Monday, February 22, 2010

The aches and pains of bassooning

Last year I was experiencing a great deal of discomfort playing the bassoon and contra bassoon. I ended up going for some physio to help correct this but it only made matters worse. I met another bassoonist, Fiona Bryan, on a gig and commented on her great posture and said "ah Alexander Technique". When she told me she taught it I immediately asked for a lesson. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I should return to Alexander Technique as I had seen it work on others and had a brief attempt to get lessons whilst I was studying at the Guildhall! (In those days it was only the string players who got this as part of their course.. times have changed).

After the initial frustration of wanting instant results and Fiona pointing out that years of habit are not undone in five minutes I settled down into a routine of using AT to make changes. I found that keeping regular lessons and sessions made a huge difference as big gaps in between just led to old habits slipping in. However, a year down the line I can see a big difference in my general posture and more importantly I don't HURT all the time! If my back or muscles become painful I know I can control this and take the time to use the techniques to get me back on track. I had wanted something where I could do all the work and not go to someone to "treat" or "adjust me" and most of the work in Alexander Technique is indeed on your own. However, my concept of being able to do it all myself was only partially correct as the hands on work from someone trained is essential and makes all the difference between success or failure and has yielded much faster results.

As there are immediate benefits and long term improvements to be had I continue to work on using more and more of what I have been learning. And this of course is starting to pay dividends with my breathing and posture when playing. And nobody seems to mind me lying on the floor with a book under my head before a gig as long as I don't clutter up the corridor too much...

I can't stress enough just how vital learning this technique is for any performer as we all put our bodies through twists and contortions to play/sing/dance or whatever. But of course it applies just as much for anyone in any walk of life as good posture and freedom from back pain makes life a lot more fun!

For those in London Fiona Bryan teaches from home and can be found at

There is also a great book that covers the basics well called Body Breath and Being by Carolyn Nicholls.


B.S. said...

I was having weekly Alexander lessons until my teacher moved away. I think it made a huge difference in my life. I wonder why it's not part of the curriculum for every music school....


PSFT said...

I recently started with an AT teacher as I too was having a number of back issues. I tried one of those full harness's for when I was playing the bassoon, and to an extent it did help. But now combined with AT I can manage a full concert session pain free. And practising is once more enjoyable.

If you've never tried it - don't know it!