Focal Dystonia Discussion

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Alex C
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Alex C »

eupho wrote:About 5 years ago I was forced to cancel a faculty recital due to Focal Dystonia. I stopped playing (euphonium) until last year. I took it easy by playing once a week with a community band. Things seemed to be improving until recently. I am experiencing the same type of difficulties when playing with a tuba quartet. Has anyone out there had a similar experience?
Have you been diagnosed by a doctor? Non-medical personnel cannot legally diagnose your condition, that's called practicing without a license.

If you are able to play with a community band and you have some control it is likely you don't have FD. FD is complete loss of muscular control. David Fedderly in Baltimore, works with a doctor on a number of brass performer maladies. You should speak to him and expect to be referred to a doctor at considerable cost. Everything else is guesswork.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Slamson »

Some great resources being mentioned on this thread.
Here's an article from 2005, discussing Warren Deck and Toby Hanks:

http://www.nysun.com/arts/disobedient-hands/15773/" target="_blank" target="_blank
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by MaryAnn »

And that is the exact description of *task*specific* focal dystonia. "But they didn't fix that swing fault. He could do a good looking swing in practice but as soon as he tried to play the old one would return." Brain pathway problem, a matter of where the mental focus is. As soon as he tried to actually hit the ball, his dystonic brain pathway kicked in and blooey. I have a LOT of experience with this on a personal level, and it is, for me, NOT technique. It is what I am paying attention to, which is how Jan fixes it. I can do the exact same mechanics, and if I am paying attention to my chops, they wobble. If I am paying attention to either the notes on the page or the air going down the leadpipe, no wobble. That is why I say it is not technique, and Mr Elliot and I are never going to agree on that. Lots of people with horrid technique never develop focal dystonia, because they do not have the internal focus that causes it. Lots of people with perfect technique do develop focal dystonia, because they do have the internal focus that causes it.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

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There have been times, when as somewhat of a hypocondriac, I panic and begin to think I happen to be at the onset of focal dystonia. I'm going on 70 so for many of the issues of playing, the clock is running out. But I love playing too much to throw in the towel.
A couple of years ago I was fighting what I though was essential tremor and had a mild quiver in my sound, particularly on soft sustained notes in the mid register.
I learned that by using the large abdominal muscles when expiring, I was able to blow through it. Those larger muscles did not seem to want to quiver. A more shallow breath without the support from below the navel - and - oops. there comes the shaking. I learned something from a homeopath regarding what the Asians refer to as the "Chi" a spot below the naval which is believed to be a source of life's energies. I'm no expert, but when I take by breath from that area, and also keep the diaphragm from riding up, into the chest cavity, I am able to keep a large, soft or loud, resonant tone. I also found that using the tongue and accompanying syllable for sluring up or down, that that friendly smooth and flexible type of sound is much more easity attained.
Relating this to FD come when I realize that notes that just would not speak were really from a pinched air stream, which in not really all that much playing time was adding to the quick exhaustion of my chops. It was muscle exhaustion not FD. The best solution is rest. A couple of days off works wonders. So now while muscle exhaustion is a drag and very frustrating, knowing that it will go away in a couple of days with rest and good nutrition sort of calms my spirit.
So these days, the warm up is intent upon warming up breathing from the chi and allowing that breath to service just about every other aspect of playing. It really knocks me out at how easy tonguing, lip slures, long phrases, sudden dynamic changes have become. When you get up there is years, every little trick helps and it does pay off to play smart. What one thing that is very real is memory, both mind memory and body memory such as breathing etc. Particularly when some of these have been "relearned" at a later age. For the body and muscles to remember them is not easy. I find that I need to review them every day without fail, or I go back to grade school habits, which for me were not good. So there!!!
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Doug Elliott »

MaryAnn wrote:Lots of people with perfect technique do develop focal dystonia, because they do have the internal focus that causes it.
As someone who has been studying embouchures and paying close attention to lots of players for close to 40 years now (since before FD "existed" or was diagnosed), I have been very aware of several players' embouchures who subsequently "developed FD" including Warren Deck. in each of those cases they sounded great but I noticed things they were doing that made me wonder when it was all going to fall apart.

"Perfect technique" to me is something that will continue to work and get better through a lifetime. There are different embouchure types, and what's perfect for one can be very dangerous for another. That's exactly what I've seen in those players who had to terminate their playing careers.

Call it what you want... In my opinion it didn't have to happen. These things can be corrected before they get out of hand.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Mudman »

Related:

The brass world would benefit from some well-done videos and explanation of Reinhardt technique. Dave Wilken (Wilktone) has some nice introductory videos, but a big flaw is that there aren't enough convincing professional players of the highest level depicted. What does Alessi look like under the microscope, with a Reinhardt explanation of his chop technique? How about other players who have had long and distinguished careers. Are they covering flaws, or are they maximizing their physical potential?

One fantastic player/teacher thought that many brass players go through tricky physical changes in their late 20's. This can be in part due to jaw growth that continues past puberty. "Natural" players have to figure out a way to deal with this changing platform, or potentially run in to major problems in their playing.

Music is often about covering one's weaknesses and producing a convincing musical product. Most top pros do have an achilles heel. I've seen some fantastic players who are steeped in the Reinhardt tradition, but who still have flaws in their technique. On the plus side, there is definitely enough evidence that we would benefit from learning more about correct embouchure technique. There aren't many teachers who can cover a method that works for the diverse human condition.

(Would pay money for some well-done Reinhardt materials that can be reasonably interpreted by mortals.)
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Doug Elliott »

Since you brought it up...

Maybe eventually I'll write a book on it. I've written a lot on the Trombone Forum, and I used to write a lot on Trumpet Herald before I was banned because I dared to say I disagreed with some of his approach.

I made a movie about Reinhardt's teaching back in 1988 showing 21 players and discussing their embouchures, but decided not to release it.

At this point, I teach my own method "What Doug Elliott Thinks Reinhardt Would Teach If He Were Alive Today" that is very closely based on Reinhardt's teaching during the 10 years I studied with him, but in a much better format. I've had almost 40 years to refine his methods into my own methods that are actually understandable.

And yes, most of the top players are maximizing their physical potential, whether naturally or with some understanding of what they're doing. It can be very instructive to study and categorize great players embouchures - that's exactly how Reinhardt discovered and developed his own understanding of the different embouchure types.

And mostly, it's useful to identify potential problems that can be corrected before they become serious. If you believe that's important.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by MaryAnn »

As it turns out I have one more question for Doug. If a person's upper lip tremors when they free buzz, but they can stop the tremor like flipping a switch by putting their attention on, say, their big toe, can you fix that with technique?
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Doug Elliott »

I'd have to see that person freebuzz to answer that question.

There are certain ways to freebuzz that I can probably make my own top lip (or bottom lip) tremor. The key is proper positioning - and every person is different. It is a mechanical issue involving the 3 dimensional positioning of both lips, and the jaw, and the placement of muscular tension. A major aspect of trouble-free playing is understanding and implementing what needs to be firm and what needs to be relaxed. "Relaxed" does not mean everything should be relaxed. There are many different varieties of facial structure including the natural firmness, flabbiness, and suppleness of the lip texture itself. Some people have very firm tissue and some have very soft tissue, and/or thin and thick tissue, and it may even be significantly different between the top and bottom lip. That's a large part of why it's impossible to adequately describe in words HOW to do some things - it depends on too many human factors. It also depends of where you're coming from - your preconceived notions of what you think you should or shouldn't do or think about.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Donn »

You don't think the "can stop by thinking about the toe" part is relevant at all, it seems?
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Doug Elliott »

Donn wrote:You don't think the "can stop by thinking about the toe" part is relevant at all, it seems?
There is definitely a psychological aspect to it. If a symptom is attracting your attention and causing you to do something that makes it worse, then focusing on something else may very well help to stop it. At that point it has become a phobia, and taking your mind off of it can definitely help but that's only treating the symptom, not the underlying problem.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

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The concept I'm trying to get across, that isn't going to turn on any light bulbs for those who have not personally experienced it, is that a simple change of mental focus can erase a problem that is caused by a corrupted brain path. A simple change of focus is NOT going to fix a bad technique problem. I can do exactly the same while I'm playing; if I forget and focus my attention at all on my upper lip, it will start to tremor. I also am worst when warming up because I have no printed page to focus on. Once I have the notes on the page to focus on, the problem basically disappears. I fully realize that my problem developed because I could not get proper instruction (STILL have not found proper instruction and have basically given up at my age, and yes, I have put quite a bit of research into the Reinhardt embouchure types, as well as everything else out there I could find) and "tried too hard" for years to get a high range. Wrong embouchure? maybe. Nobody EVER told me that all I had to do was slightly curl in my lips (Roger Lewis) to change range. All I ever got was "use more air," which certainly did raise the volume level. Whatever....the brain path got corrupted by the intense focus on what I was doing with my upper lip, trying to get it tense enough to raise the pitch using the rolled out lip position of a low range embouchure. Now, I can "flip the switch" while playing, most of the time, if I am not nervous, and stop the tremor in its tracks by doing what Jan said to do, which is change focus to the air going down the leadpipe. It is a mental, not physical, change. 300+ dystonia full cures is nothing to ignore. Yes, people do change technique along the way, and I'd say from talking to her that her approach is more Adams than anything else, and she will simply not even allow a person with dystonia to pay attention to their embouchure because that is where their problem originates. Change the embouchure but do not change their focus of attention, and bingo down the pike, given enough time, they develop dystonia with the new embouchure.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

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MaryAnn wrote: Whatever....the brain path got corrupted by the intense focus on what I was doing with my upper lip, trying to get it tense enough to raise the pitch using the rolled out lip position of a low range embouchure. Now, I can "flip the switch" while playing, most of the time, if I am not nervous,
Now I'm confused.

You think (and may be right) that your problems were initiated by not knowing how to use your upper lip.

Your performance is better (most of the time) when you focus on something else - air down the lead pipe, notes on the page, your big toe - and avoid thinking about your upper lip, and your upper lip on its own works better, at least some of the time.

But...... what would have been wrong with learning how to properly use the upper lip? Like in that familiar mastery meme: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence?
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Donn »

Learning how to play properly is fine, of course -- and most people who eventually suffer from FD likely did learn to play properly, right? But years later something goes wrong. Or you can learn to play improperly, and something goes wrong. The point seems to be more about understanding what goes wrong, and how to deal with it.

I find it interesting because I have a focus of attention issue myself, though nothing like FD I think, I just play poorly when I'm conscious of mechanics. What button I will push next on the accordion, where I will put my fingers next on electric bass, how I will get my chops ready for this tuba note. Think about that, and I'm all mistakes, poor rhythm, generally lousy playing. Better to think about lima beans or something, best to think about the music. But "conscious" refers to a particular kind of conscious, the kind of consciousness that I'm consciously aware of. Everything I do is coming from my brain, and something like playing the tuba in a musical way is super complex action that requires a lot of brain power ... of which I am somehow not really conscious in the same way. So it's interesting.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

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If I could have found someone to tell me how to play high on the horn in the eleven years I was struggling to learn to do that, I don't think I would have developed dystonia. But I was not able to find someone. All I EVER found was "use more air." EVER. That is STILL what you will hear even from very fine players if you ask about high range. It's like a mantra. Tuba teaching is WAY ahead of horn teaching; when I first started tuba I had lessons from two different people, and both of them told me to roll in to play high. I can play high on tuba just fine. Horn teaching is more of a Mystery School where you will be told that just wanting the music to come out will make it occur. Over and over, by teachers who are famous. Or they give you exercises that you cannot do unless you develop the technique to do them, instead of telling you how to develop the technique so you can do the exercise. This is a pretty bitter thing stuck in my craw because I am not without talent. I was just without instruction. I have run into MANY horn players who have the same type of problem; some of them can't play low and others of them can't play high. Their lessons consist of encouragement but not teaching. If I had had Doug Elliot near the beginning I doubt I would ever have had a problem, but I didn't have him or anyone else who was willing to even think about embouchure, much less actually teach it. As soon as you start to try to even discuss embouchure in the horn world, you get the phrase thrown at you about analysis = paralysis. It's a phobia with them.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by MaryAnn »

bloke wrote:seriously,

I'm afraid you guys are going to activate the Tubah Godddh.

:roll:
I don't think so.....if you mean the thread will get locked. Nobody is trashing anybody, just putting concepts back and forth. I don't think anybody is angry, either. At least I'm not. Frustrated, yes, angry, no. When I'm angry I leave, and I'm still here, so far.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

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MaryAnn wrote:Horn teaching is more of a Mystery School where you will be told that just wanting the music to come out will make it occur. Over and over, by teachers who are famous. Or they give you exercises that you cannot do unless you develop the technique to do them, instead of telling you how to develop the technique so you can do the exercise. This is a pretty bitter thing stuck in my craw because I am not without talent. I was just without instruction.
This is a very interesting statement. Although I have never studied Horn, only tuba (and briefly on euphonium and bass trombone), I have very much experienced your "Horn Teaching Mystery School" within the tuba world. And from players/teachers that are famous, just like you said. Exercises, solos, excerpts, etc. put in front of me that I wasn't ready to be playing or sometimes even working on yet because I lacked the foundation because it wasn't taught. It gets the student nowhere and leaves them frustrated...and to their own devices to 'figure it out,' which can be - I think - harmful in the development of good and safe (ie not physically injuring yourself) technique. Yeah...I know about all of those self taught folks that made it big. That's all good, but that wasn't me. I wasn't born with an innate ability to play the tuba.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by MaryAnn »

Well, I believe that Doug Elliot is entirely correct that different physical makeups require dramatically different embouchure setups, and one of the pitfalls people often fall into is studying with a teacher who thinks his/her embouchure is the "right" one and will make all students use that embouchure, even if their physical makeup dictates the opposite. Just look at a trumpet section and you will see trumpets aimed all kinds of directions, from pointed way down to pointed way up. I think trumpet teaching is more flexible in *some* ways because it is so easy to change the angle. With something like a tuba or a euph, it is a heck of a lot harder to change the angle that it meets your face. And horn players mostly play with the bell resting on the leg, which can put some people into a really strange and twisted/uncomfortable position. So many of them are just as locked into place as many tuba players are. And of that doesn't fit your makeup, you're toast. When you see a trumpet player with his instrument angled up, he is an "up-blower" and probably playing with more lower than upper lip. When you see a trumpet player angled down, very likely he is a down-blower and playing with more upper than lower lip. In order to have a functioning embouchure, you have to get that right.....but after that, you still have to know how to change lip position in order to get the range. That is left out most of the time, it seems, and it's such a simple concept. But with the lips hidden, and people not really even knowing what they are doing (as evidenced by how they teach) we have a lot of talented people out there who never quite get it because they can't see what is going on inside the cup.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by Donn »

Tom wrote:Although I have never studied Horn, only tuba (and briefly on euphonium and bass trombone), I have very much experienced your "Horn Teaching Mystery School" within the tuba world.
Is there a better alternative, though? I mean ... quite a tangent to the thread topic, but ... taking for granted that someone like Doug Elliott can penetrate the mystery and put you on the right track in terms of physical technique with a high success rate, there would still need to be a corps of people with similar capabilities, at the disposal of young people everywhere, and ... I don't know, I'm skeptical. Personally if I'm bitter over this, it's about the time I wasted under the influence of what I think was specific, non-mysterious but misguided instruction. It bites both ways.

I don't know if university music programs study stuff like that, but if they do, an interesting master's thesis or something might be to teach kids to whistle, and to play cornet or something. Is it easier to learn to whistle? Is it easier or harder to improve someone's whistling technique? Why? Etc.
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Re: Focal Dystonia-euphonium

Post by MaryAnn »

The problem is cultural, the Mystery School approach to brass playing. The knowledge is out there, and there do appear to be different approaches that work, but you have to find the one that works for you, and it is just so rarely available. Those who DO have it figured out (how to get the correct embouchure setup for a particular player) get frustrated to the point where they just go away and shut up, which is what Doug did on this thread because I disagreed strongly about the connection between dystonia and correct embouchure setup. That disappoints me, because I am not an idiot either, and I have personal experience with both trying a wide variety of setups that I read about from the Reinhardt material, and also having dystonia. I tend to get very academic when discussing technical things, and I still am of the opinion that ANY significant change to the brain path causing dystonia will fix the dystonia. And that dystonia can and will occur even IF the person is using a correct embouchure setup for their physical type. Changes can include emotional changes, technique changes, attentional focus changes, and probably things I haven't heard of yet. To me the concept is bigger than just "you're using the wrong embouchure type for your physical makeup." I'm sorry Doug got mad and left.
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