcome video, and share it with the musicians you know. Then, come on over to the new Facebook group I’ve created specifically for this challenge so you can follow my process and share in the conversation. Keep me company!

or…BETTER YET…I’ll support you while you do your OWN 30 Day Practice Challenge! 



  I’m starting TODAY!!! Won’t you join me and improve your music-making? It will be sure to be LOTS OF FUN and EXCITEMENT, and you’ll be sure to feel GREAT about yourself for doing it!!!


Hilarious angel photo courtesy of farconville at

How Do You Deal with Overwhelm?

Alexander Technique stressOverwhelm.

What is it?

It’s a sense of life spinning out of control. Feeling like life is too much to manage…like there’s too much to do and not enough time…that we are inadequate, or too slow or too stupid, or just not good enough.

It’s one of the most common complaints we have when dealing with the stress of our modern lives.

My students often report that they feel overwhelmed by their lives as musicians, but the source of the problem really has nothing to do with being a musician. We experience overwhelm because of our human nature (research has shown that our brains are wired for survival to pay much more attention to the negative than the positive), and because of how we react to the fast pace, uncertainty, and incredibly diverse stimulation of modern life.

There are so many different things that we need to attend to these days, and they often seem unrelated. How can we juggle so many balls at the same time and also feel successful in so many areas of our lives?

The answer is to find the ONE common denominator, and relate EVERYTHING in our lives back to That.

That common denominator is the Center which is within us. After all, YOU – your mind-body-Self – is what is common to every experience you could possibly have.

When experiencing the reality of the present moment becomes your primary goal, you can always be successful.

Overwhelm happens when your attention is sucked away from your Center and you start to make something outside of you more important than the present reality of your Being.

There is NOTHING in the world more important than your well-Being.

If you are experiencing too much tension, fear, anxiety, or un-ease, that’s your CUE to come back to your Center.

Alexander technique musicians

One of the easiest ways to do this is to stop and ask yourself:

1. “Right NOW, what’s happening? What do I notice about myself?”
Take your time to answer this. No rush.
Example: As for me right now, I am experiencing some tension in my neck, constriction in my chest, and an overall sense of anxiety because I’m worried about my financial future and my ignorance about personal money management. I am over-focused on the future, and I’ve been over-focused on searching for money management courses online for the last 20 minutes, which was proactive, but didn’t help me feel more at ease because I wasn’t staying connected to my center while I was doing my research.

After taking stock objectively of the present conditions, free of self-criticism or self-judgment, ask yourself:

2. “Right NOW, where in my body do I feel a little LESS tense? Where do I experience just a little bit more ease? Where do I feel a bit more comfortable in myself?
Example: Right now, as I gently open up to finding a place in my body that’s a little easier, I notice that my toes feel relaxed, empty, and easy. I take a moment to appreciate the ease in my toes. Now, I notice my arms. Thank God for the ease in my arms! Now, my neck… And so on… I continue to give myself some time to acknowledge and appreciate the ease in various parts of my body. As I do this, I start to feel more relaxed, and my mind is no longer obsessing over the future. I have brought myself back to my real experience of Now.

It is so important to have tools to bring ourselves back to the present moment. The present moment contains the Truth of Now, and there exists no other moment.

Why worry about the future when you can find ease right now?

This process is EASY. It’s SIMPLE. And it’s surprisingly QUICK, if you commit to simply observing and opening up to finding ease within yourself. If you seek ease, you are sure to find it. Now.

So, next time you feel overwhelmed, try this.

Better yet, try it NOW.

Practice this for just a few minutes every day, and you’ll be less likely to get overwhelmed in the first place. And when you do feel overwhelmed, you’ll know what to do because you’ve practiced it before and you’ve discovered that the process works.

Why not try these two steps for 1 minute right now, and let me know what happens? I’ll be very curious to hear about your experience! Leave a comment before you go! :)

p.s. These steps work great for performance anxiety, too; performance anxiety is just another term for overwhelm.

Many thanks to AT teacher Mio Morales, whose clear presentation of steps 1 and 2 continue to help me clarify my own ideas about the Alexander Technique and how to apply them on a daily basis.

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Finding the Smile After the Storm

Alexander Technique spiritualityEverything changes.

What matters is to have something changeless to refer everything back to.

The changeless is central and must be recognized and appreciated as such.

The center is in the middle of all things. It is everywhere.

There is no place that the center cannot be found.

All music, all of life, can be referred back to the center.

All magic, all goodness, all beatitude, all comfort… is found there, which is here.

Things happen. Things trigger reactions in us, and in others.

Things – and we – are thrown off balance.

Of course.

This is the nature of the changing world.

What matters is to notice it, and to choose how to respond to the imbalance.

Is it possible to simply notice, to become aware, to observe the ripples on the water after the rocks have been thrown in, without trying to iron out the lake?

This too shall pass.

People come and go. Things come and go. Feelings come and go. We are together and apart. Night follows day, and day follows night. Fear follows comfort and comfort follows fear.

We are asleep, and then awake.

This universe contains all things. All possibilities. Infinitude…

The awareness that lives in the center of our heart contains the entire universe – there is no separation.

The key is to realize that awareness is the key…and to choose again and again to come back to That. And to practice coming back, again and again and again… under all circumstances.

Because with practice come greater ease and strength.

I love remembering this, and taking it to heart.

Knowing this brings me a smile after the storm – with love.

And to love is to act on that which is true.


I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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How Can A Fleeting Moment Conquer Evil?

I’m having a bit of an emotional morning. I’ve just realized something important and surprising, and I want to share it with you. It’s a personal story with huge implications.

I’ve been going through a lot of ups and downs lately. Half a year ago, I moved out of the house I’d been living in for more than ten years, ending a 25-year marriage that began when I was 20. I can hardly express how dramatically my life has changed since making that decision. The most wonderful and beautiful things have been happening to me, but the road of separation and change is a rocky one, and sometimes the bumps hurt. A lot.

My relationship with my violin often reflects what’s happening in my life in general, so it’s interesting that my ah-ha moment of the morning was related to that.

Recently, I wrote about how excited I’ve been to be practicing the violin again for myself. I’ve only committed to doing a few minutes every day (and there are plenty of days I’ve skipped), but those minutes have been far richer and more rewarding than most of the work I’ve done with the violin since age 19, when I lost the desire to improve my playing. Since then, I simply maintained my skills enough to enjoy high-quality music-making with other musicians; I never had an interest in improving my skills. So this change has been very remarkable to me.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a series of challenging situations to deal with, and the Alexander Technique has been invaluable to help me negotiate them with my “chin up”.

But over the last few days, I’ve noticed that it’s been getting harder for me to stay positive in the face of certain events that have brought up a huge range of strong emotions. Interestingly, I’ve begun to neglect my violin again, and I haven’t been paying so much attention to my mind-body use. In fact, my knees have been hurting, so I’ve been more focused on pain than anything else. Of course – what you focus on, you get more of!

Alexander Technique musicians

This morning, I got up early and sat in my rocking chair for a few moments before deciding what to do next. I took a moment to appreciate the peaceful beauty of my home, and I noticed feelings of anger and unhappiness coming up again.

But, instead of going to write in my neglected journal to work through my feelings like I have in the past, I decided to stop and recite “How easy is my neck?” 100 hundred times. This is a unique practice that Alexander teacher Mio Morales introduced me to at a conference last year. It’s something I do now every time I practice my violin these days, because the results when I start playing are quite incredible.

After reciting the “cycle”, I decided to pick up my violin and experiment for just a couple minutes. I focused on wondering about the ease in my neck, noticing what happened to the ease when I wondered about it, and I watched the ease as it spread.

I wasn’t expecting what happened next.
I learned something new.

In the moment I became aware of what I was doing and learned how to stop, I was astounded. And then I cried a few tears, because learning something new is an incredibly wonderful thing. It is empowering. It is reassuring and reaffirming. It is proof of Self-value. It is proof that creation and change are possible, and that we have the power to effect – or at least participate in – that magical moment when something new occurs. A pure moment of learning is like a divine revelation.

What did I learn? Specifically, I learned that I was freezing up and isolating my right wrist, tightening my neck, compromising the quality of my movement and therefore my sound every single time I brought the bow near the string. But becoming aware of that – and then discovering how to stop doing it – was only secondary in importance to watching myself learn, and discovering how important learning is to human growth and well-being.

To remember that we don’t have to do anything, that we have time

To stop and notice our current Reality 

To exercise our freedom to choose our response to this Reality

To choose to stop and wonder about the current conditions of Reality, within and around us

To wonder about the relative ease of the neck

To wonder what happens to the ease

To watch the ease

To practice this while we partake of an activity and learn from what we observe…

This is, most surely, the key to overcoming any event in our lives that seeks to diminish us.  

In most of the world’s religions, there is a concept called “evil”. Very simply, this can be considered a force that seeks to crush the soul, separate us from ourselves, and limit life. There are many events, and also people at times, who wish to make us feel bad, hurt, small, and miserable…who seek to make us doubt ourselves. They may or may not be aware of it. But there is nothing worse in this world than a force that prods us to lose faith in the Self.

Sometimes, this force succeeds in its attempts to crush the soul. But if we understand and keep coming back to the power of living in the moment, observing Reality and realizing our freedom to choose, that force becomes utterly powerless to crush our indomitable spirit.

Once we choose to stop engaging with that force of downward pull, choosing instead to simply shine the light of awareness on the Reality that is now, discovering the unfolding of ourselves into the next moment, the nothingness of darkness/evil/ignorance simply disappears. Every time.

It constantly amazes me how much power we have
over ourselves and our lives.

May I – and may you – continue to learn more and more about the power of Self-knowledge, and use ourselves well. And may we be happy – right now! :)


I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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My Struggle with Being Concise in Speech and Musical Practice

A few months ago, I was asked to give a 10-minute TED-style talk at the College Music Society Summit on improving 21st century music school design.

I gave the talk last Friday, and I believe it was a success. However, the process leading up to it was extremely challenging for me, and I learned quite a lot from it.

It’s always a good idea to focus more on the positives than the negatives, so I’ll start with recognizing how very far I’ve come over my lifetime in the realm of speaking in public.

Alexander Technique musicians

Image courtesy of Stockimages at

As a child, I was extremely shy about speaking to others. Speaking to an audience from the stage was terrifying, as were giving radio or newspaper interviews. I dreaded any event that could expose me in public through the spoken word, even though I had no anxiety when playing the violin for others.

Knowing that this was a serious deficiency for someone aspiring to be an international soloist, I took a speech class in college. Unfortunately, I had such a terrible experience during the second class (I began to recite the required memorized poem and drew a blank after only a few words) that I dropped the class and never went back!

It wasn’t until I had completed a 3-year training to become certified as an Alexander Technique teacher, and I started giving introductory workshops to musicians, that I realized my fear of speaking in public had largely disappeared. Suddenly, I discovered that I loved talking about the Alexander Technique – even to large audiences!

It has been over 8 years now since I gave my first introductory workshop. I now thrive on teaching group classes and giving workshops. In fact, one of the best experiences of my life was teaching groups of up to 40 students at a time in Japan, with a translator.

So, when I was invited to give a 10-minute talk on wellness for musicians at the CMS Summit, I was delighted and accepted without hesitation. I thought it would be easy.

Alexander Technique musicians

Little did I know how difficult it would be for me!

I’ve always known that being concise is not my strong point (witness the length of this blogpost, haha). There’s a lot that I feel passionately about, and I love to share what I care about with others. So I write a lot and I talk a lot (sometimes I think I’m making up for all my years of relative silence as a child!).

But distilling my passion into only 10 minutes proved to be extremely difficult!!!

In fact, I struggled and suffered over planning the speech for more than a week before the event. I thought about it most of the time, woke up in the middle of the night, and wrote pages of brainstorming ideas. And still, I couldn’t figure out how to pinpoint the most important ideas I wanted to get across and how to do it efficiently.

It was 5 minutes before my talk and I STILL had only a vague outline of what I was going to say. It didn’t help my nerves to remember that we presenters had been urged to rehearse and memorize our speeches four months before, and we weren’t allowed to use any notes or notecards; just a PowerPoint which I had opted not to do.

However, despite my confusion and distress, I continued to apply the Alexander Technique as I prepared.  Even when my car’s GPS took me to the wrong state (!) on my drive to South Carolina for the conference, and even when my car died on the highway and I had to rent the car I’m still driving now (that’s another blogpost!), AT kept me sane and in a good mood throughout.

When it was finally time to deliver my “BIG Idea” Talk (not my term), the room was freezing and I was the last one to speak. My body was shaking from cold and nervousness, but I simply watched it all, letting myself be free to feel what I was feeling without trying to change the reality of my experience.

Alexander Technique musicians

Image courtesy of Iosphere at

Once I rose to speak, the experience took over and started to flow.  After my stilted beginning (“Hi. I’m Jennifer Roig-Francoli, and I’m also a violinist.” I’m ALSO a violinist? Haha!), the ideas just poured out and all of the work I’d been doing to prepare (mostly stopping my negative reactions to the ordeal) carried the talk like a river transporting ideas from my brain to my audience. I finished just under the 10-minute limit, and the audience was enthusiastic.

I’ve come a long way, it’s true…

Speaking in public will forever be something that I can improve on, to say the least! But the WAY that I’m learning to work on it (or any other activity) is what interests me the most.

This process drove home to me in an intense way that it is extremely important to be able to distill our ideas into ONE MAIN IDEA. We need to learn how to be CLEAR.  About what we want… and how to express it so that we can increase our odds of getting it.

As I think about this, I’m realizing that I don’t have to wait until the next time I’m asked to give a short talk to work on this. I can work on being clear and concise every single time I speak. This idea makes me curious, and it makes me want to explore it.

I will explore it when I practice my violin, too, because making music is simply expressing ideas through music instead of words. When I practice, I can ask myself:

What is the ONE IDEA that I want to work on when I pick up my violin?
What is the ONE IDEA that I want to express?
How can I express it clearly and simply, without anything extra and unnecessary getting in the way?

I love the Alexander Technique, and I love feeling curious about life. I love being challenged, and I love exploring what is possible.

Thanks to the Alexander Technique and The Art of Freedom, I live and continue to learn. HURRAY!

 I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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My Personal Journey with the Violin Evolves… to the Stars

Alexander Technique teacher musiciansWhen I was two years old, I wanted to play the violin. My mother, a cellist, made me a toy violin out of half a coconut, so I started playing violin on a coconut. How funny is that?! (Maybe that’s why I’m so nutty! :) )

Now, decades later, I’ve traveled through so many phases with my dear friend, Violin…

As a child and later as a teenager, I had only one goal, and that was to become a great (and famous) soloist. I never questioned that goal – it was simply a given that it would eventually happen. I had no doubts. I won nearly every competition I entered, performed internationally, was featured in TIME Magazine, had some of the best teachers in the world, and was often treated like a princess for the obvious potential I displayed.

What never occurred to me was that I might someday change my mind and take my life in a completely different direction. When I was 19, I decided I had had enough and didn’t want to pursue a soloist’s lonely lifestyle. When I was 20, I got married and completely abandoned my childhood dreams.

That’s when I started playing in orchestras – something I’d never wanted to do.

The next thirteen years were interesting, and I gained a lot of experience as a violinist playing many different roles: Concertmaster, Associate Concertmaster, Section violinist, chamber musician, freelancer, violin teacher… all on the baroque violin as well as modern. I played in a Chicago studio for a McDonald’s commercial, and did injury to my sensitivities playing for a raucous “Young Messiah” show – something I swore never to do again!

Alexander Technique teacher musicians

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

After thirteen years, I tired of it and burned out.  It felt like I’d “done it all”, and I had no more interest in any of it – save my baroque duo and performances with Apollo’s Fire. Those, I continued to enjoy from time to time.

When my second son was two years old, the Alexander Technique appeared as a saving grace of fresh air.  Still, I very rarely touched my violin to practice. I knew I was growing, but I didn’t grow as a musician in the way people usually do – by practicing their instrument – because I simply had no desire.  It seems my growth as a musician was happening under the surface.

Over the years I had found two golden treasures, two well-hidden keys to fundamental change and transformation. First, I paid a great deal of attention to the spirit of Love and Life Itself, and then I practiced the self-integration methods of the F. M. Alexander Technique. My fascination with the latter propelled me to become a teacher of the Technique in 2007.

To this day, I continue both of these practices, which to me are inseparable. As I have watched my evolution as a person and musician, I now very firmly believe – with absolute conviction – that this attentiveness to wondering “Who am I?”, with loving awareness of the present moment, is the best way to become a truly great musician.

Alexander Technique teacher musicThe practice of Self-Realization is indispensable to the visionary musician with lofty ideals, because the Self is our primary instrument. My violin, beautiful instrument that it is, is merely secondary. It can only express what lives first within my mind, heart, and soul. Jennifer’s job is simply to observe and get out of the way, to allow the primary control, my Inner Musician, to sing through me and Violin.

My violin playing improves every single time I pay attention with simple, conscious awareness. Whenever I pick up my instrument now, something fundamentally different is happening from what used to happen. Something acts from deep within to integrate everything inside and out.  Sometimes, it’s so subtle that I miss it; but more often than not, it serves to wake me up.

My journey continues.

These days, I find my curiosity piqued, enticing me to practice with my instrument on a near-daily basis again, completely free of pressure or ambition. I have no clear goals, other than to continue this musical journey of Self-Realization and to share my explorations and discoveries with others so inclined.

Alexander Technique teacher musiciansI feel so blessed to have met a very special person recently: Mio Morales, another musician and Alexander Technique teacher whose approach to Life, art, and AT are very similar to mine. Here’s a picture of Mio in Japan with Yasutaka Tonoike, who translates my blog into Japanese.

I have learned so much from him already, and my students have been asked his First Easy Question, “How easy is my neck?” every since I was introduced to it at a conference in Ireland last August.

When Mio offers his keen and quiet attention, nourishing me with ideas for my practice, for a short while I am brought back to my childhood violin lessons, a time when my passion to learn and grow as a musician made me play – I was told –  “like a samurai”.

When I ask “How easy is my neck?”, I notice what is happening, and my heightening awareness celebrates with movements that become surprisingly light and easy. With calm and rapt curiosity, I wonder what will happen next as I pick up my beloved violin.  I love to explore the beauty…

Just a few minutes every day of highly conscious violin practice – on my own and well-supported by the love of a wise and caring friend…this is enough.

The tiniest events have the power to alter the course of destinies… or to cause a garden of giant roses to spring from a ground long prepared by waiting.

I wonder where this growing Consciousness will take me and my dear old friend, Violin.  It’s already taking me for a wondrous ride…

Maybe I will end up in the stars…

Maybe I’m there already…


I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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Death, Performance Anxiety, and a Tool for Bravery

Reality-of-Fear-quotes-31331136-481-381_largeThere are times in life when we are called upon to do something which seems terrifying and impossible.

On the outside, we may not always have a choice about what happens to us, but on the inside we always have a choice about how we respond.

The Alexander Technique gives us a way to stop and choose how to react to the stimuli we are presented with; we can choose the habitual and familiar, or we can choose to move forward and up into the Unknown.  From this place of freedom of choice, we can learn to choose whether to let Principle or feelings be our guide,  and we can learn how to move forward in a new, more positive way.

As a performing musician, I am quite familiar with the feelings of dread and anxiety that can accompany the prospect of exposing my innermost Self in front of an audience, facing unknown and unpredictable outcomes. Thankfully, I have been able to overcome those horribly uncomfortable feelings many times, turning them into positive excitement and successful performances, and the more I practice facing and accepting the fears, the better I get at doing this.  The Alexander Technique has helped me immensely with this, and it has brought me great joy – both during and after performances. (See my blogpost on performance anxiety here:

When I was a beginning Alexander Teacher with very little experience, I was presented with multiple opportunities which elicited a similar fear response, and I was also able to overcome them to good advantage.  Some of those moments felt like being thrown off of a cliff and being asked to fly with wings I was unaware that I had.  Or being thrown into a pool of water at the deep end, unaware that something in me already knew how to swim.Alexander Technique Cincinnati

I sometimes look at life and see it as a school for learning how to accomplish or manifest into reality what seems to be utterly impossible.  I see the Alexander Technique as a tool for learning this extremely valuable skill in a very conscious way.  It is a tool for bravery - for helping us move through the inevitable hellish moments of life with greater ease and grace.

I am so grateful when I look back and see that every single time life has confronted me with a stimulus to learn something the “hard” way (through difficulty, suffering, and fear), something in me has in fact carried me through to the other side, and I have emerged from the trial with a deeper understanding and greater strength.

Learning to trust that “something” that carries us through – it doesn’t really matter so much what we call it – is where the real work and art of living takes place.  It has been said, “Living is not for the faint of heart”!

The practice of being confronted with the seemingly impossible, facing the fear, and making conscious, principled choices about how to deal with the stimulus, is a practice that it would be better not to ignore, although most people do, most of the time.

F.M. Alexander said, “Anyone can do what I did, if they do what I did.  But nobody wants the discipline.”  The first part of that quote used to be the more important part for me, because I wanted very much to know what he did, and how to do it; now I find myself even more interested in the second part.  The practice of increasing our conscious awareness and making principled choices in the face of fear and discomfort is the most difficult, but the most important, discipline.

We don’t have to engage in this kind of self-discipline.  But, I personally choose to do so often, because I know that someday I will be confronted with what seems to be the most impossible thing and the greatest Unknown: my own death.  And I do believe that the death of this body I inhabit is inevitable!  I don’t know with absolute certainty what will happen when it dies, but it is possible that the prospect of no longer existing in material form (or otherwise? can I really know with absolute certainty? can anyone?) may fill me with the greatest fear response I have ever before experienced.  What if that moment suddenly presents me with the opportunity for a performance of a lifetime? What if I will be called upon again to do something that seems utterly impossible, and more difficult than everything that has come before?

alexander technique music

I would like to have a peaceful, positive experience of death when the time comes. To me, one way  to increase the odds of having that experience (not necessarily the only way or the only right way) could be to see this lifetime as a rehearsal, a learning, a preparation for that moment.  People say, “Life is not a rehearsal,” but it is possible that this really means: learn how to perform Life well NOW, so that when death comes, it’s just another moment to enjoy.  The rehearsal is the performance, and the performance is the rehearsal. 

In any case, when death comes, I would like to be prepared as much as possible; I would like to have my “trust muscles” so strong by then, that I won’t hesitate to fly off the cliff or dive off the diving board, into the vast, beautiful, heavenly Unknown.  And since I don’t know when that moment will come, I am preparing in earnest.  I don’t want to fall off the cliff to my destruction, and I don’t want to drown.  I want to rise above my fear, and overcome the challenge.

For this reason, I am grateful for every opportunity life offers me to practice dying (living) well, no matter how difficult, seemingly impossible, or painful.

“Those who die before dying do not die when they die.” – German proverb

I would love to hear your responses to this blogpost.  I welcome your comments!

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Do You Know How to Think to Improve Your Technique?

Alexander Technique teacher musicians“I used to go to my practice room and just start practicing my scales and my pieces… doing the same thing every day… working on things I needed to work on… aware of how little time I had and how much I had to do… feeling stressed… I didn’t know how to relax…

“Before taking this class, I didn’t really know how to think.”

One of my students made that confession to me this morning. It made my day for two reasons: (1) because it showed me once again how important the work is that we’re doing – it is truly life-changing; (2) because it got me thinking about how to think, in such a way that by the end of the lesson, MY life was changed. Again.

That’s a testimony to the power of the Alexander Technique, and also to the privilege of being an AT teacher.

During today’s lesson, I reminded myself – through teaching my student – how SIMPLE this process of clear thinking really is!  AT is incredibly simple – you just need to know a few steps, and then APPLY them to whatever activity you choose to engage in, in order to improve whatever you want to improve.

Here are the Alexander Technique steps in a nutshell:

1. Pay attention to your overall, general psycho-physical attitude (I often use my “Three Magic Phrases” to step into this space of freedom – see the downloadable article in the upper sidebar to find out more about these)

2. Choose a goal (keep it simple!)

3. Let go of your attachment to the goal (completely!)

4. Recognize that by letting go of your goal, you access a place of All-Possibility, where you have infinite choices. You can now organize those infinite possibilities into just three options to choose from. You can:

(a) Go ahead and carry out your intended activity/goal;
(b) Do something completely different; or…
(c) Do nothing at all.

Alexander found that he needed to choose options (b) and (c) many more times than option (a) in order to deeply let go of his attachment to the outcome, so that he was finally able to move with freedom, ease, and spontaneously good coordination.

5. Allow the choice to happen, carrying you into activity or not.

6. Ask yourself, “What happened? What did I notice? What did I observe?”

7. If you’d like to make improvements to the result of your activity (for example, you might wish to improve your intonation when playing an A Major scale), be clear about what you would like to be different the next time you do it. How could you modify your thinking the next time you carry out that activity?

8. Repeat, giving yourself ample time again to enjoy Step #1.

THAT… is how to think clearly, and how to practice and improve any skill with great efficiency.

For better or for worse, we get better at what we practice. If your practicing time includes ANY mindless, repetitive, boring practice, you will get better at playing your instrument in a mindless, repetitive, boring way. I don’t think that’s what you want, is it?

This process may seem tedious and painstakingly slow. However, that’s just an illusion, because your rate of progress is likely to increase dramatically, and you will need to spend much LESS time practicing. This is the concentrated, deep, REAL work of becoming a great musician, with an always-improving technique and pure depth of heart… IF that’s what you want.

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What to Do When “There Isn’t Enough Time to Practice”

alexander technique teacher cincinnati musicI’ve had an extremely busy weekend, filled with essay-writing, videotaping myself, a workshop for string players at NKU, and our second Art of Freedom annual “Non-Performance” (more about that later, once I have pictures!).

So I’m pretty exhausted, but it’s now time to dive in and start practicing for my trip to Cleveland on Tuesday, to rehearse and perform as a member of Apollo’s Fire all week.

I’d like to share a few notes with you about what WORKS BEST for me when I only have a couple of days to prepare for an important first rehearsal. Maybe you’ll find the ideas useful for yourself one day! This is me talking to me:

  • First of all, accept that the amount of available time is the sufficient amount of time. Don’t stress about it; just do what CAN be done – not what you think OUGHT to be done.
  • Rest when tired. Don’t overdo. If you feel like you might be getting sick, make being well your top priority over everything else – even practicing. SLEEP. Even if it’s during the day!
  • Be sensible with healthy food choices, but allow yourself to enjoy what you eat, too. No rushing.
  • TRUST!! that those years of preparatory work learning how to play your instrument and make music have built up an incredibly strong network of neural connections in your brain that will serve you well when you need to call upon them; your job is simply to TRUST your system and get out of the way.
  • Play through the music you’ve been given, but don’t worry about practicing what you can already play the first time around; you’ll have plenty of time to practice more AFTER the first rehearsal. Practice the parts you DON’T get right the first time; but leave them as soon as you can play them two or three times. 
  • You’re not expected to play perfectly at the first rehearsal! After all, that’s why you have six 3-hour rehearsals and plenty of empty hours over several days in which to get to know the music. Don’t expect too much and you won’t disappoint yourself.
  • When approaching your instrument, when lifting your instrument, when beginning to play, and while playing – ALL THE TIME – make awareness of your head-neck area your #1 TOP PRIORITY. Wondering about the freedom and ease in the neck is your #1 KEY to excellence in playing your instrument and making music.
  • Do not overfocus on the notes on the page. Refer them back to the awareness of your neck. Neck first, notes second!
  • Do not overfocus on your instrument, or your hands, or any other part of your body. Neck first, everything else second!
  • Everything relates back to the head-neck’s freedom to be easy. This is THE KEY, so USE IT and TRUST IT.
  • Try it out now, and try it out in the car on the way to Cleveland, and in the first rehearsal. Everything is a big experiment. Stay open to wondering what will happen, and you’ll be SURE to learn. When you’re learning, failure is impossible. So, there’s nothing to fear. Only endless happenings to look forward to and enjoy…. RIGHT NOW! :)

Just writing this out for you gives me joy!  I had to share it with you because I enjoyed so much more ease in my practicing a few minutes ago when I started to really pay attention to my neck more than to the notes or the music.

After all, what I see on the page is something that is happening within my visual system inside of my head – not something happening out there on the music stand. And once I “bring it inside”, what I’m learning needs to pass through my neck before it can get into my hands and my violin.

The freedom and ease of my neck is absolutely essential for me to play at my best. And when there’s very little time to prepare, it becomes all the more important not to let any anxiety about the future enter into the picture, because that would just make me tighten my neck – and then my coordination would be impaired.

So… now that I’ve written down what I’m newly discovering (for the ten thousandth time!) with such enthusiasm, it’s time for me to get back to practicing! Why? Because I have another workshop and a class to teach tomorrow… and I won’t have much time to practice. So, I’d better make the best use of my time right now! :)

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