I came across this great site by Alexander therapist and saxophone player Bill Plake. I hope this will help us all in our struggle to become better musicians because it doesn't have to be a struggle. Learning how to move your body, relaxing into movement and getting rid of bad practice habits are extremely important to developing your skills. I'm working on some exercises to relax the hands and mind and will post them later. Meanwhile enjoy this article and many more if you follow the links.
Improving The Speed And Accuracy Of Your Fingers
by Bill Plake
The simple truth is that if you want to improve how your hands work as you play, you have to leave them alone, so they can do the right thing without interference. To do this you have change your thinking. You have to replace the thought of your fingers “doing the right thing” with a broader kind of thinking.
First, start with the aim of being free in your body as you play. In particular, ask yourself for freedom in your neck, shoulders and back. This alone will not only change the quality and quantity of muscular tension as you play, but also, will calm and center your mind and improve your breathing.
Make this a top priority as you practice. The freer you are in your head, neck and back, the freer your fingers are to move and create the stability necessary to play your instrument. This is something you’ll need to practice as you practice (yes, I meant to say that). Here’s a previous article I’ve written about practicing paying attention to help you with this.
Next, rather than trying to feel how (or what) you think your fingers need tofeel, think instead of where your fingers need to go as you play from one note the next.
By taking your attention from what you feel to where you are going, you increase your spatial awareness (and improve your sense of time, as well). Your brain organizes the music making task in a fundamentally different way, allowing your fingers to move freely, easily and quickly. In the simplest sense, you get out of the way of your brain’s ability to organize and control complex movement, so it can do what it needs to do unimpeded.
This is something that can be practiced gradually, using simple visualization:
For example, if you’re a saxophonist, practice a very easy, familiar pattern (arpeggio, scale, intervals, etc.) at a slow tempo as you think, not of what your fingers are doing, but what keys need to be pressed and/or released as you go from note to note. Think ever so slightly ahead to the next note to be played as you land on each note. If you practice this regularly, you’ll learn that you can play rapid passages that you couldn’t play before with stunning ease and clarity. (Same general idea if you play piano, strings, etc. Think where on your instrument you want your fingers to land, not what your fingers have to do.)
Finally, replace the thought of fingers with tonal imagination. Practice singing passages or patterns that you find difficult on your instrument. First, sing the passage slowly and very precisely, making sure the sequence of pitches and the rhythms are crystal clear in your mind. Once you’ve accomplished that, play the passage by following your ear. Really hear the passage clearly in your mind, and don’t worry about what your fingers have to do.
Most of the chronic technical difficulties musicians struggle with are a result of tense anticipation. Hyper-awareness of the fingers is akin to driving a car on the highway at top speed with your eyes planted downward on the road in front of you. Scary and stiff. Same thing on your instrument.
So change how you think about your fingers. Practice consistently shifting your attention from your fingers to your broader senses, and you’ll be surprised how limber and accurate your technique becomes.
If you want to read more about Alexander technique you should visit: Bill Plake