This retraining exercise stemmed from a trip to Lowe’s with my husband who needed to buy dowels for a percussion set up. Just holding the dowels triggered dystonic movement patterns on my left side. (My flute was nowhere near.) I took a moment to find balance, took some full deep breaths, and inhibited the tension.
Since I view any opportunity to gather more information about when and why the dystonic movement happens a gift, I bought some dowels and tubing in many different textures and circumferences (PVC tubing, pipe insulators, and wooden dowels), cut them into flute lengths, and brought them to my office. It was easier to inhibit the tension and dystonic movement on dowels with larger circumferences. Playing daily (with whole body musical gestures, not flute fingerings – I kept my hands soft and still) on these “flutes” of graduated weights gave me insight into places in rep where I was freezing and where I wasn’t distributing the weight of the flute throughout my whole body.
After a few weeks of this work I still couldn’t sense the real weight of the dowels. The flute weighs less than a pound but we hold it as if it weighs 10 pounds. I was treating the dowels in the same way. I needed to teach my body how to sense the real weight of the dowels and then the instrument. I wanted to learn how to balance the weight of the dowels with an awareness of their real weight (or, how to use appropriate effort) so I began to practice letting them go from my hands. Even though I knew they were wooden dowels, pipe insulators, and PVC pipes, I initially couldn’t let them drop on the floor.
For non-instrumentalists this may be difficult to visualize. Perhaps you can imagine holding a priceless vase hours a day for years and then swapping it out with a plastic replica and being asked to let it fall to the floor. Every muscle in your body will tell you not to drop it regardless of the message from your brain.
I retrained myself to feel the actual weight of the flute by dropping these graduated dowels and refining my sense of the moment right before they fell to the floor (the “dropping point”). My goal was to go back to the flute and play at that dropping point.