Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Seeing again; McGhee CDs; Wye NFA; lip trembling

Dear Flutists,
Well I'm basically back to the land of the seeing. My PRK eye laser treatment has resulted in very clear vision. I still have a few weeks to go until complete 20/20, but can function normally (with some small blurs in the later part of the day.) I start teaching again on Sept. 10th, and have been amusing myself meanwhile with transcribing Bouriakov's mp3 (from his website given several posts ago) of the Chaconne in D minor into G minor, as he plays it, taken from JS Bach's BWV 1004. It's extraordinarily fun playing along with the mp3 recording, and matching note for note. I still have two pages of 32nd notes to re-distribute from the violin/guitar orginals that I'm using, so if anyone has already done this, write and let me know. :>)

Some good questions came up when I checked all my flute groups, so I'll try for some quick answers here. Hopefully they'll broadly smatter all the topics that matter.

The National Flute Assoc (NFA) convention ended and many folk reported that they were blown away by the flute playing of Lorna McGhee. Yes indeed. She's astounding because she's so musical, so alive, and so creative!! In answer to where to find her CDs, just use google. I have three of her CDs. The first was by the Mobius ensemble, in which she plays Mozart Quartet in C+, and Debussy's trio for fl/vla/hrp. Then I purchased two flute & harp CDs by McGhee, the newest one full of seriously gorgeous Canadian music, and several years ago, I raved about her "Taheke" album; and all time top favourite.All albums are easily googled.

Also at the NFA, Trevor Wye gave a "how to practice to improve quickly" class, and once again stated that it's a waste of effort to play difficult repertoire in lieu of practicing standard scales and arpeggios. Yes, this is a common failing. We often see 17 yr. old students playing everything from Chaminade (eeek! (( :>o ) to Ibert, without the finger technique, tone/dynamics, or breath control to achieve them. Wye says that the student is wasting their time tackling these things in the wrong order; scale technique makes tens of thousands of flute pieces easier to play at sight.
So true. Robert Dick then commented that he would personally add listening to CDs, music in general, and especially listening to non-flutists (violin, cello, singers etc), and of course, daily improvising!!!!
No kiddding!! These topics are both hugely important the older you become and the longer you stay in the field of the flute. These are the things that are missing from most younger players. If only we could convince students of the truth and knowledge that we have learned from a lifetime of flute playing. It's with these things in mind that I rush back to working on the sections of my book that integrate improvising with scale technique and tone/dynamics/breath control.
I've integrated all of these items spontaneously in my work, because that is indeed how I practice now that I'm in my 40s. I too wasted time when I was younger just trying to learn the flute repertoire. Now I see how I could have sped all that up.
What happens is that you make exponential leaps in your playing that simply do not occur when you practice by simply playing repertoire. Try it and send feedback.
Note to self: get book finished so others can see how one does integrate it all. :>)
Mind you, to the creative practicer, simply beginning these things yeilds results.
Get started! :>)

I'd also like to thank Susan M. for some truly great NFA reports that included great advice from folk like Peter Lloyd (most orchestral flutists nowadays play too loud!) and other great flute minds. Thankyou Susan. Where would we be without your careful note taking? Thankyou!!

Finally, today on Galway Chat there was a post from a young person who is suffering from lip-trembling. I didn't answer, because the person didn't furnish enough information. They simply said "My upper lip trembling is killing my playing", and left it there. In a subsequent post they mentioned they'd just gotten out of physiotherapy, but doesn't say what for (car accident? Broken arm? Jaw surgery?)
Without that information, we are forced to list huge numbers of things to try to solve the dilemma, but I will make a short list for anyone suffering from flutist's lip-tremble.

First, the overview: The worst nerve damage that can happen to an embouchure is called "focal dystonia". Avoid this level of damage, which can be permanent, by consulting with a medical doctor or music-medicine specialist. Embouchure dystonia has ended several careers that I know of personally. Get proper medical help before the problem becomes more severe and don't attempt to play through the trembling as this can worsen the nerve damage if you have had facial tension over a number of years. Get proper help (not just internet suggestions.) especially if you play music for a living and practice 1-6 hrs. a day.

Now, here are some solutions to also try:
1. Most lip or face muscle spasms that I have seen stem from the jaw hinge. Pay close attention to how you place your jaw for playing the flute. It should be loose and open, with no tension at the hinge. Feel the jaw hinge with your fingers when your embouchure is set. Drop all tension completely. If you had previously played with hinge-tension, you may have to completely overhaul your embouchure formation with the help of an excellent flute teacher. Roger Mather's books "The Art of Playing the Flute" have experiments that can help until you find such a teacher. Basically, you want to go from the density of stone through to wood, water and then air. When your jaw hinge has "air" as its density guide, you will play simply and easily without muscular complaint.

2. Muscle trembling can be caused by medicinal drugs. Look up any medications you are on, or consult your doctor to see whether trembling may be a side-effect. If so, use the time to overhaul other avenues of your musical education until you can change the drug. (ie: some athsma medication for example may be causing your problem.) You can listen, sing, play piano, whistle, or compose. But don't overdo the flute playing until the drug connection has been sorted out.

3. If neither of the above suggestions apply to you, look into the possibility that you are trying to play the flute after a break or hiatus, and you may be trying to do too much too soon. Any muscle trembles if it's in flabby condition (try doing thirty slow-motion sit-ups a day and notice how trembling starts by the third day due to muscle fatigue) and you overwork it. So instead of overworking, play loosely in the low register, listen to music on your breaks, and stretch out and relax between sessions of low register playing. Leave the middle register and high register until your muscles are more toned. Add difficult things gradually. Combine this period of practice with experimenting with loose jaw, looser embouchure, and the other experiments in Roger Mather's "Art of the Flute" books.

4. Learn to let your body find solutions for you. After reading "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Gallwey, I learned to ask my body "How would you do this if I didn't interfere (with my mind)? What is YOUR easiest possible way to do this?"
The body always seems to already know how to do something with the least effort. It is naturally smarter about itself and its functions than our minds will ever be. The body does not want to work too hard and hurt itself, and it seems to know exactly what you are trying to accomplish, and be willing to show you how. It is a biological computer. It has survived millenia!
This is another chief component of my upcoming flute book; how to let go and quit trying 'too hard" and I learned it from the Inner Game books. Very important philosophy indeed for musicians and athletes, and almost always results in a fantastic improvement in the least amount of time.

So there's the wisdom of the month of August for you all.
Thanks for reading to the end; it's a long post, but I'm back and curious!!! :>)
Best, and please leave comments (especially if you have the Chaconne transcription in G minor or want to help me transcribe the rest of it; I have 85% done!)
Jen Cluff
Comments (17)
Blogger Sheila said...

Interesting stuff! Glad to see you're back and seeing clearly!

It was quite fascinating to read through your 'trembling lip' information, because even though my lip doesn't tremble (Yay!), sometimes over the last few days I've played, my lips did get quite tired and threatened to collapse. I know this is just because I haven't been playing regularly for the last month, but it was still interesting to read.

So encouraging to get in there and really do some technique! I recently decided that I really need to to work up my scales/arpeggios, etc., and so I've started a bit. I tried the first day back at it, but I couldn't do anything, and my tone was totally, totally crappy. Of course, yesterday I played for someone and played with semi-yucky tone, and then did about 1 minute of long tones, and in the second piece the tone was at least 50% better. Incredible!

In any case, now that my tone and lips are returning to their normal state, I am going to seriously do some technique. I think I'll try to do one major key and its' relative minor each day, as I've been doing with piano. That's a good 20 mins - 1/2 an hour if I am really putting a lot into it, so I think it's worth it.

All that to say thanks for the encouragement that technique is really a good thing to be working on!

Have fun transcribing!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 10:26:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

HI Sheila,
Great to hear your news!
Yeah...it's common to feel embouchure fatigue if you miss a few days (or portions of weeks!) from regular practice.
What I do is to put the tuning CD on to the tonic of the scales/arpeggios, and start with the low register for tone, on long long notes: C---------- C D C--------CDEbDC---------- etc. Going up and down the new scale in very slow tempo, listening for tone, and taking frequent breaks to improvise whatever comes to mind. It's a way better way of starting again than trying to play fast scales, or huge-leap arpeggios.
Looking forward to starting lessons week of the 10th. We'll have to choose Tuesday OR Wed. for you. Let me know if Wed. is better.
Jen :>)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 12:33:00 PM

Blogger here said...

Hi Jen, great that you are back!

"We often see 17 yr. old students playing everything from Chaminade (eeek! (( :>o ) to Ibert, without the finger technique, tone/dynamics, or breath control to achieve them. Wye says that the student is wasting their time tackling these things in the wrong order; scale technique makes tens of thousands of flute pieces easier to play at sight.
So true."

Yes. So true.
But most of these flute noodlers will never become professional flute players. And if they try to work on very difficult pieces, which they will never ever be able to perform, this might be better than playing computer games or reading useless books or taking stimulating drugs. Maybe in their inner heart they achieve something of value, despite their awful sound.
Just a thought.
Best greetings, Lie.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 1:01:00 PM

Blogger Sheila said...

No, you're right there, I'm not going to hurt myself with overspeedy scales/arpeggios. Good points, I think I'll go find my tuning CD! :)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007 3:37:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Lie and Sheila,

You know, the most FUN thing I've found? A mesmerizing and beautiful exercise for all occasions;(for warmups, when you're trying to multitask, warmup, get your tone, and tuning, and get everything back on track). It is this:
Playing simplified versions of J.S. Bach's music.
ex: 24 Concert Studies, or Stallman's Bach Handbook, or violin/cello partitas etc. from the free music sites, or Julius Baker's flute Bach Cantata book.
I bookmark my favourite Bach bits with coloured sticky-paper.

You can play a Bach bit all in the low register, if you like, if its late at night, if you're out of practice, if you're blaring the Tuning CD etc. And/or you can simplify the rhythms and pitches for one big note per bar, or two notes per bar (all slow and slurred), or three notes per bar, just depending on the which are the main notes, and simply breathe deep and play them as a long, legato, musical sequence.
These little snippets of Bach (or choose a composer you prefer) are great for every part of your playing.
If you feel like playing circles of scales with the tuning CD, you can take a scale sequence from Bach and play it as slow or as fast/rhythmically as you like. And break off into improvising, or change key...etc.
This is what I believe in as far as "integrated, fascinating practicing" that allows you to get back into shape without playing things that are complex and tiring.
Good points, both of you guys!
I just thought I'd add to the creative ways to practice slower scales, arpeggios and gorgeous Bach-ian sequences! :>)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 5:07:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

P.S. I can see by Wissam Boustany's comments today about scales and improvising, that Lie and I are both in agreement with the advice to improvise and be creative with scales.

Those old, boring scale patterns that sound like a machine are definitely not as useful as a living, breathing creativity when it comes to inventing and exploring musical patterns.
Jen :>)

Thursday, August 30, 2007 10:00:00 AM

Blogger here said...

Dear Jen,
thank you for your answer!!!
Yes, Wissam Boustany's comments about scales and improvising are most interesting. And I am sorry I can give here no link because it was on flute discussion group.
Jen said:
"You know, the most FUN thing I've found? A mesmerizing and beautiful exercise for all occasions ..."
Your suggestion sounds very very promising, but to say the truth, I do not fully understand what you mean ... here are the limitations of my english or my music knowledge, hahahaha; Bach bit? What little snippets???
Could you please make a youtube for this proposal? (I know this could be too much work ...)
"... integrated, fascinating practicing ..." Yes that is what I want (maybe I am not alone, hahahaha!). Wissam gave a sort of description, but you are able to translate for the poor students ...

Best greetings,

Thursday, August 30, 2007 10:35:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Lie (R. L.)
Sorry, I forget not to use weird English!
"Snippets of Bach" or "Bach bits" mean:

Find a piece of Bach with a beautiful scale, sequence of notes, or lovely melody. Put the tuning CD on for that key (Eb major, F minor, whatever key the little section that you like is in) and improvise your own version of that little bit of Bach.
If it is a scale, you can transpose the scale into other keys, change the track number of the CD to that key, and then practice the same few bars that you like in any key you like.
Because the Bach is so beautiful and deep, your scales, your tuning, your improvising, and your musical experience become deep.
I would make a youtube video of this, but my computer is broken and it will be a week or two until I'm back up and running for video.
Jen :>)

Thursday, August 30, 2007 8:40:00 PM

Blogger mark said...

Wonderful thoughts on practice time, thank you. :)

I think I shall look into using our idea about little snippets of Bach. :)


Friday, September 07, 2007 9:26:00 PM

Anonymous dolsenmusic said...

Dear Jen,
I have enjoyed your comments and your youtube demos. I have what I have self diagnosed as embouchure dystonia (upper lip tremor). I have been a flutist since my youth, and I am now a retired university professor (not of flute, but ethnomusicology). In addition to transverse flute (I did some symphony work back in the '60s), I have professional played Japanese shakuhachi and Andean kena. My upper lip tremor began a year ago, and I first noticed it when rehearsing for a wedding gig on Western flute. I have tried changing my embouchure a la your youtube demos and Galway's youtube demo. This has help somewhat, but the problem persists. I have tried facial massage as well, which doesn't seem to help. I will keep practicing, because the flute is one of the most meaningful things I do. I know there is very little discuss over this blog, but I wanted to let you and the flute world know of my plight. I'm 68, and was a colleague of Charles DeLaney at FSU, and currently a friend of Eva Amsler. Thanks and best wishes. Dale (dolsenmusic.net)

Sunday, May 17, 2009 6:55:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Dale,

I wonder if you could see a dentist who specializes in jaw tension to see whether the dystonia is trigged by too much tension at the jaw hinge?

This is a new specialty, and I believe there's a sensitive measuring device that can actually determine how much tension is in the jaw hinge.
The remedy might be an appliance like an "NTI" for bruxism, or a change in your bite.
The cause of the tension may be as simple as shifting teeth which have made your jaw tense because your bite is altered, or the very common problem of jutting the jaw forward, rather than setting it in a "natural" hanging position and instead, angling with the upper lip.

It's possible that a vitamin or mineral deficiency might also be looked into. I suggest vitamin C, and especially B-50 (all B vitamins in 50 mg.) which has a calming effect on the nerves and muscles.

To break habitual embouchure strain and neck tension postures, perhaps try "Rolfing" and "Alexander Technique" in that order. Rolfing will realign you from the ground up, and often change the head and neck balance in only one or two sessions as the real problem can be the legs, hips, knees and feet, surprisingly enough. Well worth the investment, as Rolfing makes you feel about 12 years old again--all stretchy, bouncy and well-balanced.

For jaw use, I recommend the Kujala articles on how to overcome the misuse of the jaw. He stresses, as did Nyfenger in "Music and the Flute" that the jaw works as an opening and closing mechanism and not as a sliding forward and back mechanism.
There are many players who were mis-taught to jut the jaw forwards and backwards to play dynamics and octave leaps, and if you are doing this you will see it on practise videos.
Have a look.
Changing this habit is easy when you have the three part Kujala articles from Flutetalk. Ask me to view.

Let me know if any of these ideas turn out to be helpful. Can't wait to hear of your recovery---likely after a visit to a dentist with a jaw-tension measuring device.
A slight change of the bite by tooth filing might be all that's needed, followed by massage and retraining the jaw to be easier in its use.
Good luck to you.

Jen Cluff

Monday, May 18, 2009 11:09:00 AM

Blogger csljaz said...

Did you ever get the Bach Chaconne transcription in g minor done and if so is it available somewhere? Thanks! Dig the site too!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010 10:52:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Craig,
Thanks for the kudo-rino! :>)
D.Bouri... will be publishing it, I understand. Meanwhile, all transcribers are busily trying to transcribe it. Best, J.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:15:00 AM

Anonymous Xaver said...

Dear Jennifer Cluff,

five years ago I was what you've termed an adult re-beginner in your blog. Ever since then playing the flute has turned into an essential part of my life and your blog has been such a great place for soooo much information all along. Thank you!

I struggled for quite a while to bring myself to finally write this entry and I apologize if all this is too embarrassing, but I simply can't get any answer from elsewhere. In short I hope that with your background you might know something on the issue of flute playing and "essential tremor".

Good of a year ago I started to realize that 'suddenly' I seemed to develop a tremor upon forming an embouchure, mostly in the upper lip and in the jaw, but also a little in the surrounding muscles. This tremor tends to produce an unwanted kind of unnatural vibrato and is very distracting in keeping a clean embouchure. I find myself putting much more strain on the upper lip then I used to, just in order to suppress the tremor and from that I get exhausted rapidly. Sometimes the tremor relaxes somewhat after playing an hour or so. More or less the same time I also realized that I seemed to have a additional tremor in my fingers (mostly left hand) which tends to interfere with playing fast tempi. First I thought I was just having some 'nervous times' and I tried not to pay attention. But then, some weeks ago I finally went to a neurologist, because I felt the tremor was interfering not only with my rediscovered hobby. The diagnosis was quick and shattering: "essential tremor".

This felt like a life sentence. But I'm not willing to give up on the flute yet. The only thing the doc suggested was some beta-blocker medication - if I wish - but also told me that the potential positive effects of the drug would wear off after some two years, and moreover, testing it once, I felt no big difference.

So all this is why I am trying to find more information if there is anything else I can do about essential tremor and flute playing, other than just sit and wait until the tremor forces me to give up. I just can't be the 1st flute player to have this question and I'd be very glad for any of your comments on this.

Best regards,
Xaver Gunter

Monday, August 16, 2010 4:27:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Xaver,

I'm sorry but I've never heard of "essential tremor" until now. I shall have to look it up.

My solution to all my problems was "Rolfing" which is deep massage.
Give it a try.
Best, Jen

Monday, August 16, 2010 7:42:00 AM

Anonymous Diana said...

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for writing your blog. I've been suffering from uncontrollable tremors since switching embouchures in my Masters. After years of either mass amounts of practice or none altogether (as well as thinking I was going crazy!), I finally read your blog, booked a nerve test and was diagnosed with focal dystonia. I really appreciate the sharing of this information as I was unable to find many articles about an embouchure based focal dystonia. Even though the diagnosis isn't great, I feel relieved in some way to know that it's not just a mental issue and that there's a solid reason for all the inconsistencies!

Keep up the good work and thanks again. :)


Wednesday, November 04, 2015 8:18:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Diane,
Here's some up-to-date focal dystonia information with good cure rate. Super interesting and worth investigating.
Best, Jen



Joaquín Farias

This is a "neuroplasticity" re-training expert who works with people who have focal dystonia, but also other repetitive strain injuries from musical intruments.

There were some interesting testimonial letters from clarinet principals etc. www.focaldystonia.net


Joaquín Farias is a leading specialist in neuropsychological rehabilitation in focal dystonias, biomechanist, ergonomist, psychosociologist, musician, martial arts instructor, shiatsu therapist, traveller, researcher and advocate for a patients's right to receive the least aggressive treatment available. Read Full Biography

Dr. Farias’ theory is to consider muscle spasms and tremors as logical and meaningful reactions by the human body. He has classified the different reactions observed and has linked them to different meanings by the body. He considers that spasms respond to unconscious defense patterns that follow a predetermined sequence which was programmed in the past. He believes that this sequence can be analyzed and dismantled sequentially.

Read more at: http://www.focaldystonia.net/farias.html


The above practicioner, Joaquín Farias, teaches in Toronto in the summers, and in NY and other places on a tour of workshops.

If I had the choice and time, I would sign up for a course with him in either Toronto, NY, LA, whichever city is closest to you.

On the FAQ page (http://www.focaldystonia.net/faq.html ) he says that many students get 95% improvement in three months.

I just received a pdf book "Rebellion" from this author and will be reading it.


There also are some very interesting "movement" videos of patients being worked with.

Hope this is helpful info.

Other links:

Focal dystonia & treatment for musicians:


Online help:

You can get advice on your pain from Lea Pearson, using a 30 minute skype consultation:


Wednesday, November 04, 2015 10:54:00 AM


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