My Struggle or 'Journey' with RH Dystonia

Talk about things that are not necessarily related to music or the guitar.
rikroberts
Posts: 18
Joined: Mon Jul 24, 2017 11:22 pm

My Struggle or 'Journey' with RH Dystonia

Post by rikroberts » Sun Jul 30, 2017 5:21 pm

I have been thinking how I suspect not enough guitarists share their struggles with Focal Dystonia, especially those who perform/teach, so I thought I would do so. I also wonder if my own story might be a bit different, as I didn't seek to cure the dystonia but immediately decided to carry on and incorporate my funny hand movements into my playing so I could fulfil performing assignments. In other words, I went for compensatory techniques rather than treatment.

Is this the right way to respond to Dystonia? Most likely not, get treatment if you can.

However, 8 years on my playing is better than ever, and you would never know I've had it/have it from watching me play today. Also, I never missed one gig. I am much more aware of every aspect of my playing as a result of coping with dystonia. I should point out I could never have afforded any treatment.

My story.

Detection:

8 years ago, after an intensive period of practising, I picked up the guitar one day and noticed I was missing bass notes with my RH thumb from time to time. I was more focussed on my LH at that point, so I just shrugged and ignored it. A couple of days later I looked down at my RH and was shocked to see my thumb (P) was bending at the tip and falling into my hand, behind my 'i' finger. When I tried to stop it bending, my thumb kept crashing into my 'i' finger and momentarily clenching together with it.

Years 1-2:
I carried on playing for at least two years by keeping my thumb straight and letting it push into my index finger, and clench at times. I was able to play some pretty good gigs like this (corporate events/ functions/ weddings), with people commenting positively on my playing.

Years 3-5:
I decided after a couple of years that something had to change, so I then sought to play with a rather wildly extended RH thumb, thus avoiding the clenching. This worked okay, but my tone suffered as I had to square up my RH hand against the strings, and there was more tension. Sometimes my RH just caved in and my fingers all spread out. I played quite well like this though, and I was able to play better arpeggios this way, e.g in Bach suites.

Years 6-7:
At this point, I needed better tone, and came up with my most bizarre solution, which looked funny but yielded better results than the previous two approaches. I noticed I could extend my RH thumb, bend it permanently at the tip (like a hook) and get better thumb tone on my nail, avoid P and i clashing, and I could also curve my i,m,a fingers right round, striking more under the strings, but still pushing downwards, to get a very loud, strong tone. I was basically playing like a Ragtime guitarist but with an arched wrist. This gave the best results so far, and I was performing occasional recitals again as well as commercial event type engagements, I also recorded an album. I could handle nearly all of the repertoire. RH tension was quite high, as you can imagine.

Years 8 - beyond:
More recently, during a period of doing more performing than I have for years, with my RH hand issues deep in my prayers, I have found I can just relax the right hand diagonally to the strings again like I used to in my earlier days, keeping my RH thumb straight but not over extended, and play without really any clashing of p and i. The dystonia just seems to have faded, it's still there but it doesn't manifest itself very much anymore. I have also learned that making sure the i and m fingers strike in a straight line helps. The odd occasion when l do feel a build up of tension and the clenching starting, I can now square my hand up a little and extend my thumb out - I do this in arpeggios a fair bit. My posture is better now and more relaxed (it was always pretty good). Curving i,m,a fingers more seems to keep my thumb working pretty normally. I feel I play better now than before I noticed the dystonia.

I hope this might spark useful discussion, or show people how not to do it, or even how to do it, I don't know. If my story is useful to others, then I will be glad I posted this, after all, I am using my real name. My point is please do get treatment if you can, speak to experts. But, please know that it is possible to play really well in spite of Dystonia, at least in some instances, if treatment isn't effective.

Best,
Rik
Last edited by rikroberts on Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:27 pm, edited 3 times in total.

dory
Posts: 1671
Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2012 3:29 am
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Re: My Struggle or 'Journey' with RH Dystonia

Post by dory » Sun Jul 30, 2017 8:02 pm

Thank you. I am going to forward this to a friend who has dystonia on his right hand thumb. His is pretty bad. His whole thumb curls under to the palm of his hand. I have started to wonder if he could tape his thumb straight and use it by turning his wrist. I have also wondered if guitarists with right thumb dystonia could learn to play left handed. It seems like a rigid thumb couls still grip the neck, and the left hand fingers are still intact. My friend can do some remarkable things without a thumb, but I can't imagine playing that way. It hurts me because although I love the guitar it is not my whole life. This guy has a different profession, and will always be an amateur guitarist, but his passion for the guitar is intense. Also, arguably the best local guitarist I know has had to stop performing because of arthritis in his hands. I am sitting here wishing I coukd trade hands with him, because he plays so beautifully, or with my dystonia friend because he loves the guitar so passionately.
Dory

dory
Posts: 1671
Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2012 3:29 am
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Re: My Struggle or 'Journey' with RH Dystonia

Post by dory » Sun Jul 30, 2017 8:03 pm

Thank you. I am going to forward this to a friend who has dystonia on his right hand thumb. His is pretty bad. His whole thumb curls under to the palm of his hand. I have started to wonder if he could tape his thumb straight and use it by turning his wrist. I have also wondered if guitarists with right thumb dystonia could learn to play left handed. It seems like a rigid thumb couls still grip the neck, and the left hand fingers are still intact. My friend can do some remarkable things without a thumb, but I can't imagine playing that way. It hurts me because although I love the guitar it is not my whole life. This guy has a different profession, and will always be an amateur guitarist, but his passion for the guitar is intense. Also, arguably the best local guitarist I know has had to stop performing because of arthritis in his hands. I am sitting here wishing I coukd trade hands with him, because he plays so beautifully, or with my dystonia friend because he loves the guitar so passionately.
Dory

dory
Posts: 1671
Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2012 3:29 am
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Re: My Struggle or 'Journey' with RH Dystonia

Post by dory » Sun Jul 30, 2017 10:15 pm

I am sorry. I don't know how I double posted again. It looked like my post hadn't gone through but when I clicked again I had posted twice.
Dory

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