His early musical education took place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and, at the age of 17, he became Organist at a nearby Congregational church. At Glasgow University he graduated with an MA in English Literature and Music.
Between 1944 and 1948 Alex served as a pianist in the Royal Signals Band making arrangements for them of concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Grieg and Rachmaninov. He left the forces in 1948 and soon afterwards won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he was told that he could not join the Conducting Class as his theoretical knowledge was inadequate. By way of response he formed his own orchestra and the college authorities subsequently recognised his enormous talent. He won the Tagore Gold Medal and in 1950 attended the Conducting Class of Igor Markevitch at the Salzburg Mozarteum.