In the 1890's in Melbourne, Australia a young actor called Frederick Mathias Alexander was struggling to save his career due to a problem with recurrent hoarseness and voice loss. His chosen career involved the projection of his voice to large audiences. Without the ability to do this his career was facing a premature end.
He consulted voice coaches and doctors but without success. The voice exercises he did were of no help and the doctor's advice to rest his voice only worked as long as he wasn't on stage. Finally he came to the conclusion that there must be something in the way he was projecting his voice which was faulty. He reasoned that if he could discover what the fault was and prevent it, then he should be able to regain his voice.
With the aid of mirrors, he began to meticulously observe and analyse what he was doing with himself, and before long he started to notice that every time he went to project his voice he tightened his neck, pulled his head back (and chin forwards) in a way which clearly put pressure on his larynx or voice box. Over time he came to see that he was in fact unnecessarily tightening up his whole body in the act of projecting his voice.
The way of stopping doing this however was not as easily discovered as Alexander had anticipated. Once he began teaching his technique he discovered in himself, and in others, that the power of habit was virtually overwhelming, and that his ability to sense what he was doing with himself when he was away from the mirrors was lacking. Those interested in reading in detail his process of discovery which took place over a number of years can read it in chapter one of Alexander's most popular book "The Use of the Self." Gradually, as he worked, his ability to accurately sense what he was doing with himself and to consciously change the old habit allowed him to establish a new and more effective way of projecting his voice.
As he went on he came to the realization that the reason that the voice exercises given to him by various teachers had not worked, was that he was bringing the same dysfunctional patterns to practicing the exercises as he brought to using his voice on the stage.
And on regaining his voice he also found that the asthma which had plagued him since childhood disappeared. It is frequently the experience of people who come for Alexander lessons for a particular reason find that because the work deals with a change in the functioning of the whole person, that the process can create remarkable changes in unexpected areas.
Eventually Alexander left acting and gained a huge reputation for his work not only with other actors, but with people with a whole range of different conditions, and in 1931 he set up his first training course for teachers in London.
Nowadays those suffering from a whole range of voice problems, as well as actors and singers looking to refine and improve their technique have access to Alexander teachers who can guide them through a process of change. The technique is now taught in virtually every elite performing arts school in Australia, North America and the UK.
Alexander teachers will help their students identify habits which interfere with the free functioning of the voice, and through both verbal and skilled manual guidance give them the experience of using the voice and the whole body in a much easier and more coordinated manner. One of Alexander's insights was that the free use of the voice is dependent upon the free functioning of the whole. He noted that a stutterer stutters with his whole body. This is an observation which anyone who has talked with a stutterer will be able to clearly observe. With other voice problems this may be less obvious, but an Alexander teacher is trained to observe and diagnose less obvious patterns which are not immediately obvious to an outside observer.
The teacher brings the impeding aspects of the student's manner of vocalizing to her attention and asks her to consciously stop doing those things. It is only by stopping the old reaction to the use of the voice that allows for the possibility of a changed way of vocalizing, and the teacher's skill in manual guidance is essential in showing the student a different possibility, which she would never otherwise have come to.
If you wish to consult an Alexander teacher it is important that you should ensure they are fully trained. Teachers should have undergone training at a school accredited by their national society, and which will consist of a minimum of three years of training over a minimum of 1600 hours. In the UK the society is The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), in Australia AUSTAT and in the USA, Am SAT. If you go to any of their web-sites you will find links to societies in other countries. All these societies are affiliated and subscribe to similar standards of training.
David Moore has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over 20 years. He is the director of the School for F.M. Alexander Studies in Melbourne, Australia which runs an international training school for Alexander teachers as well as offering a wide range of lessons and courses to the general public.