End-gaining on the flute

“The wild cat stalking its quarry inhibits the desire to spring prematurely, and controls to a deliberate end its eagerness for the instant gratification of a natural appetite”.  (F.M. Alexander,  Man’s Supreme Inheritance)

“It is essential, in the necessary re-education of the subject through conscious guidance and control, that in every case the “means whereby” rather than the end” should be held in mind. As long as the end is held in mind instead of the “means,” the muscular act, or series of acts, will always be performed in accordance with the mode established by old habits”    (F.M. Alexander,  Man’s Supreme Inheritance)

End-gaining is a problem for all of us.   We want to fix problems directly, but by doing so we set up bad habits in our playing, based on our old habits.   For example, our teacher says “your head isn’t straight” – so we quickly adjust our head position directly (in doing so contracting the neck into the spine and creating tension in the shoulders).  Or, “your right hand little finger is straight” – so we try to curve it, but simultaneously adding undue strain to our arm muscles.  Or somebody practises so hard because they want to win a competition, rather than practising good habits that will enable him to play better, which may or may not lead to him winning a competition.

Alexander Technique teaches us to inhibit end-gaining and rather work on the best means whereby to achieve any given end.  Meaning: making reasoned choices before acting, involving indirect procedures and always being constantly aware of your own use.

I am reading a wonderful book at the moment called Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara which explains this in great detail.  I recommend you read it too.

Here are some examples of common end-gaining on the flute and suggested indirect procedures:

  1.  Wanting to play l’apres midi in one breath (or wanting a larger capacity)

Good breathing is characteristic of good use.  However, many of us want the quickest solution to play that dreaded opening line in one breath.   With this thought, we often over breathe and try to take deeper breaths.  This sets up a series of bad habits:  misuse of shoulders to expand the chest, gasping for air, tensing the neck etc.

Indirect procedures:

“The lungs are not expanded because they fill with air; they fill with air because they are expanded” (F.M. Alexander).

This explains the automatic process of breathing.  It is unrealistic to “take a deep breath” since air moves into the lungs by a difference in pressure, not because you force it to.  Don’t let your body collapse or conversely be too rigid – allow the back to widen, lengthen and deepen so that the ribs can move, which will let the air come in and leave by itself.

So, instead of holding your breath or trying to take deeper breaths to solve the problem directly, work on your use, which will indirectly improve your breathing.

2. Trying to get a louder sound by blowing more

Mis-use:  over-blowing and forcing air out leads to the tightening of muscles, which dampens the resonance.

Indirect procedures:  allowing the sound to resonate by not contracting the head.  Resonating your sound in your head, chest, ribs, etc with the harmonics in tune  will give you a large, enveloping sound, rather than a forced, thin sound.  You can practise messa di voce exercises to practise fullness of tone.    Harmonics in tune tone and messa di voce exercises are in my book (to be released).

3.  Playing fast

Mis-use:  Gripping and tightening of fingers in the effort to move them faster.  Focusing on fingers and so neglecting the primary control (head, neck and spine).

Indirect procedures:   Practise small chunks slowly but with good use- inhibit the desire to play fast.  Instead focus on ease of movement and good use, which will allow the fingers to be free of unnecessary tension.

I am not an Alexander Technique expert, but these are points that we should consider.  I recommend going to an Alexander Technique teacher, who can help with all these problems, but in an indirect way.  I had a wonderful 2 years at RAM where I had lessons with an Alexander Technique teacher and continue to take lessons whenever possible, so find a teacher near you:  http://www.alexandertechnique.com/teacher/

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

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