Musician’s Focal Dystonia

musicians focal dystoniaIf you’ve found this website, chances are that you’re a musician that has been experiencing some strange symptoms recently.

Perhaps your fingers are curling when you’re finger-picking on a guitar.

Maybe your embouchure has ‘forgotten’ how to play in a certain register on a brass instrument.

Could it be that you’re struggling to control the movement of your sticks when drumming?

Are your muscles just not responding as you want them to when trying to play your instrument?

Musician’s Focal Dystonia: a common condition

If this is the case, you’ve probably either received a diagnosis of Task-Specific Focal Dystonia from a neurologist, or, you’ve done some googling and found articles and videos online about other musicians with this mysterious condition – a disorder experienced by a large number of musicians around the world. It is estimated that approximately 1% of all professional musicians will experience focal dystonia at some point in their careers.

In 2005, after having experienced a complete loss of control in my embouchure when trumpet playing, I visited several specialists including dentists, physiotherapists and neurologists. I was told quite simply: “You have focal dystonia. There is no cure.”

Thankfully however, there has been an awakening among many musicians and even some members of the medical profession in recent years. It turns out that Musician’s Focal Dystonia is a condition which can be resolved!

I spent 5 years developing a method which helped me overcome Musician’s Focal Dystonia. I play more easily and freely now than before my episode with MFD.

The purpose of this website is to offer support, advice, and rehabilitation information to fellow musicians of all instruments currently suffering with MFD.

I hope the information in these pages is helpful to you.

Respectfully,

Jon Gorrie
BMus PGdipRNCM MMus(distinction) MOrchStud FTCL

38 Responses to Musician’s Focal Dystonia

  1. James Etheridge October 8, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    I am a horn player. There are days when I am warming up or practicing long notes when my lips and facial muscles seem to be undergoing some kind of spasm. There is so much disturbance, that the upper and lower teeth seem to scrape one another. I can’t explain why this happens and why I have better days. ~Everything seems to want to go in the opposite direction (away from the mouthpiece).

    • Jon Gorrie October 8, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your message. I’ll send you an email with some more info. In the meantime, please feel free to browse through the blog and online forum postings here.

      I’ll email you now.

      All the best,

      Jon

  2. PETER CHONG November 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    i have focal dystonia,fingers are stiff and bent backwards,how can you help me.thanks

    • Jon Gorrie November 5, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your message. I’ve just sent you an email with more information.

      All the best,

      Jon

  3. brian November 6, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    I play ukulele and primarily fingerpick. My left hand is the problem, when I am stressed my ring finger seems to tremble as if it’s extremely fatigued.
    I was trained as a trumpet player, majored in music and sometimes had the same problem with the left side of my lower lip. It would sometimes twitch but didn’t seem to cause too much of a problem,
    Oddly enough, when I get a headache they are always on the left side.

    • Jon Gorrie November 6, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve just emailed you some coaching information.

      Kind regards,

      Jon

  4. vedran November 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    Hi Jon, I am a clarinetist and have problem with forth and fifth finger..soon as I put down my third finger those other two are in a kind of cramp posizion. Ive been told that I have FD. Do u know how to help?
    Thanks and BR
    vedran

    • Jon Gorrie November 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

      Hi Vedran,

      Thanks for your message. I’ve just sent you an email with some information about coaching.

      All the best,

      Jon

  5. Dan St-Germain November 15, 2013 at 12:19 am #

    Hi Jon,

    I am so exited I have found your website. I am a guitar player. I have FD symptoms on my left hand (fretting hand) since 2009. I quit playing for a little over 2 years now, but recently picked up a guitar and decided it had to change.

    Thanks in advance for this blog, all my hopes are here now!

    Warm regards,

    Dan

    • Jon Gorrie November 16, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your message! Hope you find something useful here. FD can be resolved – we are a growing group of recovered musicians! Feel free to drop me a line any time via the contact page on this site if you want to chat on skype.

      All the best,

      Jon

  6. Him November 22, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    hello Jon. i am excited to see this website. i read your story and find it very encouraging. i am an oboe player and have FD in my right hand. the 4th and 5th fingers would crash into the middle finger and kind of curl up when i put down my index and/or middle finger. it has been like that since August. this just jeopardises my playing. what should i do? please give me some advice. i look forward to hearing from you. heaps of thanks!

    best,

    Him

    • Jon Gorrie November 22, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      Hi Him,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve just sent you an email.

      Yes, 4th and 5th finger curling is a very common form of Musician’s Focal Dystonia, especially among oboe, clarinet, and guitar players. Fortunately, it is very possible to solve this with a change in physical setup (often the primary cause), as well as mental direction/intention, and mindset/emotional attachment.

      Looking forward to your reply via email.

      All the best,

      Jon

  7. Bob Mahoney November 29, 2013 at 4:51 am #

    Jon!
    How great to see words of encouragement for those of us who have been told to “hang it up. Sorry, you’ve got FD.”
    Twenty years ago I suddenly “forgot” how to play a few of the easiest pitches on the horn. Quickly the extent of the affected pitches encompassed nearly the entire range. I was out of the orchestra and divorced from my friends and closest colleagues and that hurt.
    I don’t have the spasms or quivering of typical FD – it’s the brain saying “huh?” when the chops want instructions on how to play a simple note.
    Yours is the first site I’ve ever encountered that suggests this might be fixed. I’d love to … No, I need to learn more.
    Thanks a million in advance.

    • Jon Gorrie November 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your positive feedback! Yes, I was told the exact same thing, and there were many times when I actually believed it as well. However, it’s simply not true – it *is* possible to unlearn MFD and re-learn free and easy playing. It’s a process, in most cases it’s not easy, but it is possible!

      Feel free to look around the site – I hope there is something here of value for you.

      All the best!

      Jon

      • spanish December 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

        Hello. Congratulation for his article. He forgives but I am Spanish and Englishman does not speak himself. I am a teacher of trumpet in Spain and have Fd with the same symptoms. Help please!. I am spending it very badly. Thank you.

        • Jon Gorrie December 3, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

          Hi there!
          I’ve emailed you some information about practitioners in Spain.
          All the best!
          Jon

  8. Ted Jones December 31, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    I am a sixty-six year old obsessive amateur pianist, composer and improviser. Five years ago I developed a very peculiar cramp in my left index finger which threw my playing mechanism out of balance. It took me four years to get rid of it by myself and the process was long and difficult, so I am forced to assume it was a focal dystonia.

    Reading on the internet tells me that left hand piano dystonias are much rarer than right hand ones. I am interested in talking with another pianist who has similar issues, either current or past, with a view to finding general strategies to prevent recurrence.

  9. floyd February 8, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Hi Jon

    I am a finger-picking intrumental guitarist who has FD in the ring finger of my fretting hand. I’ve contacted a few people regarding this on Skype and have received different treatment options. One said to let the fingers do whatever they wanted to but log a note with the brain that the fingers are doing the wrong thing, and the other said I need slow finger exercises to re-train the brain. My condition has become worse. Can you help?

    Much thanks
    Floyd

  10. kostas February 13, 2014 at 12:26 am #

    Hello!! I am a professional trumpet player I play in a symphony orchestra and I am experiencing some strange things happening in my embouchure. There are days that I feel really great but other that my muscles tremble and my range is really bad . Before 2 years after very intense practising for an audition my embouchure collapsed and I could not play higher than a middle c !! Also I could not maintain a steady single note. After some time away from the horn I came back but now I experiencing very similar symptoms. Is there any chance that I am developing FD?

    • Jon Gorrie February 13, 2014 at 1:05 am #

      Hi Kostas,

      Thanks for message, and for your comment on my Haydn youtube video! :) I’ve just sent you an email with a little info. Looking forward to your reply there.

      All the best!

      Jon

  11. Bob February 19, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Hi Jon,

    I’m a tuba player in a military band in the U.S. About 3 years ago I also started playing euphonium. While my euphonium playing has improved, my tuba playing has gotten worse, much worse, particularly in the lower register. Despite an increase in practicing, I’ve noticed a steep decline over the past year. Again, primarily in the lower register, where I can now barely play notes that used to be effortless.

    Any advice would be most welcome.

    Thank you,
    Bob

    • Jon Gorrie February 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

      Hi Bob,

      This may or may not be Musician’s Focal Dystonia. It could simply be a ‘tightness’ experienced from too much euphonium playing. Are you still playing both instruments, or are you back solely on tuba?

      Kind regards,

      Jon

  12. Parker February 28, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    Aloha Jon,
    Found your link through FB. Been struggling with FHD for almost 1 1/2 years now. My right index finger is the problem. I have tried various meds and botox but nothing has worked for me. I play the guitar, ukulele and piano – not as often anymore.

    Would love to hear more about what helped you.

    Mahalo’s

    Parker

    • Jon Gorrie February 28, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

      Hi Parker!

      Thanks for writing. I’ll send you an email with some more info. In the meantime, please feel free to check out the free webinar about Musicians Focal Dystonia here on the site, or read the many blog articles and forum excerpts. I’ll email you now…

      All the best!

      Jon

  13. Russell Bain March 10, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Hi Jon,

    I really appreciate you sharing your experience, and your process for overcoming embouchure dystonia. My embouchure collapse started about 7 years ago. One day, I just couldn’t find the right way to put the trombone on my mouth. I couldn’t get a buzz going, and when I finally did, my chops were exhausted. Several months later after trying to deal with the issue, I had lost all of my playing ability (range, flexibility, endurance and tone. The only thing that still worked was tonging). I had involuntary twitches in my lips, jaw, around one eye, and in my forehead. I also had a severe and constant lip tremor. It was some time after that that I tried to play again, but I had all of the same problems. I finally sought out medical advice, and through a series of referrals I was finally diagnosed with embouchure dystonia by a movement disorders specialist.

    I’ve started practicing again, but in a completely different way. I think my imagination is the key to getting this sorted out, so I work to imagine playing trombone as being the easiest thing that I do, until that becomes my expectation (I watch bone players that make it look effortless, I work to remember when it was effortless for me, and I play my air trombone). I also find that focusing on improvisation takes my attention away from the mechanics of playing, and I like to have some background noise as well when I play (dishwasher etc.). My sessions are very unstructured. I usually start by throwing the slide around while blowing out notes (without choosing any particular partial to start). I then go on to whatever was working in the last practice session, and if that doesn’t work, I try something else. It’s important for me at this stage not to become too emotionally invested, so I also limit my practice time to 1 hour a day. Anyway, I’ve seen enough progress that I think I must be heading in the right direction, but I’m sure I would benefit from your experience, and would really appreciate your help!

    Thanks!
    Russ :)

    • Jon Gorrie March 10, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

      Hi Russ!

      Thanks for your message. I’ll send you an email straight away with a little more info.

      All the best!

      Jon

  14. DWIGHT V BIRD March 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    I have been diagnosed with TSEFD (the E is for Embouchure) two years ago, but it actually started 11 years ago for me. I struggled thinking I just wasn’t practicing enough. I am/was an amature but still want to play. All my efforts have been futile. What should I be doing?

    • DWIGHT V BIRD March 14, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

      And… what should I not be doing?

      • Jon Gorrie March 14, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

        Hi Dwight,
        Great questions – particularly the second one! I’ll send an email reply now with more info for you.
        All the best,
        Jon

  15. Gareth March 26, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi, I’m a guitar player and I’ve recently been diagnosed with FD in the right hand. I need to do a lot of writing for my job and my penmanship has suffered and I’m having a hard time playing guitar!

    I tried Botox as recommended by a neurologist but my hand is not getting full motor function and I would rather try to treat it naturally.

    I’m really hoping that this condition can be dealt with so I can go back to living without my hand being crippled! Any info would be awesome!

    Thanks!!!

    • Jon Gorrie March 27, 2014 at 10:38 am #

      Hi Gareth,

      I’ve just sent you an email with some info. Kind regards,

      Jon

  16. Leslie Gott April 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    Hi Jon,

    I’m an amateur horn player and have been struggling with what I suspect is FD since December. The easiest notes to play on the horn are the ones I can’t play anymore. I can’t hold a long note, sometimes they speak, sometimes they don’t. I can hit them with loud, short blasts, but no control of any kind. It’s like my face can’t remember what it feels like to play those notes anymore, like I’ve had a stroke that only affects the middle range, from A below middle C to the E above (in F). I love playing in my band and brass quintet, but am so upset and frustrated by this that I’ve been thinking of quitting. Your story of recovery is so encouraging! I would love to learn what to do to get back my ability to play. Thanks!

    • Jon Gorrie April 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Hi Leslie,

      Thanks for your message! I’ve just sent you an email with more info. Hope that’s helpful!

      Kind regards,

      Jon

  17. Anders Palmquist April 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Antescript: I switched to this musicianssite instead!
    Read your compelling story of playing hardships because I do have problems of my own. Roughly 1 1/2 ago my trumpet&cornetplaying suddenly (to me at least) started to detoriate. I tired quickly, not able to reach the high notes I used to, sometimes unable to play anything higher than C on staff. Felt like my upperlip did vibrate in the middle of it, fluttering sound quality. This may have coincided with my ability to practise several times a day, due to my workschedule reduced to once a week, I am now 71. I do play in the solocornetsection in a Brassband since early 60:ies, lead trumpet in (swing)Big band 68-2005 etc etc. E-flat cornet with success etc etc.
    Problems autumn 12, spring 13, but suddenly OK most of autumn 13 and again terrible since christmas. I have consulted a neurologist, like you, a specialist of Parkinson; he found a certain asymmetry between left/right hand sides but no definite signs of said disease, anyhow he will send me to fMRI or the like for scanning of the basal ganglia.
    My questions to you specifically: Have you experienced tremor in “beatleg when rhythm beating in uptempos? This flutter of upperlip (in the middle just the tiny tip of it)?? The other day in the BrassBand I was not able to produce almost any note, regardless off staffposition due to this flutter. The feeling that notes above high G on staff just seem impossible, as if I will have to add great force to produce them??
    Should add that in Lucinda Lewis´ opinion my problem is what she defines as “broken embouschyre”. Rehearsing according to her ideas seems to have had at least some benefits, (buzz stopping), although I have only followed that for 3 weeks.
    Ps: Your ideas with this site seem very very good – I think there is a lot of us out here!!
    Being a psychologist I do know that things like these carry a big emotional impact.

    • Jon Gorrie April 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      Hi Anders,

      I’ve just sent you a reply with further information. Kind regards,

      Jon

  18. Anders Palmquist April 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Dear Jon!

    Eagerly awaiting your info but unable to find it! Maybe some black hole in cyberspace engulfed it??
    Last evening I played in a brassquartett. Just fine, or even nice for 15 minutes, then rotten, then one single tune, very intricate&rather high just fine but then it all went to the dogs…This confounded fluttering, feeling mouthpiece bouncing all around on my exhausted lips!Jeez!

  19. Anders Palmquist April 15, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Hi!

    Specific question after having tried to reinvent myself/reading through the blog: This flutter of my liptip – any suggestions and ideas?? Of course I am aware of the possibility of a negative thought-loop – I have tried to relax but it (the flutter) just won´t go away but for short periods.
    The mental set is crucial I know from experience (and theory), not thinking you will hit that high Eb will make you spoil it. Maybe my mind has locked itself on the idea that this flutter depends on some physical process??
    Or is it that lack of formal trumpeteducation finally did show itself after all these years, being masked earlier by sheer youthful power so to speak??
    Where do I find your reply?? I am not that used to blogs etc..

Leave a Reply

Current day month ye@r *