Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: viola

Closed Chain Vs. Open Chain Movements, Applied To Music

Kinetic chain image

Kinetic chain image

If you're into movement, you've probably heard of the concept of closed chain exercises vs. open chain exercises.  If not, here's a starter definition- the "chain" is your kinetic chain, which according to NASM "comprises the muscular, skeletal, and nervous system," which I realize is not the most helpful definition.  Let me continue though- movements can be open chain, meaning that appendages are free to move, or closed meaning hands/feet are in a fixed position.  A closed chain move might be a push up or down dog, in which hands and feet are stabilized.  An open chain movement would be a kettlebell swing or getup, or a simple chest press/overhead press, in which arms/hands are moving and not stabilized.  Let's broaden this definition and look at what parts of the body are contacting the floor, apparatus, or are free floating.  (Think pilates apparatus work, which limits range of motion and gives lots of proprioceptive feedback vs. pilates mat work in which hands and feet are often free).   Open chain movements can be more challenging in terms of knowing where your body is in space, because there is less feedback from the environment or apparatus. 

Here's Simon Fischer stabilizing a student's violin, closing the chain, perhaps to focus on a left hand concept, alignment, or bow concepts.

Here's Simon Fischer stabilizing a student's violin, closing the chain, perhaps to focus on a left hand concept, alignment, or bow concepts.

Let's apply this to musical teaching and performance now- in regards to your instrument, what parts are stable or contacting the floor (or chair) and which parts are free to move?  As a violist, my feet contact the earth, and my hands contact my instrument, but it's an open chain practice in many ways because my spine, hips, knees, elbows, fingers, and shoulders are free to move, as well as my hands and fingers.  A pianist however will have the contact of the feet, chair (underneath ischial tuberosities) and the contact of fingers and keyboard.  This leaves the spine, head, neck, and shoulders free.  A singer (or french horn player) will have significantly less environmental feedback from their instrument- they will be relying heavily on proprioception and interoception to assess their playing, breath, embouchure, etc.  Some instruments are more "open chain" than others, demanding more heightened external and internal bodily awareness.  What can we do to challenge this notion?  Close the chain when possible and give yourself new feedback opportunities.

Sit instead of stand (if possible) or vice versay to get an idea of the relationship between your pelvis, instrument, and chair.  Lean against a wall or the back of a chair to focus on the movement of the ribcage while breathing or to notice the relationship of the scapula while playing.  On violin, viola, cello, and bass, certain left hand positions are easier than others because of their relationship to the body of the instrument- for me, 5th position is strangely comfortable because of the feedback I get from the instrument.  For many students, third position is stable because of the proximity to the neck and body of the instrument.  The most obvious manifestation of these ideas is the usage of different tactile sensations in studying an instrument- many string students learn vibrato using a tictac container which creates a different kinesthetic experience away from the violin.  You can also hear the shake of the container as an aural cue, although this is still very much an open chain exercise in many ways.

Using a straw to create a bow barrier closes the chain, giving the student proprioceptive information about where the bow is (contact point) and whether or not is straight.

Using a straw to create a bow barrier closes the chain, giving the student proprioceptive information about where the bow is (contact point) and whether or not is straight.

When teaching or practicing, look for where you can open or close the chain to change sensation.  Different chairs offer opportunities to introvert your attention, different standing surfaces can tell you what your lower limb is doing (I sometimes stand on a wobble board to get a sense of if my quads are gripping and how my feet are interfacing with the environment), and there are now a multitude of different devices out there to "close the chain" for musicians, offering opportunities for new kinesthetic experiences.  If we think of the bow and instrument as appendages, making string playing an open chain experience, howcan we stabilize and then transition away from that?  And what can you or your student learn from that? How can you apply this to other instruments or other movement practices?  Just my early morning thoughts for a springtime morning.

An Interview with Rachel Galvin White of Music and Muscle

Although things have been busy for me as my orchestra in Texas finishes the 2015 Christmas season, I'm excited to have an interview with violist and trainer Rachel White Galvin, founder of Music and Muscle!  Rachel holds a DMA in viola performance, is a Crossfit Coach, and is currently studied the Feldenkrais method (not a typical combination of interests!).  Her work is a good reminder that any movement practice can be safe when taught well, and that strength training can be a good balance to music-making.

Kayleigh: Where do you currently live and what are you doing in terms of teaching, performing, and movement?

Rachel: I’m currently living in Santa Barbara, CA.  I finished my Doctorate in viola performance back in December 2013.  Since then I’ve taken a break from performing.  I’ve been concentrating almost exclusively on coaching athletes and musicians, and learning more about the body.  I haven’t completely stopped playing or teaching music, but I’ve found that focusing my energy on this new venture has been really rewarding both in having more time to truly dive into coaching and also learning more about my own body.  I will begin performing again soon.  I already have a couple of solo recitals lined up for the end of 2016.

K: Where did you study?  Did any of your teachers focus on movement and wellness?

R: I completed my undergrad at the University of Oklahoma and finished a combined masters/DMA at the University of California: Santa Barbara.  Beyond drilling good playing mechanics, not many of my teachers gave much thought to movement and wellness.  In fact, I was often cautioned not to injure myself because of the things I was doing in the gym.  Strength training and movement were things I really had to pursue on my own, which is why part of the reason I became so passionate about them.

K: How did you come to be a personal trainer and eventually a crossfit coach?

R: I got my first personal training certification in 2007 just after finishing my bachelors.  I didn’t really do it with the idea that I would take on clients. I was looking more for knowledge than anything else.  I had already experienced a lot of playing-related problems by that point.  I was frustrated with the lack of information and help I was getting from doctors, physical therapists, and teachers.

I found CrossFit in 2009 after moving to Santa Barbara for grad school.  It was the first time that I had seen so many different types of movement modalities combined.  The constantly changing daily workouts really piqued my interest.  I started to get stronger and that helped my playing.  I don’t think I would still be playing today if it weren’t for CrossFit.  

I started personal training and coaching CrossFit just after I finished my Doctorate.  I was looking for what I wanted to do next.  I had learned so much about how to help myself that it seemed pretty obvious that blending my passions for music, movement, and helping people was the way to go.  

K: Some might see personal training and music as incompatible; how have you managed to respect your limits, prevent injury, and improve athletic performance?

R: When people ask me this question, I always respond with the truth: that I’ve experienced far more injuries from playing the viola (herniated cervical disc, tendonitis in both arms, nerve impingements, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, subluxing ribs, and so forth) than I ever have doing anything in the gym.  Anything can hurt you if you do that thing incorrectly.  

That being said, I definitely eased into CrossFit when I first started.  There were days, much to the annoyance of my coach, where I would refuse to lift anything more than a PVC pipe because I was nervous about being able to play later that day.  However, I soon got hooked, started to understand my limits, and got more daring about weight and intensity.  Even getting to the point where I wouldn’t feel right before a performance if I hadn’t done something physical just before.  

As a personal trainer, I’ve really tried to take what I’ve learned about myself to my musician clients to help them learn their limits.  On the flip side, I’ve also learned from my coaches’ frustrations to respect my client’s understanding of their own body.  

K: Tell us a bit about Eric Goodman's Foundation training and how you got interested (and eventually an instructor) in that methodology. 

R: Foundation Training is a method of posture correcting; teaching people how to successfully hinge at the hips and decompress the spine.  We all spend so much time sitting, that Dr. Goodman’s work seeks to rectify how much time we spend in spinal flexion.  In a nutshell, the goal is to turn spinal flexion into proper hip flexion while simultaneously counteracting the effects of gravity on the spine, improving back pain among other ailments in the process.  

I found Foundation Training in my search for “what is good posture.”  It’s an interesting examination of posture, and has served to lead me further down the rabbit hole of movement.

K: You've also recently begun Feldenkrais training in Oregon, I believe.  How did you get interested in that?  I find that many athletic trainers are not as interested in refining quality of movement in such a detailed, slow, and creative manner-how has Feldenkrais affected your coaching/music/athletic endeavors?

Moshe Feldenkrais 1904–1984, founder of the Feldenkrais Method.

Moshe Feldenkrais 1904–1984, founder of the Feldenkrais Method.

R: Yes!  I’m a year into the 4-year program.  I first encountered the Feldenkrais Method back in 2003 with cellist Uri Vardi at the Musicorda Summer Festival in Massachusetts. (Side note- I had a few Feldenkrais lessons with Uri and his wife and they are terrific!)  I thought it was great, but I was 19 at the time.  I had forgotten about it until a few years ago when my mother started to get into it.   She decided to pursue the teacher training, and having just finished school I thought that it would be a great way to further my knowledge base, so my mother and I are taking the training together.

The Feldenkrais Method is in some respects the complete opposite of what we think of as CrossFit.  Slow, Mindful, and Experimental v. Fast, Intense, and Non-Feeling.  While this can be the case at some CrossFit gyms, I’m fortunate to coach at a gym that is serious about proper form and work with athletes that are open to trying new things.  It’s hard to fit a whole Awareness Through Movement lesson into an hour-long CrossFit class, but I try to sneak some Feldenkrais ideas in under the radar to get people flinking (thinking and feeling).  I really enjoy watching people learn new things.

I will say though that the Feldenkrais program has already given me so many more tools to draw from in seeing, correcting, and explaining movement.  It’s really made me thinking about everything in terms of movement as opposed to exercise.  

K:  That's definitely how I feel these days- it's about movement over "exercise," and how to refine movement patterns. Also, "flinking" is an amazing word.  How have all of these different somatic practices affected your teaching and personal music performances?

R: That’s a good question.  For the last two years, I haven’t done much performing.  I perform with an Irish band for a couple of hours every week, and aside from the occasional wedding or event, that’s about as much playing as I do.  That’s way scaled back compared to before I finished school.  Some people might cringe to hear that I haven’t actually picked up my viola to practice in 2 years.  This time off has been really interesting though. I’ve been able to maintain my basic chops with the Irish band, but I have developed a keen sense of my body.  The vast amount of Feldenkrais lessons I have done in just the first year of my training program (roughly 100, I think) have transformed how I connect with my body.   I can suddenly feel how certain playing habits have not set me up for success in maintaining a sustainable technique.  Now that I’m just starting to practice again, I’m discovering holes that need addressing, whereas before I couldn’t even perceive them as problems.  

As for affecting my teaching, my knowledge of body mechanics is way more intricate than it used to be, as well as my understanding of the mind and its workings.  This all helps to understand how both my music students and athletic clients need to move and think to be successful in their endeavors.    

K: As a musician/music educator/movement educator, how do you blend these different modalities into your career?

R: Another good question!  I’m constantly asking myself that question and working/reworking the results.  Musicians’ health is still such a new area and a lot of what I do scares musicians.  I’m hoping to make strength training and movement less intimidating.  I want people to see how increased strength and body awareness can really help their playing.  I want them to understand that while their fears are absolutely understandable, musicians tend to let that fear drift them further and further away from the ways we were meant to move and that is why they are in pain.  I want to make the gym a less intimidating, more accessible place for them.  

I have a small group of musicians that I have been working with in Santa Barbara for the last 2 years.  It’s been a pleasure watching their breakthroughs and learning from their ups and downs.  I’m now looking to expand what I’ve shared with and learned from them to a larger community.  I’m working to develop some projects that will bring my ideas to a wider audience of musicians.  


K: What are you most fascinated with right now in terms of movement/anatomy/etc?

R: Wow!  So many things…  In terms of anatomy, I’m fascinated with the mechanics of the body.  I love analyzing patterns and finding breakdowns in form.  The Feldenkrais Method is all about asking questions of the body.  I’m in love with that shift in the way to view problems.  We’re not trying to solve anything.  We’re asking questions and observing the outcomes.  Helping someone is a matter of asking the right question and watching the body respond.

Ido Portal is an amazing movement instructor and natural mover- definitely worth checking out.

Ido Portal is an amazing movement instructor and natural mover- definitely worth checking out.

In terms of movement, I’m constantly trying new things.  I was a ballerina back in another lifetime, and I’ve dabbled in yoga, swimming, Pilates, boxing, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, kettlebells, and more things that I can’t remember at the moment.  Right now, I’m playing around with gymnastics, the Ido Portal Method, and Aikido.  I love learning new things from other disciplines.  It doesn’t matter how small the nugget of information.  I’m always looking for new information that I can use for myself or bring to my clients.  

K: How can people connect with you and your work?

R: There are a ton of ways people can get in touch with me!

Music and Muscle: musicandmuscle.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Music0Music/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Music_AndMuscle

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/musicandmuscle/

Helping Your Levator Scapulae

On Wednesday, we looked at what exactly the Levator Scapulae are.  When do you use them?  When you lift your shoulders, flex your head to one side, rotate your head...all things that many musicians do frequently, often without awareness.  You will also elevate your levator scapulae when you carry bags, either on one side or both sides, which many of us do to carry our instruments everywhere.  If your levator scapulae cause you some discomfort, here are some suggestions:

The levator scapulae are just two of many, many different deep muscles of the upper back and neck, which all work together to create movement in the neck and upper back.  To find them on your own body, palpate the superior angle of your scapula (the innermost corner of your shoulder blade) and look for a muscle that runs diagonally to the lateral sides of the neck.  Try lifting and lowering your shoulder blades and see if a muscle jumps underneath your fingers.  You will definitely feel the middle fibers of the trapezius, which are superficial to the LS, but feel around with more pressure and see what you notice.  What is the quality of the tissue?  How does it feel underneath your fingers?  Do you have pain or lack of sensation?  Are there adhesions?    

The levator scapulae are just two of many, many different deep muscles of the upper back and neck, which all work together to create movement in the neck and upper back.  To find them on your own body, palpate the superior angle of your scapula (the innermost corner of your shoulder blade) and look for a muscle that runs diagonally to the lateral sides of the neck.  Try lifting and lowering your shoulder blades and see if a muscle jumps underneath your fingers.  You will definitely feel the middle fibers of the trapezius, which are superficial to the LS, but feel around with more pressure and see what you notice.  What is the quality of the tissue?  How does it feel underneath your fingers?  Do you have pain or lack of sensation?  Are there adhesions?    

1.  Manual Therapy: Massage is a critical part of self care and soft tissue health, yet few musicians can afford to get massage as regularly as they might need it.  As a teacher of self massage techniques and Yoga Tune Up, I think self-massage can enhance proprioception and overall awareness of the body, while also supporting  regular (or less frequent) bodywork.  It's not meant to replace manual therapy, but merely give the practitioner an opportunity to continue the self-treatment beyond a session. I prefer soft, pliable stress transfer mediums (squishy balls over lacrosse balls or wooden or plastic implements) and for more information on self-massage, read here.  My favorite sequences target the upper back musculature, the latissimus attachment sites, and the tempermental trapezius.    Here’s a great video of YTU teacher Holli Rabishaw demonstrating “zombie with a twist" which is one of my favorite moves to do on the wall.

2.  Observation and retraining: For upper string players, working with an Alexander Technique teacher, Feldenkrais teacher, body mapping instructor, or other somatic practitioner can not only help one find more freedom without one’s instrument, but also tweak mechanical instrumental setup to better suit one’s individual body.  There are a myriad of different ergonomic products being developed to improve instrumental setup and alignment for all musicians, and more than ever, there are options for every body.  (Gone are the days of one chin rest and one shoulder rest fits all).    For upper string players, lessons can enhance overall awareness of the upper body and neck, find freedom throughout the neck, upper back, and shoulders, and an observation of less than optimal habits.  Having another set of trained eyes can help a student find a more optimal setup, regardless of instrument, but also more carefully examine the movement choices that may be hindering freedom.  There isn't a fixed position that will solve all issues, but looking at mechanical gear with the help of another can greatly aid students or professionals working to find more freedom.  *Side note-I personally have found that the teacher matters more than the particular methodology being taught, in regards to movement teachers, exercise instruction, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, etc.  A method that is taught safely, conscientiously, and with sensitivity towards the student, has the potential to be beneficial.*

 

When working with the neck, gentle movements are paramount!  This illustration shows a simple lateral flexion exercise, though adding the weight of the arm can be too intense, and please don't PULL on your neck!  The weight of the arm here is passive and ultimately optional

When working with the neck, gentle movements are paramount!  This illustration shows a simple lateral flexion exercise, though adding the weight of the arm can be too intense, and please don't PULL on your neck!  The weight of the arm here is passive and ultimately optional

3. Neck mobility: Make sure that you’re bringing your neck through a wide range of motions, especially if you play an asymmetrical instrument.  With the advent of technology, cell phones, driving...etc, most of us keep our head and neck in a very static position for hours a day.  With all neck movement, slow gentle movement is critical, as opposed to violent cracking and popping.  Neck circles can help, as well as lateral neck flexion coupled with rotation at different angles.  If there is repetitive clicking or popping in the cervical vertebrae, stop  the motion.  Many physical therapists and movement teachers will instruct a neck mobility sequence- I don't have a video that I particularly love, but there are tons of resources available in books, in person, and on the web.

4. Dynamic shoulder movements: Along with daily mobilization of the neck, dynamic shoulder warmups can help increase bloodflow, maintain healthy ranges of motion, and warmup the upper body before or after playing.  There is an infinite amount of movement possible at the shoulder, yet most of us only explore a fraction of what's possible in our day to day lives.  Shoulder shrugs, shoulder circles, overhead motions, circumduction...anything that helps to move your humerus, clavicle, and scapula will help bring some movement to this area.  Make shoulder movement a part of daily maintenance, not just something you do in your yoga class or lap swim.  Here's one of my teachers, Jill Miller, demonstrating a brief warmup.

5. Self-examination: What are your habits?  Do you carry a one sided purse or case and do you always use one shoulder in particular?  Are you satisfied with your overall instrument setup?   Can you carry less music in your case or bring a lighter bag with you ?  Do you hold your cellphone with your shoulder?  Do you always sleep on one side of the body or flex the head and neck while sleeping?  Are the movements you've adopted while playing serving the technical and musical goals?  Or are they hindering you?  Consider video taping yourself playing or performing  to observe what your tendencies are.  When you are inquisitive  with your assumed habits, both in playing and in the life, you can often find solutions to musical issues within your own body, as well as a new embodied awareness of what may (or may not) be serving you.

Remember that when changing movement habits, your soft tissues need time to adapt to a new setup, case strap situation, exercise, or chin rest!  Gradual change trumps extreme changes every time, especially when a pattern has been sustained for years at a time. 

 

This guy is using his LS to carry his cello, although he has a waist strap to try to distribute the weight better throughout the upper body.  Although carrying a backpack will even out out the load between the shoulders (assuming the straps are the same length), both Levator Scapulae are working to hold the object in a fixed position.

This guy is using his LS to carry his cello, although he has a waist strap to try to distribute the weight better throughout the upper body.  Although carrying a backpack will even out out the load between the shoulders (assuming the straps are the same length), both Levator Scapulae are working to hold the object in a fixed position.


Tag Cloud Block
This is an example. Double-click here and select a page to create a cloud of its tags or categories. Learn more
Tag Cloud Block
This is an example. Double-click here and select a page to create a cloud of its tags or categories. Learn more

The Levator Scapulae: Musicians' Frenemies

If you take a look at most musicians in the heat of performance, you’ll probably notice elevated shoulders, either asymmetrically or simultaneously.  Sometimes it appears in an expressive moment of passion, especially with pianists, guitarists, and wind players, or other times it’s the result of setup or a one-sided instrument.  In isolation, such a movement will have minor repercussions, but when coupled with shoulder and neck overuse and abuse from other movement choices, can spell disaster for two muscles known as the levator scapulae.  As the name suggests, it elevates the scapula (on each side), but it also plays a significant role in neck movement, attaching at the transverse processes of C1-C4. 

The levator scapulae also co-create lateral neck/head flexion (along with many other small neck muscles), and rotation, which is why it is often a huge trouble maker for violinists and violists!  Here are some of the culprits for pain and misalignment:

Many violinists and violists turn the head out to look at the fingers, but over time, this can create stress and strain on the Left levator scapula!

Many violinists and violists turn the head out to look at the fingers, but over time, this can create stress and strain on the Left levator scapula!

1. Neck Position: Ideally, the head is not constantly turned to look at the fingers or fingerboard while playing the violin or viola, nor jutting forward towards the music stand.  A head looking forward allows more freedom in the neck long term, as well as a reduction in tension along the left Levator scapula.  Many images of violinists and violists feature an extreme rotation in the neck, often coupled with neck flexion!  For more on chin rest alignment, read here.

Although this image shows an elevated scapula to hold a phone, many violinists and violists elevate their shoulders to support their instrument!  Other times, the right shoulder elevates in an attempt to enhance sound or emotion.

Although this image shows an elevated scapula to hold a phone, many violinists and violists elevate their shoulders to support their instrument!  Other times, the right shoulder elevates in an attempt to enhance sound or emotion.

2. Shoulder elevation: Many violinists and violists find that they want to (or need to!) elevate their shoulders in order to grip the instrument.  Over time, this can create restriction in the upper back and neck, as well as tension patterning that is difficult to relearn.  It's always good to try different shoulder rest/chin rest setups to find one with the most ease and spaciousness in the neck and shoulders!  The same can be true for brass and woodwind players as well-especially if the instrument is asymmetrical like the flute or trombone.  Other instrumentalists may need to relearn their habits of expressive shoulders, and see if there’s a way to create a musical response without constantly elevating the shoulders or distorting the spine and head.

3.  Carrying things: Most musicians have the carry their instrument on their back, either as a one sided carrying case or backpack.  In order to prevent the object from falling, the levator scapulae have to lift the scapula up!  Carrying large backpacks, heavy instruments cases, or purses on one shoulder can lead to asymmetrical issues, including impingement and compression.  


In part 2, we’ll look at how to address this muscle in movement and setup!

The great thing about stock photos is that they're ridiculous.  Who walks down the street in heels carrying their case on one shoulder and violin in the other arm?  No one.  But her left levator scap is working to keep that case up there!

The great thing about stock photos is that they're ridiculous.  Who walks down the street in heels carrying their case on one shoulder and violin in the other arm?  No one.  But her left levator scap is working to keep that case up there!

Powered by Squarespace. Home background image by kayleigh miller.