Effects of the Alexander Principle

[And the Alexander Technique]

In Dealing With Stress in

Musical Performance


Submitted by
Joe Armstrong

In partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of



MAY, 1975






Considering that stress and nervousness are widely recognized as problems of performing artists, a situation involving video-taping procedures as an added source of stress for the individual performances of a group of eight college pianists was used to test the theory that if instrumentalists were given training in the Alexander Principle they could reliably increase their ability to cope with the problem. They were divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group was given an introductory course of Alexander lessons while the control group had no exposure to the Alexander Technique at all. Performances were video-taped at the beginning of a six-week period and at the end. Even though the pianists in the experimental group did not have enough training in the Alexander Principle to use it reliably for themselves in a performance situation, theystill felt that they had definitely learned a way of coping with stress that had helped them improve in dealing with the problem and that they would definitely want to continue having lessons in the Alexander Principle if there were an opportunity to do so. The pianists in the control group still found nervousness to be as much a problem at the last video-taping session and said that they would still be eager to learn a way of coping with it in performance. The study showed clearly that reliable proof of the theory could be gained only after a larger number of instrumentalists had taken part in the experiment and after giving the performers in the control group considerably more lessons in the Alexander Principle than was possible for those to take who volunteered at this time.

  Discovery of the Principle 14
  Development of the Technique 21
  Personal Involvement with the Alexander Work 25
  The Problem with Dealing with Stress in Musical Performance 30
  Pilot Study 35
  Preliminary Video-taping Session 37
  Lessons Given to Experimental Group 40
  Final Video-taping Session 43
  Results with Experimental Group 43
  Results of Control Group 46
  Discussion of Results 48
  Conclusions 49

1. Startle Pattern
(Please see figures in Chapter 12, "Experimental Studies," of Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones. Published by Mouritz, London, 1997. Available through STATBooks www.stat.org.uk/statbooks.html and AmSAT Books www.alexandertech.org)
2. Multiple-image photographs: from leaning forward to sitting erect
(Please see figures in Chapter 12, "Experimental Studies," of Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones. Published by Mouritz, London, 1997. Available through STATBooks www.stat.org.uk/statbooks.html and AmSAT Books www.alexandertech.org)
3. Multiple-image photographs: from sitting to standing
(Please see figures in Chapter 12, "Experimental Studies," of Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones. Published by Mouritz, London, 1997. Available through STATBooks www.stat.org.uk/statbooks.html and AmSAT Books www.alexandertech.org)
4. Sample of split-screen image: first subject 67
5. Sample of split-screen image: second subject 68
6. Sample of split-screen image: third subject 69
7. Samples from consecutive tapings: first subject 70
8. Samples from consecutive tapings: second subject 71
9. Samples from consecutive tapings: third subject 72






*The degree program for which this thesis was presented in partial fulfillment was supported through a scholarship granted by the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Portions of the research involved were aided by the Tufts Fund for Research in Kinesthesis.


July, 2001

It has been over twenty-five years since this thesis was written, but its subject matter is no less relevant now than it was then. In fact, we've seen, on one hand, the rise of "performing arts clinics" headed by neurologists specializing in musicians' problems, and on the other, we have more and more music schools and conservatories adding the Alexander Technique to their curricula, so valuable have they seen it to be to all dimensions of performance. (I recently counted eighteen music schools offering Alexander lessons here in the US, and I am told there are many more than that abroad.)

However, the areas of medicine and psychology which are dealing with musicians problems don't really seem much closer to recognizing the Alexander Technique's great potential (both preventive and remedial) for combating performers' difficulties. Doctors appear ever more ready to prescribe drugs like Enderol for nervousness and stage fright (I understand from "inside sources" that there are far more professional musicians using these kinds of drugs than we would ever guess); and physical therapy, splints, etc. are still regularly recommended by physicians to relieve musicians' stress-related neuro-muscular problems such as tendinitis, carpal-tunnel and thoracic outlet syndromes, focal dystonia, etc. So it's clear that medicine still focuses more on treating the specific symptoms than on considering how they may be caused or influenced by the overall, general use of the self as a whole "in reaction to the stimulus of living," as Alexander characterized the focus of his work. But research on the Alexander Technique, since the death of Dr. Frank Pierce Jones who sponsored me in writing this thesis, hasn't progressed very much beyond his preliminary body of work; and it seems clear that a great deal more experimental examination of the Technique needs to take place before medicine and psychology can really begin to consider embracing it productively.

Several promising things have happened recently though, and it will be very exciting if they can take the lead toward such an amalgamation. Professor T.D. Roberts, the leading authority on the working of the postural mechanisms (referred to here), has himself been taking Alexander lessons and has also been doing some revealing writing and lecturing on the subject of the Alexander Technique from his field's point of view. For instance, he has shown how most of Dr. Jones' studies (particularly with regard to the relation between reflexes and voluntary behavior, and with regard to the postural scheme put forward by Magnus) can no longer serve as a basis for understanding the changes brought about in Alexander lessons (The Alexander Journal, Summer, 2001). Then, on a larger scale, the U. S. National Institutes of Health has just embarked upon an examination of Complementary and Alternative Medicines, which includes the Alexander Technique among selected modalities to be studied (because the Technique quite often has substantial therapeutic benefits, in spite of the fact that it is primarily educational in nature).

Meanwhile, the unending quest to discover ever more effective ways of working with the Alexander Technique in musical performance continues. Teachers like Vivien Mackie (see her testimonial letter in Appendix A) have emerged to bring forth the nearly forgotten treasures of master musicians of the past such as Pablo Casals, fusing Alexander teaching into a relation to music-making that is whole and deep—something our age of computerized speed seems to have disowned in its rush to achieve the impossible ideal of technical perfection created by ever more advanced recording methods, and further fueled by both high-pressured competition and an increasingly artificial "star system."

In 'Just Play Naturally,' our new book about her study with Casals and the resonance of his teaching with the Alexander Technique, Vivien Mackie speaks of what she calls "the animal rhythm" in all music, an essential, vital energy that must exist beneath the actual note-values. This animal rhythm seems to be one of the main things that gets stifled by the mounting conditions of stress in performing, and Alexander's proclamation of 1923 is obviously even more appropriate today than ever as a guidepost for reclaiming that naturalness in playing:

"I venture to predict that before we can unravel the horribly tangled skein of our present existence, we must come to a full STOP, and return to conscious, simple living, believing in the unity underlying all things, and acting in a practical way in accordance with the laws and principles involved." (Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, New York, Dutton, 1923.)




This thesis examines a knowledge-in-operation of F.M. Alexander's principle of organizing proprioception and kinesthetic perception (Alexander, 1910, 1923, 1932, 1941; and Alexander, ed. Maisel, 1974) and the ways in which it can influence the performance of instrumental musicians. The hypothesis tested was that if instrumentalists were given training in the Alexander's principle they could reliably increase their ability to cope with the problem of stress or nervousness in performance situations.

The concept of "stress" which will be used here represents a change of conditions in the human organism which deviate in a harmful or damaging way from a more normal or balanced resting state. This change is described in great detail by Hans Selye (1950), one of the leading authorities on the subject of the physiology and pathology of stress. According to Selye the factors most commonly responsible for bringing about this change in conditions which interferes with the most harmonious functioning and activity of people are those usually involving some variety of stimuli capable of inducing a "reaction of alarm". A "reaction of alarm" is characterized by two phases which he calls "shock" and "countershock". Both phases involve very distinct and interrelated changes in neurophysiological aspects of the functioning of the organism-particularly in terms of muscular tension or tonus. The "shock" phase generally involves, besides a depression of the nervous system, a decrease in muscle tonus, while the "countershock" phase involves a resistance to the stimuli by an increase in muscle tonus. (Selye, p. 9 & 601)

It is this feature of Selye's thesis which deals with alterations of muscle tonus in the "reaction of alarm" that we are primarily concerned with here, since Alexander's principle greatly involves the capacity to consciously detect these changes in oneself. This capacity is essentially the function of our kinesthetic sense (sometimes referred to as the proprioceptive sense when it is extended to include the balancing mechanisms of the vestibular apparatus). The kinesthetic sense supplies our brain with information regarding our balance, position in space, the qualitites of movements we make, and especially changes in tension accompanying "reactions of alarm" (or any reactions, for that matter). These perceptions are received mainly from nerve endings supplied to joint capsules; the ligaments, muscles, and tendons; the linings of the lungs and other visceral organs; the blood vessel walls; and also in deeper layers of the skin (Wilentz, 1968).

The qualities of tension or tonus that these nerve endings deal with can range in degree from a minimum during sleep to a maximum under high arousal or excitement when awake (Bartley, 1958). Part of this may be spoken of as tonus necessary for maintaining our upright stature and mobility in relation to gravity, and part of it may be excessive. It is the fine ability to distinguish gradations between necessary and excessive tension that is the essential factor with which Alexander's principle of organizing proprioception and kinesthetic perception deals and which will receive further clarification and description later in this work. Much of the latest research (Milner, 1970) indicates that the receptors in the joint capsules contribute the most to kinesthetic perception, but generally there still seems to be a great deal of controversy about the dominance of one system of receptors over the other (that is, the receptors of the joints, tendons, or the skeletal musculature).1

The scientific study of the kinesthetic system is considered one of the most difficult tasks in sensory psychology (Mueller, 1965) because in most people kinesthetic sensations are largely "silent" -- that is, they are subconscious or unconscious. Therefore we do not have a rich vocabulary for describing what we perceive kinesthetically except for general terms like "feeling relaxed" or "feeling tense or fatigued" in all or various parts of ourselves; however, it is well established that the kinesthetic sense is the most important and vital system of sensory receptors. Without it we could not survive.

Alexander recognized even moreso that the level of development of conscious appreciation or understanding of proprioceptive and kinesthetic sensations in virtually every person is startlingly below the level that it could be. In fact, he found generally that this condition was one of the main contributors to nearly every aspect of moral and organismic degeneration in the functioning of the lives of the majority of the population. What he then developed independently of laboratory science was a means of helping people to improve and consciously organize their kinesthetic perceptions in a way that could help them to gain greater freedom and a remarkably refined sensitivity which would allow them control and choice with respect to habitual reactions-particularly undesirable ones.

Among these undesirable reactions -- especially those often confronted by musical performers -- are ones that are involved with the problem of coping with stress. Many musicians are unable to cope nearly as well as they would like. From my own personal experience as a performer and as a qualified teacher of Alexander's principle, I have found that musicians can be taught to cope with stress in a reliable way through instruction using the technique which Alexander discovered and developed. I hope by writing here to give more explicit evidence for the reasons behind these findings and possibly to point out the need for more extensive research to be done on the subject.

1. Geldard (McGraw-Hill, 1971) has mentioned that experimental findings have shown that joint sensibility may be retained in the presence of muscular and cutaneous anaesthesia of the same region -- and that the converse also occurs; for example, it is possible to retain sensibility of skin and muscle but fail to discriminate passive movements of the limb because sensitivity from the joint has been impaired.




Discovery of the Technique

Alexander's principle or method of organizing kinesthetic perception was initially discovered as a result of his efforts to find a way in which he could solve a problem he had of losing his voice, a problem which threatened his promises for a professional career as an actor in Australia around the turn of the century. None of the medical authorities he consulted could cure him or give him any clues about what might be the cause of his trouble. They could only prescribe that he rest his voice by entirely refraining from speaking for a period of time before each performance.

After following this advice and still achieving no relief from the hoarseness, he realized that he could not continue to accept performing engagements unless he was able to solve the problem. He then decided that the cause might lie in something he was unaware of doing to himself while he performed; so with great determination and care he set out to discover what it actually was.

Over a long period of extremely patient exploration and observation of himself saying his lines in front of a three-way mirror he finally saw that in preparing to speak he had a tendency to alter the poise of his head in relation to his neck. He then realized that this change in head balance was brought about by an unconscious stiffening or tightening of the muscles in his neck and that it also caused the compression of his throat which produced the hoarseness. In turn, he further noticed that this change in head balance also affected the distribution of muscular tension throughout his torso and even extended to include his limbs. It eventually became apparent to him that these changes he had been making unconsciously were all part of a regular and stereotyped pattern of stiffening which accompanied every attempt to recite his lines.

This pattern of stiffening which Alexander discovered he had been making can be compared to that of the startle pattern which has been shown clearly in the photographic study (Jones, Hanson, and Gray, 1964 and Jones, 1965)2  seen in Figure 1.

Startle Pattern: https://www.google.com/search?q=jones+startle+pattern&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiTod3Fv6zfAhXxmeAKHbF2C1wQ_AUIDigB&biw=1348&bih=593#imgrc=Gd5_4fR95rx1_M:

Between the two photographs it is easy to notice the visible changes in tensional distribution between the head, neck, and trunk since they are so severe; however, even though Alexander may not necessarily have made these tensional changes in such an exaggerated way when he went to speak, the patterns can be linked to each other because they both occur in response to stimuli. With Alexander the response occurred from the stimulus within him to speak, whereas in the startle pattern of Figure 1 the subject's response is to a stimulus from outside himself (the slamming of a door).

Eventually he learned that by expanding his field of attention to include what was happening kinesthetically within the postural reflexes of his head-neck-trunk relationship, he could choose to keep that habitual stiffening from taking place when he spoke and, in turn, could prevent himself from losing his voice. He called this process of prevention through expanding his attention "inhibition" (Alexander, 1910, Part I, chapter 3)-a concept which eventually proved to be the key factor in understanding and employing the whole principle that he had discovered.

The use of the term "inhibition" in connection with Alexander's principle has often proved to be very baffling to people having lessons because it is commonly thought of as having to do with a negative or suppressive type of activity. The way in which Alexander used it was to signify a conscious intention to prevent a response from being carried out by including in awareness certain aspects of kinesthetic perception which would allow the choice of a different or freer response to take place if it was necessary or appropriate.

Although a complete scientific investigation verifying the specific nuero-physiological aspects of the mechanisms of Alexander's principle has yet to be made, much has been done by Magnus (1925) and Roberts (1967) to show that there exists an integrating activity among the reflexes of the postural musculature in man and animals and that the quality of any of the more specific reflex actions of an individual are strongly affected by the activity of the head-neck reflexes.3

What Alexander went on then to discover was that in virtually every learned activity, whether it was speaking or playing a sport like golf, people tend to develop attitudes of anticipating according to preconceived ideas of what they think will be demanded of them. These attitudes of "getting ready," or anticipatory "sets," tend to bring with them a redistribution of tension similar to that which is seen in the startle pattern and in the reaction which Alexander found he was making to the stimulus to recite the lines of a play.4  He observed that often these sets are, as had been the case with him, entirely unconscious and go by unnoticed unless some disturbing pain occurs from an excessive stiffness caused by continually making them. Often they can be noticed in general ways, however, when someone "gets set" for something that does not happen as expected-for instance in reaching for a suitcase which one thinks is filled with heavy books but, in fact, is empty; or in preparing for an appointment which promises to be intensely disturbing emotionally only to discover that it is at a later date after all.

By helping people to perceive kinesthetically how "sets" occur as preliminary changes in the head-neck reflexes, one can teach them to inhibit habitual reactions to situations and to choose to allow the most appropriate or spontaneous response to happen at any given moment. Even if the habitual response is appropriate in the circumstance, the person still has a choice whether or not to allow it to happen rather than become a victim of it automatically.

The most essential factor about developing a more organized kinesthetic awareness that is unique to Alexander's principle and which distinguishes it from all other existing systems of awareness and control is the particular sequence of giving one's attention that he found necessary in order to bring about this more integrated quality in the skeletal musculature of the head-neck-torso relationship. This depends on a specific order in which one's attention is to be directed. It begins with (1) allowing the neck muscles to be as free as they possibly can be at any given moment. This freeing of the neck tends then to allow, in turn, (2) the head to be freed very subtly in a direction forward and out from the neck and trunk. Thus the head-neck reflexes are allowed to function in a more balanced way which in turn allows (3) a reflex lengthening and widening of the trunk. Eventually paying attention in this specific sequence becomes a "primary control" in every activity. It produces a fundamental integrating of all the above three elements as they are being attended to all together and one after another. (Alexander, ed. Maisel, 1974, p. xxiv)


Development of the Technique

The method of helping or teaching people to experience this principle of organizing kinesthetic perception and developing a balanced control over their postural reflexes Alexander named the Alexander Technique. This technique then is basically a skill that a teacher acquires that allows him to use his hands in a certain way which can help to bring about and maintain this reflex balance in a pupil's anti-gravity musculature. It operates on the basis that if the teacher is maintaining the most balanced state of reflex activity in his own head-neck-torso relationship it alters the quality of muscle tonus in his hands in such a way that they can, in turn, most reliably transmit the same quality to the feeling in the musculature of the pupil.

Though the actual kinesthetic experience (the feeling) of this more balanced reflex action of the skeletal musculature is impossible to communicate by words alone, it is possible to convey verbally a more specific impression which can be used as an explanatory aid in teaching Alexander's principle. It is relevant only to an isolated part of the musculature, but it helps to illustrate the relationship of attention to muscle tonus with which the principle largely deals. If you will now draw your attention to your own hands while reading this page -- without moving your fingers at all in space --and if you will pay attention to one specific finger, say, the index finger of one hand as if you were intending to point that finger more in the same direction it is already pointing without actually moving it; you will notice that by that act of attention alone a change of feeling comes into the index finger that wasn't previously there.

If you will continue then to include in your attention that intent of pointing with the index finger while you go on to read this page, that same subtle yet heightened degree of muscle tone can be maintained. As your attention becomes more narrowly focused on reading you will probably find that the heightened state of tonus is lost in the index finger but also that it is possible to bring it back consciously and at will at any given moment. This altered state of tonus can be maintained in the background of your awareness while continuing to read or while doing any other activity.5  A reasonable explanation of this change in feeling could be that through this act of attention alone a heightened state of the stretch reflexes in the index finger can be brought about more than when attention is focused elsewhere in the organism or in the environment.6

What Alexander's technique tries to cultivate then is the experience of maintaining this expanded attention throughout the musculature of the postural reflexes and thereby allow the distribution of muscle tension to be at the most appropriate level for any specific activity or movement whether it takes up large amounts of space or is more stationary. So the main capacity with which one is dealing is that of attention.7  Alexander found that the majority of people suffer severely from habits of dispersed attention called "mind-wandering" or from over-fixating attention called "concentration". He saw clearly that both of these habits had definite correlations to the state of muscle tonus in the postural reflex mechanisms and that unduly excited emotions as well as attitudes of fixed prejudices were also distinctly recognizable by aspects of change in the same reflex patterns (again similar to the startle pattern in Figure 1).

In an Alexander lesson the pupil is often guided through some every day movement like taking a step, sitting, standing, or picking up something while the teacher's hands encourage him to maintain this more balanced reflex distribution of muscle tone. Each teacher's style and approach is slightly different and of course is usually widely varied depending upon the coordination and emotional state of the pupil at the moment of the lesson.

Often in the majority of people the kinesthetic sense is so deluded and the postural reflexes are so distorted from many years of habitual misuse that a whole new coordination must be built up almost entirely from "scratch". Initially the teacher may even have to use his hands in a way that can be considered almost physiotherapeutic, though it is still with the intent of teaching and re-organizing the pupil's awareness rather than a passive manipulation.

Acquiring a thorough mastery of Alexander's principle may take a number of years (sometimes as many as ten or more), and becoming a certified teacher requires three years of intensive daily training. Some people are immediately responsive to the Technique however, and need only a minimal amount of lessons (from 20 to 30 are often recommended) in order to improve and re-educate their capacity for attention enough to foster a process of growth which can continue in a positive way throughout their lifetimes.


Personal Involvement with the Alexander Work

(The following account is given with the intent to provide further information about some very relevant aspects of Alexander's principle and technique which could not be pointed out so accurately in any other way since the writer is both an instrumental musician and a certified teacher of the Alexander Principle.)

My own experience with Alexander's principle and technique began nearly ten years ago during my last two years of undergraduate music school. It came entirely by chance because an English flutist I was studying with for the summer was an ardent enthusiast, and his wife also happened to be a qualified teacher. He recommended that I have lessons in the principle with the idea that they would help me gain greater awareness and control in my playing.

I readily followed his suggestion because at that point in my college career as a music student I had nearly begun to give up on the possibility of ever achieving the standard as a flutist that I felt I definitely had the capacity to attain. In the beginning years of learning to play the flute I seemed to be making satisfactory progress, and teachers often pointed out that they thought I possessed far-reaching potential as a musician. But when I later began to prepare more seriously for a career as a professional flutist and started to study with a teacher in college who insisted on my adhering to a more rigid approach to increasing my technical proficiency, I met with seemingly insurmountable barriers.

In trying to force myself to pay attention exclusively to more specific mechanical problems in playing, I felt that I had to forsake my capacity for being spontaneously expressive that I had until then always valued as the most important and vital aspect of playing. Clearly, this teacher did not have a way to teach me to play the flute which would help me develop technical mastery without causing a harmful severance from attention to expressive elements.

I found this situation unbearably frustrating and felt that my strong aspirations to pursue a career as a professional musician had become almost totally thwarted. After only a few Alexander lessons though, I immediately saw the possibility of discovering through the help of the Technique a more suitable and total approach to playing the flute, an approach that would allow me to incorporate expressive and technical factors at one and the same time.

Not much preliminary explanation was given to me before I had my first lesson, but somehow I was eager to begin because I had noticed a special attitude or quality of presence in both this English flutist and his wife that made them seem different than anyone I'd ever met before. I knew it wasn't just because of their particular exciting and energetic charisma, but it seemed to be due to something that they understood about themselves or to something that they were aware of that was quite out of the ordinary. I noticed it more in terms of their interaction with me, with other flute students, and especially in the quality of their interaction with each other. The only verbal characterization I could give to this quality was "a kind of consistent easiness in getting along with people and a total lack of aggressiveness and selfishness".

As time went on and I grew more familiar with the Alexander work, I recognized why these qualities were present in these people, and the same ones eventually began to be allowed to come about within me as the result of the lessons. As I learned, that by inhibiting patterns of habitual stiffening in my head-neck-trunk relationship, I was also led to a more reliable sense of "appropriateness" in terms of my behavior and interactions with others. I realized that if other people behaved aggressively or offensively toward me, it would cause me to react in a way that made me interfere with the balance of my head-neck-trunk reflexes that I was learning how to maintain. Likewise, I also saw even more clearly how my inappropriate and unintentionally offensive habitual actions caused others to react in a similar stiffening way even though they probably weren't aware of much more than being annoyed or uncomfortable with me at those times.8

As lessons progressed I became increasingly aware of many drastic and excessive tensions I was making as I was playing the flute. They occurred even in simply bringing the flute up to my lips. (I found that I had always unconsciously brought my head forward and down several inches to meet the flute instead of raising the flute to the level at which my head would be at my most balanced standing height. I also discovered that I had been habitually locking my shoulders and elbows into a very rigid position which prohibited a free excursion of the rib-cage in breathing and a more flexible control of the fingers). Eventually, these excessive tensions became apparent as specific or stereotyped patterns that fundamentally distorted the balance of my head-neck-trunk reflexes that the Alexander teacher was helping me to perceive and experience in an increasingly sensitive and organized way.

A fundamental impact was made on me by the lessons from the standpoint of discovering how unaware I had been of all the unnecessary tension I created in my musculature in practically every other aspect of my daily life -- just sitting in a chair, standing, eating, reading a book -- and even more so when I would overreact emotionally to other people and situations. Every moment there was something to react to, and in each reaction I would usually be making far more tension in my head-neck-trunk relationship than was necessary -- particularly in my neck muscles that controlled the quality of balance of my head.

The situation in which I noticed I would overreact the most emotionally was that of performing in front of another person or an audience. Later I began to notice also that I could detect a tendency to interfere with the reflex balance of my head-neck-trunk relationship even just by thinking of an approaching performance or audition that might be as much as a week or two away.

In the past this tendency to become anxious or nervous about performing had interfered with my playing in a very disappointing way. Many times I would experience nervousness to the extent of trembling or clutching so much that it prevented me from producing a steady tone and interfered drastically with the control of my fingers. To be composed enough to allow myself to pay attention to the expressive elements of what I was playing was very far out of he question. Often my playing in performance situations sounded as if I'd never really studied the flute at all. At other times when playing alone, technical and expressive elements would be so much at my command that I would sound advanced beyond anything one would expect to hear from a student at the college level.

Eventually I was able to begin to gain control over this problem of dealing with stress in performance by recognizing and inhibiting the first slight signs of excess tightening that would come into my head-neck-trunk musculature which distorted the reflex balance that the teacher had been able to bring about with her hands in the lessons. The experience of freedom, lightness, ease of movement, and over-all calm that carried over from the lessons into the rest of the day and week gradually became a kinesthetic background or frame of reference to which all habitual reactions could be compared and evaluated. With this sense of freedom to choose how I would allow myself to react came an ever-increasing sense of security and self-reliability. It also helped me to incorporate more fully all the imaginative and expressive elements that only seemed to come into my playing before when I played alone.

By far the most impressive thing about having Alexander lessons was the fact that I knew that I was definitely learning to acquire this freedom and control and that it was something that anyone else could learn in the same way too -- a learning based on experiencing rather than on isolated intellectual activity alone. Very soon I saw the value and importance of teaching Alexander's principle to other musicians I knew who were confronting similar problems of coping with stress in performance situations. Many were also bogged down by an over-focusing on specific technical achievements that were unrelated to a concept of approaching playing in a more total psychophysical way. Seeing too that so many people from every walk of life desperately needed the help that Alexander's technique could give in making all aspects of their lives more fulfilling and in keeping with their true potential, I finally decided to enroll in the three-year teacher's training course in London, England to train to become a qualified teacher of the principle.

Having completed this training and having taught Alexander's principle for the past three years to many professionals and students in the performing arts, I feel that it is important now to draw attention in writing to some of the specific ways that problems of musical performers can be solved by using it. I think that the problem of stress chosen as the topic here is one of the most crucial to deal with since so many professional and student musicians are constantly confronted with it throughout their careers. The next section, therefore, will be devoted to giving a more detailed description of this problem in musical performance.


The Problem of Dealing with Stress in Musical Performance

Dealing with stress or nervousness in musical performance is by no means an unfamiliar problem, even to some of the greatest artists. In Conversations with Casals (Corredor, 1956, p. 200) the great cellist at the age of 77 was asked: "In spite of your long years of playing in public, I believe you have always been nervous before a concert?" He replied: "Think of the number of great performers I have met in my long career--they all suffered from stage-fright, with some rare exceptions. (Fritz Kreisler, for instance, used to say he felt perfectly 'at home' on the platform.) But can you imagine that I have not known any artist as tormented as I am with nerves? The thought of a public concert always gives me a nightmare.......even now." Also speaking of how it is such a great necessity for a musician to take every chance to release muscular tensions in performing, he points out how the fatigue of the hand and arm in cello playing mostly come from the tension of muscles produced through emotion and "stage-fright" (Corredor, p. 199).

Casals went on to say "however, that the will of the performer must overcome this obstacle of tension due to nervousness and to this end the conscious practicing of relaxation will prove very beneficial to complete control during a concert." He also mentioned the necessity of going through "long exercises" of relaxation to keep up the suppleness of the arm and fingers and which would allow an "impulse to come from the center of the body instead of each extremity, which would group movements into a unified whole, producing better results and less fatigue". But as is the case with other noted teachers who likewise advocate "relaxation and naturalness" in playing, Casals did not say precisely how he dealt with these problems in himself nor did he prescribe any method to follow.9  It was to him: "rather like an image of what I feel at the time, not an easy thing to identify or to name".

Obviously Casals must have possessed a highly coordinated and sensitive integration of reflexes over which he had developed his own personal method of control that worked reliably for him when confronted with the extreme nervousness he confessed to have felt in performance situations. Unfortunately, however, most other musicians do not possess such a reliable method and are many times far less successful than Casals was in coping with the problem. Many often rely solely on an ability to play automatically without paying attention at all to what they are doing, trusting that if they abstract themselves by thinking of some other thought or image the performance will go successfully.

In a paper read at a conference on "Coordination in Music" at Michigan State University, Jones (1967) speaks of two contrasting incidents that illustrate this point very well. One was about an old Bostonian who had given up a career as a concert pianist after her marriage and was asked to perform by Koussevitsky at a small dinner party. She chose a piece she hadn't played since the turn of the century in hopes that it would be something Koussevitsky did not know. All she remembered were the opening chords, but by abstracting herself and looking steadily at a picture of a mountain lake which hung behind the piano she was able to finish the piece without a flaw. Had she thought for a moment of what she was doing, she said, the feat would have been impossible.

The other example is of an established professional musician with whom the ability to play automatically was not so reliable. Halfway through a concert performance he started thinking about a quarrel he had had that morning with his wife. This train of thought became so absorbing that by the end of the second movement of the piece he was playing, his attention was engrossed completely. He was unable to start the third movement and had to leave the stage with the piece unfinished.

No doubt countless stories of similar experiences could be found to show other methods of dealing with stress which various performers have found useful to some extent--such as Jacobson's progressive relaxation (Jacobson, 1929 and 1964), Coue's autosuggestion technique (Coue, 1923), or transcendental meditation (Forem, 1973 and Naranjo and Ornstein, 1971)--but none of them have become so strongly recognized by leading music schools and conservatories as being as significantly reliable as Alexander's principle. Some of the schools that have begun to incorporate the Alexander Technique into their curriculums or to consider it seriously by presenting it frequently in seminars are: Juilliard School of Music and Drama, Eastman School of Music, Indiana University Music Department, Michigan State University Music Department, Ohio State University Music Department, Iowa State University, Southern Methodist University; and in Great Britain: the Guildhall School of Music, the Royal College of Music, Dartington Hall School of Music, and the Glasgow Conservatory. In addition, scores of leading symphonic and solo performers both in America and abroad find having Alexander lessons indispensable to their careers--especially in regard to dealing with the problem of stress. (See personal testamonials in Appendix A for endorsements of the Alexander Technique by several professional performers and music educators.)

Not a great deal of writing or experimental work has been done, however, in exposing the relevance of Alexander's principle and technique to the problem of dealing with stress in performance. In light of that fact, it is hoped that the following parts of this thesis can help to further clarify this relevance by describing experiments in which the Alexander Technique was used with a group of student musicians.10

2.  As Jones states (1965, p. 207), "in the startle pattern, the active character of malposture and the sequence of events by which it comes about can be clearly observed. The response is not instantaneous. It begins in the head and neck, passing down the trunk and legs to be completed in about 1/2 second. The neck muscles are central in the organization of the response".

3. Sherrinton (1906, Lecture IV) pointed out clearly how no single reflex can truly be regarded without considering it to be a part of a larger and more total alliance of reflexes; and Roberts more recently (1967, p. 174) speaks in detail of the interacting affects of the conditions at one joint and the muscular activity of neighboring joints, both within the individual limbs and between limbs and trunk. He also points out that the group of reflex interactions between the parts of the body includes the neck reflexes, in which the supporting activity in the limbs is influenced by the attitude of the head on the neck (italics mine).

4. Though Alexander never specifically used the term "set" in his own writings, Jones (1965, p. 196) has employed it in defining the effects of using Alexander's technique experimentally to show how certain stereotyped response patterns can be changed by altering the head poise of a subject in certain movements. These can be seen in the stroboscopic photographs of Figures 2 and 3 (Please see figures in Chapter 12, "Experimental Studies," of Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones. Published by Mouritz, London, 1997. Available through STATBooks www.stat.org.uk/statbooks.html and AmSAT Books www.alexandertech.org) when a subject first was photographed moving in his habitual way and then in a guided way with Jones using the Alexander Technique to alter his head poise during the movement eliminating the habitual set of preparing to move.

5.  Roberts (1967, p. 120) points out how the intricate machinery of the stretch reflex appears to be involved in the regulation of the activity of most, if not all, of the skeletal muscles. He says also that this is particularly true for all that background of muscular activity which differentiates the tense body of an alert animal from the loose hag of bones and flesh to which it is reduced by anesthesia, deep sleep, or death.

6.  Jones (1965, p. 209) elaborates on the effect of the Alexander Technique in helping to reorganize the stretch reflexes in the neck and back so that more muscle fibres take part in the anti-gravity response, and so that the muscles in contracting remain closer to their optimal resting length. He also explains how the stretch reflex persists as long as the stimulus is applied. In the above illustration then, this "act of attention alone" would be the fundamental subtle stimulus with which Alexander discovered how to deal in order to integrate the total reflex activity of the entire skeletal muscular system.

7.  This intimate relationship between postural muscle tonus and the psychic process of attention has yet to be investigated fully with regard to the interaction of total reflex patterns. But as early as 1930, Fearing postulated that tonus is attention expressed in neuromuscular terms (Fearing, p. 231). And in discussing muscular aspects of human behavior, Freeman (1948) referred to electromyographic studies pointing out the influence of emotion on muscle tone. This was easily the beginning of the current movement of "bio-feedback" experimentation (Brown, 1974), but none of the work being done in that area seems to be oriented towards Alexander's principle relating attention to the total reflex pattern of the postural musculature.

8.  Jones (1954, pp. 182-3) elaborates on this aspect of increased emotional equilibrium and provides extremely lucid examples from personal testimonials as to the relevance of understanding Alexander's principle in this regard. He states that "consciousness, once it has been trained to detect relations as tensional patterns, does not stop at 'physical situations', but records any pattern that disturbs the equilibrium of the organism. Outstanding among disturbing patterns are those of hatred, anger, and fear--emotions that effectually block the practice of altruism...they make themselves known by the manner in which they disturb the equilibrium present when the stimulus is received", and in developing an extended consciousness of these patterns, the emotions no longer have the power to "possess" us in panic-stricken or irrational ways.

9.  See statements in Appendix A (p. 55) from Vivien Couling (Mackie), who studied with Casals' for three years in the 1950's.

10.  Several articles have appeared in The American String Teacher, notably one by Francis Tursi of the Faculty of Eastman School of Music on "Excessive Psycho-physical Tension in String Performance". (Tursi, 1959) Another made note of ethologist Tinbergen's recent recognition (Science, 1974) of the Alexander Principle in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech as an important method of dealing with stress and cited its relevance to musical performers. (Roettinger, 1975)
Jones has also published several articles (1949, 1967, and 1972) on the use of the Technique in relation to musical performance. The most recent was in the Journal of Psychology showing the effects of changing the quality of the reflex balance of a singer's head and the influence of that change upon the quality of vocal sound.




Pilot Study

From the basis of a pilot study (Armstrong, 1974) conducted with two student pianists at Tufts University during July of 1974, the initial experimental procedure was developed which could be used to test the hypothesis that musicians could learn to increase their ability to cope with the problem of stress in performance situations. The procedure was established around the use of video-taping as a constant source of stress during performances in addition to the presence of the other people involved in the experiment who served as the "audience". These factors combined to insure a maximum amount of demand on the subjects to perform at their best. In this way the situation provided as nearly as possible the same amount of stress that the subjects would have confronted in a concert performance.11

It was also hoped that both visible and audible aspects of performances could best be captured by the video-taping and that significant comparisons could be drawn from it after the entire experiment had been completed. For this pilot study the two student pianists were asked to perform a familiar composition while they were being recorded on video-tape. After this first performance each subject was given a short experience (from ten to fifteen minutes) of the Alexander Technique at the hands of the experimenter and then was asked to perform again while being video-taped a second time.

Both subjects reported a marked decrease in nervousness during the second taping and confirmed that it was mainly due to the experience they had been given with the Alexander Technique. The visible and audible differences on the two tapings also seemed to provide significant evidence to experienced observers and experts on teaching kinesthetic perception that more might be revealed in an extensive project of the same kind.

In this pilot study the changes experienced by the two subjects showed that an immediate though temporary quality could be brought about in a few minutes by a qualified teacher using the Alexander Technique. However, this did not require much responsibility or deliberate conscious involvement on the part of the subjects; so what became more important to show was that subjects could actually learn to apply Alexander's principle for themselves in a way that would help them to cope reliably with stress in performance situations. This led to the hypothesis which was eventually tested over an extended period of time during the fall semester of 1974 by giving a number of student pianists training in Alexander's principle.

The experiment was conducted with the piano class of Professor John Buttrick ("Piano Literature, Style, and Criticism", Course No. 21886) in the music department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There were eight students of advanced ability enrolled in the class. Four volunteered to be in the experimental group that would be given Alexander lessons, and the remaining four agreed to participate as the control group who would not be given any Alexander work. The control group was used to provide a basis for comparison hoping to show that students involved in the same experiment at the same time without having Alexander lessons would not necessarily learn by themselves to cope better with stress in performance.


Preliminary Video-taping Session

The experiment was divided into two video-taping sessions, one before the experimental group was given Alexander lessons and one after they had been given from five to six lessons. The initial session was conducted on October 23, 1974 in the music department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All eight subjects were asked to perform a section of a composition lasting approximately five minutes that they thought they would feel most comfortable playing before an audience.

The experimental group was taped at the beginning of the session and then taped a second time after they were given a brief experience of the Alexander Technique in the same way that the subjects were given in the pilot study. The subjects in the control group were asked to play only once and were not given any experience of the Alexander Technique. The experimenter, the video-tape cameraman, the instructor, and the other members of the class were all present during the tapings.

The apparatus was a Panasonic Portable Video-tape recorder Number NV 3082. The camera (No. WV3082) was equipped with a T V Zoom Lens and rested on a tripod placed fifteen feet away from the piano. The tapes used for each session and the final editing were 1/2 hour reels of Sony Video Tape Number V-30H.

Subjective reports from both groups were obtained through questionnaires (see Appendix B) which they answered at various points during and after the experimental sessions. All the subjects reported that they experienced nervousness while performing before an audience and that they considered it a problem which sometimes kept them from playing at their best. Half of the subjects considered nervousness to be a major problem in performance. The other half did not. Only four of the subjects reported that they had any way of coping with the problem of nervousness, and only two of them felt that their way of coping worked consistently for them.12

All but one of the subjects said that they were aware of being nervous during their first performances which were taped on October 23. They were asked if they experienced this nervousness in certain parts of themselves and were given a list of specific muscular areas to check corresponding to their experience of tenseness. (See Appendix B, Questionnaire No. 1, question no. 8) The most frequently checked areas on the list were--hands, fingers, forearms, wrists, upper back, shoulders, and neck. The adjectives they selected to describe the quality of tensions in the above areas were--shaky, jittery, rigid, clutched, trembling, and numb as opposed to ones like lighter, freer, smoother, steadier, released, (Appendix B, Questionnaire No. 1, question no. 9).

Each of the subjects in the experimental group performed for a second taping following a brief experience of approximately ten minutes with the Alexander Technique. They were given a second questionnaire to answer (Appendix B, Questionnaire No. 2), and all but one of them reported that, they noticed a difference in their two performances that were taped that day and that they definitely felt the second performances were better than the first. Even though they felt that being more accustomed to the performance situation made their second playing different, they also said that their experience with the Alexander Technique made a definite difference too. They felt particularly that working with the Technique helped them to focus their attention better on the expressive intent in their playing and mentioned specifically that they felt:

--"playing was less like a battle between me and the instrument", (J.S.).
--"looser and more relaxed", (E.C.).
--"taller and expanded", (E.C).
--"lighter and calmer", (J.S.).
--"freer and more energetic", (E.C.).

Essentially this first brief experience with the Alexander Technique bears little relevance to the total scope of the hypothesis tested, but it did show that some noticeable change could be brought about by using the Technique and that it could be verified by the subjects. The conditions for working with the Alexander Technique on that day were not as ideal as they would have been in a private lesson situation because the subjects could not be taken far enough away from the sounds of the other performances to prevent them from being distracted; therefore it is felt that only the most minor changes were brought about. Examples of both performances of the experimental group can be seen consecutively on Part II of the video-tape accompanying this thesis. It is felt that differences can be seen in the two performances of all the subjects and that the second performances are noticeably freer than the first ones.

The main factor about this first taping of October 23 that is important to note though is that all the subjects reported that nervousness in performance was a problem and that they all had been nervous during the tapings made that day. This factor will later be contrasted with the results of the final taping session after the subjects in the experimental group were given Alexander lessons. This final session will be described and discussed more extensively in the following part of this thesis, Part III.


Lessons Given to Experimental Group

During the six weeks between the initial video-taping session on October 23, 1974 and the final taping session on December 11 and 13, 1974, the subjects in the experimental group were given from four to six introductory lessons in Alexander's principle by the experimenter. They consisted of half-hour to forty-five minute private sessions in the experimenter's teaching studio.

In the course of a single lesson the experimenter used Alexander's Technique as described in Part I to give the subjects more experience of maintaining an integrated quality in their head-neck-torso relationships as they carried out various activities around the room such as sitting, standing, and walking. With each subject a certain amount of work with the Alexander Technique was also given while the subjects were lying down on a table.

This lying-down work is not always given during a regular course of lessons, but in the particular case of these four subjects it was helpful in giving them experiences of release in the shoulder and hip joints that would have otherwise been difficult for them to have while standing or sitting. All the subjects exhibited excessive muscular tension which interfered with various movement patterns that they were guided through or asked to make from their own initiative. This excessive tension appeared to a very marked degree in the reflex patterns that governed the muscle tonus in the skeletal musculature of their head-neck-trunk relationships.

Even in the course of a few lessons, however, this excessive tension diminished considerably, and the subjects were eventually able to consciously allow themselves to be moved by the experimenter in a much freer way with less preliminary tension and 'set'. The main objective of these introductory lessons was to help the subjects be aware that they could use and develop their own conscious ability to prevent interferences in the reflexes of their own head-neck-torso relationships.13

Though it is felt that a course of twenty to thirty individual lessons would have been needed before these four subjects would gain enough experience of Alexander's principle to use it consistently for themselves, they all seemed to grasp the concept readily and noticed changes happening from lesson to lesson. These changes would often occur as a lessening of the tendency to "get set" in preparation to move--particularly in the movement from sitting to standing when guided by the experimenter.

11.  The use of the video-taping situation basically served to provide the type of stressful stimuli mentioned in the introduction (p. 9) which would most reliably induce the kind of "reaction of alarm" described by Selye as involving an increase in muscle tonus. From the subsequent reports of the subjects it was confirmed that this type of reaction was produced by the video-taping situation.

12.  Some of the ways of coping with nervousness that the subjects mentioned were: "taking deep breaths", J.S.; "concentrating more intensely on the music", M.R.; "practicing a 'mock performance'", and "not paying attention to the audience", J.B.F.

13.  This approach to teaching the Alexander Principle may be mistaken for other approaches which encourage a more total passivity on the part of a pupil; however, here it has been used as a means of fortifying the subjects' conscious abilities to allow themselves to move in a freer way.




Final Video-taping Session

The final taping session of the experiment was conducted on two dates--December 11 and December 13, 1974. The subjects in the experimental group performed on the earlier date, and those in the control group performed on the later date. As in the preliminary taping session the subjects were asked to perform a composition they felt most comfortable playing or to play the same one again if possible.


Results with Experimental Group

After this final taping the subjects in the experimental group were given Questionnaire No. 3 (see Appendix B) to answer. It was designed to obtain information from them about how they felt the Alexander Principle might have helped them to deal better with nervousness and stress in this final video-taping session than they were able to in the preliminary session in October. All of the subjects reported that they were less nervous during this final session than they had been during the preliminary taping, and they all felt that having lessons in the Alexander Principle definitely contributed to their ability to deal better with the problem in this situation.

These experimental group subjects also were aware whether or not they were consciously using the Alexander Principle before or during their performances.14 One subject said that she was only able to consciously use it before playing. Two subjects reported that they used the principle during their performances, and the fourth subject said that he had used the principle both before and during his performance.

When asked if they felt they had had adequate training in Alexander's principle to deal with the problem of nervousness in performance, two of the subjects answered that they felt they had not. The other two answered that they were uncertain. However, all four of the subjects reported that they would want to continue having more Alexander lessons if there were the opportunity to do so.

Excerpts from the preliminary and final video-tapings of the performances of three subjects from the experimental group can be seen on the video-tape which accompanies this thesis. It is divided into two parts. On Part I of the tape a split-screen editing technique has been used to show each subject's earlier and later performances as simultaneously as possible. Representative photographs taken from these split-screen segments can be seen in Appendix C, Figures 4, 5, and 6.

On the left half of the screen are shown the performances taped before the subjects had Alexander lessons on October 23, 1974. And on the right half of the screen are shown the performances from the final tapings on December 11, 1974. These split- screen sections of each subject are shown twice in order to make the most direct comparisons of audio and visual aspects of their performances. During the first showing, the soundtrack heard is that of the left side of the screen -- the preliminary taping. During the second showing, the soundtrack heard is that of the right side of the screen--the final taping after the subjects had been given Alexander lessons.

On Part II of the tape three separate performances are shown of these three subjects from the experimental group as they play the same section of a composition (See Appendix C, Figures 7, 8, and 9). The first performance segments are from the preliminary taping on October 23, 1974 before the subjects had experienced the Alexander Technique. The second segments are of performances after the subjects had been given the brief experience of working with the Alexander Technique mentioned on page 30. And the third segments are of performances from the final taping session on December 11, 1974 after the subjects had been given the introductory course of individual Alexander lessons during the intervening six weeks.

The excerpts shown on this accompanying video-tape are taken from four longer tapings made of the entire group of performances of both the experimental and control groups.15 These examples were specifically selected because of the visible and audible differences that seem to be noticeable in each of the subject's performances and because all three of them played the same composition on both dates.

The most general visible change seemed to be that each of the subjects shows less overall stiffness in the performance after they had taken Alexander lessons. This lessening of stiffness did not seem, however, to decrease in any way their power to produce a fuller tone or dynamic level.

More specific aspects of change that can be seen on this tape appear in regard to flexibility or freedom in the subjects' shoulders, wrists, hands, and particularly in their necks. Facial expressions tend to be less fixed during the later tapings, and there seems to be more of an overall readiness to deal more confidently and easily with the expressive demands of the music. It is believed that all these changes (verified by the subjects when answering the above-mentioned questionnaires) can also easily be taken as indications of the general decrease in nervousness which they reported they felt as a result of their ability to use the Alexander Principle in comparison to the preliminary taping session.


Results of Control Group

For the final video-taping session of the control group on December 13, 1974 only three of the four subjects were present. They were asked to perform again as in the preliminary taping of the composition they felt most comfortable playing before an audience. After each of their performances they were given a questionnaire to fill out concerning their ability to cope with the problem of nervousness on that date (Appendix B, Questionnaire No. 4).

All three of the subjects who performed on that day reported that they still considered nervousness in performance to be as much of a problem as it had been when the preliminary taping was made. The fourth subject was questioned separately at a later date and said that he definitely felt that he would still have the problem of nervousness if he had performed for the video-taping. He felt that he had become less nervous when performing in public though because of having acquired more performance experience during the intervening weeks. All the subjects also reported that they would still be interested in discovering a more reliable way of dealing with the problem of stress and nervousness in performance.

14. Some of the following comments offered by the subjects in the experimental group further illustrate that they had become conscious of beginning to develop their abilities to perceive kinesthetically while performing and that this perceiving was happening in a way that had not happened before they had lessons.
"I feel more conscious of what's going on [in me] regarding body tension. The Technique has been helpful in practicing--[I] have been attempting not to work against myself, but [I]still don't seem to be in control of myself in a performance situation" (J.S.).
"I feel much more relaxed in almost everything I do. The fact that I could sit relaxed [during this video-taping] when I played an unlearned, not recently practiced piece so poorly at least shows the effectiveness [of having Alexander lessons]to date!" (E.C.).
"Before Alexander lessons sometimes I would feel strained in certain positions whereas during the performance [that was just videotaped] I felt comfortable whatever position I was in. The Alexander lessons helped me to untighten parts of my body (neck, wrists, etc.) which used to tighten up during performances. The nervousness I felt [that using the Alexander Principle helped me to cope with] today was due to the piano stool being too high" (N.T.).
"I was thoughtless immediately before playing. But when I made a mistake after four bars or so and started over, I was more thoughtful of [my] musculature but also had more nervousness to overcome. I should have used the Alexander Principle consciously immediately before beginning to play but I didn't. The Principle has helped me while playing by myself.
"At the first couple of lessons I was made aware of a tendency to tense in my shoulders. Later, in social situations, I would surprisingly realize that my shoulders had gone up a bit, were tense. This made me intellectually as well as physiologically more at ease. It is still difficult [though] for me to relax my neck by myself unless I am serene or happy" (M.R.).

15. These tapes are kept on file for reference purposes in the music department and can be seen on request.




Discussion of Results

Essentially this experiment did not successfully prove the hypothesis tested that if instrumentalists were given training in Alexander's principle they could reliably increase their ability to cope with the problem of stress in performance situations. The two main factors preventing a complete proof of the hypothesis were that (1) the experiment didn't last over a long enough period of time to give the subjects in the experimental group adequate training in Alexander's principle for them to use it reliably in performance situations under stress and (2) that there were not enough subjects involved in the study altogether to make the results significant enough for purposes of establishing scientific verification.

However, it is felt that the experiment was successful in showing that having even a minimal amount of training in Alexander's principle could help instrumentalists become more aware of themselves kinesthetically in a way that could eventually lead to reliability in coping with stress in performing. All of the subjects in the experimental group reported that they had at least been aware that they had been involved in learning a usable principle whether or not they had developed their capacity to use it reliably.

They definitely felt that having lessons in the Alexander Principle had helped their playing in regards to coping with nervousness and that it affected other aspects of their lives in some positive way separately from any other improvements they might have made in other ways during the intervening six weeks. On the contrary, the subjects in the control group could report no such changes or improvements due to any other organized system of learning, and they still felt that they would like to discover or learn such a reliable method of coping with the problem of stress since it still existed in much the same way for them at the end of the experiment as it did at the beginning.



The main conclusions which could be drawn from this study is that further extensive research could be valuable in exposing the merits of a more thorough application of Alexander's principle in relation to the problem of nervousness in instrumental performance. All student and professional musicians who either participated in or knew about this study felt it to be of immense importance, and all agreed that a reliable way of coping with stress in performance has always been needed.

Many of the same professionals who have studied the Alexander Principle at length and consider it to be of great value in their performance careers urge that as much possible research, training, and documentation be done to scientifically validate the experience and use of Alexander's discoveries by musicians as well as by those involved in any other of the performing arts. Obviously the relevance of these discoveries to the realms of creativity and education has only barely begun to be realized.






College of Arts and Sciences
State University of New York
Oswego, New York
March 30, 1975

The following are observations made concerning my study of the Alexander Technique and the general effects it has had upon my musical performance and overall improvement in the use of myself:

1. Many nervous mannerisms such as constantly readjusting the viola on my shoulder, shaking my arms loose during rests, and moving my head in various ways to ease tension have disappeared. A hoarseness after each recital (which was the result of tense breathing during performance) has vanished. In general, it has resulted in the ability to leave myself alone and avoid unnecessary, detracting physical mannerisms.

2. Technically I have discovered an improvement in my viola playing. My general co-ordination has improved allowing me to play with greater speed and dexterity. My shifting is easier, playing of doublestops more reliable, and my tone overall has gained greater resonance and overtones. This added reserve of technique on the viola has psychologically helped boost up my self-confidence and alleviate many fears so often the cause of nervousness and tension.

3. In general, in solo performance I have found the ability to start playing with greater ease and less nervousness and tension. Before the study of the Alexander Technique, I usually needed a warm-up piece to gain self confidence, and quite often I found it wasn't until after the intermission of my recitals that I began to play really well. Now this initial warm-up period does not appear to be as necessary. My playing is technically and musically more consistently even from the beginning to the end of my recitals.

4. The study of the Technique has resulted in an added benefit. I have found that I am much more even-tempered and less apt to emotional outbursts. I would attribute this to the lessening of nervousness and tension through the correct "use of the self."

5. In my teaching, I have found a new understanding of some of the basic problems of a number of my students. Although I cannot teach the Alexander Technique like a trained teacher, I can point out incorrect usage of the body, and stop the student from doing wrong things; this often allows the right things to happen.

Daniel Barach
Associate Professor of Music


Westfield Public Schools
Westfield, Massachusetts
April 18, 1975

Ever since a workshop in the Alexander Technique was given at Eastman School of Music two years ago I have been interested in how it could help my performance on the viola. I could see and hear the remarkable change that occurred in string players' tones after only one lesson. Many of the students at Eastman, violists and cellists, eagerly awaited a chance to do more Alexander work.

This year I am busy starting a Suzuki violin program in Westfield, Massachusetts and have not had very much time to practice. Often I have had to play a rehearsal or a concert with very little preparation. In these instances, my lessons in the Alexander Technique have proved invaluable in helping me avoid tension. I have found that the single most important factor in my playing is the correct use of myself, particularly my head and neck. This is difficult to monitor because my perception of myself in this regard is so unreliable. Without the help of a trained objective observer, I might never achieve the freedom of motion that I seek.

My lessons in the Alexander Technique have helped my teaching also. In my Suzuki violin program I do a lot of rhythmic handshakes with parents and students. At the beginning of the year, I was doing well over a thousand handshake rhythms a day, often with people who had poor coordination and muscular tension. I found that my lessons helped me avoid tension in myself and thereby induce my students and their parents to relax more.

As I have gradually improved my self-awareness through my Alexander lessons, I have become fascinated by the relationship between my awareness of self use and my ability to deal with emotionally difficult situations. By paying attention to my use of my head and neck in particular, I have been able to remain calm in some outrageous situations. Friends who have not seen me for a long time notice a change immediately. For me, this represents the most important contribution of Alexander's Technique in improving the quality of my life.

Donald R. Becker
Suzuki String Specialist


73 Dundas Street E
Edinburgh, Scotland
April 15, 1975

I had had only a few Alexander lessons before I realized that here was something that I, as a cello teacher, needed to know a great deal more about. I also recognized with growing excitement that the principles which were being unfolded to me were the very principles embodied in the remarkable teaching of Pablo Casals, with whom I had studied for three years in the early 1950's.

It is clear to me now that Casals was one of the rare people who retain beyond childhood a near-perfect 'use of the self'; and that this had allowed him to see cello problems in a new and truer light, and to solve them in a new and supremely simple way. Certainly his teaching was quite different from, and even in some respects contrary to, anything I had before. In his playing too, apart from the uniqueness of his conceptions, there was a marvelous absence of interference-(almost of the man himself)-between the conception and its realization.

I see Alexander's discovery as relevant to every human activity, and his Technique as a means of bringing us steadily towards a state in which we function as we were designed to function. In such a complex and demanding activity as musical performance it would seem essential to secure for oneself and for one's pupils the best possible conditions in the self (Alexander's word, which is really the only one which seems basic enough) from which to begin.

If I were to list some of the benefits I can attribute to my improving use of myself through the Alexander Technique, I should say that on occasion I have been able, in a solo performance, to shed anxiety completely as if it were a cloak-a most exhilarating experience. I increasingly enjoy a sense of adventure in playing, (which surely communicates itself to an audience) and am able to have greater confidence in the deeper awarenesses on which true ensemble is built, besides having a foundation of certainty on which to build in practising. I am certain, too, that doors will continue to open.

It follows, I think, that if you have a means of dealing with anxiety on the concert platform, you also have one in any other situation; if you have a sense of adventure in playing, you can have one at other times, too, and that deeper awareness will surely not be limited to music.

Vivien Couling (Mackie)


The Royal College of Music
London, England
April 20, 1975

The new awareness of good posture and improved physical movements which I learned from the "Alexander Method" has been of fundamental importance to me as a performer, particularly with regard to concert nerves. As a teacher I find that those pupils who have had some Alexander lessons are much quicker to correct bad physical habits and achieve suppleness and control than those who have never experienced this method. I believe that there ought to be an "Alexander" teacher on the staff of every College of Music, so vital is fine physical control to every musician.

Joan Dickson
Regular soloist with
principal orchestras
Professor of Cello
Royal College of Music
Royal Scottish Academy of
Music, Glasgow


17 Hubbard Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts
April 14, 1975

Although I realize that this account of my experience with the Alexander Technique is a tremendously oversimplified one, I do hope that in some way it manages to express my sense of its fundamental importance to my life and career as a professional musician.

I began taking Alexander lessons with the intention of combating what I thought to be merely a local problem in the neck area which had been getting noticeably worse over the years and which had begun to greatly interfere with my violin playing. I soon discovered the impossibility of isolating, never mind curing, this problem which was so connected to my own complex personal history of use of myself involving patterns of tension that had become automatic and habitual.

My first reaction to the results of the lessons was one of revelation. I was shocked to discover how little aware I was of how generally badly I had been feeling most of the time until I experienced the contrast in the relief from the work in the lessons. It took me a great deal of time, many lessons, and the drastic cutting down on time spent playing my instrument before I felt that I began to grasp the changes taking place in my use of myself in a way that I could employ this awareness in achieving some real control over my own situation, especially the performance one.

Whereas I used to feel the victim of my nervousness before and during a concert, I now feel much better able to handle this nervous tension under these most stressful conditions by channeling the tension in a more reliable way to serve rather than to interfere with my musical intentions. I don't feel that this kind of progress could have been achieved in the same way by any other means.

Judith Gerratt


North Carolina Symphony
Durham, North Carolina
March 31, 1975

Studying the Alexander Method has helped me in so many ways it is hard to know how to begin. For example, the tightness and pain I suffered in my lower back for years no longer bothers me at all and I have much more finger dexterity which is a great asset to me as a trumpet player. The point I'm trying to make with these two non-related examples is that the Alexander Method brings about an improvement in small (and probably previously unnoticed) hindrances and at the same time in very broad ways.

Being a professional trumpet player I have naturally given much thought to breathing. Playing a trumpet demands a great quantity of air and being able to blow this air out in a very controlled way. Sometimes it must be extremely hard for the high, loud passages and sometimes very gentle for soft passages but always with unwavering steadiness.

One of the first things I learned about breathing through the Alexander Method was not to "suck" in air but to relax and expand my whole trunk and the air just naturally fills the space I've just made. Now while playing and supporting the breath I am very much aware of using my muscles in a more evenly distributed and more relaxed way.

A professional musician is constantly called upon to "prove" himself in performance, and consequently, control of nerves plays a large role in gaining success. I used to fight my nervousness with mental arguments. I see now that this did more harm than good. The Alexander Technique has given me an awareness of my whole self in a way that I can feel how my nerves are affecting me and then do something about it. For example, one of the first things to go wrong when I'm nervous is my breathing and support. I feel a tightness in my abdomen, chest and shoulders which, if allowed to go unchecked, would have a disastrous effect on my playing. Learning how to "not do" has enabled me to go about not being tense and to allow myself to continue playing in the same way I have practiced. The Alexander Technique has not made me a better trumpet player, but it has helped me eliminate and be aware of many roadblocks.

John Henes


School of Music
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana
April 10, 1975

From the very day that I was introduced to the Alexander Technique, two years ago, I have enjoyed a series of changes, both physically and mentally. Equally exciting have been the altered approach to flute playing, and a revitalization of my musicality; this having occurred at a time in my life when it is said that we begin "going downhill."

The most vital aspect and study of the Technique that has brought about the greatest change is that of breathing. Along with this has come my own revision of the basic principles of flute playing; even how one is to hold the flute for a more proficient performance practice becomes scrutinized. A re-education in my approach to the flute after many years of clinging to traditions has become an experience that stands out as a highlight of my career. An even greater reward has been a re-education of the use of the body in everyday activity.

Therefore, to dedicate oneself to learning body control, to inhibit the tensions which we learn to accept as normal, and thereby develop the discipline for kinesthetic perception, should be the goal of everyone regardless of profession or age.

James J. Pellerite
Professor of Flute






1. Do you ever experience nervousness while performing before an audience?
   Yes____ No____

2. If so, do you consider it to be a problem which sometimes keeps you from performing at your best?

3. Do you consider nervousness to be a major problem in performance?

4. Other than tranquilizing drugs, alcohol, or tobacco do you have any way of coping with the problem of nervousness in performance?

Can you describe it in a few words?

5. If you have a way of dealing with nervousness, does it work consistently for you?

6. Were you at all nervous during your performance which was video-taped today?

7. Did you experience that nervousness in the form of a change in tension in any specific parts of you?

8. If so, please check if you noticed changes in tension in any of these areas:

___hands and fingers ___calves
___forearms ___ankles
___wrists ___feet and toes
___elbows ___abdomen
___upper arms ___collarbones
___shoulders ___lower rib area
___neck ___upper chest
___upper back ___jaw
___lower back ___face and lips
___pelvis and hips ___tongue
___thighs ___throat
list others:  

9. Please check any of the following adjectives if they apply to the quality of change in muscular tension mentioned above:
___shaky or jittery  
List any additional ones you can think of:  


1. Did you feel that there was any difference in the quality of your two performances today?

2. Which one did you think was better?

3. Were you less nervous in the second performance than in the first?

4. If there was a difference in the way you felt during the second performance, was it because you were more accustomed to the performance situation?

5. Do you feel that the experience of the Alexander Technique made a difference in your second performance?

6. If so, please check any of the following adjectives which might apply to the difference in feeling caused by the Alexander Technique:

___lighter ___expanded
___heavier ___calmer
___more nervous ___easier
___less nervous ___happier
___freer ___sadder
___stiffer ___rigid
___clutched ___more energetic
___released ___tired
___taller ___more alert

7. Did you notice any difference in you ability to focus your attention on your playing after you experienced the Alexander Technique?
    Yes____ No____

8. Was your ability to focus your attention on the expressive intent of the music better or worse?

9. Please make any further comments about how the experience of the Alexander Technique might have affected you.


1. Were you at all nervous during your performance which was video-taped today?

2. If you were nervous while performing today, were you more or less so than when you played for the previous video-taping session in October?

3. If you were less nervous while performing today (or not nervous at all), do you feel that having Alexander lessons contributed to your ability to deal with the problem of nervousness in this situation?

4. From what you've experience of it, do you feel that the Alexander Technique is a reliable way of helping musicians to learn to deal better with the problem of stress in the performance situation?

5. If you were able to use the Alexander principle today in helping you to perform with less nervousness, did you use it before or during performing, or both?
    Before____During___ Both____

6. If you were unable to use the Alexander principle today in helping you to perform with less nervousness, do you think that through having more Alexander lessons you would learn better to do so?

7. Do you feel that you have had adequate training in Alexander's principle to help you deal with the problem of nervousness in performance?

8. If there is the opportunity to do so, would you want to continue to have more Alexander lessons?

9. Could you describe briefly any ways in which you might feel having Alexander lessons has been important or valuable to you-for instance, in other aspects of performing or in your life in general? Please comment on any other things you might feel important to mention about you experience in having Alexander lessons which you think may be relevant to this study.

Thanks very much.


. If you considered nervousness in performance to be a problem when answering previous questionnaires, do you still consider it to be so?

2. Would you be interested in discovering a more reliable way of dealing with the problem of nervousness in performance?

3. Do you feel that you have become less nervous when performing in public since the preliminary video-taping for this study was done in October?

4. If the answer to number 3 is Yes, could you describe why you think you have been able to deal with the problem of nervousness in performance more successfully?

5. If you have a way of dealing with nervousness, does it work consistently for you?

6. Were you at all nervous during your performance which was video-taped today?

7. Did you experience that nervousness in the form of a change in tension in any specific parts of you?

8. If so, please check if you noticed changes in tension in any of these areas:

___hands and fingers ___calves ___pelvis and hips
___forearms ___ankles ___thighs
___wrists ___feet and toes ___knees
___elbows ___abdomen ___upper back
___upper arms ___collar bones ___lower back
___shoulders ___lower rib area  
___neck ___upper chest  
___jaw ___face and lips  
List others:    

9. Please check any of the following adjectives if they apply to the quality of change in muscular tension mentioned above:
___lighter ___freer ___softer
___heavier ___smoother ___steadier
___shaky or jittery ___rigid ___clutched
___released ___trembling  
Please list any additional ones you can think of:    







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