This article comes from my former flute professor, Dr. Roger Martin, the Professor of Flute at Tennessee Techonological Unviersity in Cookeville, Tennessee, where I got my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance. During my last few years there, we knew he had started to develop a strange problem – his fingers wouldn’t do what he “told” them to do. We knew he was immensely frustrated with this and I am so glad he has written about his experiences. Focal Dystonia is a mysterious and much misunderstood problem and I reprint his article here with his permission.  You can find out more about the TTU Flute Studio by going to their website: ttuflutestudio.yolasite.com

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Did you know musicians have the highest work injury rate of any profession?  According to William Dawson in “Fit As A Fiddle: The Musician’s Guide to Playing Healthy”, it’s something like 90%.  I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think that’s acceptable, and yet, the fact remains that most of us play in pain. Most of us develop pain or injuries as a result of our playing our beloved instruments.

 

The good news is it is largely preventable.  A warm-up should include more than just long tones. In fact, I would say that a physical warm-up could be just as important if not MORE important than your practicing warm-up!  Why am I so sure?  Well, first off, if you are in debilitating pain, it hurts every time you raise your arms, you can’t feel your fingers, have tendonitis, carpal tunnel, thoracic outlet syndrome, piriformis syndrome, etc. etc. etc. it really won’t matter how beautiful your soft high notes are, will it? You deserve to enjoy playing your instrument and when a physical warm-up takes just as much time if not less than a playing warm-up and will save you pain and a possible job in the future, why neglect it?  Your body is your first instrument, you and must learn to take care of it, so it will continue to take care of you.  I plan on writing some more detailed posts about specific stretching and warm-up routines for various areas of the body in the near future on my personal blog later, for today, I would like to talk about foam rolling.

 

Foam rolling is using what looks like a big, hard pool noodle to roll your body across and give yourself a self-massage.  The benefits are numerous. Besides feeling good, releasing endorphins and increasing blood flow, lymph flow and increasing circulation, foam rolling may help save your playing career!

 

Another name for foam rolling is self-myofasical release, or SMF.  Besides the above benefits, two of the best benefits are that it releases knots or adhesions in the fascia that surrounds your muscle tissue and improves your joints range of motion.  You’ve heard of knots, they’re the painful things massage therapists work on when you go see them. They get pressed on and what happens? It hurts! But then, ah….it feels so much better. While a therapist will always be your best and most thorough option, you just can’t afford to go every day, so let me introduce you to some inexpensive options that you can use on your own and will even fit into your flute bag!

 

A quick anatomy lesson; some of the upper back muscle that give flutists the most problem are: the rhomboids, levators and teres major and minor.  We are going to concern ourselves with the rhomboids.  The rhomboids bring the shoulder blades in towards the spine.  What happens on the left side of your body when you play your flute?  The rhomboids get stretched as your arm moves in front of your body…and then you hold it there.  This can lead to an imbalance between your right and left rhomboids and cause the left to be especially weak.  Besides strengthening the rhomboids (another article for another time) you can perform SMF on the “trigger points” on the rhomboid.  Trigger points are the points of most intense pain – the areas your massage therapist would concentrate on.  The exact reason for them is up for debate but here’s what you can do about them: find the most tender spot with your roller of choice and when you get right in the belly of the trigger point (aka: the most painful spot) hold the roller on that spot for a minimum of 20-30 seconds.  You may feel the muscle begin to spasm a little bit, but then it should release you will feel a wonderful feeling of release, increase in your range of motion and less pain.

 

A typical foam roller can be used for this, but as this is a smaller muscle and much deeper, I suggest a couple of smaller rollers.  You can use a lacrosse ball or even a golf ball if you really ambitious, but a tennis ball is the cheapest option.  But if you want to get something that will not disintegrate as fast as a tennis ball and is just as small, you have a few more options.

  • Spikey ball
  • Thera-roll

 

Spikey ball: Thera-Roll 

 

Both are small enough to keep in your flute bag with no issue.  I recommend using either before your practice sessions and sometimes after sessions or any time you experience pain.  Take either device and put it on the wall behind you.  Lean up against the wall and going about an inch at a time, roll the area until you find the most tender spot, and then hold for 20-30 seconds before going on to the next area.  If you do not feel anything the first pass, go over the area 2-3 times and you might find an area later.

Follow this up with some shoulder blade squeezes to get the rhomboids used to their proper regained range of motion and you are ready to play!

If you would like more information on what can be done to help you with your specific playing related pain, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’m here for you – happy playing!

When someone says to you “you need a strong core” or “you need to train your core”, does that leave you scratching your head in confusion?  I mean, what IS your core, anyway, and what on earth does it do? Is it your insides?  The middle of your body?  Your diaphragm?  Let me help you clear up all the confusion.

The core, in its simplest form, is actually the area of your body called the torso – therefore, not your arms, legs or head.  These aren’t just your abdominal muscles; there are LOTS of other muscles that make up the core.  In fact, some of the key players to core strength are in your back and lower back.

There are an awful lot of muscles in your core, and each one plays a role in how well you play your flute.  Yes, that’s right, your hip flexors, your back muscles, your abs; all those muscles have an impact on how you play.  How is that, you ask?  Well, the easy way to explain it is that all your muscles work together in any activity you do.

  • Standing uses your core muscles to keep you balanced and from falling over.
  • Driving uses more than your arms; your core is heavily involved. An indication of core weakness is pain in your hips or low back when you get out of the car.

The muscles in the front (your abs) serve to pull your body forward. These are the muscles with which you are probably most familiar, and as you know, spending most of our day in a bent over position works them plenty.  What this shows is that your back muscles may become weak from the forward-pulling motion of your abs. To have a strong core, this means that you must train your body to resist forward flexion and side to side twisting.

So how does this relate to playing your flute?  Like I mentioned before, you don’t just use your arms to play the flute.  Remember that old song “the head bone’s connected to the….neck bone” etc.?  It’s true.  Your body works as a whole.  It takes lots of different muscles to lift your arms, turn your head, hold up a flute and breathe to play.  And some of those muscles will get tired.  When this happens, other muscles take over.  If this goes on too long, you get what are called muscle compensations and imbalances, meaning that some muscles become weaker and allow other muscles to do their jobs for them.  This can lead to pain.

Each muscle is made to do a job whether that is its own job, the job of being a synergist (helping other muscles do their jobs) or an antagonist (the opposite of a muscle).  For example, your hip flexors are antagonists to your gluteus muscles.  If your hip flexors get too tight with too much sitting, your gluteus muscles become weak, eventually allowing other muscles (your hamstrings) to do the job of the glutes.  What happens then?  Your knees could hurt, or maybe your low back hurts from the stress of too much tightness in the front.  When your low back hurts because it is weak, this can translate to a weak upper back.  If your upper back is weak, it cannot support your arms which are doing a really hard job of holding up your flute, so when your arms tire, you’re just in pain everywhere, all because your hips are too tight, and guess what?  They’re part of the core!
So what to do?  I think by now we’ve established why you need a strong core to play.  When the body works well as a whole, you can play longer without compensating.  There are lots of good exercises to help with core strength.  My favorite exercise is the plank.

This can be progressed by lifting an arm or a leg, putting your feet on a bench or arms on a ball, or adding weight on your back, and can even be done on your side.  The goal is to keep your hips in line with your shoulders, so your body looks just like a plank; a board.  Even with the progressions: do not twist your hips or sag in the middle.  Hold for 30 seconds or longer, rest, and repeat.

Another of my favorite core exercises are 1) The Anti-Rotation Static Hold and its variation 2) Pallof Presses.  These are just fun, and it’s a great way to work your entire core without having to do a single crunch, or sit-up and if you have bad shoulders, these are an excellent choice without putting your shoulders into a compromising position.

To set up for both: 

Stand perpendicular to a cable station with a weight stack or a pole to which you’ve wrapped around a band.  Grasp the band or handle, pull it in front of you and then push it out in front of you, without twisting.  If you hold that position, that’s the static hold.  If you push it out and bring it back, those are Pallof Presses.  The goal with both of these is to avoid twisting (hence: anti-rotation) which you’ll feel all down the middle of your body. Make sure to choose a heavy enough weight so that the exercise is challenging.

This is a video of the Pallof Press:

http://youtu.be/JmcH0UsXRVw

If you hold the weight out without bringing it back, again, that is the Anti-Rotation Press.

If you are looking for a program of strength training that will train your core from every conceivable angle and get your entire body stronger in the process, I highly recommend a book called “The New Rules of Lifting for Abs” by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.  I’ve done the whole program myself and not only was it fun, I saw my strength increase by leaps and bounds!  They actually have a brand new book out called the “The New Rules of Lifting For Life”.  I just got it today and intend to read through it soon, but the gyst of it is that it is geared for non 20-yr olds, more towards middle agers and people who want to learn how to program their own workouts.

If you would like more exercises and more information, I actually have a longer blog post I’ve written about it with videos here: http://fluteangel.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/3-exercises-1-for-core-strength-and-stability/

As always, I have spots available for long distance training where I can write you a program to strengthen your core, improve your endurance and help you learn to play without pain.  You can find me via my website: www.MusicStrong.com and I’m always around on Face book: www.facebook.com/MusicStrong.  Come by and say hello, or send me an email with your comments and questions to angela@musicstrong.com  I look forward to hearing from you!

The title of this post is my vision statement. My 5 year goal is to create a new identity for myself as a physical therapist, Andover Educator, flutist, teacher and writer. How did I get on this path and how do I plan to do it all?

Musicians are quite accustomed to wearing many hats. In addition to just loving music and wanting to engage with it for a living, I’m also attracted to how my routine isn’t so routine. I can be doing any number of different things in a normal day, and I love that. It keeps things fresh.

So maybe you’re saying, “OK. I get that you’re a flutist, teacher and writer but what’s an Andover Educator and how is physical therapy related?” Read the rest of this entry »

While there is no substitute for hands-on work and individual attention, these free 7 steps of smart Alexander Technique “reminders” make it worth it to subscribe.  The free e-course is called Seven Steps to Less Pain, More Poise. Put your name and email into the boxes on Alexander Technique teacher Sarah Chatwin’s site and the course is delivered straight to your in-box. Read the rest of this entry »

This is Your Brain on Music

February 17, 2012

I usually don’t pay attention to fitness magazines, but I flipped through this one the other day and came across some information I thought would be good to share.  This came from Self Magazine September 2011 and is copied verbatim.

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Today I bring you a post from Coach Nick Tuminello. He has written a whole series on the rhomboids, lower traps, and all those key areas that can be problem spots to musicians and desk jockeys alike. Whether you spend your day locked in a practice room or locked behind a desk and yearn to have strong shoulders and a pain-free back, this article is for you.

I can’t highly recommend this series enough. The rhomboids are a muscle that has become chronically stretched and weakened in our “bent over” society: when one bends over a steering wheel, table, computer or music stand the arms pull forward stretching the upper back muscles (and the rhomboids) forward when their main job is to contract and pull the shoulder blades BACK. This can cause weakness, pain and ultimately lead to injury.

The YTWL is a warm-up that I have been seeing and using for quite a long time, sadly, I hardly ever see anyone in the weight room using these movements and if I do, they do them incorrectly. Read and learn and if you want more detailed information he has a whole series on his blog, but he sums it up pretty nicely here.

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