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I Am My Own Instrument: The Alexander Technique and The Voice

By: Emily Gradowski, Voice, Piano & Mini Music Makers Instructor

As a classical vocalist and teacher, my journey has been a profound exploration of the intricate instrument that lies within me— my voice. 

Introduction

Unlike “traditional” instruments, La Voce resides within the human body, intimately connecting physicality and emotions. Naively, I once thought that my instrument was just my voice. Oh, how misguided I was. I later learned that my instrument closely resembles a horn from a Dr. Seuss nightmare. It changes shape with every breath because it is a mixture of lungs, muscle, cartilages, flaps, resonators, bone, air pressure, and wind dynamics. Layer in musical ideas like lyrics, rhythm, and performance. Add in a dash of confusing criticism and corrections to my own heaping helping of self doubt and unkind inner thoughts… it is amazing that I could utter a sound at all. My voice was weak, difficult, and unreliable. 

Like any instrument, the voice requires attentive care and a nuanced understanding to unlock its full potential. However, this delicate and powerful instrument poses a unique challenge. The vocal folds, the diaphragm, and the resonating chambers within the body work in harmony, responding to the slightest nuance in thought and intention. It is a finely tuned instrument capable of a breathtaking range of expression, from the softest whispers to the most powerful cadenzas. The capabilities of the human body are truly remarkable, but add one slight helpful habit and the whole thing becomes rigid and difficult. I have certainly struggled with this. Seeing my efforts, a dear colleague recently encouraged me to explore the Alexander Technique as a way to unlock the dams within my mind and body that were inhibiting my singing. This technique has been a transformative guide, revealing the extraordinary efficiency of my  body as I master an instrument that is concealed within.

What is the Alexander Technique?

At its core, the Alexander Technique is a method of psychophysical re-education, focusing on improving posture, movement, and coordination. It invites us to explore the untapped potential within our bodies, encouraging a holistic approach to singing that goes beyond the technicalities of vocal production.

It’s a philosophy that resonates with the belief that true mastery lies not just in the execution of notes, but in the authenticity of expression. The beauty of the Alexander Technique lies in its emphasis on Inhibition and Direction.

Inhibition

The first key component, inhibition, involves a conscious pause, a moment of stillness that allows for a heightened awareness of one’s habitual patterns. It starts with a gentle “No.” This transformative pause allows for a reset— a return to the natural state of balance within the body. For a vocalist, this means acknowledging the tension, releasing it, and creating space for a more organic and liberated sound.

Direction

The second key component, direction, involves a mental and physical redirection of energy towards something new. It could be the intended phrase or a return to our ape-like posture. It could be allowing the head to float up and away as the tail lengthens to the floor or imagining the breath as it follows the inner curves of the spine (one of my favorite images). It could be as simple as a kind thought for yourself. It’s a fascinating dance between mind and body, where the simple act of thinking can shape the quality of the vocal sound.

A Combination of the Two

The concept of Inhibition and Direction becomes a rhythmic dance in the practice room. I find myself pausing, observing, and redirecting energy with each breath. It’s a mindful process, a delicate balance that transforms the act of singing from a mere technical skill to an art form where body, mind, and spirit converge.

Through its principles, I’ve discovered freedom in my voice— an unbridled expression that transcends the limitations of conventional vocal training. Well, most of the time. I have only begun my journey, so there are still plenty of pauses.

The Alexander Technique in Action

Mastering an instrument that is inside your body and cannot be seen requires a heightened level of self-awareness and as a teacher, I find immense joy in introducing my students to the Alexander Technique. I ask them to pause and provide new direction for themselves. I see them take ownership of their instruments as they begin to understand the difference between something “bad” and something “unhelpful”. 

Slowly, they are beginning to trust their minds and bodies. The principles of Inhibition and Direction become life lessons, guiding them not only in the pursuit of vocal excellence, but in navigating the complexities of the human experience. My hope is that these principles will go beyond the confines of the practice room.

Getting to Know One’s Voice

The Alexander Technique provides a roadmap for this introspective journey and it is beneficial for any endeavor. This could mean singing, playing an instrument, gardening, playing golf, or even simply standing. It’s about cultivating a deep connection with oneself, acknowledging the body’s innate wisdom, and allowing the actions to flow effortlessly. I use the technique in all things, but it has impacted my music the most.

In the grand landscape of classical vocal artistry, I am my own instrument and the Alexander Technique has become my compass, guiding me through the intricate pathways of self-discovery and artistic expression. As I continue to explore the undefinable beauty of singing, I am reminded that the true magic lies not just in the notes we produce but in the profound connection we forge with the instrument that is, and always will be, a part of us— miraculous, elegant and unseen.

UPCOMING CONCERTS & EVENTS

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