Posted by: eaubeauhorn | March 24, 2008

Is it dystonia?

How do you know if the problems you’re having with your chops are dystonia or something else?

 When you have dystonia, it is like you tell your chops to do one thing and they do something else. Sort of like you try to raise your foot and instead it wiggles side to side. That would be dystonia. The muscles are fine in other applications, but when you try to play your instrument they do strange things. You might be able to free buzz, even buzz your mouthpiece, but when you try to play your instrument your face contorts, or your lips go flaccid, or your neck twitches, or any of a large number of other things you don’t expect and weren’t trying to do.

One misconception that is fairly common is that dystonia is “just a need to relax.” Possibly this has come about because sometimes it manifests as “locked jaw” or an immobility…and an observer would think the person “just needs to relax.” What the observer doesn’t understand is the “I wasn’t trying to do this and my body is doing it without my permission” aspect of dystonia.

The other thing about dystonia is, the harder you try the worse it gets. (See the post about intent path corruption.)

If you take some time off (weeks or months) and then pick up your instrument, you might be able to suddenly play it again, and you think to yourself, “I’m cured!” Until you start trying to do regular practices and then it all goes weird on you again.

If this is what is happening to you, it could very well be dystonia.

If you suspect you have dystonia, the very first thing you need to do, MUST do, is quit playing. Completely. I know of one person who developed it and was offered an “embouchure rebuilding” by a teacher. He still had some range left; but when he put serious effort into the embouchure rebuilding exercises, he lost the rest of the range. He trusted the teacher to know what he was doing, and got completely ruined in the process. So if you want to try some embouchure rebuilding exercises, go ahead, but if things get worse intstead of better, see Rule #1 and stop playing. Completely. Immediately. You will not regain your ability to play until you stop playing.

See the rest of the posts about dystonia to better understand what it is and what you can do about it by yourself. There are few people who can help you with dystonia, and they are pretty scheduled up. Especially beware of those who give you advice of “just relax” or “you just need to practice more” or, an offer I got, “If you send me $$ I’ll give you lessons over the internet that will fix you right up.” Uh Huh.

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Responses

  1. I DISCOVERED YOUR WEB PAGE WHILE LOOKING FOR INFO ON FOCAL DYSTONIA. I WASSEARCHING FOR LITERATURE ON THE TOPIC EVEN THOUGH I AM NOT SURE IT ACTUALLY IS THE PROBLEM I AM EXPERIENCING.
    GORDON CHERRY OF THE VANCOUVER SYMPHONY HAD GIVE ME JAN KAGARICE’S NAME AS SOME ONE TO CONTACT.
    HOW DO I TELL IF DYSTONIA IS MY PROBLEM OR JUST AIR SUPPORT LACK OF REGULAR PRACTICE OR OTHER THINGS?

  2. Patrick,
    Jan Kagarice is a wonderful resource but may not have time for you if you are not a professional. Dystonia is not a practice problem; one of the ways you will solidify a self-diagnosis is to see if intensifying your practice makes your condition worse. Embouchure injuries can appear to be dystonia, and dystonia can appear to be an embouchure injury. You may have found your answer by now since it’s been a few weeks. Best of luck; I still play but not at my former level. It is possible to recover but does take a huge commitment, which at my age (60) I found I didn’t really have in me.
    EBH


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