What’s your musical “bugaboo?” (Or, “How to be an exceptional musical parent.”)

By David Behrstock, M.Ed, Certified Practitioner of the Alexander Technique at Indian Hill Music School

Most musicians have a habit that chronically interferes with their music-making. This is true of musicians of almost any level or age.

Behrstock2Whether it’s poor posture, breath control, achy back, neck or hands, stiff movement, improper position/embouchure/ergonomics, jaw tightness  or performance anxiety, most players have some issue that consistently interferes with their playing. I call them bugaboos for short – persistent problems is really what I mean – and most players of all levels and ages have one or more.

What all those issues have in common is that they come from, or result in, unnecessary tension in the body. Too many musicians try to “push through” these things. Unfortunately, pushing through tends to make things worse over time. Trying harder = more tension. And it puts in place a cycle that tends to amplify over time.

So, what if there was a way to solve or prevent these pesky, on-going issues so that you or your child could truly play up to your potential – even find that “zone” more often?

At the professional level, even slight unnecessary tension or positioning can interfere with the precision and fluency needed to perform at the highest level. The point is to enable peak performance where very small adjustments can make a profound difference in sound. Because professional musicians play so much, the other place where the hidden bugaboo becomes a problem is with repetitive stress syndrome. The statistics on the number of professionals whose careers were ended or impeded by chronic pain are not pretty.

For non-professionals, the problem “bugaboos” are usually less subtle, but addressing them can dramatically improve tone, agility, or musicality. Unfortunately, the tools to fix these problems generally have not been available or even known about, by younger or non-professional musicians or parents of aspiring musicians – until now!

That’s why Indian Hill and I developed BodySmarts. Until now, the majority of my students have been faculty members or advanced adult students whose “bugaboo” was getting the best of them. In other words, these advanced players knew that they had an issue, whether it was pain, or positioning, they knew tension was getting in their way and they needed help resolving it.

For these students, the basis for BodySmarts — The Alexander Technique — taught at most of the elite conservatories around the world, represented a way to change these recalcitrant habits. The reason these problems were so difficult to address is because these seasoned musicians had practiced poor habits from the time they started playing (10, 20 or 40 years ago!). The habits were integrated into the very fabric of their technique, the fundamental organization of movement and they felt powerless to change them. We call these habits “poor use.” When you use yourself to make music in a way that is not consistent with the design of the human body, you set yourself up for problems and you won’t be able to play up to your potential.

BodySmarts is a class that introduces this powerful set of tools that help musicians (or anyone) change habits that are integrated into fundamental way that they organize themselves to play – or really to do any activity. We call these changes “good use.” I have become passionate in recent years about the need to introduce “good use” earlier in musical training so that we avoid the problems that I see consistently hurting more experienced and professional musicians.

Younger musicians need to be taught how to use their bodies well. Traditional music education for children focuses on technique and theory. If I know how to read the notes on the page and can make the proper bodily movement (including internal movements related to breath or balancing), then my playing will progress normally. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily so! Problems learned early can affect a lifetime of music making.

What this approach leaves out is coordination of the whole body. Playing music requires tremendous coordination of physical and mental activities and working hard at them naturally produces tension and strain that are the starting points of  “poor use.” So, if you are a parent of a young musician, I urge you to consider getting them BodySmarts training – it will speed up their progress now and prevent problems later.

BodySmarts focuses on the coordination aspect of music-making and it is a powerful set of tools, based on the Alexander Technique, Body Mapping and Breathing Coordination, to teach musicians how to use their body well to make music.
BodySmarts is appropriate for any student over the age of 10. As described above, by learning these techniques, a musician can both address the symptoms of poor habits (such as poor tone, speed or pain). Perhaps even more importantly, it is the perfect way to get a young musician (or beginning adult) off to a great start.

So, whether you are a musician yourself, or the parent of an aspiring one, you owe it to yourself or your child, to come to one of the free demonstration/open houses we are holding in March.

Hope to see you (or your child) soon!
David Behrstock Ed.M is a certified Alexander Technique teacher who has specialized in working with musicians for 14 years. He has a Masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is on the Board of Directors of Alexander Technique International. He will offer four week BodySmarts workshops for adults and children will begin March 23 and 25. 


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