THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE
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A DRUMMER'S STORY
(Drummer/Percussionist BMus GSMD)
I am twenty-three years old and have been playing the drums for about eleven years now. About two years ago I started to develop a very painful lower back, upper back and neck. The first route I went down to try and help improve my problems was to see an Osteopath who treated me and released lots of the tension built up in my body. This was only a temporary measure as a few hours later I discovered I would be in the same amount of pain previous to my treatment. This made me realize I had to change the way I operate as a human being. My Osteopath recommended pursuing the Alexander Technique. My first experiences of the Alexander Technique with another teacher were rather strange, it was conveyed as an almost spiritual technique and I did not take anything practical away from the sessions.
Several months went by and I was still experiencing pain and discomfort. I knew there must have been some use in the Alexander Technique, as I knew it was about changing habits to improve posture and general wellbeing. I searched on the Internet and found the website of Jane Gregory who has been my teacher for the last few months. Jane had some very useful information on her site, relating directly to my instrument the drums! I contacted Jane and my lessons began.
Alexander Technique in relation to me as a person
In my first lesson I discussed my problems with Jane and she explained to me the importance of looking at me as a person before looking at me as a drummer. This made total sense to me as even when I was not playing my instrument I was encountering lots of pain, stiffness and other postural problems. I discovered that I am not an overly tense person but suffer from collapse in the back of the neck which throws the head off balance and I also hunch forward in the shoulders, habits that I have been carrying round all of my life. The exciting thing was they were about to be slowly changed and corrected bit by bit.
Jane went on to explain body mapping, she recommended a book* and showed me where the top of the spine was and how important it was that the head is balanced correctly on the top of the spine. She went on to explain that any imbalance would mean tension in the rest of the body. Several sessions were spent working on balancing the head, standing up and sitting down correctly, picking up every day objects whilst keeping the neck free, all very simple tasks but quite challenging when trying to keep the neck free. This made me realize the importance on the back, neck and head relationship. Other important aspects were also discussed in the lessons such as keeping the knees soft and making sure the weight of my body was balanced between the balls and heels of my feet when standing.
At least fifteen minutes of each session involved lying on a table with a book under my head. Jane explained how important this technique was for me as it was a way of releasing tension in the body by using the power of the mind rather than brute force! This was such a valuable lesson to learn as I realized I could “let go” of tension built up in my body by using thinking power. Every time I experience discomfort now the first thing I do is head straight for the semi-supine position on the floor for at least 15 minutes, sometimes more than once a day. Within weeks of doing semi-supine Jane commented on the change in muscle tone in my body.
Alexander Technique in relation to me as a musician/drummer
Once I understood my daily habits that I had carried round with me all my life, it was time to begin changing them. Slowly I began to think about how I walked, how I was lifting objects, how I was standing and sitting. The Alexander method let me interrupt my usual habits by saying NO and thinking before undertaking simple routines such as lifting a box.
The next task was to look at how I sat and played my instrument, the drums. Fortunately I have had very good drum teachers that have helped me develop a good technique so I have never suffered from blisters or arm cramps etc. But I still carried around my daily habits that were badly affecting the way I played the drums.
Jane explained to me the importance of again keeping the neck free whilst at the kit. Also the importance of being sat on a relatively hard stool so I could balance my weight on my sitting bones. This helped a lot as sitting on these bones correctly now supports almost all of the weight of my body and it also leaves my legs free to use heel up technique of the pedals comfortably. The importance of rotating the spine to move round the drum kit rather than being rigid was discussed in detail which has also helped me.
Rather than collapsing forward to maybe reach a part of the kit that was not so close, Jane demonstrated how from the hips to the top of the spine should be kept as one unit, in other words using the hip joints to move forward to reach more distant parts of the kit. This stopped me collapsing in every time I went to hit at crash cymbal and helped me remain more upright.
I incorporate lots of swimming alongside semi-supine/Alexander technique and this combination is a fantastic way of releasing tension built up through the day. In addition to this the principle of being able to say NO to everyday tasks helps me think more and accomplish them in a more relaxed and effortless manner. All this put together has vastly improved my awareness, posture and general well being.
I would certainly recommend the Alexander technique for any drummer/musician or person who wants to improve their posture as it has worked very well for me. It is important to realize that the use of the above will be on going for the rest of my life in order to gain better use of myself and improve posture.
Jane is a great teacher, very encouraging and gives you plenty of advice and things to think about and the best bit of all is that her lessons are very reasonably priced!
* What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body, by Barbara Conable