Flamenco guitar Blog

TSFD examples

These were recorded two years ago and are posted in response to a request.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body

Whether there really is an increase in the number of publications about movement and playing a musical instrument or whether this is indicative increase is a reflection of my own interest over the last year, I cannot say. However, there are a good number of musicians, writers and pedagogues who are interested in putting musical training on a secure somatic foundation: The Poised Guitarist, The Golandsky Institute, and Freeing the Caged Bird to cite a few. Musicians who have cured ailments and syndromes themselves or with the help of therapists and/or Medical Doctors have written about their experiences and insights. Examples of these include David Leisner, David Vining, and Jason Solomon [pdf].

The Alexander Technique and perhaps to a lesser degree, the Feldenkrais Technique have been important resources for musicians wanted to learn how their bodies work. This book: “What Every Musician Needs to Know About their Body” (1998) is a primer. It is a “small book of elementary principles” that can guide a musician to understand better how the body works. It is not intended to be an in depth course or exploration. Readers who are expecting to know in detail how the body works would be advised to look else where. Not because the book is inadequate, the book most certainly is not. The book is concise. It is a guide to somatic work (the study of human movement) rather than intellectual knowledge.

“What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body” has several sections beginning with the head: the heaviest part of our body. After, the spine torso and legs precede the “brain and movement” and “body mapping” before continuing arms, hands, breathing and head. Finally there is a section on the core concept on the Alexander Technique: “primary control” and finally, a section on ideas of what to do if your primary control is lost.

Bold and easy to understand illustrations (Benjamin Conable) combined with the sparse text make for immediate understanding without dogma. Medical orthopaedic text books have more illustrations and details but are difficult to understand from the perspective of a musician learning how to move. Inspired by Edward Tufte’s The Visual Representation of Information, it is evident that thought has gone into the presentation of information with the emphasis on ease of understanding.

By way of example, here is a question relevant to all musicians that use their arms to play their instrument:

Q. How many joints has your arm:

a. one
b. two
c. three
d. four
e. five?

To find the answer, click on the scanned images. (Used with permission).

Experimentation and practice of the principles are the way to understanding. Experimenting with the idea that “the forward half of the spine is the weight-bearing half, providing a core for the rest of the torso” is best done sitting in a chair quietly moving backwards and forwards to feel how our weight is distributed. What feels better, more balanced, more poised.

Short and apparently banal sentences like: “Bringing awareness to movement begins its improvement!” is advice that can save one years of missed opportunities due to misuse or overuse or plain abuse of our bodies while playing the instrument. The most impressive realisation that I gained from the book was the following: “Your hand is organised around your little finger. Your little finger lies on the axis of rotation of the forearm, so the little finger is pivotal and made strong by its relationship to the ulna”. If I had internalised those quotes as a younger player I am convinced that now I would not be learning to play again after developing Task Specific Focal Dystonia.

To summarise: as a first primer the book serves as an excellent introduction to how the body works and the Alexander Technique. It is an excellent complement to other more technical texts and videos on the Alexander Technique. If you are looking to gain knowledge as opposed to somatic awareness, perhaps this is not the book for you.

Posted in Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TSFD and “hard wired addictions”

My secret habit

This post is one of a series of posts related to my own experience with tackling Task Specific Focal Dystonia (TSFD) which affects my right hand. These posts are a reflection of my own thoughts, feelings and progress in overcoming this disorder. The range of issues that are coming under scrutiny due to TSFD is becoming more and more broader. Addictions, conditioning and memory are all issues that are related to my own experience in tackling the condition.

People who know me know that I have been trying to stop smoking for years and with little success. Fortunately, I now only really smoke during the evenings or when I am having a few drinks.  Much better compared to years previously when I could smoke from the first hours of the morning until late at night.

My often repeated mantra, every morning, as I get up is something like:

“Urgghhhh what a horrible taste. Disgusting. I will never smoke again!”

Sure enough, some time in the evening the little demonic voices in my head will start (successfully) persuading me to “just have one”.

Similarly, when practising and looking in the mirror, I see my fingers become dystonic, I say something like:

“Urgghhhh what a horrible hand posture. Disgusting. I will never do that again!”

But saying that I “will never do that again” is in fact counter productive and increases the likelihood of me repeating the offending behaviour.

How so?

“If you say what you are not going to do, you are not saying what you are gong to do”. (J. Fabra on Dave Scragg Youtube  video channel)

Waiting for Godot used with permission from http://www.3gatti.com/

Imagine you are talking with your friend on the telephone. Your want to meet up. However, if you restrict yourself to saying where you are not going, you are not saying where you are going.

 

“Great” you say, “but where shall we meet, and at what time?”

“Good question. Well, I don’t want to meet at two o’clock and I don’t want to meet near the market.”

“Cool. So …”

“And I don’t want to meet at five o’clock. And not at the bus station …”

“Okay …”

“and not …”

I don’t know how long you could continue like that for, but without a radical change in the conversation it seems that a meeting will be unlikely.

I have a cigarette addiction.  If it were a bio-chemical nicotine addiction to I would be smoking in the daytime. The addiction is an addiction of association rather than – rather like Pavlov and the dogs. In other words, it is a conditioned response to environmental triggers.

Just exactly how powerful conditioning actually is is certainly a mystery to me. I certainly am starting to believe that it is a great deal more powerful than I have previously thought. And I mean a geat deal more. Why do I only smoke at home (and when certain triggers [a trigger is what sets off the conditioned response], such as alcohol, are present)? The idea of smoking at work makes me feel ill.

 

How conditioned are you?

Similarly, I ask myself: “could TSFD be partly a conditioned response”?

  • Why task specific?
  • What triggers are there?
  • Is the trigger just a single trigger – the guitar or are there more?
  • Why does TSFD cause my fingers to curl in even as  picked he guitar up?
  • Why is this condition specific only to the guitar?
  • Is smoking a TSFD trigger?
  • Am I addicted to bodily tension?

But these questions while interesting in themselves, lead nowhere in a practical sense. The important thing here is to notice and then change the triggers.

 

Interesting Reading

http://www.brainbasedbusiness.com/2008/05/memorys_often_a_choice.html

 

 

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Las Alegrías/Cantiñas

Originally, the word cantiña referred to any popular song: Cantinear, or canturrear, means to hum along to. It was originally a word used to denominate medieval songs from Galicia in northern Spain. The word is though to have arrived at Cádiz shipboard, where it was adopted by the local gaditanos (natives of Cádiz). Whether the galician songs became flamencofied or whether the word was used to denominate local gaditano songs is unsure. Whatever the case, these early cantiñas developed into what are now known as caracoles, mirabrás, romeras and alegrías. All these cantes share the same compás as the soleá, but with a phrasing which makes them distinct.

Caracoles

A slow and majestic style of cantiña, which although shares the same 12-beat compás is sung in a rather unflamenco like paused fashion.

Its creation is usually attributed to Tio Jose el Granaino, also known as Jose el Gaditano and Jose el de Sanlúcar. A contemporary of El Tobalo (see polo/caña post), he was equally attributed with the shortening of the laments of the polo/caña. Jose was trained by several people and worked as a bandillero in Chiclana, Cuchares and other centers but was a miserable failure at this occupation. Eventually he dedicated himself to the cante; in this sphere he quickly gained respect and prestige.

Nevertheless, although he is often attributed to the creation of the caracoles, it is though more likely that he developed it from an existing form, making it in the process more “flamenco”. Another example of people taking an existing song form and moulding it into what we now call flamenco.

Other cantaores (singers) though to have been influencial in the creation of the caracoles include: Francisco Hidalgo, El Lebrijano, Paco el Gandúl and Ana Maria la Mica. La Mica, from Sanlúcar, is said to have develped the caracoles so that her cousins could dance it. The word refers to the coming and going of mobile snail sellers (edible snails) on the road from Sanlúcar to El Puerto, which was being built by the prisoners of the local jail, one of whom was La Mica’s husband. The following words are attributed to La Mica:-

De Sanluca al Puerto
hay un carril
que lo han hecho las Mirris
de ir y venir
la Mirri chica
la Mirri grande
las dos estan hechas
de azucar cande.

From Sanlucar to El Puerto
there is a track
which has been made by the Mirris
by their coming and going
the youngest Mirri
the oldest Mirri
they both are made of
sugar-candy.

Que es lo que suena?
los presidiarios
con sus cadenas.

What is that sound?
It is the prisoners
with their chains.

Mirabrás

Another cante that was probably developed, even composed in Sanlúcar by Tío José. Many of the words refer to the War of Independence (1808-12), when Cádiz maintained a front against both the King Fernando VII and Napoleon. In as far as its name is concerned there are two hypotheses. The first maintains that the name is a phonetic degeneration of “mira Blas” (look, Blas; Blas being a name) and the second that it was a degeration of “mira y verás” (look and see).

¿A mi que me importa
que un rey me culpe
si el pueblo es grande
y me abona?

What do I care
if a kings finds me guilty
if the country is large
and it supports me?

Romeras

The nephew of Tio Jose de Sanlúcar, born in the quarter renowned for flamenco, Santa Maria de Cádiz, enjoyed huge popularity in the cafe cantantes during the last decades of the last century. He is reported to have had an uncannily firm compás, and it is for this reason he was in constant demand to sing pa’atras, that is, in a supporting role to a dancer. His name was Romero El Tito, and the style he created was named after him.

There is however another hypothesis/myth about the creation of this rather artificial palo. The myth mentions that a woman of unusual beauty, La Romera, created this palo.

Whatever may be the case, all of these three palos; caracoles, mirabrás, and romeras were creations hastily conceived during an auge in flamenco that occurred in the last third of the XIX century, during the period known as the café cantantes period, typical taverns which offered flamenco during a period approximately from 1850-1900. During this “Golden Age” of flamenco the result of sudden popularity and demand for flamenco meant that artists had to “mass produce” acts.

Due to this, many palos such as the three described can be thought of as the poor relations to the more “naturally” developed cante of alegría. They do not approximate the natural wit, charm, grace and “saltiness” of the true alegría, a cante which was developed rather than being conceived/manufactured.

Perhaps as a consequence of this the mirabras and romeras have almost become extinct, and many of their words are now sang as if they were alegrías. Only the caracoles refuses to die, being resucitated by different singers and given a new if albeit short lease of life.

alegrías

The translation of alegrías in the Collins English/Spanish Dictionary is “public rejoicing, festivities”. In the minds of aficionados, alegrías is synonimous with Cádiz; the gaditanos are renowned for thie wit, charm and grace. From my own personal experiences I can vouch that when the gaditanos are in the mood for a juerga (in this case a flamenco spree, or fling), sleep is considered a complete waste of time…

There has been two main influences in the development of this cante, neither of which are doubted by aficionados. The first is compás, which though lighter and faster in the alegrías, is identical to that of the soleá. The second influence is the aragonese jota – a song-dance typical of northern Spain.

The common resistance of Zaragoza (the capital of the aragonese province) and Cádiz to the Napoleonic inveaders (early XIX century) linked the two cities together with the consequence that in the first half of the last century a form of light and rhythmic jota began to be sang in Cádiz:-

Baluarte invencible
Isla de León
donde se rindio
el celoso Napoleon.

Invincible bastion
Island of Leon
where surrendered
the jealous Napoleon.

This, and other similar verses became known as the jota de Cádiz, which became flamencofied, probably by gypsies, as it adopted the compás of the soleá. There is a myth in Cádiz which tells of a guitarrist who found himself trapped in Cádiz during the 1808-12 war who had the humour to accompany the jota by playing the soleá in a major key instead of the more usual dorian mode.

Enrique El Mellizo 1848-1906

Today, the alegría is characterized by the richness of its toque, the difficulty of its baile and the rhythmic vitality of its rhythm. The singers who are attributed with much of its develpment include Enrique El Mellizo and his brother-in-law Igacio Espeleta. According to venerable flamenco tradition, i.e., oral history, Ignacio Espeleta (1871-1938) stood out from the crowd due to both his artistic qualities and vital and innovative personality. He is attributed with the creation of the tarantrantran, so typical of the alegría, to help him out when he forgot or was unable to improvise any owrds. By trade he was a butcher who was sacked due to some kilos of meat that went missing. He later found work as a Park Warden whose main responsibility was to keep the cats out of the municipal park. To this end he made a whip of some 20 metres which he used to ward off the most persistent felines from his favourite park bench.

Originally, the word cantiña referred to any popular song: Cantinear, or canturrear, means to hum along to. It was originally a word used to denominate medieval songs from Galicia in northern Spain. The word is though to have arrived at Cádiz shipboard, where it was adopted by the local gaditanos (natives of Cádiz). Whether the galician songs became flamencofied or the word was used to denominate local gaditano songs is unsure.

Posted in History & culture, Los palos, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBC Musicality Test

The BBC Musicality Test divides musicality into five parts:

  • musical perception
  • emotional connection
  • social creativity
  • musical curiosity
  • enthusiasm for music

Try the test here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/labuk/experiments/musicality/

My scores and results were these:

musical perception: 86%

Your ‘Enthusiasm for Music’ score shows how important music is to you in your daily life. It also indicates how much time and money you devote to music.

You scored high for enthusiasm, which suggests that music is a major part of your life. You almost certainly spend more time than most people just listening to music or with music on in the background while you do other things.

You probably also spend more money and use more of your free-time than average on music-related activities. You are also likely to enjoy reading and writing about music, as well as talking about it with other people.

emotional connection: 100%

This looks at how music affects your moods and feelings.

You scored high for emotional connection, which indicates that music can strongly influence your feelings and that you may even use it to manage your mood. It’s likely that you also find music a powerful tool for reconnecting with past events and memories. Your results suggest you connect more deeply with music than most people, with some songs having the power to completely change your emotional state.

social creativity: 70%

This looks at creating music and sharing in group activities where music is involved.

You scored high for Social creativity, which suggests that you have a good memory for melodies and have no trouble recalling new songs or musical phrases. It’s likely that you are confident in group activities where music is involved and are able to join in, singing or clapping along with others. You probably find it easier than most people to imagine new melodies in your head.

musical curiosity:19%

This assesses how open you are to new musical genres and experiences.

You scored low for music curiosity, which suggests that you aren’t really open to exploring new music, and prefer to listen to the genres and artists you are already familiar with. As a result, you are likely to be exposed to a limited range of musical styles and have a more focused range of musical taste than the average person. You probably wouldn’t ever attend an event just to experience live music, but may enjoy going to see familiar artists perform.

enthusiasm for music: 86%

Your ‘Enthusiasm for Music’ score shows how important music is to you in your daily life. It also indicates how much time and money you devote to music.

You scored high for enthusiasm, which suggests that music is a major part of your life. You almost certainly spend more time than most people just listening to music or with music on in the background while you do other things.

You probably also spend more money and use more of your free-time than average on music-related activities. You are also likely to enjoy reading and writing about music, as well as talking about it with other people.

Posted in Web links | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

TSFD: retraining the body

These strategies are in no order of importance.

The body

Important Disclaimer

Please note that these ideas are a result of my own thinking and what I have learned about my own Task Specific Focal Dystonia.

The process of thinking about and understanding  TSFD is by no means finished. By extension, these strategies are an unfinished work and will be revisited and amended in the future.

They are, however, my current strategies and I believe that they work for me. That does not mean that these strategies will work for you, despite the imperatives.

The aim of this post is to help me clarify my own thinking and express it in words.

  • Observe all of the movements that you make. How aware are you of your own movements? I once heard an Internationally famous musician described as a “genius of movement” as opposed to a genius of music. That way of thinking taught me a lot.
  • Learn and learn very carefully what minimal force really means. Apply it all day long to every activity.
  • Study Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais Technique. Take lessons if there is a qualified practitioner in your area.
  • Learn about bio-mechanics.
  • Feel and internalise thoroughly the sensations of playing properly.
  • Don’t run before you can walk. In other words, don’t try to develop too quickly.
  • Do some body mapping. See the link in the references for “pianomap.com”.
  • Focus on the totality of your body not just the part affected by dystonia.
  • Get help from those who really know about Focal Dystonia. Good people are Dr. Joaquin Farias and Joaquin Fabra.

References for the TSFD retraining series.

Conversations with Dr. Joaquin Farias

http://www.alexandertechnique.com/

http://www.feldenkrais.com/

http://www.pianomap.com/bodymap.html

http://davidvining.net/

http://thepoisedguitarist.com/articles/focal-dystonia/

http://www.youtube.com/user/davescragg

Scott Tennant DVD & book: Pumping Nylon

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged , | 2 Responses

TSFD: retraining and playing.

These strategies are in no order of importance.

The instrument & execution

Important Disclaimer

Please note that these ideas are a result of my own thinking and what I have learned about my own Task Specific Focal Dystonia.

The process of thinking about and understanding  TSFD is by no means finished. By extension, these strategies are an unfinished work and will be revisited and amended in the future.

They are, however, my current strategies and I believe that they work for me. That does not mean that these strategies will work for you, despite the imperatives.

The aim of this post is to help me clarify my own thinking and express it in words.

  • Do not over practise. Modulate your studies – make changes and variations.
  • Play with minimal force.
  • Prepare for the next movement. Focus on the sensation of preparedness.
  • Initiation is everything. Practise setting up the stroke. Once you have initiated the movement there is no going back.
  • Feel the sensation of the string release. Release the string lightly as you can. Feel, for the point of release and push just the tiniest amount more to release the string. Prepare – Touch -Feel -Move.
  • Be intentional. Do what you mean to do. No more. No less. Be clear and honest to yourself.
  • Watch not only what you are doing with your playing digits. Watch the whole of your body. even the fingers that are not being used. Watch even your eyes.
  • Start again. Leave the old ways of doing things and start again. If you suffer from TSFD you literally have to recreate yourself. And I really do mean at a synaptic level.
  • Clearly define and be able to explain the differences between the old way of playing and the new way. Do not confuse the two.
  • Don’t use backing tracks exclusively.  You cannot control their speed, use a metronome and focus on slow and certain.
  • Watch yourself practise. Use a mirror and or a video camera.
  • Practise first thing in the morning when you are fresh.
  • If you have done it well once you can do it well again.
  • Speed is not an objective.
  • Develop the guitar you have in your head and play it regularly.
  • Don’t just listen to you earworms – play them.
  • Imagine how you want to play and play those images in your head.

References

Please see this post: http://miguelbengoa.com/2010/01/01/tsfd-retraining-the-body/

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

TSFD: Retraining the mind

These strategies are in no order of importance.

The mind (and the heart)

Important Disclaimer

Please note that these ideas are a result of my own thinking and what I have learned about my own Task Specific Focal Dystonia.

The process of thinking about and understanding  TSFD is by no means finished. By extension, these strategies are an unfinished work and will be revisited and amended in the future.

They are, however, my current strategies and I believe that they work for me. That does not mean that these strategies will work for you, despite the imperatives.

The aim of this post is to help me clarify my own thinking and express it in words.

  • Paco is Paco and I am I and you are you.
  • Horse riders don’t fight horses and toreros do not fight bulls. These animals are bigger and stronger. (Task Specific Focal Dystonia) TSFD is bigger so don’t fight it.
  • The brain is not random. TSFD developed for a reason. Therefore, it can also be unravelled with the correct approach and thinking.
  • To begin with, non-dystonic playing may feel strange. This is normal. Normal because it is new.
  • Memory allows us to record new memories. That is a form of medicine.
  • Don’t get stressed about the inability to play.
  • If playing in public, be very careful – better still, avoid it if you can! TSFD will also make an appearance.
  • Do or do not do. Concentrate exclusively on what you are doing. When you practise: practise and do nothing else. I spent four years reading Hispanic Studies. While I was reading, I was playing. After that, I practised watching films. Bad practice. Now I reap the rewards!
  • Never practice technique with bad movements. Practice is to help create good habits so never practise bad ones. If you cannot do what you want to do: either the music is too difficult or leave it and try again later.
  • Look around at the people who love you. Be prepared to be surprised at how lucky you are. They want you to be happy. Be happy for them. Talk to them.
  • Losing control over something that you have worked to attain for many years can cause depression. Don’t turn to drink and drugs. Get psychological help – if you need it.

References

Please see this post: http://miguelbengoa.com/2010/01/01/tsfd-retraining-the-body/

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Task Specific Focal Dystonia: my examples

This post is the fifth in the series “Task Specific Focal Dystonia” .  The first was my discovery of the syndrome. Next came a very short selection of some of the literature that I read – I spent weeks searching for scientific and medical literature as well as first hand accounts. Other frst hand accounts were presented in a “YouTubePost” featuring David Scragg’s series of interviews with Joaquin Fabra. I had booked y seminars with Dr. Farias at this point and was ready to go!

In this post you can see exactly how Task Specific Focal Dystonia has affected me. This is the most (for me) exciting post. I took these videos some time ago and I have started to make progress. Unreliable progress, but progress none the less. The words of Joaquin are in my head as I watch these and start to create a totally new approach to playing music.

Here is a short Taranta in which you can see some of the symptoms of my Task Specific Focal Dystonia (TSFD).  I have written subtitles to help you see the symptoms – but they do not seem to work…

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xg6eoq

This next video shows good examples of my dystonias and it looks evident to me (twenty twenty hind-sight here) that I was playing with far too much much muscular activity. This over activity causes my hand to become dystonic. See especially from the eleven seconds onwards. Playing any faster at all and that short section would have made any further playing impossible.

This video shows the same “cierre”. Before even playing there is spasm. At one time, I would get spasm even when taking the guitar out of the case and before it was even on my knee. Here, you can see that the little finger was in tension and sticking out. It was, therefore, in tension. I am currently learning to control this digit and have it move in tandem (more or less) with my third (a) finger.

Just before the one minute mark, I am almost unable to use my index finger and the others are all compensating. How horrible!

At 1’40″ I repeat the “cierre” played in the first video. Around the two minute mark you can appreciate the confusion in the fingers. Not one appears to know what to do nor where to go. The finger/brain switchboard is terribly confused here.

2’20″ – hear me breathe with the concentration… and the tension…

This video shows an exercise that I used to practise: GOLPE then “i” upwards. I could do this at such a speed - machine-gun -like. One of the causes?

Truly terrible. I have included it here only for documentation. I am unable to watch it. (:

And here is the way forward. Slow. Measured and within my boundaries of muscular tension. What a contrast to the previous video.

And there you have it. The next post will deal with relearning strategies and that is the exciting part. The retraining that I am undergoing (and will be for the next year or two years) is the kind of learning that is beneficial to everyone who would like to become a guitarist who understands the bio-mechanical and psychological processes of playing and practicing.

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged | 2 Responses

Dr. Joaquin Farias

Here is the  testimonial Iwrote for Joaquin Farias at www.focaldystonia.net/.

Dr. Joaquin Farias is highly competent, highly educated and an extremely good listener. Not only clear, logical and open-minded: he was a paradigm of discretion. I immediately felt relaxed in his presence despite knowing that my playing had totally collapsed.

My initial fears that these seminars might be a sophisticated fraud evaporated almost as soon as we had shook hands. Sat, literally one metre apart and face-to-face, Joaquin roughly outlined the three phases of the sessions. First was what Focal Dystonia actually is, its nature and why it occurs. Next was an examination of my own dystonias – “the peeling back of the layers”. Finally, came the rehabilitation techniques.

I was worried that I would forget all Joaquin’s advice and the information he would give me over the eight hours. I asked if I could take notes or otherwise record the sessions. Joaquin assured me that there would be no need. As we explored, the ideas and concepts became so shockingly obvious (20:20 hindsight is a wonderful thing) that I know that I should have been able to figure it all out for my self, yet I could not. Another reason there was no need to record was that Joaquin did not teach. We explored my dystonias. These dystonias became tactile objects, a part of my make up, and thereby unforgettable once recognised.

During the sessions, Joaquin helped me see that every Focal Dystonia is different. They are developed by different people in different ways and developed in response to different stimuli and ideas. No two dystonias are the same and no one method to find a solution. But, the very mental plasticity that helped me to develop my own dystonias is the same plasticity that will now help me re-educate myself.

In a nutshell, I can honestly say that I learned more about playing music in eight hours with Joaquin than I have in more than thirty years of playing. What had become a nightmare has once again become a source of extreme pleasure. And despite the hours and days, weeks and months of practice ahead, thank you Dr. Farias.

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged | 7 Responses

Discovering Task Specific Focal Dystonia

In eight hours of one to one seminars I learned more about me and my music playing than in thirty years of actually playing. And some of those thirty years were as a professional musician.

Before my visit, I knew that there was something wrong. I was practising morning and evening. I was concentrating on relaxation, breathing and good posture. I was working out new exercises. I promised visitors to this site that with patience and a relaxed but methodical approach all can be accomplished. Despite saying these encouraging words, my own playing was getting worse. And worse. Until despite my best efforts I cold not play. When I realised that my middle finger would curl inwards until it touched my palm even while picking up the guitar I know I had a problem that was more than a technical problem. Finally, a name was given to my problem by a guitarist at the Maria Rita Ipek Conservatory in Izmir, Turkey.

I did as the man suggested and googled Focal Dystonia to death. I was reading night after night after night. I watched all the Dave Scragg videos:

I watched all of these videos several times. You can see all his documentary videos (some 20 of them) on his YouTube channel.

I decided that I was not going to be defeated by FD. Especially after watching this:

and the second part:

A visit to this post on the Forum Italiano della Chitarra Classica led me to the site belonging to Joaquin Farias: http://www.focaldystonia.net/

The next post will deal with my sessions with Dr. Farias.

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Task Specific Focal Dystonia – literature

In order to further understand Focal Dystonia I have scoured the web.  There is some carefully written literature on the subject as well as practitioners that offer help with the syndrome. To assist my own understanding I have selected the most relevant of the resources on the and provided a summary of the work as well as a link.

If your work is featured on the site and you feel that I have misrepresented you or your work please let me kno0w and I will edit the offending material as per your wishes.

If you do not want you material to be available from this site, please let me know and I will remove it.

What every guitarist should know: a guide to the prevention of and rehabilitation of focal hand dystonia. (PDF) Jason Solomon

Jason provides a description of the onset of symptoms set against the background of his career at the time: just starting a Doctoral Degree in Classical Guitar Performance. He goes on to describe retraining techniques and finally provides thirteen suggestions for practising and playing guitar in an ergonomic fashion. Excellent and highly recommended.

Classical Guitar and Playing-Related Musculoskeletal Problems. (PDF) David Johnson (Lunds Universitat 1999

David gives a history of classical guitar playing position and a review of the literature related t0 Playing-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PRMD).  One article reviewed : “Flamenco Guitar as a Risk Factor for Overuse Syndrome” (Marques, 2003) is of particular relevance to this blog.

Distonía focal del músico. (PDF) Jaume Rosset i Llobet. Institut de Fisiologia i Medicina de l’Art-Terrassa. www.institutart.com (Publicado en 12 Notas; 31 (abril-mayo 2002): 38. )

Starting with a mention of one of the earliest recorded cases of focal dystonia: Robert Schumman (though the syndrome was not “medicalised” until only very recently, Jaume Rosset i Llobet describes the symptoms and the history of treatments. The articles ends with a brief description of the successful results that investigators has experienced at the Universidad de Konstanz (Alemania) and the Instituto de Fisiología y Medicina del Arte-Terrassa. This intervention consists of limiting the movement of one or more fingers while continuing to work with the instrument.

There is a lot more research available on the net and I feel that I have read most of it. However, after my visit to Dr. Joaquin Farias in Sevilla, my previous dependence on the research has now been replaced with an eagerness to put into practice the priceless lessons I learned from him. In short, I learned more about playing music in eight hours with Joaquin Farias than I have in some thirty years of playing guitar.

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Task Specific Focal Dystonia

I have been diagnosed with Focal Dystonia and after spending hours and hours researching I agree with the diagnosis.

Essentially, focal dystonia is an involuntary movement of one or more fingers. In short, I cannot play and have not been able to play for a considerable amount of time. Despite all efforts (and considerable efforts) to improve through practise, there has been no improvement and there has been some worsening of my technique. Picado, arpeggios, tremolo and rasgueados are all but impossible to execute.

For the time being this blog will be closed. There are some technical issues to  resolve (character encoding for Spanish accents) and some drafts to be published.

The problem of focal dystonia can be attacked – generally by taking a totally new approach to technique, thinking about the body and the music itself. I am tempted follow this path (and blog about it here) but for the time being I will continue to read and research.

If you have any experience with this ailment (actually more of a “mal-adaptation”) please do get in touch because I would be very very happy to hear about your experiences.

Posted in Practice, Task Specific Focal Dystonia | Tagged | 3 Responses

Soleares

The soleá or soleares is often referred to as the “mother of flamenco”. Although not strictly true from a historical point of view, the soleá does form the basis from which many other palos have developed. Without the soleá, forms such as alegría and bulería would not have come into existence – all share the same basic compás, which is counted as twelve beats:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 - 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 1 – 2

Related flamenco forms include la Caña and the Polo, Bambera,  Jaleos, Bulerías and the various Cantiñas.

Origins

As is true for many other palos, the origins of the soleá are unknown. It is generally agreed that the first documented singer was known as La Andonda (born c.1850-60), fiancée to the legendary singer Diego El Fillo (c.1820), creator in his turn of the cabales. Nevertheless, other flamencologists disagree, Don Antonio Machado for example maintained that it was developed in the gypsy quarter of Sevilla called Triana before appearing in public around 1840. Other theorists maintain that it was developed from XVI century song called soledades whilst others insist that it was developed from a group of cantes known as jaleos.

La Andona le dijo al Fillo:
¡Anda y vete, pollo ronco,
a cantarle a los chiquillos.

La Andonda said to El Fillo
Go and lose yourself, you old hoarse chicken
and sing to the children.

Whilst all these theories may hold some degree of truth, the most probable one is that put forward by Angel Alvarez Caballero. He maintains that the soleá developed from the cantes polo/caña, which at the start of XVIII century were sang as “national folksongs”. As the songs became flamencofied by gypsies in the XIX century the “laments” or “Ay, Ay, Ay” passages become shorter, eventually being omitted altogether, making the resulting cante more valiant and flamenco.  If La Andonda did not actually invent the soleá, she certainly played an important role in its development and was the main person responsible for its popularization in the XIX century.

Towards the end of the XIX century, Loco Mateo and Juaniquí (Juan Moreno Jiménez, Jerez de la Frontera 1.862 – Sanlúcar de Barrameda 1946) consolidated the form into a purely solo more similar to what we hear today.

Other great singers include Mercé la Serneta (Jerez de la Frontera 1.873 – Utrera 1.912) and Joaquín el de la Paula (Alcalá de Guadiara 1.875 – 1.933).

It forms today, together with the siguiriya, the base of flamenco, a form that any singer, dancer or guitarist worth his/her salt interprets.

The Name

Nor is there  agreement in the origins of the name. There are three main theories.

  • A change in the pronunciation of the word “soledad” (solitude) and the the solitude was sung to make accompany the manual labour on the vast Andalusian estates.
  • That the name is an adaptation of the word “sol” (sun) and to “solear” or “soleo” refers to the sunning of various agricultural products.
  • Finally that the name is derived from a singer known as Soledad.

All theories and speculations.

The only certain information is that principally it was a ‘cante’ that was developed from the dance known as the Polo.  From around 1870, it was started to be sung and without dance.

Themes & Styles

In as far as the words for soleá are concerned one would expect that they deal with profound subjects, such is the nature of this cante. However, this is not often the case, and although there are verses dealing with profound subjects, many verses deal with frivolities.

There are several variations of soleá. To complicate matters further, there are various regional styles from Triana, Alcalá, Utrera, Los Puertos, Jerez and Córdoba (the provinces of Sevilla, Cádiz and Córdoba). A guitarist is naturally expected to differentiate between each of the styles at the drop of a hat, and modify the accompaniment accordingly.

Tonality

The soleá is played “por arriba” or “por abajo”. In other words in the Phrygian Mode see link here for a descrption of this scale. Por arriba refers to the scale starting on Emajor and por medio refers to the scale starting on A major.

Forms and variations

Geographical variations include:

  • La soleá de Triana
  • La soleá de Alcalá
  • La soleá de Cádiz
  • La soleá de Jerez
  • La soleá de Utrera

Solea Grande

Considered to be the most “serious” of all the forms of soleá - that of Alcalá being the “king” and profoundest of all. It consists of four eight syllable lines of which the second and fourth rhyme:

Cuando paso por tu puerta
saco pan y voy comiendo
pa’ que no diga tu madreque
con verte me mantengo.

When I go past your door
I get some bread out and walk eating
so that you mother doesn’t say anything.
I sustain myself just by seeing you.

A verse which reflects Andalusian life, particularly before the 1960s’: hunger love and wit.

Solea Corta

This style is shorter and easier to interpret than the solea grande. It consists of three lines, the first and third generally rhyme:

Mira, si yo a ti te quiero
que el agua a ti te sobra
con ansias yo me la bebo.

Look, I love you so much
that I am happy to drink
the water you leave

Due to the fact that the soleá corta has fewer lines and is easier to interpret than the soleá grande, many of the verses are humorous:

Duces que sabes cose’(r)
me has hecho unos pantalones
con la bragueta al reve’(r)

You say you know how to sow
but you made me some trousers
with the zip back to front.

Soleariya

This style has a shortened first line, and it is used to end the soleá is known as a macho, remate or cambio. A commonly heard example

Fatigas Miseries
voy por la calle y no lloro
pa’ que la gente no diga.

I am so miserable but
walking down the street I don’t cry
so that people won’t talk.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

El Polo y La Caña

gitanilla-horizontalThe First Literary References

In one of the  “Cartas Marruecas” of J. Cadalso, there is a passage in which a juerga flamenca is described. In the juerga, a certain Tío Gregorio comments that “…he sang the Polo so that the Preciosilla could dance…”This reference dates from 1780 and is the oldest literary reference that there is to flamenco. Read More »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Flamenco Joven

arbolcantes

Flamenco Joven is for me characterized by a move away from a music that is rooted in folklore. By rooted in folklore, I mean rooted in a particular folk dogma, fossilized and frozen in a time and context that is not the here and now.

Flamenco Joven appears to have changed all that, Read More »

Posted in History & culture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bienial de Sevilla

2010 Biennial Poster

2010 Poster (1.1mb)

The first Bienial was celebrated  in 1980, twenty years ago. It is the most prestigious and largest flamenco festival in the world.

In 1994, it lasted 18 days and consisted of over 30 performances, costing over 100.000.000 (£500.000) according to El Pais (10/09/94). Read More »

Posted in History & culture | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Los Concursos

I attended many flamenco competitions during time accompanying Gabriel Cabrera on his work schedule as flamenco guitarist.

CartelXXConcursoMiniInitially, my first impression was that a whole series of influences tend to water down the authenticity of competitions, such as small non-representative turn-outs, local favoritism, private business interests, possible inadequacy of judges and the very idea of flamenco being submitted to a contest. Read More »

Posted in History & culture | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Flamencology

Antonio Mairena

Antonio Mairena

In 1955 Flamencologia was published by the Argentine Anselmo Gonzalez Climent. Before this there is hardly any book on the subject in existence. With the exception of XIX century travellers such as Richard Ford and George Borrows, the only books published before 1955 were: Colección de cantes flamencos by Demofilo (1881) and Arte y artistas flamencos by Fernando de Triana (1935).

Since 1955 however Read More »

Posted in History & culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peñas Flamencas

juanbrevarejaLiterally translated, the peñas flamencas are flamenco clubs. However, they are much more than that. Their aim is to promote flamenco and to educate those who are interested in learning more. Read More »

Posted in History & culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
  • Photos