Focal Dystonia

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...

Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby Les Backshall » Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:04 pm

Thanks for your blogs Benessa, I read them with interest and am very sorry to hear of your problems. Although ony an amateur player, I was experiencing a similar issue - for what it's worth, here's the story:

Over the past eighteen moths or so, I've had increasing problems with the m finger on my right hand. I was missing notes because it kept moving in towards the palm and locking there, like a claw. For example, playing thirds on adjacent strings with i and m was virtually impossible.

To try and compensate/avoid, I ended up using p and i most of the time, with an occasional a - and went back to playing mostly two-part pieces.

Then, about two months ago my partner asked me if I would learn Gary Ryan's 'Rondo Rodeo' to play for her. For those who don't know this piece, it contains a whole bunch of guitar 'effects' including strumming, string bending, tambour and tapping on the top. After a good two weeks playing nothing else but this, still using mostly p and i, I was amazed to find that my problem with the m finger had disappeared. It is the a finger which now tends to move into the palm, but is nowhere near as 'fixed' as the m was, and my whole right hand is now a lot looser.

I have no real idea why this should have happened, but it might possibly be something to do with the strumming and tambour, where the whole right hand is moving as well as the fingers, and has to be very loose to get the effects.

Best wishes, and please don't give up.

Les
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby Luis_Br » Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:40 am

benessa wrote: Are the videos from after he recovered?

Yes!
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby Blondie » Thu Aug 04, 2011 10:45 am

benessa wrote: And have asked my husband to bring home some latex gloves from our restaurant.


They must be the stretchy tight ones that surgeons & hairdressers and forensics use, not the loose blue ones usually found in found preparation (at least that's the case over here).
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby oski79 » Thu Aug 04, 2011 6:02 pm

He's a not a guitarist, but pianist Leon Fleisher's account of his battle with FD might be of interest to you. It's detailed in his book "My Nine Lives." Interestingly, one of his best friends, Gary Graffman, was similarly afflicted, so they concertized together for awhile, each using his good hand. I wonder if any guitarists have ever tried that! (They'd better be pretty comfortable with each other...)
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby benessa » Sun Aug 07, 2011 4:25 am

oski,

Thanks for reminding me. I've read about Fleisher online, but in fact, have not read his book. It's on that endless pile of must reads - it really should be at the top of the list. I didn't know the story about his friend also having FD and how they played duets - fascinating! Can't thank you enough for that tidbit!

I may have seen a video of the Assad brothers playing one guitar, and maybe the Oltman - Newman Duo did that at a concert I saw - I may be imagining memories. I don't think I'd be comfortable doing that with any guitarist I know! Think how difficult that would be on guitar, how closely the movement of one hand is tied to the other. It would take a lot of practice!!
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby benessa » Sun Aug 07, 2011 4:44 am

Les, you're story is fascinating. In fact, I can't quite get my mind around it. You say you're an amateur, but I'm assuming you play quite a lot. I know from your website that you're a builder (nice clean site, BTW, and beautiful instruments!) And playing since you were young? I've been under the impression that FD only happens when you've been playing constantly and since youth. You describe the symptoms perfectly. The fact that you were able to get rid of it so easily and quickly is what is intoxicating. And "cured" by still playing but using all those fun, modern, less-classical techniques. I also play some basic flamenco and found that my rasgueado is completely unaffected by the FD. So maybe there's some important info here.

I won't give up, but I believe it will be a long road for me. Wouldn't it be tremendous if there is a way for people who are just beginning to experience the symptoms to back up quickly, fix the problem, and go on just as you have.

I'm so glad you wrote and thanks for reading my blog! It's not unscientific, but I hold out hope that anecdotal descriptions will have some important clues.
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby oski79 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:47 am

benessa wrote:I may have seen a video of the Assad brothers playing one guitar, and maybe the Oltman - Newman Duo did that at a concert I saw - I may be imagining memories. I don't think I'd be comfortable doing that with any guitarist I know! Think how difficult that would be on guitar, how closely the movement of one hand is tied to the other. It would take a lot of practice!!


Yeah, it is pretty amazing. I can't imagine. Seems kind of gimmicky, but still mighty impressive.
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby ronjazz » Thu Aug 11, 2011 6:04 pm

I developed a focal dystonia in my right hand 10 years ago. while not as severe as others I've seen, it was a concern, as I am a full-time pro player since 1965 or so. The dystonia took much of my fine motor control, including most arpeggio patterns, my i-m picado, and devastated my tremolo. I have spent the past ten years rebuilding my technique with different approaches, including p-i scales, and I found that flamenco techniques were a little less affected, so I developed a jazz/flamenco act that worked quite well, recorded a well-reviewed CD, and, after conversing by email with Liona Boyd, also a victim of FD, decided to try singing a bit. That turned out to be a really cool addition to my act, and I am singing in Brazilian Portugese and Spanish as well as English. So, while I had to pretty much give up the classical repertoire, I found a whole new world opening up, and I will be touring Russia in the fall and working on two new CDs through the winter.

Don't give up!
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby benessa » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:06 am

ronjazz, I wonder how many players have pursued a different direction due to focal dystonia? Badi Assad has also added vocals. For a while I considered going further into flamenco, but since I now lack a strong arpeggio and tremolo, I wasn't sure how satisfied I'd be in the rhythm section.

Your career sounds terrific! Singing is not an option for me though - if you heard me you'd understand. I'm leaning in the direction of Baroque guitar: de Visee, Corbetta, which includes some strumming. Still, I have to restrict ornamentation to the left hand (miss those double string trills!). Haven't gone as far as getting a period instrument yet, but leaning that way.
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby Blondie » Fri Aug 12, 2011 9:07 am

Kate your blog is touching and strikes a chord with me. Having 'been there', in a pit of despair at times, and moving on initially and trying to forget about it, there is so much I can relate to. My M finger was the problem too.

My initial solution - simply to keep playing music - was to avoid M and (indeed A as they are inextricably tied) and gently curl MAC into palm, playing with P and I exclusively. It meant re-fingering repertoire, learning new (not too demanding) repertoire and plenty of experimenting (eg playing chords with the tip of I bent inwards and a quick sweep into the strings.) I took my inspiration from Leisner (and corresponded with him) - if it was possible, it was possible, end of story. I played like this for many years including gigging at weddings etc (not recitals though).

Eventually, years later after toying with flamenco for a while (and not really getting far, my symptoms sound worse than yours as they generalised- eg fingers started to curl in and cause problems when doing up buttons) I went back to basics and told myself I would never, ever be satisfied if I didn't get my hand control back.

I stopped tinkering with flamenco and stopped playing with Pand I except for gigs when I had to. I committed myself to a strategy, using every possible spare minute to retrain. I was positive about this and no longer 'feared' the dystonia as I did initially (mindset is very important, I have to say). As I said elsewhere, I spent a lot of time researching how others recovered and started to look for principles - what are the key ideas that move you forward?

Your physiology is fine Kate, your hands and fingers work fine - you prove that by doing other things that also demand fine control. Your hardware is intact, your software is broken.

When windows gets messed up, trying to fix it can make things worse and waste months. Wiping the hard drive and reloading always works. Sure you have to install all your aplications again, and all your settings, and organise evrything the way you like it. It takes a lot of time but its worth it in the end.

When we learn a sensory motor skill we are building a programme, building our software. When complete it runs subconciously which is why you don't have to think about every individual action when you drive car.

FD is like badly corrupted software, a new pathway is written and the more you try and force the movement you want the more the signal is simply sent down the wrong pathway.

There is a threshold at which this happens and you have to be at almost a meditative state of relaxation and awareness, plus of course working at slow mo speeds, to sense it. Get there, open that door just a crack, and you you can start allowing the sensory motor system to rebuild a healthy pathway. Frustration, anger, despair, desire to control the fingers... they all hinder this, you have to allow the fingers to moce freely, which is a different concept.

Have to go now. Shame you are not in the UK, we could have met to to look at this, but I am sure there are people in the US who teach guitar who have cracked it too.
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby benessa » Sat Aug 20, 2011 7:20 am

Blondie, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your post. I could have written many of the same things myself: the unrewarding focus on flamenco, playing gigs with p i, having non-guitar-related activities hindered by curling fingers. It makes it even more inspiring that you've recovered.

From the few accounts of recovery (and they are very few), intense application of relaxation seems to be the common denominator.

May I ask, how long did recovery take after you found the proper direction? Are all of your techniques back where the were: speed, arpeggios, tremolo?
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby stevnpa » Sat Aug 20, 2011 8:31 pm

Hi Kate, I'm very sorry to hear of your troubles with FD. I was recently diagnosed with FD of the right hand and as I make my living by teaching and selling classical guitars (and therefor having to demonstrate them) it is making things very difficult for me too.

I am currently undergoing treatment in London and have had some success which is encouraging.
So far I have used a fingerless latex glove that apparently 'confuses' the brain in some way and helps to remap it. I've also had a splint made to hold my little finger from curling into the palm, which drags my a finger with it, causing my problem. As I say I don't know what treatment you're receiving but FD is NOT incurable if my experience is anything to go by; I have seen improvement in 4 months.
I have also been doing slowed down arpeggio exercises to the point where there is no dystonic movement and practise them for 15-30 minutes per day. I also have a putty block that I use to help strengthen my RH fingers; although not directly related to the FD, which is neurological, this also seems to be helping my RH.
If I can give you any more information on my treatment please pm me, I'll be glad to help, I know what it feels like to have your technique just slip away.

Best wishes,

Steve
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby ronjazz » Fri Aug 26, 2011 3:12 am

Well, I am a not-so-well-known guitarist who developed a focal dystonia ten years ago in the right hand, as I was intensively practicing my i-m picado in the flamenco style, so now I know why it happened. I have rebuilt many techniques or developed alternatives, but I have noticed that my audiences are pretty unaware of my problem, since they want good music, not an athletic display, and my lack of technique brought out my musicality. I also, like Leona Boyd, have started singing and vocal lessons, which has been immensely gratifying and a lot of fun. While I have abandoned my classical guitar career, such as it was, I am still able to play "folkloric" pieces like the V-L Choros #1, and some flamenco pieces as well, but mostly I play a jazz/World Beat synthesis, which led to a recording contract, so it's about attitude as much as anything else, I guess. In any event, the tips and websites published here are intriguing, so thanks to all!
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby Ramon Amira » Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:37 pm

An old friend of mine from long ago, the great and inexplicably largely forgotten virtuoso Rey de la Torre was also afflicted with focal dystonia. I mentioned this on some other thread a while back, where I learned that he also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a terrible and crippling disease, which apparently finished him for good. He ended his career teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory.
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Re: Focal Dystonia

Postby benessa » Sun Aug 28, 2011 6:54 am

ronjazz wrote:Well, I am a not-so-well-known guitarist who developed a focal dystonia ten years ago in the right hand, as I was intensively practicing my i-m picado in the flamenco style, so now I know why it happened. I have rebuilt many techniques or developed alternatives, but I have noticed that my audiences are pretty unaware of my problem, since they want good music, not an athletic display, and my lack of technique brought out my musicality. I also, like Leona Boyd, have started singing and vocal lessons, which has been immensely gratifying and a lot of fun. While I have abandoned my classical guitar career, such as it was, I am still able to play "folkloric" pieces like the V-L Choros #1, and some flamenco pieces as well, but mostly I play a jazz/World Beat synthesis, which led to a recording contract, so it's about attitude as much as anything else, I guess. In any event, the tips and websites published here are intriguing, so thanks to all!


While it's encouraging to hear of anyone's recovery of focal dystonia, I'm afraid saying it's "attitude as much as anything" is belittling the severity of problem that many have developed with FD. There is no way an audience would be unaware of my problem. But I thank you for your post - you have convinced me to do something I have avoided, and that is to video tape my playing. I'm concerned about FD becoming the flavor of the day in regards to musician's injuries.
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