Alexander Technique in the Music
Buckoke and Judith Kleinman:
Friends Event on 3 March 2009:
By Julia Paprotna
Alexander Technique has been well-established in the music
education system in the UK. Guest speakers Peter Buckoke and
Judith Kleinman made it an interesting and informative event
since both of them spoke from experience. Peter is a
professor of Double Bass at RCM (the Royal College of Music)
where he also teaches AT. Judith, also a double bass player,
has been an AT teacher at both RCM and RAM (the Royal
Academy of Music).
talks, Peter focuses on the historical background of AT at
music colleges and the study curriculum, while Judith speaks
about working with teenagers.
introduced into RCM 55 years ago as a direct result of
research concluding that ‘… this approach is the best for
solving artists’ problems with communication and should form
the basis of their training’. However, the sequence of
events leading to it was influenced by … a lucky
coincidence. Dr Barlow is the main witness representing F.M.
Alexander in the South African libel case and on returning
to the UK his medical career turns out to be destroyed. As a
result, the Dr and Mrs Barlow establish a new AT practice
near RCM. Due to the office location the first music student
-a singer -comes for lessons, his music professor appears
and seeing that AT pupils are not misusing their bodies
sends more students for lessons; then opera singers start
appearing. In the end, the above-mentioned research is
carried out, listing the following benefits for students:
Physical improvement: vocal, postural, tension reduction,
Students are easier to teach.
Better awareness of themselves resulting in better
Development of voice and personality.
… everyone -except one student-grows taller.
acceptance of AT at the RCM changed from confidence of
acceptance to a growing interest and recognition. Therefore
music takes a special place in establishing AT as a
the RCM starts as an independent course of study with three
teachers involved. The only teacher that stays, Adam Nott,
is the one who invites Peter to teach as well, and Judith
joins them later. Unfortunately, with time, continuing the
work becomes possible on the condition that AT forms a part
of a degree study due to limited funding. The idea of
learning assessment as well as group teaching causes
controversy, yet teachers take the challenge, formulate a
study plan and provide scripts.
proceeds with a detailed description of the AT curriculum.
Basically, each of three levels consists of ten
half-hour-a-week group sessions. However, almost all
students on level 2 and 3 decide to take individual lessons,
especially in the summertime.
1 Peter introduces basic concepts such as inhibition, habit,
semi-supine position and use of hands/arms. The question of
assessment (a student is asked to write a two-week
self-observation diary/ask a written question) brings a lot
of interest from the audience (example of a question:
spontaneity of performance vs. inhibition). Peter adds that
marks can be moderated and reads a couple of diary excerpts.
In general, students come up with very sophisticated
connections showing interest in the quality of practice, the
importance of awareness and lack of superficiality.
describes several subjects included in Level 2 curriculum:
Teacher-pupil relationship. Peter: ‘I’m saying I’m not
better than my students, we’re equal. I’m special but they
are special, too’.
of seeing (how the use of the eyes affects body). Example:
the effect on performance when an artist is cutting off from
the energising contact with the audience; panoramic vision
Performance anxiety. It is a big issue since the difference
between a student practising AT and without it is compared
to 2-3 years of training. Involves practical observation in
AT to playing an instrument. Peter explains that one pupil
gives a short performance (at the event it is demonstrated
by a cello student Harry), while the rest of a group watch
someone play, look at the use and then give advice in order
to identify mis-directions and help to develop strategies.
This results in giving a different experience to a musician,
to which he/she can refer later.
assessment. It is an essay taking the form of a
diary/introduction to AT/essay on a topic agreed with a
study is focused on the subject of communication.
Performances are recorded on DVD and discussed later, with a
mock exam in the similar form. Level 3 ends with a research
project/dissertation (popular subjects: ‘How to practise
Afterwards Peter briefly discusses common misuse patterns
among upper string players.
talks about her experience of working with teenagers at the
Royal Academy of Music, how rewarding it is and what
explains that the main purpose of a teacher is to make
teenagers acquainted with AT, to show such a method is
available, to make it a place to come back to. It is
virtually impossible to predict further interest, gift or
involvement -it usually comes at a later stage in life.
makes a point that teenagers are often perceived as
‘difficult’ individuals -an opinion strongly supported by
current media coverage. However, outside the stereotypes
they are usually very open and AT teachers have a lot to
offer them, a real gift. Another difficulty is touch as
parents usually stop touching children aged 13+ and many
teenagers are very ticklish.
strategy of working with teenagers involves the following
connection between them and their emotional life.
Embarrassment vs. deep acceptance of who you are: ‘No
one else is better at being you than yourself’.
Curiosity and creativity: these are the biggest magnet,
showing how life can be rich. Our (AT teachers’)
curiosity, interests help us to connect with them.
Encouragement: ‘Don’t expect to be perfect, just have a
lovely time’. That leads to confidence through better
connection with the body.
describes common misuse patterns among teenagers: stiff
neck, gripping the floor with the feet, forced smile -lead
to ‘fright’ neck.
makes an experiment in twos, showing what a difference
attitude can make: one person is to raise the arm of the
other, the person whose arm is being moved agrees to it
reluctantly/does not care/agrees to co-operate.
event approaches its end Judith remarks on AT being a lovely
tool: our Western martial arts.