The concept of inhibition is central to the Alexander work. Changing and undoing one’s habitual pattern and response to a thought or action requires that one stops performing the habitual pattern or response so something else can happen. This is the process of inhibition.
I often say that one has to be “in front” of an action. Thinking and noticing how you respond prior to initiating an action builds the awareness one needs to change the habit. Then one can notice what happens when one first has the thought to do an action. Eventually, one can find ease BEFORE the thought even comes.
You can apply this principle to our voice work with the following process.
One way to work on your voice is to apply Alexander’s idea of inhibition very directly to how you speak or sing.
Step 1: Find your best use in silence, allowing your breath to move in and out without resistance. Let your tongue go much as possible, so the tip of your tongue touches the back of the lower teeth and the back of your tongue is high and wide near the back molars.
Step 2: Begin to say something (start with one word that doesn’t have any particular meaning to you). Go right up to the moment of phonation. And then…
Step 3: Pause and notice any tension that may have accumulated in any part of your body (especially your head, neck, tongue and jaw).
Step 4: Let the tension go out the top of your head and flow into the space all around you. In other words, release into your directions of lengthening and widening.
Step 5: Repeat this activity letting go earlier and earlier in the process of phonation. As you notice any tension building up, release it into your length and width.
Stay with easy words until you can have the thought to speak and arrive at the moment of phonation without any tension.
Step 6: Then you can start adding words with meaning and content. Go though the same process until you can speak or sing without any excess tension. (Remember letting go does not mean becoming a puddle or collapsing. You are releasing into your 3-dimensionsal directions.)
Working with this process alone will help you notice what you do when you begin to interact with people in a real conversation or with musical entrances, when you have to come in at a particular moment in the musical score.
More to come…
The Balance Arts Center has moved into a larger and more convenient location near Midtown South/Chelsea/Flatiron District!
We've been busy with our winter/spring schedule and finding a new space, packing and then implementing a big buildout!
We had to leave our great space on Fulton St. on May 1 as the building, along with four adjacent buildings, was sold to make way for a big new 50 story high-rise.
After much searching and running around town, we found a fabulous space in Mid-town South just off Broadway on 28th St. (28th is the street with all the flower shops.)
We're already up and running with our full schedule, thanks in part to a wonderful contractor.
Come and visit!
Our new location is:
Balance Arts Center
34 W. 28th St., 3rd floor
NYC, NY 10001
Our new space has 4 beautiful studios.
Two of the larger studios are perfect for groups in the Alexander Technique, yoga, pilates mat, dance therapy, dance class, workshops, acting classes etc.
The two smaler studios are great for individual work in the Alexander Technique, massage, acupuncture, yoga or pilates, voice work individual or small group sessions etc.
Here are the pictures, rental rates and specifications:
Front Studio (26' X 21') $30/hr.
Back Studio (21' and 13' X 37' - The back space is an L-shaped studio with windows on two sides.) $35/hr.
Medium Studio (13' X 13') $20/hr.
Small Studio (13' X 10.5') $15/hr.
If you or someone you know is interested in renting space write to:
More Balance Arts Center news soon!
How/what are you practicing?
This is the first of several postings on practicing. Many of us are working at refining something we already engage in or are learning something completely new and different. In either case the process probably involves practicing (of some sort). How one goes about getting better at something is an interesting topic. How and what one practices is very important to the outcome.
Geoff Colvin, in his recently published book “Talent is Overrated,” says deliberate practice is needed to improve any activity and he goes so far as to say that if one doesn’t continue to deliberately practice one can actually get worse at something rather than improve.
Sheer repetition of an activity is practicing of a sort but not deliberate practice. I had one singing student tell me she warmed up while watching TV. She thought that she just needed to put in the hours and she would improve. Such an extreme example makes it clear that she was just entrenching her habits into muscle memory without any consciousness or awareness of what she was doing.
In the Alexander Technique we learn exactly how to practice deliberately and what to practice. The Alexander Technique can address any activity at a very fundamental level. In fact, I think The Alexander Technique IS conscious deliberate practice. The Alexander Technique gives us a process to follow that will lead us as far as we can go with our skill in an activity. As you learn the AT you are learning to build conscious awareness of what/how you think while you are in activity. From this awareness you learn what it means to deliberately practice in a way that focuses on the process, (Alexander would have said “the means”), rather than only on the goal.
It is my belief the whole point of the Alexander Technique, conscious awareness, and deliberate practice is to take our thoughts and actions off automatic pilot mode. Only then we can bring our habits in to our conscious awareness and make choices about how we are accomplishing very critical and essential aspects of the task at hand.
It is a skill to be able to take an action and break it down into practicable segments that will have an important effect on the outcome of an activity. Colvin talks about deliberately practicing the parts of an activity rather than the whole activity itself. Then those parts in their “better” form will be available to you while you when you need them. A good Alexander Technique teacher will be able to help you discover the essential elements of any activity (singing, golf/tennis swing, jogging, typing, speaking) you wish to work on that will make the most difference to you. Even if the teacher isn’t proficient at your specific task, they are trained to look at fundamental elements of how you are doing what you are doing and guide you to new concepts and choices for accomplishing your task.
Let’s look at one fundamental aspect of speaking and singing: the inhale.
For the speaker or singer, the inhale, is critical to the vocal production. If one has not deliberately addressed the inhale; being able to take air in without sucking and pulling (either through the mouth or nose) and where the air is directed on the inhale, it will make some difference to one’s singing if one focuses on pitch, consonants, vowel, and volume but probably won’t create the full desired effect. The fundamental support and airflow have to come first before phonation.
Here are some other aspects of the inhale that can be deliberately practiced.
The first step is to do a good long exhale with your best use and then as you allow the inhale:
- Allow the sense of your body weight to go into the ground. This requires releasing your joints.
- Keep your full body length on the inhale (no shrinking -age on the inhale). In other words stay long while the air flows down into your body.
- Consciously direct the air in up behind your eyes and allow the air to inflate your body from the inside.
- Sense the movement from the effects of your inhale all the way to your fingertips and toes.
- Allow your tongue and jaw to be free and easy as you inhale. (Keep the root of the tongue easy too. Clue: The natural resting state of the tongue is higher than most people think.)
This is a good start for your inhale -- of course there are more aspects.
After you have deliberately practiced the parts of your own task, integrate the segments you practiced into your whole activity. Be conscious of allowing the whole to be different and informed by the practice you just performed.
Often students say, “this is much easier physically and much more difficult mentally.” Ah – then they are paying attention. That is great. In the case of the speaker/singer, when the awareness is there, the sound is much freer, more resonant and easier to listen to.
Before you read this blog entry, check in with yourself and consider what you think of as being your air column. Where it is? How long do you think it is? Where do the top and bottom end? How/where does the air flow through it?
First, let’s focus on the top end of the tube.
I’ve found that many students think the upper end of their “tube” or “column” is at the level of the bottom of the mouth, base of the tongue, or at the vocal folds.
The top end of the column through which your air flows extends up into your head, behind your tongue, into your soft palate and the arch formed by the bones of your skull, behind the hard palate. Notice the top of this arch is above where your skull balances on your spine. The top of this vault is just below the center of gravity of the head and behind part of your eye socket.
This means the air passes through your vocal fold, larynx, in the back of and behind the oral cavity on it’s way to the top of the column. When the back of the tongue is free (and not pulling down) it helps form the front of the tube, directing the air up in to soft palate toward the vault.
To experience the full height of your air column, allow your tongue to be in it’s natural position, (as in Alexander’s “whispered ah”) with the rounded tip of your tongue gently contacting the back of your lower teeth, and the back top corner of your tongue wide and high touching the soft palate along with the sides or back of the back upper molars.
This “oral seal” as it is called, divides your nasopharynx from your mouth creating a column of air back by your spine. You are now breathing in and out through your nose.
The column through which your air flows extends up behind the back of your tongue with the tongue in the oral seal and toward the top of your head.
While exhaling, direct your air up toward the top of your head. It will automatically go our your nose.
While inhaling, allow the air to come in to the top concha of your nose. This is way up nearly between your eyes.
(image used by permission; David Gorman, pg. 19.)
As you breath make sure there is no sucking, pushing or pulling the air in or out. Let yourself find the natural suspension as you move from exhale to inhale and then inhale to exhale. Leave your tongue alone.
There should be no sound/noise on the inhale breathe. If you are making sound you are constricting your throat somewhere.
The oral seal may be higher than you are used to if you habitually press our tongue down.
When you speak and sing well, this air gets caught up behind the back of the tongue, vibrates the skull and creates resonance.
Walter Carrington writes about the oral seal in his chapter on breathing on page 69 of “Thinking Aloud.” At the end of his explaination he says: “So there's really a nice lot to work on.” This is the beginning of what I understand the “nice lot” to be.