“Go slow enough that you do it right the first time” is good advice for all we do, however, it’s particularly important during the retraining process post-focal dystonia diagnosis. It’s tempting, after repeating a passage slowly a few times, to see if the process is working by checking in with a faster tempo. We are all pulled toward that checking in. The problem with this habit for someone retraining is that, in my experience, the dystonic synaptic pathways strengthen each time dystonic movement occurs. (see Firing Together, Wiring Together)
My real progress in retraining occurred once I vowed never to practice with dystonic movement again. This, of course, meant that at the beginning of the retraining process I had to play so slowly that I couldn’t play most rep at all. That vow was sometimes sidetracked (and still is) in performance. Dr. Joaquín Farias explains that problem in his “Limitless: How Movements Can Heal Your Brain“, “If we try to recover control over our muscles when we are experiencing intense anxiety (which is understandable and usual) it will be more difficult to complete the process.”
Although there are practice sessions when I sense there is dystonic movement hovering nearby and I put the flute away, I do have control over the affected muscles in a typical practice session. Vowing never to play with dystonic movement has, in the past, meant excruciatingly slow work. But that slow work is working, and (finally!) the results aren’t so slow.