Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pain in practise, not in performance

I have carpal tunnel, tennis elbow and hand pain from my previous work as a typist. Now it is badly affecting my flute playing. Strangely enough it only affects me during practising, but not in performance. So I basically have to perform on very little practise. Does anyone have any advice? Do you think it is the endorphins that make performing pain-free?

Perhaps it could be endorphins, adrenalin etc., but there are other factors also.
I was speaking recently with another professional, performing flutist who mentioned the same thing: No pain during performances, only when practising. We came up with the following possibilities:

1. If the hand or arm pain is caused by compression in the neck, it is possible that you habitually compress the neck at a strange angle only during your practise routine but not when standing on-stage. You may unconsciously use a different posture in front of an audience, using a more elongated neck than you do when practising alone at home.

2. If the pains are caused by repeating sections of music over and over again, and over-controlling the muscles to try and create perfection, which in turn is fatiguing for your arms/hands, remember that you do not use this repetition of sections when in performance.
In performance you play the fingery passages once only each.

3. If the pains are caused by a crooking back of the wrists or an imbalance in the weight of the flute (too much weight taken by one hand or the other), or high elbows, or any other kind of muscular over-contraction, during a performance you would only be doing this for about 10-15 minutes at a time. During practise you would be contracting (shortening) the muscles for much longer than only 15 minutes at a time before resting.

4. If the pains are somehow caused by a rhythmic arm or hand contraction that you make when pounding out a rhythms (sympathetic rhythmic contraction of a muscle in order to beat time) you would be less likely to do this when performing with other musicians, as the rhythm would be carried by the group (or by the pianist) and not just by the solo flutist.
This is noticeable immediately when you use a recording device to play duets with yourself.
On the first recording of one part of the duet, you pound out a steady rhythm, using a different body language when playing with a metronome than you do when you play the recording back and play the second duet part overtop.
Try this and see.
When playing the recording back and performing the second flute duet part overtop you'll find your whole body relaxes (including arms and hands) as "someone else is carrying the rhythm".
You will feel like you're floating along when "someone else is carrying the rhythm" (in this case the recording.) As a result you'll notice tension has decreased radically in arms and shoulders.

5. Also possibly: your personal idea of practising (let's say you see it as: trying to correct flaws) may create a different state of muscle tension than your conception of performing ( Let's say you see it as: sharing music with an appreciative audience and fellow musicians.)You may tense yourself mentally when you practise, and thus tense your body.
Often we mistakenly think that practise is "cracking the whip" whereas performance is more like "hit or miss, I'm just going to play my heart out, and have fun."

Do you see practising as self-criticism and perfecting yourself, and performing as invigorating/exhilarating?

6. Also possibly; your practising uses your eyes more to read sheetmusic. (and hopefully you have no difficulty with an optical prescription for reading music.) In performances, you have already learned the notes, and are just glancing at them as reminders. Check your stand height and your head balance; are you peering at the sheetmusic with your head tilted downward, or jutting out from the shoulders? Hand and arm pain can be caused by tightness in the neck and shoulders, and peering at a dimly lit, or low-set music stand over several hours of practising can strain the neck forward.
Take a video camera into your practise space and record your practising. You may find that you only jut your head forward to peer at the music stand in practise, and NOT in performance.

7. Finally; Acoustics.
Some flutists find that when playing in a dead practise space,
acoustically speaking, they have to force the flute to ring, whereas when in a live acoustic, like a performance hall, they don't need to force at all.
If your practise space sounds dead, and this makes you force the flute hard into your chin, or pound the keys, or strain your neck forward, or force air from the throat, try practising in a live, echo-filled, ringing acoustic to see whether your arms, hands etc. all relax more when the flute rings by itself without forcing the sound.

Hope this helps.
Also see: Causes of hand and arm pain
Most of the arm/hand pain I experienced was caused by:
a) pad leaks
b) tightness in the neck and shoulders
c) trying to play an inline G open-hole flute when it didn't fit my
d) trying to balance a flute that was constantly rolling inward
because of the weight of the rods and my headjoint alignment being centered instead of modified-rockstro.
Good luck,
Jen Cluff - Canada

Comments (1)
Blogger Sheila said...

Woohoo! Loved that post! So true, and what an awesome reminder. I often check myself and find I'm doing some weird little muscle-straining thing like poking my head in some odd direction or tensing up my fingers/arms/shoulders on fast or tricky passages. Thank you!

I also really enjoyed the last two fluteloops! I listened to No. 11 while making flute covers last night! Yay! So good. I want to go watch those videos of Mr. Boyk again.

Thanks again,

Thursday, January 10, 2008 7:53:00 AM


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