Month: December 2015

Fluter’s Arm – Tendonitis 101

Welcome to Flute Friday!

As I am currently in bed suffering from the traditional pre-holiday winter cold, I was inspired this week to discuss one of the most common performance related conditions: Tendonitis. Sometimes referred to as “tennis elbow” or “golfer’s elbow,” Tendonitis is an inflammation or irritation caused by microscopic tears of the tendons (tough, flexible, fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones). Prolonged repetitive movements of smaller muscles often cause this condition, such as those used in sports, performing a musical instrument, or prolonged practice of the Ibert Concerto. The type of pain associated with Tendonitis may vary from general, localized soreness to shooting pains up and down the inner arm, depending on severity. It is not a fun condition to encounter. Tendonitis has become prevalent in music schools throughout the country and deserves to be discussed, dissected, and dismantled.

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Several years ago, when I was an eager college freshmen music performance major, I developed Tendonitis in my left arm after countless hours practicing Mozart in preparation for the school’s annual concerto competition. What started out as a mild soreness in my wrist quickly developed into persistent shooting pains beginning at the base of my elbow moving throughout the length of my forearm. I performed a painful version of my concerto for the competition but soon after was instructed by doctors to rest my arm until the pain subsided, however long that may be. That turned out to be 4 months. For 4 months at the beginning of my music school career, I hobbled around campus with my left arm in brace, observing lessons and rehearsals from the balcony as a spectator rather than a participant. I went to physical therapy, took some much-needed Alexander Technique lessons, and stuck to my evening ice pack like glue. Although I eventually regained use of my left arm and could return to performing, to this day whenever I have been practicing too long without taking a break, I can still feel the pains in my left arm reminding me to stop. Damaged tendons stick with you forever, therefore it is imperative to act ASAP whenever you begin to feel any performance-related pain.

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Have you been experiencing pain in your wrist or elbow? What steps can you take to improve the situation?

1. MOST IMPORTANTLY – Take a break. This should be the golden rule of flute playing. Do not practice more than 1 hour without taking a 15-minute break to stretch and relax. I know how easy it is to become fixated on a passage (one more time! I can nail it this time!) but it is not worth the pain or physical harm that will develop later.

2. ICE IT! I was never a big fan of ice melting down my arm each night while I was trying to heal but this step was crucial to the rehabilitation process. Invest in a reusable ice pack or use a bag of frozen peas applied directly to your forearm. Apply for 15-20 minutes at a time.

3. Take an anti-inflammatory medication. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs such as Advil help target pain in the tendons. 3 pills every 4-6 hours does the trick.

4. Sign up for Alexander Technique lessons. This was extremely important to my healing process. With the help of my instructor, I could pinpoint exactly how I was misusing my arms, back, and neck in daily practice and retrain my body to hold itself properly to avoid future discomfort.                   

5. Switch to an offset G. I purchased a new flute shortly after my Tendonitis subsided, switching from an inline G (which required my small ring finger to over-stretch to reach the G key) to an offset G which did not require as much physical work to achieve the same results. Today, you may purchase extenders for the G key as a temporary fix until you can switch permanently to an offset G.

6. Rest it. This is difficult (I know) but give yourself ample time to rest your arm if you are in pain and slowly return to practice in 15 minute increments.

7. Participate in physical therapy if required by your doctor. This part was very painful for me because the doctor would test the limits of my strength each week, but it was also very helpful in measuring my healing progress. Discuss reasonable goals and timelines regarding your return to performing.

8. Find the beauty and simplicity IN listening to music if you are benched. This is also very difficult because you will want nothing more than to hop on stage and rejoin your group as quickly as possible, but if you are assigned to the balcony while you heal, use your time to observe what works well in your performing groups and what you can learn simply by witnessing the music making process.

9. Wear an arm or wrist brace. Make sure to get one with a decent metal or plastic support rather than the cheaper braces that fit over your wrists. There is a significant difference in comfort and the supportive frame will help you recuperate faster. Amazon.com offers a few decent options such as the  BraceUP Wrist Support Brace with Splints for Carpal Tunnel Arthritis – Right Wrist (L/XL).

10.  Stretch before playing. Simple wrist and arm stretches will strengthen your muscles and increase flexibility before a long practice session.

11.  Accept that the healing process will take time. Do not try to force your body to heal faster than possible because it will not listen to you.

Have you ever been diagnosed with Tendonitis? What were your strategies to heal and return to performance? What worked well? What was challenging? Please comment below!

Take care of yourselves and your flute playing!

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Flute Meme Friday

Greetings and welcome to another Flute Friday. I thought that with all of the recent horror happening around this world, today would be a good day to simply laugh (and not just at Donald Trump’s antics). The following are my Top 10 favorite flute memes on the internet. Do you have a favorite meme? Please share below in the comments!

  1. Ron Burgundy (of course):               untitled (45)
  2. Jethro Tull (obviously):                                  images7HXKI627.jpg
  3. This instrument is too damn high:                 imagesUFO4BI11.jpg
  4. Protect Yourself from the Flute:      images9TJWOFOT
  5. Oh Azeem:                                                  imagesIMTKR99Q
  6. Another Ron:                                       imagesSKK4KJDL
  7. Flute Fail Disney Style:                     images (20)
  8. Waiting:                                                          imagesIGYKK3O5
  9. A bit of History:                                                      imagesHMWVB1F3
  10. Practice More:                                                         images1IFKS1BH

Abracadabra! 3rd Octave Trick Fingerings

Welcome to another Flute Friday (posted on Saturday….).

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Solo and orchestral works are often riddled with passages that fall well under the fingers when played on a piano but do not translate well to the flute, particularly in the high register. We drill these passages in the practice room in military boot camp style to train our fingers to play the pattern on the page, sometimes taking days, months, or in extreme cases (Chant de Linos, I’m talking to you), years. Of course, there is an easier way around these seemingly impossible fingerings. The term “trick fingerings” does not refer to strange slights of hand magicians use to trick our eyes into believing they have grown a third hand (although, let’s be honest, that would be incredibly helpful to us as well – anyone who has tried to simultaneously play and conduct a group would agree). Trick fingerings, or alternate fingerings as they are more eloquently called, are different fingerings we can use to sound the same note as the original fingering. Although these seem like the magical secret of life when you discover them, the sound quality is nearly always different from the original. True trick fingerings, therefore, should be reserved for quick passages where sound quality on individual notes can be masked. Luckily, for many of us, exposed virtuosic passages are where we need trick fingerings the most! These musical shortcuts take the unnecessary elbow grease out performing a passage that goes by in the blink of an eye, allowing you, the performer, to shift your focus onto creating a beautiful sound, convincing dynamics, and an extraordinarily brilliant performance.

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The most basic trick fingerings, and the ones I will focus on today, are based on harmonics. If you have been practicing your harmonic warm-ups, you will know that when you finger a low C and move the lips gradually forward and down as you apply more air, you will produce a series of harmonics that extend into the high register (C, C, G, C, E, G, Bb). The same concept can be used on fingerings in the middle register to achieve harmonic tones sounding in the high register. This is sometimes referred to a “overblowing” a note. The passage C, D, E, F, G in the 3rd octave, for example, is significantly more difficult to play than in the lower octaves because the fingerings are very different. If you encounter a fast-moving passage requiring this progression, an easier alternative is to finger the passage F, G, A, Bb, C in the middle register, overblowing the tones by moving your lips slightly forward and down, to sound the C, D, E, F, G passage in the higher register. It is trick fingering magic! Your fingers will thank you.

This concept can be applied to many other scale-wise passages in the higher register, the most infamous being the 3rd octave passage D, E, F#, G#. These are some of the most difficult fingerings on the flute and have plagued artists for decades. Using the rule of the 5th (meaning any note you overblow in the middle register will sound a perfect 5th above the fingered note), when the middle register fingerings G, A, B, C# are overblown they will sound the same D, E, F#, G# passage. Word of warning: this passage often concludes on a high A and the high D fingering unfortunately will not produce the high A. The high A must be played with the original fingering.

One of my favorite passages to apply trick fingerings to is taken from the Carmen Fantasie by Francios Borne. Measures 103-104 feature the rather clunky F, E, D#, E repeated 32nd note progression:

 

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A rather virtuosic figure, fingering and overblowing a middle Bb, A, G#, A will produce the same pitches while cleverly disguising the difference in sound quality. The passage is, therefore, significantly easier to play, allowing the performer to create an exciting crescendo to the climax of the phrase.

Another passage that can be simplified using trick fingerings is taken from the final phrase in Chant de Linos by Jolivet. 3 measures from the end of the work, a fast-moving passage in sextuplets appears, arranged in a D, F, G, A, G, F pattern:

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This is a very exhausting phrase to perform with standard fingerings. Practice overblowing the progression G, Bb, C, (high A standard fingering), C, Bb using middle register fingerings. Same pitches. Significantly easier to play. As the conclusion of the work, the focus in this phrase should be placed on the 8th note D pitches rather than the spinning line leading to tonic. Using trick fingerings in this passage helps to accomplish this while retaining the bravura achieved in the faster moving notes.

There are many other trick fingerings that can be used to achieve different types of sounds in various musical scenarios, however the Rule of the 5th is a great starting place for those of you needing a few shortcuts in faster moving passages. Using these harmonic fingerings has helped me iron out exposed, fast moving passages in orchestral settings, allowing me to focus my sound on the more significant tones in the phrase. If you are interested in learning more about other types of trick fingerings, two great resources are The Other Flute by Robert Dick and A Modern Guide to Fingerings for the Flute by James Pellerite. Both books provide extensive lists of alternate fingerings that can be used to achieve pitches in a variety of contexts. I sometimes consult these texts if overblowing the tone produces a sound quality that I cannot disguise in the line or if I am using an alternate fingering that drastically changes the pitch, adversely affecting intonation with other instruments performing the same phrase.

How have trick fingerings helped you in your musical career? Do you have a favorite alternate fingering that has improved phrases in the 3rd octave? Do you recommend other trick fingerings for passages written in the highest octave?

Happy Fluting!