4. What worked for me
Getting used to the changes
When I first got the new equipment I had to get used to having my head straight, and to learn to stabilize my viola in a different way. At first this was very frustrating, not to be able to do things that I was used to doing with the old equipment. But the old equipment didn’t work any more either, because I had learned how to use my body, and the new things that I had learned were not possible with that old stuff. So it was a big change.
It is important to start slow. You have to allow yourself time to calmly get to know these new things. I tried to think how my body should feel while playing and to stop when I felt tension instead of going on. That’s how I tried to solve it: to start playing from a relaxed position. If you try to play with the stress of studying a new piece of music, you cannot get used to your new equipment. Don’t start playing from sheet music, because then you are too busy with the notes. I played a lot of scales, especially on one string, also open strings to let my bow arm get used to the new position of my viola. I sometimes bowed right on top of the bridge to guide my bow straight and to re-learn how to make bow changes at the frog.
Why my technique improved
My playing technique improved because of a combination of the Alexander Technique lessons and the new equipment. The equipment made it possible to relax my body. Now I don’t have to make strange twists with my body to be able to play. I’ve learned that your chin rest shouldn’t be too low and that the viola should rest on the collar bone. The shoulder rest shouldn’t be pressing on your shoulder joint.
The Alexander Technique lessons helped me to get used to the new equipment. If you use the new equipment with the same old posture, it doesn’t work. If you do not stand up straight and are not ‘in your length,’ then your chin rest feels too high while you play.
The Alexander Technique lessons also made it possible to learn what “relaxing” is. It is easily confused with getting heavy. I’ve learned how you can be active without tensing muscles. I learned how to stand, how to breathe, how to be active in your spine and your diaphragm. In that way I build a frame on which I can play. I learned also to know where your head is, not to pull it down, to think up instead of down. I’ve learned how to feel, to recognize when I have a wrong kind of tension and when I am relaxed in a good way. All this came from the Alexander Technique.
It helped me a great deal to be in the research group. I could see that other people also “went crazy,” that they needed time to get used to new equipment. I found out that it was normal to experience that some new material which seemed to fit during the lesson was initially difficult to use when you got home and started playing a piece. It is normal to have to get used to the new equipment and other people have the same experience of feeling they lose their way on the instrument. You are not the only one with the feeling that you have to learn to play the instrument from scratch. Without the others in the group to keep me going, I would have sooner been satisfied with however I was already playing and would have just given up sooner. I would have participated with a lot less enthusiasm.