June 23, 2011
I just came upon this terrific new resource by Helen Bledsoe. Great explanations worth checking out.
June 22, 2011
I am writing from Blonay, Switzerland where I am taking part in a fantastic collaborative festival for performers and composers with eighth blackbird in residency. You can follow what is happening at the festival at the Music11 blog:
Noteworthy things thus far is hearing talks and masterclasses from composer Matthias Pinscher,having the opportunity to premiere new works being coached and playing with members of eighth blackbird, and enjoying the beautiful Swiss countryside. Check out the blog to read more!
June 20, 2011
One of my mottos for awhile now has been “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. This picture exemplifies the idea perfectly. When I was in Army Basic Training, that was one of the things they told us almost constantly. We had to do everything as a team, and if one person was wrong, you were all wrong. If one person wanted to keep the Kevlar helmet on instead of taking it off, we all had to keep it on. If one person got punished…well, that didn’t happen, we all got punished.
The point was that you HAD to learn to do everything as a unit, as a team, and that each person was as important as the next. You are being taught to pay attention to detail and you realize very quickly that even if YOU excel in one area, your Battle Buddy probably doesn’t, and to work together as a team, everyone has to come together to support and encourage and work on their “weakest link” before you can excel as a team.
Your body works as a team as well and if you don’t address your weakest link, you are shortchanging yourself. As a musician, you know that if you don’t work on your weak spots, you’ll never reach your full potential because being a musician is made of several “links” – scales, intervals, tone, technique, body awareness, attitude, work ethic, etc.
As for my title…
You’ll have to pardon the hanging participle and bad grammar….but it got your attention, didn’t it?
Here’s the point if you do what you’re good at, you’ll never get any better. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Sure, but what do we do? We do the things at which we already accel. Why? Because we like doing well, we like feeling that good feeling that comes with doing well, and when you do something well, it’s, well…..easy.
Another way to say “do what you suck at” is to say “work on your weaknesses”. Now, honestly if I had put that as the title, you wouldn’t have stopped by to read, would you? Not nearly as interesting. But the truth is there in both statements. When you take a good look at the areas in which you lack and you go forth and WORK on those weaknesses what happens?
Well, it’s hard.
It’s generally not much fun.
You might fail….a lot.
But in the end, you end up succeeding and ultimately not only gaining a greater sense of achievement due to the feeling of overcoming something at which you used to not do well, but it gets easier from there for you to get better at it.
Two examples: music and fitness, of course 🙂
Take your pick: squat, pushup or pullup.
Sure, there are other hard exercises like deadlifting and benching and rowing but in all honesty, these are tough for me and most women. Most people do a HORRIBLE job of squatting with good form. They either
- don’t go low enough
- elevate their heels and squat on their toes
- have their knees cave in
- point their toes way out
It’s sad really, because what should be easy to do (we did it as 2-year olds without another thought) becomes so much more difficult as we age.
This is why I suggest EVERYONE get some training in . It’s not just for musicians and you will relearn how to use your body the way God intended and the way you used to, as aforementioned 2-year old but with better motor skills 🙂
Walk into almost any gym in the country and undoubtedly you will see a lot of the same things: the treadmills, ellipticals and bikes will be mostly full (sadly, mostly with women), lots of people using machines, and in the free weight section, the few people you see will be mostly men, mostly doing chest and bicep exercises. Occassionally you’ll see a man doing a squat….probably only going half-way down with too much weight (because it’s always better to improve your ego by using too much weight with bad form than to use no weight with good form, right?) and even more rarely, you’ll see a lady in there, doing “toning” exercises with the pink dumbbells. She’s doing it because she knows she needs to do something but isn’t sure what, so she sticks to what’s safe, what isn’t challenging, and pats herself on the back for venturing into the “guy’s” part of the gym. And year after year the ladies on the treadmills wonder why their bodies haven’t changed the way they “should”.
The guys do their same routines for the same reason: they work the vanity muscles using some outdated routines they found in magazines (that really only work for newbies) because they don’t know any better, it’s safe, it’s what the other guys are doing and hey, what woman looks at a guy’s legs – they look at his GUNS right? And year after year, he does the same stuff, blindly going forward, his gains decreasing every year and wondering why.
I’ll tell you why. It’s because they don’t work on their weaknesses.
Where is your weakness when it comes to music? Ignoring etudes, scales and technique exercises – only focusing on working on pieces? Not really “wood shedding” the music, but just playing it over and over again? Putting off memorizing something? Not practicing much at all?
As a musician, my biggest weakness is 1) not making the time to practice and 2) not giving myself structure during practice time….which leads to feeling like I”m just wasting my time, so I end up not practicing at all! If you are one of those musicians who has been out of school for awhile, you know how easy it is to get out of the habit of daily practice, espcially when you aren’t surrounded by other musicians pushing you, endless rehearsals and recitals. If LACK of practice is your nemesis, ask yourself why? And chunk it into manageable goals: 1) I will practice every day or every other day 2) I will work on these pieces and these exercises, etc. Just write it down and give yourself structure.
If there is something specific you suck at and you’re just avoiding it, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and go after it! If you are a person who plays by ear and has a difficult time deciphering rythms on the page…..well, you need to start reading more music with difficult rhythms. If you suck at sightreading, the only way to get better at sightreading is to sightread a LOT.
See how this works? Identify your weakness, have the courage to put your ego aside and say “ok, what do I really suck at?” and then do THAT.
Take your dreaded evil and look it square in the face and say
“Today , it’s you and me and while I may not conquer you today, maybe not tomorrow, I will not fear you, and I WILL do this”.
And from there, you start with Moyse Gamme Arpegge and work your way through 🙂
So Do What You Suck At
If you are a gym “bro” who splits his workouts into “chest days’ and “arm days”: have the courage to do a full body workout,
If you are a lady who does nothing but stay on the elliptical or do curls and crunches in the “guy’s part of the gym”, have the courage to pick up some 20 pounders or hire a personal trainer and learn how to do a real deadlift…I can tell you, there’s nothing more empowering than deadlifting your bodyweight (with excellent form) in a gym full of men who are doing superflous exercises (with bad form).
If you are a musician and you’ve been putting off attacking Berio’s “Sequenza” GO FOR IT! You just might find that it’s way more fun than you ever realized.
In the end, we all have to work on our weaknesses, because there is only so far you can go in the areas you already excel.
- Are You Ready to Change? (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- What Interests You? (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- The Flutists’ Pain Points (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- The Flutist’s Pain Points (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- Multitasking Move: Burning Squats (fitsugar.com)
- The Exercise You Hate Is Probably the One You Need Most (fitsugar.com)
- How I Discovered The Alexander Technique (lukeford.net)
- 3 Exercise Form Mistakes to UNLEARN Now (joshsgarage.typepad.com)
June 17, 2011
Ask almost any flutist that has pain brought on by playing, and odds are they will mention one of these sites as giving them trouble: wrist, upper back (between shoulder blades), shoulder area or lower back. Sometimes the problem is that the pain is in ALL of these sites.
Studies have been done, but the results are inconclusive as to the results of what causes pain. A study I read recently studied the “History of Playing-related Pain in 330 University Freshman Music Students”. The interesting point is that MOST of the students had pain brought on by playing. The frustrating point was that the study was inconclusive as to the cause of the pain.
I have my own hypothesis, however, because this study did not cover my area of expertise: strength training. This is what the study found:
- More students did than did not exercise, but pain occurred in 79% of the exercisers and in only 76% of the sedentary. Data were collected though not analyzed regarding exercise type; jogging appeared to be a favorite, as was the use of a variety of exercise machines
- Most of the pain problems reported by instrumentalists are associated with the musculoskeletal system
- Several factors have played into the lack of regular exercise for musicians. First, those who start their instruments early in life…often have been warned of the potential injury that might befall especially their hands and fingers by participation in athletics. This avoidance behavior becomes habit as they grow older.
- There apppears to be an association between poor conditioning and musculoskeletal complaints, and vice versa; those who do have a regular exercise routine appear more resilient.
- When asked about “regular exercise” …our definition for inclusion here was exercise of at least two times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes. We did not differentiate between exercise modes, but just from casual scanning of the data, jogging was by far the most frequent activity, followed by some kind of machine and/or light weights and biking. A minority did heavy resistance weight training, swimming, soccer and/or basketball.
It is GLARINGLY obvious to me what could possibly be the cause of so many musician’s pain, here, but this was not covered by the researchers.
- The type of stretching done, is probably out-dated, static stretching, which has been shown to be more detrimental than helpful
- Jogging is a favorite activity….this does NOTHING to help weak muscles. If you play an instrument held in front of your body (aren’t they all?) then your body is forced to compensate after the primary muscles holding up the instrument fatigue. Thus leading to pain.
- The MINORITY did heavy resistance training and soccer, swimming and basketball – sports that require a high degree of movement.
Can you see the pattern here?
So getting back to the flutists’ pain points
What are the points of chief complaint? From what I have heard (though if you have another spot, please leave a comment below!) these are the most common
- upper back
- lower back
With the exception of the wrist, the other three points are located on what we call the “posterior chain” This is the back half of the body, responsible for a lot of pulling movements and fighting against the pushing movement of the front of the body, including keeping the body upright. If your posterior chain muscles are weak, it causes them to stretch.
You sit all day, in rehearsals, driving, typing, practicing. You probably slouch, meaning your chest comes forward, your abdomen caves in and your back rounds. You are not balanced on your sit bones. Your shoulders round forward. Your head protrudes.
What does this lead to?
Try taking that posture for awhile and I bet the answer will be:
- my neck hurts
- my upper back hurts
- my hips hurt
- basically, everything on the back half of my body HURTS!
Can you see how this posture, practiced day in and day out is compounded with holding a heavy instrument (or maybe your instrument isn’t heavy but after several hours of playing it becomes heavy to you) can wreak havoc on your body?
The part you’ve been waiting for! You can see where the problem lies, by now, I hope. Weak posterior chain can equal pain. What to do? Strengthen it! Let’s take this on a spot by spot basis.
If your wrist hurts, there can be several causes, some of which may not have anything to do with your wrist, but may actually be a symptom of poor upper body posture, shoulder position, etc. Assuming you play an instrument that puts your wrist in somewhat of a contorted position (flute, guitar, violin, etc.) there are some stretches you can do. Hold each for a count of 10, and follow with movement. It is very important that after you do a static stretch (a stretch you hold without moving) that you follow that with a dynamic stretch (a stretch that involves movement).
These are stretches and of course there are exercises you can do to increase your wrist/grip strength. However, I’m not sure that that is necessary, as my guess is that the reason the wrists hurt has more to do with being tight and needing to be stretched due to being in an awkward position for long lengths of time, rather than being weak. However, grip strength is important when it comes to lifting weights. Diesel Crew has a lot of information on improving grip strength.
This area could take all day to address, and I have in two posts and a guest post by Dr. Perry. For detailed information see Shoulder Pain Part 1, Shoulder Pain Part 2 – What to Do About it, and Dr. Perry’s Post: Shoulder Pain Secret.
The chief culprits of pain are the rhomboids (the muscles in between your shoulder blades that work to pull them together), lower traps (pull shoulder blades back and down) and rotator cuff muscles. When you lean forward with a rounded posture, or have your arms extended in front of you for a long time, these muscles that do the pulling in your upper back get stretched the opposite way and get kinda angry about it. They are designed to pull the shoulder blades back, but if you do not strengthen these muscles, if they do not get used the way they were intended. You get pain.
I think this is the biggest problem area among musicians and the most overlooked!
Strengthen your rhomboids and upper back by doing pulling movements and see if your pain doesn’t improve, not to mention your posture!
My favorite exercises are:
Lat Pulldowns/Pull ups, any type of rows (inverted, seated, barbell or dumbbell) and exercises for the rotator cuff: soup can pours, prone lower trap raises and wall slides. You can see all three of the rotator cuff exercises in Shoulder Pain Part 2.
Before doing any of these exercises, however, it’s not a bad idea to stretch the muscles that are tight, before strengthening the muscles that are weak. That’s another post for another day. 🙂
Lat pull downs/Pull ups.
Good form BAD FORM!!!
(Coaching cues – keep spine neutral – curve in lower back, no leaning backwards, and keep shoulder blades down)
The big thing to remember here is to that before and DURING the movement, keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down. This will prevent you from going into full shoulder extension and increase shoulder stability.
That means that when your arms are as far away from you as they can be, if your shoulder blades are properly retracted and depressed you will still be able to let your arms go farther away. So, when you are reaching up for the bar, don’t let your shoulder blades float away – keep them back and down. If you find you can still let them go a bit farther (like in the second picture), you know they are not properly retracted. Think of keeping the bottom of your shoulder blades squeezed together throughout the movement. This may cause you to not use as much weight as you would like, but so what? If you use more weight than you can with good form, what are you really accomplishing? THAT’S where you get into more pain and injury.
Coaching cues: keep body “straight”, keep shoulder blades back and down.
Coaching cues: keep shoulder blades back and down, keep neutral arch in back, do NOT round your back when reaching for weight or pulling forward
If your lower back hurts, ask yourself how much you sit. If the answer is “a lot”, you may have found your problem. When you sit, your hips “flex”, this means that the knees come towards the body by means of the hip flexors The hip flexors are pictured here and I know the Alexander Technique teachers will jump all over the psoas, as they should! That’s where I first found out about this very important muscle. You can see how it attaches to your leg AND your low back. When you sit, this muscle flexes, or shortens, which (especially if your abs are too strong – aka, don’t do situps or crunches!!!!) causes you to bend forward, this muscle pulls on your low back. The muscles on your low back (Quadratus Lumborum and spinal erectors, etc.) get stretched, just like the upper back muscles.
Stretch the tight muscles, strengthen the weak muscles. In this case, stretch the hip flexors, strengthen the low back muscles and muscles of the core. The CORE is actually made up of your entire torso and if you want an EXCELLENT book on strengthening the core in the non-traditional way (there is not a single “ab” exercise in this book!) I HIGHLY recommend getting New Rules of Lifting for Abs.
I’m just finishing up this book myself and not only has it improved my posture, it has improved my balance, core strength and overall body strength. I can lift heavier weights than I have in a long time and I have better posterior chain activation as well!
There are WAY too many exercises to list here for strengthening the core and lower back, and in fact, if you want more information on that, I cannot recommend anything here safely, which is why I recommend hiring a personal trainer to help you do these exercises, because done incorrectly you can cause more pain or even injury to yourself.
As for stretching the hip flexors, I have some great ones.
You can do this standing as well. Make sure when you do this stretch, you lean backwards with your torso until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip and SQUEEZE your put on the stretched side. When you stretch the hip flexor, you want to activate the opposing posterior chain muscle, in this case, the glutes.
This exercise is one you can do during rehearsals, while typing, or while lying down. It will stretch your piriformis muscle (the angry little muscle in your butt that gets stretched out when you sit for too long). I recommend doing this lying down: take the chair out of the picture and put the person on his back. Grab the vertical leg and pull it towards the chest. The horizontal leg (the one that is bent across the other) will feel a stretch in that glute and hip.
A good stretch for the psoas is this stretch:
Lie on the edge of a bed, bench or table and pull one leg towards your chest. The other leg should dangle off the edge of the table. DO NOT do this exercise if your doctor has told you not to or you have major back pain. Check with your doctor first if you have concerns. When doing this stretch, you should feel a deep pulling feeling in your abdomen, that is difficult to identify. This is your psoas. Hold for a count of 10-30, depending, and switch sides.
You can also do this on the floor to test for hip tightness. Lie flat on the floor just like in this picture. If your lower back comes off the floor and rounds, it can be a sign of hip flexor tightness.
What are some exercises I need to NOT do?
As you can see in this post, training the posterior chain is of utmost importance. Therefore, training the frontal chain, is not as important. If you have muscular imbalances, you do not want to add any more strength to those muscles. The opposite of the muscles covered in this post would be: chest, quads, biceps.
Exercises I do not recommend if you are in pain:
Chest presses, bench presses, cable flyes (basically any chest pushing exercise), crunches, situps, any kind of oblique twisting ab exercise, leg extension machine.
Other GOOD exercises to include would be exercises that train the entire body:
Make sure you perform these exercises with permission from your doctor and under the supervision of a properly certified personal trainer. If you have any kind of health condition, check with your doctor first.
- Shoulder Pain Secret (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- Shoulder Pain Part 1 (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- Identifying Shoulder Pain Part 2 – What To Do About It (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- Identfying Shoulder Pain Part 2 – What to Do About It (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- Identifying Shoulder Pain – Part I (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- De-Mystifying Support and the Diaphragm (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- Geoffrey Gilbert and the Use of the Body: Taking a Look at “The Gilbert Legacy” for Tips (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- 3 Exercises + 1 for Core Strength and Stability (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- What Interests You? (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
June 14, 2011
It’s that time of year to start making plans for upcoming competitions. Myrna Brown will post their rep in July/August, Chicago Flute Club’s is already posted with a deadline for October. Start planning and reaching for your goals!
The following have competitions that are not as restrictive to age:
- National Flute Association (Young Artist, Orchestral, Master Class, Collegiate Flute Choir, many more)
- Chicago Flute Club Competitions
- Flute Society of Washington Competitions
- Myrna Brown Flute Competition
- Rochester Flute Association
- Houston Flute Club’s Byron Hester Competition
These are for younger flutists:
- Southeast Michigan Flute Association (Young Artist Competition, Collegiate Artist Competition)
- William C. Byrd Young Artists Competition (Winds and Brass next in 2013)