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I should like to take a strictly unitarian approach to the problem and deny the necessity for making any such division, even for convenience. Information about the state of the body and the state of the environment is being recorded in the brain at one and the same time. Attention is ordinarily directed either one way or the other but there is no reason why this need always be the case, since the organism is capable of selecting the stimuli to which it will respond.

A scientist in a laboratory bent over a microscope tends to give his attention exclusively to the specimen he is examining. If in the course of time he becomes aware of pain or discomfort in his neck and back he either ignores it or stops what he is doing in order to give it attention. It is perfectly possible, however, to integrate the two fields, inward and outward, into one, by selecting elements from both for simultaneous attention.

When the two fields are integrated in this way, the stimulus pattern and the response pattern can be recorded within the same spotlight of attention, so that cause-and-effect relations between them can be perceived. Finding this pattern is like finding the clue that leads out of a maze. It introduces order where confusion prevailed. If a response is delayed as it is in waiting for a light to change in traffic, you are often aware that muscular tension is building up in preparation for the movement to come. A set in this sense of the term is an attitude of expectancy which facilitates a learned response.

You are most apt to become aware of a set when the expected does not occur as when a shovel full of snow is heavier than is looks, or there is one less stair to climb than anticipated. There are sets for speaking; for picking up a pencil; for getting up from a chair; for smoking a cigarette; for playing the piano. Sets speed the response and make it easier to carry out automatically.

They do not always make the response better, however. Sometimes they get in the way. This is especially noticeable in complex, sequential activities. A pianist may blur the execution of a measure because he is already getting set for the next. Or a string-player may have difficulty bowing because he becomes set too soon for the reverse movement of the bow. So in reading aloud the eye may get ahead of the speech organs and impose a set for another word before the first has been completely articulated.

A set may be imposed very quickly after the stimulus is given, but it is never instantaneous. It starts with a change in tonus or tensional balance in the neck and trunk and spreads from there to the limbs so that there is a general postural change before the particular goal-directed part of the pattern appears. The postural component can best be studied in another response pattern, a pattern which is not goal-directed and is presumably unlearned. In response to a sudden loud noise an involuntary postural change takes place.

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Though the response is sometimes over in half a second it has a regular time sequence, starting in the muscles of the face and neck and passing down the body. When it is complete it always involves the muscles of the neck. The pattern of startle which has been studied by high-speed photography is remarkably regular.

The pattern permits minor variations but its primary features are the same.

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Because the startle response is brief and unexpected, it is difficult to observe and more difficult to control. Its chief interest here lies in the fact that it is a model of other, slower response patterns: fear, anxiety, fatigue, and pain all show postural changed from the norm which are similar to those that are seen in startle.

As in startle these postural responses cannot take place without the prior displacement of the head and the shortening of neck muscles.

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Since these responses are much slower than the startle response, they can be changed by controlling the first stage in the pattern, the head displacement, through which the rest of the pattern is propagated. Changing a response pattern in this way is quite different from suppressing it or ignoring the stimulus, which may well call for a response. Changing the postural pattern simply insures that the response will be rational and appropriate to the situation instead of an irrational stereotype.

By reorganizing the field of attention both phases of the response pattern are taken in at the same time. The goal-directed phase the learned part of the pattern is allowed to continue, while the set is controlled by the method which I have described. Awareness of the head-neck-trunk relation serves as a framework for the learned activity. By inhibiting the set or fixation of the head, a better distribution of tonus is obtained in the trunk and limbs and better coordination and control of the specific activity, whether it is speaking, or writing, or playing the flute.

I have advanced the view that the physiological mechanism which makes these effects possible is the head-neck reflexes, which integrate and modulate the response of the organism to gravity. Briefly, release of neck-muscle tension, allowing surface muscles in the neck to lengthen, increases the antigravity response in postural muscles; shortening the same muscles decreases the strength of the response.

It is well established that head-neck reflexes are used by animals to change the distribution of tonus in the trunk and limbs and that the same mechanism probably operates in human beings. It is unnecessary, however, to know why the mechanism works in order to use it. The chief difficulty lies in the fact that we are not accustomed to making kinesthetic observations and prefer to accept the evidence of our other senses or somebody else's judgment rather than critically examine our feelings of tension and weight.

The only satisfactory technique I know for dealing with this problem was devised by F. Alexander 8 some 60 years ago. By watching himself in a triple-mirror, Alexander was able to correlate changes in the axis of his head with a loss of voice in speaking.

A Technique for Musicians

He found that by inhibiting the change in head-axis he not only regained the use of his voice but produced an unexpected redistribution of tension throughout his body which brought with it an improvement in breathing and other automatic functions. For imparting his discovery to others, he developed a non-verbal technique which is referred to as the Alexander Technique. In it the pupil learns to inhibit any tendency he may have to alter the reflex balance of his head, while the teacher initiates some simple, everyday movement and guides the pupil through to its completion.

Any movement will do: walking, shifting position in a chair, getting up and sitting down, picking up a pencil.

This is perceived by the subject as reduction in the feeling of weight and in the effort needed to move. This kinesthetic effect persists long enough after a lesson to give the pupil an opportunity to observe his own habitual actions against a new background of postural tonus. In this way he gradually builds up a standard of kinesthetic judgment for himself and can go on to make further observations and experiments of his own.

In doing so he has added greatly to his resources for self-improvement. It should be possible to make the necessary first observations without help from outside—it has been done at least once before—but most people lack the patience and insight to do so without instruction. Fortunately the instruction is easier to obtain than it once was. The ideal condition would be, I admit, That man should be right by instinct; But since we are all too likely to go astray The reasonable thing is to learn from those who can teach. Frank P. Jones and John L.


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  • Hanson and Florence E. Gray, "Startle as a Paradigm of Malposture. Reprinted courtesy of Alexander Technique Archives, P. Box , Cambridge, MA There is quite a spectrum of bassists who read this blog.

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    For a young bassist some of this info and other posts that Peter have offered could be helpful. They might not be the posts I read the blog for, but everyone comes here for different reasons. Thanks to Sue for mentioning the Alexander Technique. I am an Alexander Technique teacher in New York. Please check out my site also. It is truly an amazing technique.

    Best, Mark MarkJosefsberg. This blog is sponsored by a variety of companies. Any paid sponsorships for specific content will be disclosed in the relevant post. Sponsorships for the overall site are displayed in the sidebar and in the text area for relevant posts. Here are some links for further exploration: www. Subscribe to get our weekly newsletter covering the double bass world. Now check your email to confirm your subscription. There was an error submitting your subscription. Perfect as an introduction to the Alexander Technique, or to supplement the reader's lessons, the book looks at daily and last-minute practice, breathing, performance and performance anxiety, teacher-pupil relationships, ensemble skills, and the application of the Alexander Technique to instrumental and vocal work.

    Complete with diagrams and photographs to aid the learning process, as well as step-by-step procedures and diary entries written by participating students, The Alexander Technique for Musicians gives tried-and-tested advice, drawn from the authors' twenty-plus years of experience working with musicians, providing an essential handbook for musicians seeking the most from themselves and their art.

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    Email us or call us on 03 to enquire about this book. Gift vouchers make great presents! Order a Paperback Books Gift Voucher online. Find out more As the apparently successful outcome of his white grandfather's enthusiastic attempts to isolate and