Saturday, July 19, 2014

A problem statement and hypothesis

Once I realized that I am dealing with embouchure dystonia, I needed to identify the physical origins of the problem, what triggers a spasm, and exactly how my neural pathways are tangled (problem statement).  I postulate that if I address the physical origins of the problem, construct a new "pathway" that engages only the proper muscle groups, and develop an effective visualization to maintain the proper muscle response in the presence of triggers, I will be able to play again (hypothesis).

The physical origins of the problem
  • Poor breath usage, capacity and control
    • I forgot how every morning as an undergraduate flute performance major I practiced vigorous breathing exercises to expand my lung capacity and improve my breath control.  Even if I don't practice every day, I should always perform breathing exercises to keep my breathing muscles strong.
    • Long periods of time went by where I didn't play my flute lasting months to years at a time.  Every time I picked up my flute, I compensated for my weak breath control with my embouchure.
  • Although it served me well overall when I played professionally, my embouchure was always a bit rigid in the low register which compromised the responsiveness of my articulation.  To compensate, I diligently practiced articulation exercises to mask this weakness.
    • I had my flute overhauled and when I got it back, there was a timing problem among the keys synchronized with the F key that caused a large amount of resistance in D, D# and E in the 2nd octave.  It took years before I finally found a repair technician who was able to find this problem and fix it.  Meanwhile, I thought I was stuck playing a lousy flute and having to distort my embouchure to get those notes to sound halfway decent.  (For the record, I play a handmade sterling silver Powell with a Drelinger headjoint that was "fit" to me by Sandy Drelinger himself.  There should be absolutely nothing suddenly "lousy" about a setup like this.)
Spasm triggers
  • Small pad leaks that cause me to force in the low register
  • Playing in public
  • My condition deteriorated to the point that just trying to form an embouchure without the flute causes a spasm
How I believe my neural pathways are tangled
  • My left cheek muscle, embouchure muscles and tongue are neurologically tangled.  When I play, I have a contraction in my left cheek muscle and the response is to bear down on my embouchure.  My embouchure moves when I articulate and my left cheek muscle spasms as well

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