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The LearningMethods Library
Working with a Violinist
An Account of a Lesson
by David Gorman
Copyright © 1998-99 David Gorman, all rights reserved world-wide
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A violinist had come to work with me for the first time. She wanted help with a painful tension in the forearm of her bowing arm. She
had been forced to give up playing for a time and had recently gone back to playing professional chamber music with 4 or 5 other
musicians. She'd begun to have the problem again and was worried that it would get worse and disrupt her chances of playing. She had
previously had some Alexander lessons with a teacher near where she lived and that work had made her feel better at the moment and for
a while after, but the problem kept coming back. She had come to me because she had heard that I had a different way of working and
that maybe I could help her get rid of the problem.
I invited her to notice that she already had a belief system in which she identified the problem with the symptom. The 'it' she wanted
to get rid of was the tension and pain. I explained that in my approach we were not going to do anything to change her arm, or relieve
the tension, or learn any procedures that would enable her to get rid of the tension if it returned, but rather we were going to find
out what was causing the problem so that she could change the cause and thereby not have the tension at all any more.
And how we were going to find the cause was to look carefully at the situation to gather information and become clear about what was
happening — about the actual events, her thoughts, feelings, etc. and the sequence of these. If we could see clearly what was happening then
maybe we'd see what the actual problem was. One of the first places to look is always to see if she herself may
be the cause, that is, to look at what she herself may be doing or be up to, the effect of which might be (possibly among
other things) to make her right arm tense and sore. Only afterwards, if this does not change everything, does it make sense to look at
what she might need to learn about how to go about changing her arm, or her 'posture' (as she put it), or learning better bowing
So I began to ask questions to get more information about what was happening. First I asked her when she noticed the tension and pain?
She said that it happened on and off, but that it was almost always when she was playing the violin.
I asked her what happened when she felt these symptoms — how did she respond to this event? She thought a moment and replied that she
was usually busy playing, but that she tried to relax her arm because she could feel that she was gripping the bow too tightly and
that lately she'd been trying to release her neck too, but that it usually didn't help much.
I pointed out again that it seemed that she felt that what was wrong was the symptom and because of that reality construct (or belief
system) it seemed to make perfect sense for her to do something to change her state of tension in order to get rid of the 'problem'.
Then I asked if she knew why she had this symptom when she played the violin? She said that she didn't know exactly, but it must be
something she was doing wrong in her bowing or her posture or maybe because she was just too tense.
I asked if she knew what the 'something' was that she thought she was doing wrong. After a moment she had to admit that she really
didn't know at all, but had been to quite a few teachers (music and otherwise) to see if they knew.
Notice, I told her, that you don't actually know what may be happening to cause the tension, yet you are assuming you can change it by
somehow altering the body state to get rid of it.
Notice also that this doesn't seem to be working. At the very least you can sometimes (or your teachers
can) manage to change the tension state, but then there it is back again the very next time you do...? What? Well, the bare fact of the matter is that you
probably don't know what you're doing each time...
One of the most important things in learning is for you to know what you don't know, so that then you'll know what you need to learn. If
you don't really realize that you don't yet know what is causing your symptoms, of course, you cannot find
the cause and so you have no option but to try to cope
with them. If you are led to think that the symptoms are the problem, you will not even think to look for the cause, but only the
Since our violinist did recognize that she didn't know what was causing her symptoms, we turned our attention to how we can find out. So how can she do this?
Notice that she always has a 'natural' place to start, which is at the moment of her symptom, the tension. This was the moment in
which her wonderful system sent a loud message to her with red lights and sirens saying, “Oh-oh, wake up, something is wrong!
Something is happening that you need to change.”
At this point in the learning process, she only had the 'wake-up call' but not the information as to what it was that might need
changing. So I asked her if she always had the tension and/or pain when she played the violin. And she answered, “No, only some of the
time.” For instance, last week her group was playing a small charity gig that they were not even being paid for and she'd had no
problem. In fact she played well and it was quite fun to play. But then two days later they played in a bigger hall and there were
three critics present so she was hoping it would be the same, but instead she had the symptoms quite strongly.
The next question was obvious, to see if she had a contrast moment: “So if you have the symptoms some of the time while playing and
not other times, what is different between the times when you have it and when you don't?”
She thought a bit again and then said, “Well, when I don't really care I don't get the problem, but as soon as I start to care how
well I play, there it is." (I'll bet this sounds familiar to any musicians out there?)
I pointed out to her that she had had available to her a lot of information: she had recognized the symptoms, she knew when she had
the symptoms and when she didn't. She even knew the kind of situations where one happened versus the kind of situation where the other
happened. What she hadn't thought to do was to compare them for the difference. One simple question from me and there it was.
It is important to help people recognize when they have information from their own experience that was already there and available to
them. It is also important to affirm for them that their wonderful information-gathering systems are working very well. It is the
construct placed on that information that hides its meaning for them. They have been having the experience, but missing the meaning.
That is, they can 'have the experience' until the cows come home and not be able to help themselves one little bit if they fail to
understand what it is an experience of.
So there we were with this clue that after she started to 'care', she started to experience the tension. What's important at this
stage is to distinguish very clearly between the things that are happening 'to me' and the things that 'I am doing' — that is, to
distinguish between responses/reactions and actual activities.
For our violinist, the tension was happening to her. She didn't say to herself, “Now I'll tense my arm and make it hurt”. It just
happened — she didn't even want it. It was important for her to realize that the 'starting to care' was also happening to her. She
didn't say, “hmm, now I'll start to care here. Yes, there it is, now I've got it. I'm starting to care.” She just found herself caring
more at some times than at others. This may be more clear if we look at it the other way around: if she was to mistake her caring for
the problem and then try to get rid of the caring, just how would she do that? Can you just decide not to care? If you try to not
care, does it really work?
It was clear that her caring was 'causing' her tension, but it was equally clear that she was not 'doing' the caring. Thus, we were
still one step away. We had not quite found what she was doing, but we were very close. I asked her if she did anything differently in
those situations where she started to care? She replied that, for instance when the critics were in the audience, she wanted to play
wonderfully. And she got quite nervous before the performance that she wouldn't be able to play as well as she wanted. So she tried to
play really well. Whereas, when she didn't care, she didn't do anything 'special'.
There we had it: 'she tried to play really well'. In her belief system, of course (and many other peoples' as well) it made perfect
sense for her to try to 'improve' her playing when it was important. And because it made perfect sense she went ahead and did it,
I asked her whether, in those situations when she cared and tried to play better, she actually did manage to play better? She said,
“No, not at all! Worse! I play better when I don't care.” Even though she had just said the words, she obviously was not taking in the
significance of her experiences or she would have seen that these direct experiences over and over were not at all matching her belief
system. But in the beginning stages of being liberated from delusion (if I may put it that way), the ideas of the belief system are
far more 'real' than the actual real life experiences. And someone will hang onto those ideas or ideals even in the face of constantly
contradictory experiences. As long as they are hanging on, their constructing nature simply 'construes' these experiences in another
way that fits the belief or filters them out.
At any rate, having found something that, as near as she could tell, she was 'doing' — namely, trying to play better — we were now in
the position to make an experiment. What if she could meet that moment and not do what she usually did? Fortunately, I had made sure
that she brought her violin and we had a group there who could be her audience of critics. We set up the experiment so that she could
play one of the pieces she wanted to play well. It was realistic enough for her because she was already nervous about playing well and
was wondering what the others would think.
I told her that she could not fail at this experiment, because the goal here was not to play well, but to see if it was possible to
meet that situation in which she would normally react to her caring by trying to play better and instead to not do anything at all to
play better. To just play however she plays and no better. In other words, to go about it the same way she does when she doesn't care,
even though she may be feeling very different. The worst that can happen is that it won't come out the way she wants.
She started to play and I let her go on for about a minute or two — long enough for the experiment — then stopped her to ask a
question. The first question is always, “how well did you manage the experiment?” There is, after all, no point in looking at the
results of an experiment that we had not even yet succeeded in making.
She said she had not managed it very well. She'd been doing OK for a while, then when it didn't sound the way she wanted, she started
to try to play better and she could feel the tension already in her arm. “That's good,” I told her, “that you see that as soon as you
start trying, you get the symptom. That symptom is what it feels like to try to be better than you are. What an idea, eh? To try to be
better than you are! Just think of it.”
“It's also good that you could notice exactly when you started trying." Then I asked her, “Right there in that moment, precisely what
sort of trying were you doing?”
She reflected back for a moment and then said that she had focused on those notes to get them right. A few more questions revealed
that she started to narrow her focus to the notes after some previous notes had been 'wrong' and that by 'focusing' on the notes she
meant taking her attention specially to the area where the bow touched the strings — where she thought 'the notes' came from.
We now had more precise information about the exact nature of what she was doing. And, more importantly, her doing had now become a
tangible experience for her. Of course, it had been an experience before too, after all, she had been doing it. She had just never
quite 'realized' that was what she started to do, even though she had been there every time experiencing it. Perhaps, more to the
point, her normal construct did not consider this to be important information that was showing her what she might want to stop doing.
In her normal construct this was precisely what she had to do in order to play better.
We went into the experiment again, asking her to again choose to not do anything to play better no matter how she felt or how it
sounded and this time with the extra clarity that if any notes 'went wrong', that was not a stimulus to focus to make them right.
Rather, any notes 'going wrong' could be a reminder to just register that they were not the notes she wanted and carry on without
doing anything to 'correct' them.
She played again and after a while I asked how well she had managed the experiment and she said she'd managed much better, but there
were still some times when she had focused on trying to play well and had felt the tension. I reminded her that this was only the
second experiment and already she was improving in her ability to carry it out. I pointed out that once again she had noticed that the
tension was there when she had reacted by trying. We were still not looking at any results since she was still learning how to make
After another reminder of what the experiment was, we went into it a third time. This time she said that she had more or less managed
to just let happen what happened without reacting with her focused trying. These three experiments had taken about 15 minutes to
explain and carry out.
Now, since she had more or less managed the experiment, it was time to look at the results. I asked her what had happened? “It was easy,” she said.
I asked her if she knew why it was easy? She looked puzzled for a moment then said with a smile that it was because she hadn't done
anything. “Just like the times you don't care,” I added.
Then she added that she'd played really well. “Just like the times you didn't care,” I reiterated. But it was important that she
really take in that she didn't 'do' the 'playing really well'. It just happened. She did the choosing not to try to do what she
usually did to help out. That's why the playing well 'just' happened.
Interestingly, by the last experiment, she didn't care any more. But that also just happened. It was easy.
When you are looking at the results of an experiment there are two territories to look at. One is the results in terms of the activity
you are doing, in this case the results musically — she said she played really well.
The other is how you are affected by going about the activity in such a different way. She'd already mentioned that it was easy and
she didn't care, but I needed to ask her how she felt out of that last experiment? What about this tension thing?
The tension had completely disappeared! She said it was there when she first played and a little when she played the second time, but
now it was gone. So gone, she hadn't even noticed its absence until I asked her. I asked her to play in her old way again, focusing on
the notes to get them right. After a minute or so, the tension was right back there again. Then when she again gave up trying to
control the notes in any way and 'just played', it was gone again.
She was very surprised. She said she had expected me to work with her arm to help her release the tension and with her body like
I replied that, what we just done was to get her to stop reacting in her old way by trying to control her playing, and what she had
just experienced was that the tension disappeared. How could we see the tension as anything other than the functional organization of
her trying? That is, the tension is part of the entire 'coordination' that her system organizes to carry out her trying to control her
playing. Remember, she's the boss.
Or to put it slightly differently, what she was doing was the 'trying to control'. The tension was the experience of that kind of
trying to control. It has nothing to do with her arm, except that her arm is where she happens to feel that part of the entire
coordination. It does have to do with her belief system and how she was 'forced' down a certain pathway of action because in her
belief system 'controlling' is the only thing that makes sense to do.
Now, however, she was in a very different place. Now she has quite consciously seen how she normally reacts to certain events (the
critics, hence the wrong notes) which she interprets in certain ways (they won't like her unless she is even better than she is) and
therefore is forced to react by doing something ('trying to control'). As if that made sense to do and as if a human being could
actually somehow do it.
She had also actually made the experiment of consciously meeting those loaded moments and choosing not to react in her usual way. It
took her a few times to learn to do that, but only 3 times over 15 minutes.
Furthermore, from that experiment, she consciously registered that some very surprising things happened (and didn't happen) when she
did choose differently. Her surprise shows that she was not at all expecting those results. In fact she was convinced, as are most
people, that if they don't do their controlling 'techniques' it will be really, really bad.
With all these conscious experiences and an understanding of what they are experiences of, how could her old belief system stay
She just perceived how the 'controlling' was not actually making her play better. When she stopped it, she played better. This
contradicts her belief system.
And she saw that the 'playing better' happened by itself. She didn't have to do it. This contradicts her belief system.
And if she didn't do anything to play better, how else can we interpret it but that this is how well she actually plays, since it is
what is happening when she is not doing anything.
Interestingly, she certainly had not known that she plays this well. And how could she when she had constant experiences of playing
poorly because she was trying to play better?
Her attempts to control 'to play better' can now been seen for what they are — interferences that bring down her playing. This is also
opposite to her belief system.
And the tension was simply the feeling of her trying to control; of narrowing her attention in order to try to take over her already
existing coordination. She didn't know this before but she knows it now because every time she stops the trying the tension goes away
and every time she starts trying again, it's back. After all, what is tension, but the feeling of us working against ourselves?
She also experienced in the most powerful way that the process she just used was so different from what she normally does and felt so
absolutely against her habit that she would probably never ever have thought to use it. This also gives a very good measure of the
familiarity and strength of her normal construct — roughly equal to the amount of habitual 'force' she has to meet and the amount of
courage she needs to stick with her choice.
But 'just' having the new experiences that 'go against' her old construct are not enough. She must understand them for what they are.
So I went to great trouble to reiterate for her what she was registering and to put these experiences of hers in conjunction with the
belief system as she had articulated it, so that the contradictions sit there like a large elephant in the teaching room and can't be
kept separate or glossed over.
I pointed out that even though these experiences and our interpretations of them seemed obvious in the moment, she must not accept
this all as fact at this stage. One time proves nothing. But, if she goes home and in the next few weeks keeps making the same
experiment each time that she notices her symptom wake-up call, she will see if a similar thing happens. If so, then maybe she can
believe it and trust it.
The major point of what we were doing during the session was so she could uncover her belief systems and actions and learn how to make
the experiments that call them into question. Out of these first experiences, she can justifiably only make a tentative hypothesis,
subject to further proof.
Or at least it is tentative for the pupil for whom this is the first time and hence brand new. I have seen it hundreds of times with
as many pupils in the last several years so for me it is not a tentative hypothesis but a 'working principle'. Or perhaps calling it a
'new construct' would do as well.
Notice that all this change was possible and happened without any need to assume 'unconscious habits' of 'stiffening her arm'. Nor any
need for consequent 'releasing or relaxing' of arms either. In fact, no need for her to do anything about her physical 'functioning',
and no need of a teacher's or therapist's hands-on at all. We were simply working with the pupil's own existing awareness and
perception AND their existing ability to choose - once their thoughts and actions are perceived.
There is not only no need for the teacher to 'give' the pupil a new experience, it would be positively counter-productive since, from
this point of view, the pupil is already having lots of their own experiences all the time. They are simply misinterpreting these
experiences. They just didn't know that to go about things the way they are going about them inevitably brings about the particular
symptoms they were experiencing. Through that lack of knowledge they are doomed to repeat those experiences.
They were labouring under a mistaken construct or 'faulty reality appreciation' as I put it, and therefore, quite 'naturally' were
acting in the way that made sense to them, that is, from the point of view of that construct or belief system.
A word about our constructs might go well here. As human beings we are construct-creating creatures. Perhaps other creatures have this
also, but we certainly have it in a big way. It is our nature to be always taking in the raw flux of experience and interpreting it.
This is not under your conscious control. This 'constructing' takes place deep in your system long before 'you', the conscious human
being, are presented with the fully-constructed results as 'reality'.
In fact, 'you' the conscious human being are part of this construct, since the construct IS your consciousness. Your existing belief
systems provide the filters for the raw data so that only some sensations fit within your construct and are deemed important and hence
are 'experienced'. These 'experiencings' in turn reinforce the construct until, for most people, the construct becomes ever more
deeply fixed and 'certain'.
But an example that most of us have experienced will make aspects of this construct-creation clear. Have you ever been in a train
waiting in a station with another train waiting on the track right outside your window? Then your train moves off… Until a few seconds
later you realize that it wasn't you moving, it was the train beside you?
Notice the sudden start when you 'realize' you're not moving. Your wonderful millions-of-years-evolved construct-creating system took
in the visual motion outside the window and sent you a 'reality' that you were moving. It wasn't an idea; as far as you were concerned
it was a lived experience of really moving. That's why there's the sudden surprise, the almost physical jolt when your 'reality'
We are visually-dominant creatures, remember, which is why this construct can be so dominant even when there are none of the usual
kinaesthetic sensations supporting movement. The physical 'jolt' is the returning to the kinaesthetic experience of 'yourself' that
had been filtered out as not matching the train-is-moving construct.
You can understand why the train-is-moving is the first 'reality' you are presented with if you remember that this construct-creating
system evolved way back when we lived mostly 'in nature', not in our own human-created environments. In nature, when the visual
background is moving, it is because you are moving relative to it. It is not often in nature that you are standing still and the whole
world is moving! Quite possibly your anticipation of the train starting to move plays a part in determining the construct also.
Another aspect of this 'illusion' that is worth noting is that the you-are-moving construct carries on until some sensory data so
blatantly contradicts it that your system is forced to re-interpret. Usually it is something like the train next door pulls past you
and you see that you are left standing still in the station. Or you notice the unmoving station through the windows of the other
Your construct-creating system is not there to trick you, of course, but to give you the best interpretation it can come up with. When
the data can't be made to fit, your system goes, “Oops, sorry about that interpretation, here, try this one.” You don't have to figure
out what is happening and come up with a better interpretation; you just get the new and improved 'reality' dumped unceremoniously
into your 'experience'.
The same process is at work in these lessons. We bring out the belief system in people's words and actions and show them how their
construct channels them into taking certain actions. Then we help them make the experiments of not going down that pathway, and of
course, different experiences come up that blatantly contradict the old 'reality'.
You don't have to intellectually 'understand' what is happening, though it helps. You just have to 'be present' for the contradiction.
This 'violation' of the 'reality' of the construct shows it for what it is — merely a construct. No self-respecting reality can stand
up to that kind of being caught out nor to being demoted from being 'Reality' to simply being an idea of 'a reality', and a faulty one at that. Sooner
or later it will collapse under its own weight.
Fortunately for us, just like in the train, we don't need to come up with a new and more accurate construct. Your system has millions
of years of experience at that and will happily manufacture another one in short order. And the new one will be automatically more
accurate than the last because it has to take all these new facts and contradictions into account.
Most people, of course, with a lifetime of existing under one fixed and habitual 'reality', will seize upon a new one as if this time
it really is the final reality and thereby attempt to fix it into a new certainty. It takes several times through the cycle with
several changes of 'reality' to see that we are in an on-going process — trading in our old, less accurate and less workable
'realities' for new, more accurate and more workable ones. Each new 'reality' we come to will be more accurate than the last, but as
long as it is still relatively inaccurate to the way things actually work, this cycle will go on.
Another word for this is… LEARNING.
There is a
small biography of personal details about the author below.
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About the Author
David Gorman developed the LearningMethods work out
of over 40 years of research and teaching experiences. His background is in art and science and
a fascination with exploring human structure and function. In the early 1970s he spent many nights
dissecting and drawing in the human anatomy lab. In 1981 he published an illustrated 600-page
work on our human musculo-skeletal system called The Body Moveable (about to enter its 6th edition) and in 1996, a collection of
articles, Looking at Ourselves (now in its 2nd edition).
He happened upon the Alexander Technique in 1972 and was immediately intrigued
by its power for change. After training as an Alexander Technique teacher with Walter Carrington in London, David has
been teaching that work since 1980, becoming well-known worldwide
for his innovations to the work and notorious for challenging the orthodoxy of the profession.
He has been invited to teach all over the world in universities, conservatories and training colleges,
at conferences and symposia, and with performance groups and health professionals.
In 1982, his teaching was revolutionised by his discovery of a new model of
human organisation — Anatomy of Wholeness — with its
profound implications about our in-built natural tendency toward balance, ease and wholeness. He
extended these insights into a new way of training teachers of the Alexander Technique and from
1988 to 1997 in London, England he trained 45 teachers.
His experiences with his own students and in other training groups made it clear
that a huge part of our chronic problems lay not in the 'body' but in our consciousness and habitual
way of seeing things and how we misinterpret our daily experiences and then become caught in reaction
to these misunderstandings. At this point it also became apparent that his discoveries revealed
new premises which in turn implied new teaching methods, so David developed the LearningMethods
work to teach people how to apply their in-built intelligence and clarity of perception to their
daily experience in order to understand their problems, solve them and more successfully navigate their
Since the beginning of this new work in 1997, David has trained a growing number
of LearningMethods Teachers, many of whom are now teaching the LM work in universities and conservatories,
and he has now begun a new modular training program
for LearningMethods, Anatomy of Wholeness and the Alexander Technique, pioneering new ways to learn and teach via online
Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, Ontario M9P 1V7 Canada (map)