What is the Alexander Technique and how it can help you in your artistic career
Within the framework of the Artists Scene Cycle, Louise Phelan, resident professor at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes para el Coro de Madrigalistas y el Estudio de Ópera de Bellas Artes from México, shared with the audience her knowledge about the Alexander Technique, breaking down myths about the breathing and giving both tips and practical exercises to improve it.
The Alexander Technique is an educational process that develops the ability to realign posture to avoid unnecessary muscle and mental tension. This technique is more than 100 years old, and since its creation it has been used in all kinds of people, especially those whose main working tool is the body, as in the case of singers.
The Technique is based on principles that improve the way we coordinate in the daily use of our emotional and physical structure, and it has multiple benefits, the main one being helping singers to eliminate unnecessary tension when singing.
In addition, it helps to obtain freer movement and breathing, greater body awareness and improve coordination.
The importance of breathing
During the talk, Louise touched on a topic that is of utmost importance to any singer: breathing.
Next, we will review 5 very common myths around it.
MYTH # 1: Belly breathing is the most efficient way to breathe for singing
Fact: It is anatomically impossible to breathe on your stomach! While many teachers offer this instruction as a metaphor for avoiding shallow breathing or lifting the shoulders, students often take it literally, which creates a downward pull on the torso and puts unnecessary pressure on the spine and the entire vocal mechanism.
Solution: Have a suitable body-map based on the natural design of the breath.
MYTH # 2: To sing, you must deliberately breathe
Fact: Forceful breathing creates excess tension and stiffness by interfering with the natural elasticity of the torso. It works most efficiently when you breathe organically.
Solution: Allow a controlled exhalation (hiss or whispered “ah”) and when you reach the end of the exhale wait and allow an inhale allowing the ribs and the entire torso to loosen and expand. Sing a musical phrase, and instead of taking a breath, begin with a controlled exhale and wait for a thoughtful, natural inhale.
MYTH # 3: The diaphragm and abdominal muscles help to “support” sound.
Reality: We sing with exhalations and since the diaphragm is an inhalation muscle, it is physically impossible for the diaphragm to participate in supporting the sound that comes out. When we sing, the goal is to release the air at a steady slow rhythm. The abs can only force the air out faster, which works against that goal. It is the whole torso that helps to “bear” the sound.
Solution: Think of support that allows you to maintain balanced upright coordination while releasing slowly.
MYTH # 4: Practicing breathing exercises is the best way to improve it.
Fact: Breathing occurs naturally and it’s crazy to think that we can improve nature. Breathing exercises, especially when done out of context, are neutral at best and, in most cases, accentuate harmful habits. Unless habitual patterns of tension are discovered and released, breathing exercises only perpetuate the habits. Improving breathing is almost always a subtractive process, not an additive one.
Solution: The place of breathing exercises, find out where it is interfering with the natural functioning of your breathing pattern. Common habits are shorten, lower, contract, and squeeze for breath.
MYTH # 5: Breathing must be done mechanically to achieve consistency in sound.
Reality: Breathing is emotion. As an artist you must have the flexibility and spontaneity to breathe in whatever way the music or character requires at the time. Mechanical respiration leads to mechanical singing.
Solution: Instead of thinking about the breath, think about the desired sound of the music and let the whole body be free to produce that sound.
Tips that do work:
– Breathing begins with exhaling.
– Breathing is a three-dimensional activity: it lengthens, widens, and deepens.
– Let the breath move whatever it wants in your body.
– Invites total body coordination and cooperation.
– Get inspired.
– Have a clear intention of what you want to communicate when singing.
– Find your body balance.
– The exhaled air rises.
– Include your nose.
– Avoid panting.
– You are better when you don’t think about the breath. Just let her out.
Next, we leave you the complete video of the talk “Free your body, voice and breath with the Alexander Technique”, with Louise Phelan: