The day before my fifteenth birthday, I had my first guitar lesson with Gordon Crosskey. Gordon was Professor of Guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music, as well as Chetham’s School of Music. At that time, on the BBC’s televised competition for young classical musicians, the only guitarist to reach the finals would be one of his students. It seemed only right that to reach his house in Sheffield you had to climb a hill. Once inside—as my mother immediately noted—you beheld an impressive array of antiques, on which Gordon was an expert. As for the guitar, Gordon was and is a marvelous teacher with a way of bringing out the best in young players.
As I was leaving that first lesson, I asked Gordon if he could explain why my right arm would get so tired when I was playing extended fast passages. “It’s because you’re pushing your right shoulder up towards your ear,” he said. “See if you can stop doing that. If not, you might need Alexander Technique lessons—but hopefully that won’t be necessary.”
Now I was intrigued. “Why not? What is the Alexander Technique?”
I forget how exactly Gordon defined the Technique, but he did say that some of his students had found it very helpful. The problem, he explained, was that it is a discipline you have to apply to everything you do, so if you decide to take lessons you should know what you are getting into.
Well, unfortunately and inevitably, I did have to take Alexander Technique lessons. And fortunately, nothing in my life was ever the same after.
But why is it necessary to apply this Technique to everything, just so that you can improve only one thing? A regular guitar lesson, after all, runs on the opposite premise—if you have a problem at the guitar, you fix it at the guitar.
I shall attempt to answer this question in the next article.
The featured image shows the guitar I currently play, while under construction by Jeffrey Elliott, Portland, Oregon, 2017. The photo is by Jeffrey Elliott and is reproduced with his permission.