Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...
jmaulz
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Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by jmaulz » Fri Sep 29, 2017 10:31 pm


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George Crocket
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by George Crocket » Sat Sep 30, 2017 7:21 am

Hi jmaulz. Welcome to the forum and thank you for the interesting link.

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A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Sat Oct 28, 2017 3:25 pm

Thank you, @jmaulz.

From the article: "For every five professional musicians, four will have some type of injury during their career. Two will continue to play but never fully recover. One will quit and do something else. Only one of those will recover quickly and completely enough to return to playing."

I think it's great that Johns Hopkins wants to help musicians recover. I think even more crucial is that injury be avoided wherever possible.

I was a professional pianist when younger and though I was retrained, I became one of the four who quit and do something else. (I became a book editor.)

Having resumed guitar after an extremely long hiatus, I have questions about how we prevent injury in the first place. I see things in the guitar world that concern me--for example, emphasis on volume, 650 as standard scale length, "stretching" rather than more passively "allowing" the hand to open on fretboard, lack of discussion on the use of forearm rotation on fretboard, lack of mention that sustained spreading at the knuckles causes tension to accrue, a need for more emphasis on playing with minimal force necessary, lack of clarity around how to avoid tension in the RH.

Lol, but maybe I'm missing something? The Golandsky Institute (Taubman technique) has worked hard to identify how the body actually works at the keyboard, in cooperation with medical researchers. Though he is not teaching Taubman per se, the explanations given here by pianist Graham Fitch are ergonomically / anatomically correct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLKVrl04w5Y.

Do any such technical approaches exist for guitar? I would love to have any pointed out to me if they do exist.

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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by guit-box » Sun Oct 29, 2017 2:18 pm

A.Arcese wrote:
Sat Oct 28, 2017 3:25 pm
Thank you, @jmaulz.

From the article: "For every five professional musicians, four will have some type of injury during their career. Two will continue to play but never fully recover. One will quit and do something else. Only one of those will recover quickly and completely enough to return to playing."

I think it's great that Johns Hopkins wants to help musicians recover. I think even more crucial is that injury be avoided wherever possible.

I was a professional pianist when younger and though I was retrained, I became one of the four who quit and do something else. (I became a book editor.)

Having resumed guitar after an extremely long hiatus, I have questions about how we prevent injury in the first place. I see things in the guitar world that concern me--for example, emphasis on volume, 650 as standard scale length, "stretching" rather than more passively "allowing" the hand to open on fretboard, lack of discussion on the use of forearm rotation on fretboard, lack of mention that sustained spreading at the knuckles causes tension to accrue, a need for more emphasis on playing with minimal force necessary, lack of clarity around how to avoid tension in the RH.

Lol, but maybe I'm missing something? The Golandsky Institute (Taubman technique) has worked hard to identify how the body actually works at the keyboard, in cooperation with medical researchers. Though he is not teaching Taubman per se, the explanations given here by pianist Graham Fitch are ergonomically / anatomically correct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLKVrl04w5Y.

Do any such technical approaches exist for guitar? I would love to have any pointed out to me if they do exist.
I agree with your points and have watched many hours of Taubman videos. In the left hand, guitarists often are trained to stretch to reach for notes, but it's my belief that there should first be an emphasis on shifting (bringing the whole hand) to the notes when possible. I teach my students to pretend their left hand is in a mitten where the fingers are lightly touching and then to hinge from the thumb joint to bring all the fingers to the note as if all 4 fingers are one finger. Of course you can't only do this, but there is a component of this feel that is very important, and it keeps you from splaying the fingers too much.

The right hand is another issue, there's so much wrong with the pedagogy. Read this blog post and the corresponding link
Weird phenomenon indeed: http://philiphii.com/2017/10/a-weird-phenomenon/
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Sun Oct 29, 2017 3:50 pm

guit-box wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 2:18 pm
I agree with your points and have watched many hours of Taubman videos. In the left hand, guitarists often are trained to stretch to reach for notes, but it's my belief that there should first be an emphasis on shifting (bringing the whole hand) to the notes when possible. I teach my students to pretend their left hand is in a mitten where the fingers are lightly touching and then to hinge from the thumb joint to bring all the fingers to the note as if all 4 fingers are one finger. Of course you can't only do this, but there is a component of this feel that is very important, and it keeps you from splaying the fingers too much.

The right hand is another issue, there's so much wrong with the pedagogy. Read this blog post and the corresponding link
Weird phenomenon indeed: http://philiphii.com/2017/10/a-weird-phenomenon/
Thank you so much for your response.

I believe the "left hand is a mitten" idea is sound. At the keyboard I learned a couple of good metaphors:

* When I initially place my fingers over the keyboard, I am slipping my hands into a "pair of velvet gloves" (brings overall tension level to dynamic relaxation)
* The hand is like a "paw" (keeps the fingers more together by default, which in turn allows grip to function, shifts work to larger muscle groups when possible)

At times I complain about the reliance on metaphor in teaching, but I believe it's a good thing if done carefully and you know what the metaphor is trying to accomplish.

And of course you're absolutely right, we can't play that way all the time. We are going to spread our fingers out! But if we learn to let the hand come back into its "mitten" form as a default, we are giving it a chance to recover after its last effort, and we may be ensuring that the next shape/s formed will not carry over tension from earlier shapes.

Regarding the right hand, I read the blog post you linked to and will think about it and experiment. I don't claim expertise at Taubman stuff, only familiarity (was retrained in it, did Suzuki teacher training with someone who incorporates Taubman principles, have my child taught by a Taubman instructor). My question about the idea of the middle joint is, yes, I assume the middle joint should be moving, and where is that movement initiated? The blog post asks if there would be "natural reflex action" vs conscious effort, and imo any really good technique will take advantage of reflexes wherever possible, even if the initial learning of how to let those reflexes kick in must be consciously acquired by many people.

If you're not familiar with the book "Body Learning," by Michael Gelb, it's a fantastic explication of how reflexes work, based in Alexander technique, but not a mere reiteration of Alexander.

The blog post also refers to a good outcome as "all three joints moving as a unit"--yes, sounds right! As I've begun trying to understand some of the issues of historical performance practices, and RH playing without nails, I have noted that many flesh players seem to be using very complete movements of the fingers. The hand does not look static. I see something more like a subtle undulation of the hand and fingers, with movement waves that travel across all the joints. At times the fingertips may even move a bit with a swish. I expect that this means the reflexes are fully engaging, and if that's so, it's healthy.

I am guessing that the knuckle playing has to do with the idea that grip strength is our best hand strength, and that playing from the knuckle engages it? But if you grip your hand continually, you will feel how limiting this is and how quickly tension builds, and how apt it is to involve the tendons in the forearms. By contrast, if you drop your hand to your side and let gravity shape it as you do when you walk, and then lift it in that shape, and now begin to wave your loose fingers, it will feel very relaxed and free. Maybe I'll make some little videos this week to demonstrate what I mean by this.

Please take everything I say not as a set of answers to technical problems, but as an attempt to formulate and frame questions.

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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by Rasputin » Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:08 pm

A.Arcese wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 3:50 pm
At times I complain about the reliance on metaphor in teaching, but I believe it's a good thing if done carefully and you know what the metaphor is trying to accomplish.
I certainly think it can be a good thing - I'm familiar with the general ideas underlying your original post but it is very difficult to put them into practice and I think metaphors or visualisations can help there. It's easy to take on board the idea that we should do things with just the right amount of tension, never too much, but it is very hard to get rid of the habit of tensing more than is really necessary. I carry a lot of tension in my left shoulder, for example, and have been aware of this for ages - but knowing it is a bad thing doesn't make it go away. I can see though that if somebody misunderstands what the metaphor is trying to accomplish, that is going to lead to problems.

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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by guit-box » Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:18 pm

Philip Hii has many blog posts and videos on that site beyond this one blog that are very worth looking at. I posted this one because he links to my thread on Right Hand Technique & Concert Guitarist Slow Motion Videos. It turns out what has been taught for decades (playing from the large knuckle joint MCP) is incorrect or at least incomplete. If you haven't seen the video thread, take a look at it. The forearm rotational component is likely more important to piano technique than guitar, there's some of that in guitar, but it's more about positioning than it is about generating a pluck with forearm rotation. For instance, a certain amount of supination of the left hand is needed when using the pinky finger. Mostly in the right and left hands it's about flexion of the middle and tip joints PIP/DIP joints for plucking and pull-offs. I believe using too much MCP flexion effort while locking the PIP in one position was the cause/trigger for my focal dystonia and ultimately digging out of that hole was about cutting back on MCP flexion and focusing on using the middle joint more. It's deceptive, because the MCP is the first to move the finger to the string or to the key, but then the PIP/DIP flexion take over. Once the MCP brings the finger to the string or presses the key, it needs to release or risk building tension into your playing. It would be interesting to talk with and/or examine how the fingers/joints of concert pianists move, I suspect this movement is universal in highly refined players when they are playing faster passages. (you can get away with other movements that are less efficient for slower passages)
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:32 pm

Rasputin wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:08 pm
I certainly think it can be a good thing - I'm familiar with the general ideas underlying your original post but it is very difficult to put them into practice and I think metaphors or visualisations can help there. It's easy to take on board the idea that we should do things with just the right amount of tension, never too much, but it is very hard to get rid of the habit of tensing more than is really necessary. I carry a lot of tension in my left shoulder, for example, and have been aware of this for ages - but knowing it is a bad thing doesn't make it go away. I can see though that if somebody misunderstands what the metaphor is trying to accomplish, that is going to lead to problems.
Yes to the bolded, and in general I agree. To expand on what I said about metaphor, I've studied piano (a lot) and voice (only some), and have encountered metaphors handed down across time that I think carry forward outmoded ideas, or that simply fail to be precise and informative.

In some instances, I think the metaphors may have gotten uncoupled from the technical outcome they were originally attached to. Or the metaphors were specifically suited to the problems of a particular student, but then got codified for teaching all students.

Metaphors are powerful in that they can activate your awareness and understanding, or put them to sleep, imo. George Lakoff's work on metaphors in cognitive linguistics makes clear just how powerful, and how they can operate unconsciously. :o So yeah, metaphors can do a lot of good. Or they can prevent a process of clear inquiry and you end up in the "mystical" zone.

If a teacher's using a metaphor with me, I hope they know what they're trying to get me to do on a technical level, or will admit that they don't fully know, ha, but I should just try it. If I'm given a metaphor, I'll try to understand objectively what it's meant to help me accomplish.

A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:39 pm

guit-box wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:18 pm
Philip Hii has many blog posts and videos on that site beyond this one blog that are very worth looking at. I posted this one because he links to my thread on Right Hand Technique & Concert Guitarist Slow Motion Videos. It turns out what has been taught for decades (playing from the large knuckle joint MCP) is incorrect or at least incomplete. If you haven't seen the video thread, take a look at it. The forearm rotational component is likely more important to piano technique than guitar, there's some of that in guitar, but it's more about positioning than it is about generating a pluck with forearm rotation. For instance, a certain amount of supination of the left hand is needed when using the pinky finger. Mostly in the right and left hands it's about flexion of the middle and tip joints PIP/DIP joints for plucking and pull-offs. I believe using too much MCP flexion effort while locking the PIP in one position was the cause/trigger for my focal dystonia and ultimately digging out of that hole was about cutting back on MCP flexion and focusing on using the middle joint more. It's deceptive, because the MCP is the first to move the finger to the string or to the key, but then the PIP/DIP flexion take over. Once the MCP brings the finger to the string or presses the key, it needs to release or risk building tension into your playing. It would be interesting to talk with and/or examine how the fingers/joints of concert pianists move, I suspect this movement is universal in highly refined players when they are playing faster passages. (you can get away with other movements that are less efficient for slower passages)
I'm going to look through all of this material. Thank you.

Forearm rotation would be more applicable to the fretting hand. As you say, especially when the little finger is coming into use (this would likely apply to ring finger, too, but would be less pronounced). I've already encountered in relearning guitar being shown to move the fingers independently, while spread, in order to fret--very difficult, soreness-inducing--when I can see that I can do it with relaxation and comfort if I employ some gentle rotation. The issue there is that rotation could feel less secure because there might be a sense of aiming a little more blindly at the frets. I'm wondering if the 650-scale fretboard is a factor in this, too (spreading + planting, vs subtle feeling of blindly aiming).

Editing to add: 1. I'm sorry you have experienced focal dystonia.

2. At piano, you have the "curved finger" school, and the "natural hand shape" school. I find the best, healthiest pianists are more likely to have a natural hand shape, high relaxation, and fluidity. On keyboard, your forearm is falling repeatedly, and you can make extensive use of gravity. You can start by working on these gross forearm movements, and refining down to the fingertips, rather than starting with artificially curved fingertips, working your way up through independent fingers, and only maybe getting full involvement of the forearm.

I think there's a correspondence to the issue of the knuckle vs the middle joint on guitar, in that the curved-finger school, where you begin imagining that you are holding an orange in your hand, probably encourages more stiffness across the middle joint, probably is more static. I haven't figured out for sure what I think is happening there, but that's my suspicion and would require deeper investigation.

Guitar seems to pose some special challenges. What about gravity? Someone playing a Brahms guitar points out on YouTube that it allows him to use gravity when he plays. Otherwise, the fretting hand is often working against it. What about forearms? I did watch one Golandsky video where the point was being made that a guitarist could fret without gripping--essentially without needing the thumb. A lot of people talk about this here and there. For RH, there may be more potential for gravity to get involved and you could see more reflexive movements if so.
Last edited by A.Arcese on Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by AndreiKrylov » Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:01 pm

Interesting article. For guitarists many health problems come from endless hours of very uncomfortable and ergonomically bad sitting position...but it is usually taboo to discuss fundamental things like that... I also think that if shape of guitar will be changed to make instrument more adjustable and convenient for our body and hands this may help too - yet this idea of changing guitar shape and construction would probably not be accepted too...
Thanks!

A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:45 pm

AndreiKrylov wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:01 pm
Interesting article. For guitarists many health problems come from endless hours of very uncomfortable and ergonomically bad sitting position...but it is usually taboo to discuss fundamental things like that... I also think that if shape of guitar will be changed to make instrument more adjustable and convenient for our body and hands this may help too - yet this idea of changing guitar shape and construction would probably not be accepted too...
The stakes for not confronting taboos like this can be high. As high as wrecking your health and losing your career or beloved hobby. That is not acceptable, and music cultures that refuse to tackle physiology and ergonomics should be willing to acknowledge they are all too willing to injure people. Sorry if that sounds drastic on my part, but I experienced injury myself and enrolled my daughter in non-Taubman piano lessons this fall only to discover that dangerous technique is still being widely taught to innocent, enthusiastic kids.

I've followed your comments on the use of a strap and I agree that straps are a pretty obvious help and it's bizarre for them to be so "wrong" for contemporary concert classicals. Every other kind of guitar--and concert guitars of the not-distant past--has them or had them. There's a reason why--they work well for many players.

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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by guit-box » Sun Oct 29, 2017 7:18 pm

A.Arcese wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:39 pm

I'm going to look through all of this material. Thank you.

Forearm rotation would be more applicable to the fretting hand. As you say, especially when the little finger is coming into use (this would likely apply to ring finger, too, but would be less pronounced). I've already encountered in relearning guitar being shown to move the fingers independently, while spread, in order to fret--very difficult, soreness-inducing--when I can see that I can do it with relaxation and comfort if I employ some gentle rotation. The issue there is that rotation could feel less secure because there might be a sense of aiming a little more blindly at the frets. I'm wondering if the 650-scale fretboard is a factor in this, too (spreading + planting, vs subtle feeling of blindly aiming).

Editing to add: 1. I'm sorry you have experienced focal dystonia.

2. At piano, you have the "curved finger" school, and the "natural hand shape" school. I find the best, healthiest pianists are more likely to have a natural hand shape, high relaxation, and fluidity. On keyboard, your forearm is falling repeatedly, and you can make extensive use of gravity. You can start by working on these gross forearm movements, and refining down to the fingertips, rather than starting with artificially curved fingertips, working your way up through independent fingers, and only maybe getting full involvement of the forearm.

I think there's a correspondence to the issue of the knuckle vs the middle joint on guitar, in that the curved-finger school, where you begin imagining that you are holding an orange in your hand, probably encourages more stiffness across the middle joint, probably is more static. I haven't figured out for sure what I think is happening there, but that's my suspicion and would require deeper investigation.

Guitar seems to pose some special challenges. What about gravity? Someone playing a Brahms guitar points out on YouTube that it allows him to use gravity when he plays. Otherwise, the fretting hand is often working against it. What about forearms? I did watch one Golandsky video where the point was being made that a guitarist could fret without gripping--essentially without needing the thumb. A lot of people talk about this here and there. For RH, there may be more potential for gravity to get involved and you could see more reflexive movements if so.
I agree with the gravity concepts etc. It's tricky to describe these matters because people will interpret use of the forearm or use of the middle joint differently. Taubman teaches to rotate the forearm to play between say fingers 1 and 5, and that's a very natural movement if you are playing the piano or plucking with a pick, it doesn't really translate to classical guitar. Some players insist on doing that in the left hand for pull-offs, but that movement is limited and the players who exclusively use it tend not to develop the better technique which involves flexion of PIP/DIP while MCP is extending. The later is the better and more versatile movement. In the right hand there is a lot of variety of players who supinate vs pronate the forearm, you'll see dozens of examples on the my slow motion thread.

Do a google search with this "Masterclass with Pepe Romero in Celedonio Romero Guitar Institute (2014, Oklahoma USA)" He teaches how to develop a good pull-off and he even says it's the same movement for the right hand at one point.
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

Rasputin
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by Rasputin » Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:21 pm

It's always possible of course that playing CG inherently carries a risk of injury, and although you can reduce the risk to some extent, you can only go so far before you start undermining your technique. Most of us are probably prepared to take some risk.
A.Arcese wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:39 pm
Forearm rotation would be more applicable to the fretting hand. As you say, especially when the little finger is coming into use (this would likely apply to ring finger, too, but would be less pronounced). I've already encountered in relearning guitar being shown to move the fingers independently, while spread, in order to fret--very difficult, soreness-inducing--when I can see that I can do it with relaxation and comfort if I employ some gentle rotation. The issue there is that rotation could feel less secure because there might be a sense of aiming a little more blindly at the frets. I'm wondering if the 650-scale fretboard is a factor in this, too (spreading + planting, vs subtle feeling of blindly aiming).
Here's a case in point (and one I can identify with). If you force yourself into the model that finger spacing corresponds to fret spacing, then you put a lot of tension into the hand, but at the same time the relatively fixed hand position makes for relative security. If you opt instead to move the hand so as to make life easier for the fingers, you reduce the strain on the body, but you also make it more difficult to be accurate.

A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Mon Oct 30, 2017 12:59 am

Rasputin wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:21 pm
It's always possible of course that playing CG inherently carries a risk of injury, and although you can reduce the risk to some extent, you can only go so far before you start undermining your technique. Most of us are probably prepared to take some risk.
Sure, risk is everywhere. I could die just crossing the street. At least at the piano, where a lot of answers are available, it seems many teachers aren't interested in those answers. The same injury-inducing techniques I was taught were being taught to my daughter in September (until I found her a better teacher).
Here's a case in point (and one I can identify with). If you force yourself into the model that finger spacing corresponds to fret spacing, then you put a lot of tension into the hand, but at the same time the relatively fixed hand position makes for relative security. If you opt instead to move the hand so as to make life easier for the fingers, you reduce the strain on the body, but you also make it more difficult to be accurate.
What I like in what you wrote here is that you're presenting it as a choice. Choices are good!

A.Arcese
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Re: Johns Hopkins/Peobody stepping up for musicians health

Post by A.Arcese » Mon Oct 30, 2017 1:05 am

guit-box wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 7:18 pm
I agree with the gravity concepts etc. It's tricky to describe these matters because people will interpret use of the forearm or use of the middle joint differently. Taubman teaches to rotate the forearm to play between say fingers 1 and 5, and that's a very natural movement if you are playing the piano or plucking with a pick, it doesn't really translate to classical guitar. Some players insist on doing that in the left hand for pull-offs, but that movement is limited and the players who exclusively use it tend not to develop the better technique which involves flexion of PIP/DIP while MCP is extending. The later is the better and more versatile movement. In the right hand there is a lot of variety of players who supinate vs pronate the forearm, you'll see dozens of examples on the my slow motion thread.

Do a google search with this "Masterclass with Pepe Romero in Celedonio Romero Guitar Institute (2014, Oklahoma USA)" He teaches how to develop a good pull-off and he even says it's the same movement for the right hand at one point.
I bought Philip Hii's "Art of Virtuosity" (guitar) book and watched some of his videos. I've managed to get through part of the epic thread on RH technique and middle joint. If this is redundant, sorry for that, but do you think Philip Hii's fingertip approach to RH playing allows each finger to work using a little gravity to help it along? If that were the case, each finger of the RH would be akin to the pianist's forearm, sort of.

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