“I used to go to my practice room and just start practicing my scales and my pieces… doing the same thing every day… working on things I needed to work on… aware of how little time I had and how much I had to do… feeling stressed… I didn’t know how to relax…
“Before taking this class, I didn’t really know how to think.”
One of my students made that confession to me this morning. It made my day for two reasons: (1) because it showed me once again how important the work is that we’re doing – it is truly life-changing; (2) because it got me thinking about how to think, in such a way that by the end of the lesson, MY life was changed. Again.
That’s a testimony to the power of the Alexander Technique, and also to the privilege of being an AT teacher.
During today’s lesson, I reminded myself – through teaching my student – how SIMPLE this process of clear thinking really is! AT is incredibly simple – you just need to know a few steps, and then APPLY them to whatever activity you choose to engage in, in order to improve whatever you want to improve.
Here are the Alexander Technique steps in a nutshell:
1. Pay attention to your overall, general psycho-physical attitude (I often use my “Three Magic Phrases” to step into this space of freedom – see the downloadable article in the upper sidebar to find out more about these)
2. Choose a goal (keep it simple!)
3. Let go of your attachment to the goal (completely!)
4. Recognize that by letting go of your goal, you access a place of All-Possibility, where you have infinite choices. You can now organize those infinite possibilities into just three options to choose from. You can:
(a) Go ahead and carry out your intended activity/goal;
(b) Do something completely different; or…
(c) Do nothing at all.
Alexander found that he needed to choose options (b) and (c) many more times than option (a) in order to deeply let go of his attachment to the outcome, so that he was finally able to move with freedom, ease, and spontaneously good coordination.
5. Allow the choice to happen, carrying you into activity or not.
6. Ask yourself, “What happened? What did I notice? What did I observe?”
7. If you’d like to make improvements to the result of your activity (for example, you might wish to improve your intonation when playing an A Major scale), be clear about what you would like to be different the next time you do it. How could you modify your thinking the next time you carry out that activity?
8. Repeat, giving yourself ample time again to enjoy Step #1.
THAT… is how to think clearly, and how to practice and improve any skill with great efficiency.
For better or for worse, we get better at what we practice. If your practicing time includes ANY mindless, repetitive, boring practice, you will get better at playing your instrument in a mindless, repetitive, boring way. I don’t think that’s what you want, is it?
This process may seem tedious and painstakingly slow. However, that’s just an illusion, because your rate of progress is likely to increase dramatically, and you will need to spend much LESS time practicing. This is the concentrated, deep, REAL work of becoming a great musician, with an always-improving technique and pure depth of heart… IF that’s what you want.
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