Alexander Technique* teachers have worked with the musicians at the Utrecht School for the Arts, Faculty of Music in the Netherlands since 1991. Teachers of the Utrecht Alexander Technique Institute for Musicians give weekly private lessons to conservatory students, helping them to become aware of tension patterns that prevent them from progressing in their playing. We noticed that there was a special challenge to violinists and violists because holding their instrument involves neck and head, where basic balance mechanisms reside. The equipment they were using often got in the way of free movement and disturbed the equilibrium needed to play their instrument. Retraining of cramped muscles and joints was impossible in the presence of ill-fitting equipment.
Usually students are expected to search for and try out different models of chin and shoulder rest on their own. Musicians often continue to use the chin and shoulder rest that were on their instrument at the time of purchase. Recommendation of a replacement rest may come from a friend who has a different build or body type than the player. Violin and viola students are not accustomed to changing their equipment regularly as they grow. Students are frustrated traveling from school to violin maker, to carpenter, back to instrumental and Alexander Technique teachers. The lack of a coherent solution wastes time and money. New equipment often causes new physical problems.
We felt the need to develop expertise and gather equipment to analyze and solve these problems as they occurred. We could then use the experience and equipment on site to give the students a better chance of success in finding a chin and shoulder rest combination that suited their body and playing style. By incorporating the results of our investigations into the curriculum of the conservatory, we hoped to take the extra step of preventing problems instead of solving them only after they occur.
We set up a pilot educational project combining equipment changes and lessons in the Alexander Technique. In this way improved equipment was combined with re-training of cramped playing habits.
*The Alexander Technique has been in the curriculum of music conservatories world-wide for many years. How we worked with the Alexander Technique during this project is described in the section “Re-balancing the Violinist” under the heading “What happened.” For a general description of the Alexander Technique see the websites mentioned on the “links” page.