I’m curious about your Alexander Technique comment. As a singer who has benefited enormously from, and done quite a bit of research into it, it is clear to me that its based on a solid understanding of physical functioning, and a clear method of improving it. The British Medical Journal recently published a major study showing it was the most effective method of helping people with back pain. etc etc
Thank you for your comment. I am pretty familiar with the Alexander Technique. I’m sure not as well familiar as you. I would not pose to be an expert on it. I am glad to hear you have found it beneficial to you. It seems like you assume that since I mentioned it I am bashing it or don’t think it is any good. You are mistaken. That was not my intent behind my statement. Notice I included the school of singing I have most closely identified myself with in my teaching as well.
As you state, it is based on a solid understanding of physical functioning. My question then becomes, was it Alexander Technique that helped you or was it the fundamental principles of physical function that it is based on that helped you. Another way of saying what I mean is, if someone worked with you and taught you to recognize the fundamental principles that are the foundation of physical function, and that helped you improve that function, but they didn’t call it “Alexander Technique” would that be just as good or not as good as learning the Alexander Technique. Does it have to be Alexander Technique to use the body in that way. Can someone just use their body following the same principles, without attaching a name to it?
The point I’m trying to get across is that we get attached to the name and the technique when what really matters is the reality of the physical functioning. The only thing that exists is the truth of physical functioning. Many of the different successful techniques out there dealing with the voice or the body are based on accurate fundamentals of physical function. There are others that are based on someone’s opinion of how to make a certain kind of sound. Our challenge is to recognize the difference. Because if we don’t the health of our voice and body are at risk.
This is what interests me because this is where I see the most confusion regarding the voice. I frequently get questions about the Swedish/Italian School this and the Swedish/Italian School that. Because they want to compare it to some other school or technique. And then decide which one they like better. The name is distracting people from the fundamental principles that are the important thing. So I’m just trying to get people to think about this and ask themselves if they recognize the difference. It is not about what we like or don’t like. It is about what is real and what is imagined. What is physical fact and what is personal opinion. This is what I’m interested in because opinions on how the voice works don’t help people. Understanding the facts of physical function does.
I notice a similar tendency with Speech Level Singing, or SLS. Seth Riggs developed this method, or technique. If we read his bio this is the description of what he teaches:
Approach emphasizes Speech Level Singing, which is exceptionally adaptable to a broad range of styles, because it does not force rigid technique. Develops voice free of clutter, manufactured sounds, and overculture. Individual application of seventeenth century Italian Bel Canto Techniques originating in the Schola Cantorum, including an intimate understanding of Castratti techniques of vocal registration balance. Approach responds to both the immediate and structural problem of the individual singer including constriction caused by high larynx and the resultant inability of the vocal cord structure to allow easy pitch control and natural vowel formation in the throat.
Now to me this is a great description of what we are after. We can’t really disagree with anything it says. But I have observed SLS teachers and singers who don’t seem to be representing these concepts. Does that make SLS wrong or bad, or does that mean these individuals aren’t quite getting an accurate understanding of the fundamental principles that underlie the “technique”. And if, as it says right there, SLS is essentially the principles of 17th century Italian Bel Canto; and the traditional old Italian school was based on the principles of natural functioning of the voice; why do we need the fancy name “Speech Level Singing”. Is it so we can pay hundreds of extra dollars to get certified as SLS trainers? But the fancy name is not what determines our success. How well we understand the fundamental principles does. And no one can own those. Or buy them.
Now before people who support SLS start writing me with death threats. Please understand that I am not bashing what SLS or Seth Riggs teaches. I just stated for the record that SLS is based on the fundamental principles of natural functioning of the voice. Exactly what I am guided by. But I do NOT teach SLS. It is not SLS that helps people find success with their voice. I am sure Seth Riggs is a great teacher because of his understanding of the voice and how it functions. Not because of his invention of SLS. It is the functional principles successfully applied. It is the proper understanding and application of the principles that determines if something is beneficial. The same thing I was saying about Alexander Technique. It isn’t the name that helps people. It’s the functional principles and understanding them that does. And those are available to anybody to discover for themselves.
I believe the success or failure of any technique is dependent on the understanding of the underlying principles, and being able to put them into practice, not necessarily the technique. So if that is the case, then why not forget the question of technique and just focus on the underlying principles. The things that actually make the difference whether we improve or not. That to me is the definition of “natural”. To behave as nature designed us with nothing encumbering the free physical function. That is what I have been proposing and trying to illustrate on this blog. I understand that it might be hard to grasp at first. It is a somewhat different way of thinking about things. But it removes all of the bull that goes along with “he says this, she says that”. “This technique and that technique.” It gets to the point you don’t know who to believe and what to do.
Like I said in my last post. We need to learn to see the truth of the situation. And there is simplicity in truth. It isn’t complex. But it falls under that rule that “simple is not easy.” And I repeat, no one can own this. Not the person that put their name in the title and certainly not me. It is there for all of us. We just need to learn how to recognize it. Thank you.
Thanks for your comments. I agree completely. These things you point out, I would guess, are because he has marketed SLS mainly to non-classical singers. So the palate and larynx positions are less critical, but I feel still important. But that is what I'm talking about, the difference between the concepts discussed and the application. Based solely on what is said in discussion SLS sounds like good concepts. But based on what we hear in application it has some holes.
In regard to SLS: Seth Riggs may claim that his technique is a reiteration of the bel canto technique, but in reality it emphasizes an inert soft palate and a neutral (speech-level) larynx. Although his technique claims to make singing as easy as speaking, it doesn't really do anything that a good, non-rigid classical training can't do. Plus, most of the great, famous singers that SLS has "produced" were already talented anyway.
Thanks for the follow up comments to Anonymous and V.A. In response to the first, I agree the important thing is communicating how a person can actually make the changes of habitual factors. But I would again argue this is dependent on the skill of the practitioner, not on the method.
You state that it takes a lot of training for someone to get to the point where they can effectively help people make changes. I don't think training can get one to that point. I feel experience is the only thing that can get one to that level. And that comes after and goes beyond training.
"So…to answer your question another way, yes if someone used basic Alexander principles it would be as good as the "real" thing."
This statement is the basis of what I'm talking about regarding "ownership". Did these principles not exist before Alexander? Truth is timeless. It doesn't suddenly come into existence. So these principles had to exist before Alexander or he wouldn't have been able to discover them. He explored them, organized them and explained them to others. He didn't create them. But by putting his name on it he inadvertently created a distraction from the reality of the body by making people think that what he was talking about was something that was a product of his. But if this information is true, WHICH I'M NOT DISPUTING, then it is universal. It belongs to everyone and you don't need Alexander Technique necessarily. You need to see the true principles of the body.
I find your statement amusing not only because you call these principles "Alexander" principles. Like they don't exist in nature, only in his practice. But the second part is equally revealing when you say it would be as good as the "real" thing to use the principles but not call it Alexander. I would state it just the opposite. To use Alexander is almost as good as just doing the real thing of natural physical function. Because what nature has provided has been around a lot longer than Alexander and is much more "real" than anything that is created by man.
I don't know if you will "get" what I'm trying to communicate. Again, this is not an attack on Alexander Technique. What I say may also be viewed as just a philosophical exercise. It is certainly a difference in how we think of things. I find that to be important to watch because how we think of things influences how we act. And I find that releasing our attachments to limiting beliefs also frees our behavior and actions. So take what you have learned from Alexander Technique and build on it. Free yourself from the thinking of just Alexander and see the wider truth that it is a part of. That is just my encouragement. I'm not trying to tell you what to do. I'm just trying to get people to think deeper about things. Good luck and thanks for reading.
I have used Alexander principles on a daily basis and on singing and it has helped me tremendously. Unfortunately, where I live there is no teacher of the method, and I have to look for one in another state. I read some books and talked personally with foreign singers who benefited from this technique, and all seem to agree it is really effective.
Well, regarding the Speech Level Singing, it's widespread as the REAL thing here in Brazil, especially amongst those who sing popular music, musicals and show some interest on technique. I don't know how Seth Riggs teaches and what are the results he gets in his studio, but from what I saw(I know one person who went to Los Angeles to have lessons with him), I didn't like. It seems he applies the idea of singing as one speaks too far. It only makes sense to me in the medium range and when one talks about the importance of enunciating as in speaking.
Anyhow, I have never heard about classical singers sucessfully trained by his method. The only people I know, and he loves to advertise that, is Michael Jackson, Madona, and other pops singers. Reasons enough to stay away of it, in MHO.
Correction: I meant to say the FIRST of the two approaches being the Alexander Technique.
"My question then becomes, was it Alexander Technique that helped you or was it the fundamental principles of physical function that it is based on that helped you. Another way of saying what I mean is, if someone worked with you and taught you to recognize the fundamental principles that are the foundation of physical function, and that helped you improve that function, but they didn't call it "Alexander Technique" would that be just as good or not as good as learning the Alexander Technique. Does it have to be Alexander Technique to use the body in that way. Can someone just use their body following the same principles, without attaching a name to it?"
Good question. What I meant by saying the AT is based on fundamental principles of physical functioning is not so much anatomical realities – they are important of course – but how a person can usefully change what are often deep-rooted habits of posture and movement in an effective way.
It's usually fairly easy for a trained observer, such as a singing teacher, to see the manifestation of harmful habits. The real trick is in giving advice that actually improves the situation and doesn't just add another layer of competing habits.
In other words, identifying what the harmful habits are and then releasing them – not jumping in with advice on something to do to counter them. There's a world of difference between these 2 approaches – the second, of course, being the Alexander Technique method.
So…to answer your question another way, yes if someone used basic Alexander principles it would be as good as the "real" thing. But in practice, it requires quite a bit of training for almost anyone to get to the point where they can actually do this effectively.
BTW: There is no legal control over who calls him or herself an Alexander Technique teacher – no "monopoly" control as is the case for some other modalities.