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