I was contacted recently by musician, Tomlin Leckie, who’s been taking Alexander Technique lessons in Edinburgh, Scotland with Sandra Riddell. The Alexander Technique, using Tomlin’s words, actually saved him from giving up music as a career because of repeated injuries. Tomlin agreed to write up his experiences for my blog in this guest post:
How Alexander Technique Helped Me to Play Guitar Again
by Tomlin Leckie
Around nine years ago I left music school and was looking to pursue a career as a professional musician when all of that came to an abrupt halt. I got tendinitis in both wrists making it too painful to keep practicing guitar. Doctors told me to take an extended break, which basically consisted of me not touching a guitar for six months and not really playing properly for a year after that. However, even after the break, I would keep having the same flareups of tendinitis which would lead me to stop playing and became very frustrating and upsetting. I was doing something wrong….
Early Days with the Alexander Technique
I spent a long time researching musicians’ injuries and guitarists who had to stop playing music due to them, but it is a surprisingly quiet niche. I’ve discovered the reason for this is that musicians play in pain but don’t talk about it, due to the culture around professional musicians. More on that later.
The one thing that came back time and time again was this “Alexander Technique.” However, despite people telling me that I needed to do it, my doctors said it was pointless, and the whole question was moot anyway as it was very hard for me to find a teacher in rural France where I grew up. So, I put it to one side and decided to enroll on a university course to study something I was relatively interested in – psychology. I applied to the University of Edinburgh and got in. All the while I was still desperate to play music….
Arriving in Edinburgh was exciting as I had access to a lot more unusual activities than my country upbringing afforded me. One of these was Alexander Technique lessons, which my parents very kindly paid for me to have with a lovely woman called Sandra Riddell (I still attend sessions with her today). At this stage, I had no idea how lessons worked. I was even concerned that I might have to take my clothes off. This led to quite a lot of anxiety around my first session!
I need not have worried as Sandra put me at ease straight away. Apparently you get to keep your clothes on! During the first lesson I felt all the cliches that people talk about, including this amazing new lightness as I started to understand that I could do the same things while doing less. However, once lesson two came round I realized that it was not going to be an easy path or the “silver bullet” that I was hoping for, but I did know there was something in it. Nearly eight years later I’m still doing it, and I’ve been a full-time musician for nearly five years!
Changes to My Attitudes, Lifestyle and Workstyle
Right from the start musicians are expected to put in long hours of hard practice. This breeds a culture of belligerently bashing your head against the wall until you master the technique or composition without listening to any feedback that your body might be giving you. There is definitely no thinking of the damage you might be causing your body in the process. Alexander Technique brought the “play” back into playing music for me, which surprisingly made me a better musician. Bit by bit, I have spent less time doing epic practice sessions and more time doing better practice sessions, in which I think about just how much ease I can have in movement.
As a self-confessed workaholic, Constructive Rest was really hard for me to get into. This is a central pillar of Alexander technique, and the more I have managed to build it into my routine, the more the benefits have multiplied. And now, instead of practicing for six hours solidly, I will practice for 20 minutes and then re-evaluate my positioning as well as ask myself if I can do the same thing with less effort.
An incredible lightness has come from Alexander Technique. Instead of all the mechanical elements of playing a musical instrument being quite heavy-handed and effortful, I have learnt to play lighter and this has led to my playing being more fluid. Needless to say, this has also had the fringe benefit of me not being in pain when I play.
Alexander is a Fundamental Change for a Musician
Alexander technique has been quite a fundamental addition to my life and has led to me pursuing music full-time and achieving the amount of success that I always wanted, which was sustaining myself playing, writing and teaching music.
Furthermore, the Technique itself is so beneficial in all aspects of my day, from reacting to venues not paying on time, to dealing with difficult music students.
Every musician should study the Alexander Technique and not wait till they get injured from years of bad “life” technique.
Tomlin Leckie is a soulful, bluesy guitarist, singer and harmonica player, who enjoys grooving solo and acoustically or with his electric band The Strollers. Tomlin’s versatility has led to comparisons with John Mayer, James Taylor and Jack Johnson.
The last couple of years have seen some exciting landmarks in his career including supporting Robert Cray at The ABC in Glasgow, The Black Seeds at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh and releasing his debut EP “We Are Stories” on his own record label Spiky Lion Records.
When he is not out playing live, Tomlin spends his time teaching guitar and harmonica at Strollers Music School in Edinburgh.
You can find out more about Tomlin at his website: www.tomlinleckie.com.
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