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4. What worked for me

I moved to Holland from Spain one month before the research began. Many things had changed for me: a new country, a new school, a new teacher, and a new life. I felt that the instrument was the only thing that I had and kept it very close to me for that reason.

Changes lead to both physical and emotional feelings. After we first made changes to my equipment as part of the research, suddenly my sound was different; my viola was in a different place. At first I couldn't play in tune; my vibrato felt different. I lost temporarily my feeling of "home" on my viola. At this moment I hated my old equipment and the new equipment felt strange, even though better than before. It felt like I couldn't play any more. It was hard, but I got used to it. It felt like: today you cannot play a thing and then tomorrow you can find everything again. Within one week I could play better than before. You have to give yourself a chance to make changes.

I think if you really start to feel blocked in your playing, you need to stop and think about other things. What helped me was the Christmas break half way through the research. I just got away, had parties, enjoyed life, got drunk and actually stopped thinking about everything. This is a normal thing to do, because you are a person not a playing machine!

When I came back I tried the new equipment once more and could play perfectly with it because I was relaxed both in my mind and in my muscles. I needed the time off to change my attitude; I always want immediate results and that, of course, doesn't happen. It takes a lot of time and you need to wait patiently for this as the changes go on.

Alexander Technique

Of course when you first change your equipment and playing technique, you feel you are going crazy. Here the Alexander Technique lessons are necessary. You learn to relax your head and neck. When you change something, it feels reassuring to have someone look at what is happening and help you to relax and feel the changes. That way you get some kind of peace.

The most important things I learned in the Alexander Technique lessons was the difference between being relaxed and active, and the feeling of structure and balance:

a. “Relaxed” vs. Active

It was very important to have in my mind the difference between being RELAXED and being ACTIVE. Before I had my Alexander lessons, I misunderstood what it means to 'play in a relaxed way'. Since I only thought of 'relaxing' my body got very heavy.  I was looking for a sound that expressed the "relaxed mood."

Now I think that my idea of playing with a "relaxed mood" has no place in viola playing. Instead, I now play in an active way. You have to be active, to be able to move, at all times while playing. That way you can have the energy all the time and then use it exactly when you need to, without first having to wake yourself up! But you can't go the other way either, and use power or stiffness in the wrong way. If you use power correctly, and afterwards relax normally, it is OK. I learned all this during the research project.

b. Structure and Balance

I noticed a lot of improvement in my playing technique during the research period. Now I have control of what I am doing. Before, I sometimes could play something that sounded O.K. but I wasn't sure I could repeat it. I don't know what I was doing, but I know that it was not real control. Now I know exactly what I am doing. I can observe what is happening, seeing more details. Now I am confident that real control is coming.

I think these changes come from both the change in equipment and what I learned in the Alexander Technique lessons. Having nice equipment is useless if you don't know how to use it. I need to know how to move my body. I need to be able to notice if I am pulling my head down or stiffening my arm. I need to feel that my body is the structure of my playing, a structure in which everything can move.

Because of the Alexander lessons, you also begin to think about what you do in your everyday life and also about how everything you do is connected to your playing.  For instance: You carry the heavy viola case around, which is hard on your back and then you come to school and you want to play seven hours, but your arms are hurting and you wonder why ?

Your body has limits and you need to know them.  I think I learned also how much I can practice and how much I should rest.  My body needs to rest.

The group

Being in the research group was very nice for me, because I could relax when I saw that other people had problems similar to mine. In addition, you can see that everyone needs to find their own way, to make changes suitable to them - and in their own time! And because we were different people, we could share all the different solutions and exercises that helped us make the changes.

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