It should be noted that the founder of the Alexander Technique was himself an actor. It was originally in order to solve problems with his voice that F.M. Alexander made a minute study of the way in which his body reacted to stress on the stage. (A full account of this self-analysis is given in his book The Use of the Self.) He concluded that the incorrect alignment of his head, neck and torso were producing pressure on his larynx, causing the hoarseness that threatened to ruin his career.
Alexander's first pupils, in the years before World War I, included the playwright George Bernard Shaw and two prominent stars of the day, Henry Irving and Lily Langry. Contemporary actors who have found the technique beneficial include Paul Newman, Kenneth Branagh and John Cleese.
John Cleese is quoted as saying: "I find the Alexander Technique very helpful in my work. Things happen without you trying. They get to be light and relaxed."
AT is now included in the curriculum of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
In the case of singers, controlling stress and using the voice correctly are of paramount importance.
Dr. Wilfrid Barlow's work with music students in the 1950s (see Posture and Poise) suggested a correlation between objective postural changes and performance. Teachers at the Royal College of Music (London) reported that students who were given AT lessons improved physically in both singing and acting abilities and were also easier to teach and more psychologically balanced. They subsequently achieved unexpected success in an important singing competition.
The teachers gave it as their opinion that the Alexander Technique was the best method they had found for improving singing performance and said that it should form the basis of a singer's training.
Jones (1972) subsequently demonstrated that a singer's voice and breathing underwent objective improvements after AT lessons, with measurable changes in the sound that could be gauged by spectral analysis.
World-famous artists who have utilized the Alexander Technique include Paul McCartney and Sting.
As any instrumentalist knows, playing a musical instrument for many hours on end, sitting or standing in the same position, amounts to an endurance test. When muscular tension builds up, physical rigidity produces a less expressive performance, and discomfort is the ultimate distraction.
By releasing and redistributing tension in the body and limbs, the Alexander Technique enables musicians to acquire better coordination and a more fluid motion. Energy can be directed to the place where it is wanted, without strain or fatigue. As a result, there is an improvement in the quality of the sound produced, whatever the instrument.
Some world-famous musicians who have adopted the technique are Yehudi Menuhin (violin), Julian Bream (guitar) and Conrad Klemm (flute).
Music teachers who have studied the Alexander Technique find that it helps them guide their pupils into a playing position which is free from strain and yet fully in control. In the case of instrumentalists, emphasis has traditionally been placed on the hands and arms, but the proper use of the entire body is essential for free-flowing movement. If good habits are acquired from the start, there can be enormous benefits to students' progress.
The great British conductor Sir Adrian Boult was one of Alexander's pupils. The Alexander Technique is currently taught at music schools and conservatories in various countries, including the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, The Royal College of Music in London and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
Trisha Brown, the internationally famous choreographer, had this to say about the Alexander Technique: "I think we need a variety of skills. The Alexander Technique helps to integrate the individual dancer plus all the systems that he or she has been exposed to.(...)It is important to tell a student that there is a different way of moving free of grit force, interruptions, habitual patterns, of tension. They need to learn to stop that."