tension

The Most Erogenous Region of the Cello — by Stefanie Buller

Search for resistance—enjoy the friction! I have been considering the topic “sounding point” (contact point, in German) for a long time now. Where bow hair and string meet is where everything we have to offer—regarding material, technique, power and ease—is channeled. This is the origin of the sound! This is where the action is! Isn't the sounding point therefore the most erogenous region of the cello? But at first a little anecdote: After the Christmas mass the priest stood at the exit, shaking the hands of the parishioners and wishing them a Merry Christmas. What a nice gesture! So I took his hand in return. But it felt like a rubber glove filled with jelly. By intuition I tried to get a grip. (“There must be bones somewhere in this hand…”) [...]

Holding On for Dear Life — by Selma Gokcen

"Doing in your case is so 'overdoing' that you are practically paralysing the parts you want to work." —F.M. Alexander   As an Alexander Technique teacher, I work with many cellists who are in distress—the kind of distress that means they can't play for the time being. Their conditions vary from tendinitis to De Quervain syndrome to back pain to focal dystonia. The list is long but one thing most of them share is the habit of 'holding on to themselves.' What do I mean by this?  When they are in a position of rest on my teaching table—lying on their backs with their heads also resting on a small pillow—they remain gripped by tension in their necks, backs, arms and legs that may take us many months to undo.  [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 6 of 6): Putting it All Together — by Selma Gokcen

"You get away from all your old preconceived ideas because you are getting away from your old habits." —F.M. Alexander We come to the end of this six part series, having touched on various aspects of cello technique, bringing the principles of the Alexander Technique to the most basic work of balancing the instrument, then using the bow and the left hand. Once this basic work is accomplished, the next stage is to take a new piece of music and to begin to work with it for a few minutes each day.  Instead of aiming for the goal—which is to get the piece learned and which can produce all sorts of accompanying reactions—we can take away the goal entirely, and use those few minutes while we work on the piece [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 5 of 6): Fleet Fingers — by Selma Gokcen

"The body is like an instrument; it depends who is playing it."  —F.M. Alexander In the Alexander work I do, I consider there are five stages in learning to let go of the left hand fingers in cello playing so they can be free to race around the fingerboard, as well as play expressively. The hand must be soft and empty of all intention in approaching the string. If it has preconceived form and shape, then it cannot function except within the confines of this preconception. In connection with this work, I often ask my students the meaning in Zen Buddhism of "the empty hand that holds the spade." We can think of the fingers as the end of a long chain of joints starting with the upper arm ball [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 3 of 6): My Cello and Me, a Dynamic Partnership — by Selma Gokcen

Trying is only emphasizing the thing we already know. —F.M. Alexander Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop. —Early Zen scripture (anonymous) Once a reasonable base of understanding is established and a student is able to stop, wait and stay back (this means leaving their back back rather than rushing forward) in the face of simple activities like sitting in and standing up from a chair, going up on the toes, all basic procedures long established in the Alexander Technique, the next challenge is to take up the cello. For each player, their instrument has associations, sometimes happy, sometimes fraught with tension and negative experiences. Just seeing their instrument makes some of my Alexander students anxious! And they are surprised that they don't have to pick up [...]

About Those New Year’s Bow Resolutions…. — by Wayne Burak

New Year’s resolutions get significant attention right about now! Whether the subject is your living space, personal finance, diet, or exercise, every topic seems to be on the table. But what about the personal needs of your favorite bow—you know, the one that plays beside you in all of your performances and rehearsals? The one you have promised your eternal love and gratitude to, if it helps you get through the nearly impossible piece or gig? Hmm, did I think that, you ask? Bows have long memories, and yes at some point, you did promise. That is why your bow demands attention now!  Think of it like dinner, a movie, and a new outfit for your bow. But before we talk more of bows, let’s assume that you have already handled [...]

The Process of Unlearning Habits — by Selma Gokcen

“It is not the degree of ‘willing’ or ‘trying,’ but the way in which the energy is directed, that is going to make the ‘willing’ or ‘trying’ effective.” –F.M. Alexander   As professional musicians, we have a deeply trained muscle memory system, a network of learned movements which allows us to study and perform a huge number of works in any situation, often in a short space of time.  This system is a blessing when it is reliable and accurate and a burden when it does not serve us well. Confronted by unwanted tension or a repetitive stress injury such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, some of us, as F.M. Alexander did, may ask: what is my part in this?  How have I brought about this condition? And it [...]

So You Think You Know? (Part 2) — by Selma Gokcen

“Sensory appreciation conditions conception; you can't know a thing by an instrument that is wrong.” -F.M. Alexander. Our body-mind could be called our home. We live in it from the inside, looking out at the world. It provides our orientation, our focus, our sense of what is right and wrong, up and down, around us, beneath us and above us. All day long we are encountering and interacting with the world; stimuli are filtering through our senses and being evaluated against past experience. The question raised within us after only a few lessons in the Alexander Technique is the same one that F.M. Alexander grappled with for nine years as he searched for answers to the mis-use of his voice: what am I doing and how can I know that [...]

Finesse — by Brant Taylor

Any musician who has interests outside the realm of music has probably discovered ideas and concepts important to other disciplines which are directly applicable to the study and performance of music.  The lessons we can learn about greatness from outside our own field are often very powerful because the underlying principles tend to be universal and not confined to any single discipline.  For the famed American chef Thomas Keller, there is one word he uses to describe his entire philosophy of approaching his craft at the highest level: finesse.  Chef Keller apparently doesn't want anyone who works for him to forget it—the word and its dictionary definition are emblazoned directly on the tiles above the entrance to the kitchen at Per Se, his high-end (and delicious) New York City restaurant: [...]

Searching For One’s Cello Voice — by Bonnie Hampton

It is a remarkable thing that just as our vibratos show our  individual expression, so ultimately does our “cello voice” as we develop our sound with the bow on the cello. What are the elements which make up this search? It is a given that we can’t make a beautiful sound unless our bow arms are free and we are finding our energies all the way from the back, with none to the various joints or muscles adding physical tension or tightness.  We need to have in our imagination, the qualities of sound we respond to. Perhaps we have heard a wonderful cellist who has inspired us, or perhaps there is a tone quality in our inner ear which we strive for. We are so fortunate,  the cello is capable [...]

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