How do we go about becoming more consciously directed, not only in terms of general living, but in the acquisition of skill? Let us select a skill as an example: singing. We want to learn to sing or improve our singing and we have gone to a teacher for help.
In Part II of his first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, F.M. Alexander sets out a process very clearly and in great detail. (If you have not read this book I urge you to do so. But go slowly and take much time.) He gives us 4 steps to follow consecutively.
1. We must have a detailed and accurate idea (a concept in mind) of what movements we have to make.
In singing this means that we have to know the simplicity and ease of singing as an idea. This is a very tall order because if we had a clear and accurate idea of singing with ease and simplicity we would be already miles ahead of beginner status, which presumably we are not. The teacher must know what ease in singing is and is not. The teacher must know that ease in singing is singing with no unnecessary muscular movements.
2. We must put a stop to any old subconscious habits we have built up that do not serve us.
This means we have to tell ourselves that we don’t know how to sing with total ease and simplicity. If we knew we would do it. So any ideas we have about singing and what is needed we must put entirely aside. This means any idea we have of “taking a full breath” for example, or making a “beautiful sound” we must disregard. We inhibit that thinking and we inhibit acting out on the idea of “make a beautiful sound” and “taking in the air.” This step is even more important because if we are to get the right idea about singing, and make that idea whole and real for others to hear, we have to stop (inhibit) any wrong headedness we have held dearly in mind.
3. We must continue inhibiting those old ideas while at the same time setting up improved conditions for new means-whereby.
These new and improved conditions will allow the breath to enter the body freely and provide space from the old clumsy forced habits that we
believed were absolutely necessary. Improved conditions and means-whereby will let the muscles coordinate spontaneously for a new (and to us, novel) way of singing wherein the voice unites with the breath in a free manner.
4. In the last step, under the skillful guidance of the teacher we must give consent to allow their muscles to contract and expand in this newly directed way.
This process must be repeated over and over again until new habits and new ideas have been formed. It is only with repetition and time that we learn to trust these new sensations of freedom and ease.
This, my friends, is how FM first taught himself and then us “how thought becomes an activity.” His genius was that he changed his frame of reference from one of “I know” to one of “I do not know.” Nothing new happens if we keep on going about it in the same old (habitual) way!
Read the book. He wrote if for you.
In the next entry we will explore in greater detail how these steps apply to the study of singing.