Alexander Technique for Cellists

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…”) [...]

The Spine: Our Very Own Superhighway — by Selma Gokcen

I only learned about the importance of the spinal column to cello playing as I was introduced more deeply into the Alexander Technique. Of course I knew the superficial facts about the spine and especially how vital it is to the health of the nervous system. But its particular relevance to cellists was not brought home until I began training in the work of teaching the Technique. Here are a few interesting facts about the spine to start off 1: The spinal cord is surrounded by rings of bone called vertebrae. Both are covered by a protective membrane. Together, the vertebrae and the membrane make up the spinal column, or backbone. The backbone, which protects the spinal cord, starts at the base of the skull and ends just above the hips. The spinal cord [...]

Reflections on Bernard Greenhouse and the Importance of the Back

We are learning to do consciously what Nature intended.   – F.M. Alexander Spending a week remembering Bernard Greenhouse on CelloBello brought back memories of many hours of lively conversations and shared experiences. Bernie had naturally what we call ‘a back’ in the Alexander Technique, and there is no faking or pretending to have a back… […]

To Change or Not to Change

To Change or Not to Change “Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life.” “You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.” – F.M. Alexander Summers take musicians to new places where teachers and students meet for the first and sometimes the only time, and within this one or perhaps two or three encounters, Chance and Fate can open unexpected doors. Being out of our familiar circumstances and roles and away from the people we see every week in the same place– and for the same reason– provide just the right marinating sauce for Serendipity. […]

Make it Your Own: Teaching Alexander Technique — by Selma Gokcen

The Alexander Technique has its own process of training to become a teacher of the work. Much like cellists, we take lessons from established teachers, we attend school daily and we begin from the beginning, with lots of preconceptions which are called habits. Our teachers constantly bring our attention to them, rebalancing and releasing negative patterns of use, mostly through their hands, sometimes through words, and often both.   from http://www.alexandertechnique.com   As the inner fog lifts and our sensory awareness improves, we begin to be able to "put hands on" others and transmit what we have received. It's so tenuous at the start and requires years of experience to be able to distinguish fine differences in the flow of energy up and down the spine, the various tension [...]

About Thumbs — by Selma Gokcen

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. —William Blake To anyone engaged in a skill requiring dexterity—surgery, drawing, and of course playing a musical instrument—the use of the thumb is crucial to successful execution. Thumb-finger opposition is one of the primary characteristics which distinguishes primates from other animals, allowing them to manipulate tools; in humans this potential exists at the highest levels, facilitating the development of skills which make extraordinary use of the hand...witness the moto perpetuo.  We also have expressions to describe this relationship when it doesn't work well: "He/she is all thumbs!" To enable this thumb—finger opposition, there is a considerable amount of brain space devoted to the fleshy area of the thumb between the base joint of the thumb (located at [...]

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 4 of 6): The Arm Becomes the Bow — by Selma Gokcen

The whole organism is responsible for specific trouble. Proof of this is that we eradicate specific defects in process. —F.M. Alexander To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. —Lao Tzu We now come to the bow, the most challenging aspect of cello playing by far. There are so many fantasies and fallacies surrounding the technique of the bow, as well as profound differences of opinion regarding sound production and articulation. Rather than address these directly, I would like to introduce another way of thinking about the bow: as an 'instrument' whose function exists in relationship to the whole body. By starting from the general (the whole of ourselves) and eventually arriving at the specific (the 'bowing instrument'), we might view the process in the right perspective, rather [...]

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 [...]