The Alexander Technique: Sound relaxed by being relaxed.
Jul 01 2015
Have you heard of Frederick M. Alexander? No, he was never a guest on our TalkTime! series. He was an early 20th-century Shakesperean actor who temporarily lost his voice due to throat strain. Doctors advised him to rest, which he did, and it worked. But he also sought an ongoing alternative, devising a technique for releasing unnecessary tension through better awareness of one’s physical self.
Alexander found a solution. It worked well for him, to the point that he wrote several books on the coordination of mind and muscle. His approach pays particular attention to carriage of the head, neck and back. These principles, and many other related tenets, comprise what came to be called The Alexander Technique.
Many voice performers find it very helpful in relaxing the voice, improving breath control, and understanding their own body language — all things that help voice talent sound more professional.
Another way to describe it is as sort of a mix of meditation, orthopedics, yoga, Pilates and other disciplines, aimed at undoing the bad physical habits you acquired on the way to adulthood. (Yes, regardless of what your mother may have told you, it is possible to stand TOO straight!)
Is Alexander Technique for you?
Maybe. Maybe not. We’re not saying you should become a disciple of AT. And, too, there are other approaches that reach the same end. But it’s good to know about any mental tool available for relaxing your body and voice. You might find that elements of Alexander’s advice will be helpful to your work in the booth.
A small example
Considering that Alexander applied his technique to a wide range of physical endeavors, there is far too much for us to go into deeply here. Serious pursuit requires guidance from a proper coach.
But, with apologies to Alexander purists, here is a practical application you can try:
Tuning your voice with the whispered “ah”:
1. Free your neck, letting your head go forward and up.
2. Let your back lengthen and widen
3. Think of something funny, something to smile at. This give life to your face (as it does to your words).
4. Put the tip of your tongue to the back of your lower teeth.
5. Inhale with your jaw dropped slightly forward and down, so it is comfortably open.
6. On the exhale, whisper “ah,” to the end of a comfortable breath. (In otherwords, the sound you make for the doctor’s “ah-stick.”)
7. Close your mouth.
8. Allow air to flow in through your nose.
Repeat 3-5 times, being aware of each point as you proceed. With practice, it will begin to flow in a continuous movement. Whispered “Ah’s” benefit your breathing and voice, by lifting the soft palate, adding resonance, and generally making you more relaxed.
(Adapted from The Complete Illustrated Guide to Alexander Technique, by Glynn MacDonald, Element Books, 1999. Out of print.)
Want to know more?
There are fun and interesting books and websites on the subject. Here are some starting points. In most cases you should consider them just starting points, rather than a how-to guide … they’ll further your awareness of Alexander’s “awareness” technique, as it were.
- All books on AT at Amazon.com. At least one or two good introductions to Alexander Technique are out of print, so also check your library. But there are a number of well-reviewed newer titles to replace them:
As noted, this is just one of many potential toolkits you might draw from. You might prefer elements of yoga, Pilates, meditation, calisthenics or some other discipline, even one of your own. The key point is to continually consider the various ways to improve your performance, maintain your skills, and expand your capabilities, throughout your voice over career.