Kicking Musician’s Focal Dystonia In The A**

The following is an email follow-up from a session with a previous client that was suffering from Musician’s Focal Dystonia in the hand and fingers. The client tended to experience a 2 steps forward, 1 step back path to recovery.

I have erased the identity of the client here, but wanted to include his email, and my answer in their entirety. There may be something here of value for you if you have begun your path to recovery from MFD.

Hey Jon,

Wanted to share some thoughts with you.

I’ve recently been focusing my attention on my head on top of the spine and allowing my hand to do whatever it needs to do. I feel as though I am being very diligent and staying on the path I know I need to stay on. Unfortunately my hand feels super weird and out of control, but I am able to play what I want to play.

I feel like I’m doing the right things mentally and I wish my hand would follow suit. I know that wishing is a slippery slope, but I am trying to ignore the hand as much as possible, not get mad or focus on the symptoms, and try and keep a positive attitude.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

I feel so close to the end sometimes, and far away other times. Sometimes thoughts about not recovering creep into my head. I know the path I need to take, but sometimes my diligent practice doesn’t seem to be fully working. Any way, these are my most negative thoughts these days. Over all I feel really good.

I have been watching joaquin fabra’s videos on you tube and really digging the concept about rescuing the musician.  I’m trying to focus on the confidence and attitude I had before.  I want this so badly and I hope it will happen for me.

This weekend I’m heading to LA to play some gigs and sessions with friends.  Any advice or encouragement would be much appreciated.

(This is a long reply – please take as much time as you need to read and digest it. I would suggest you re-read it several times to make sure you understand and practise the concepts).

It sounds like your mind is getting in your way, and that you are being seduced by two things: desire and fear/what if.

Think about those two intentions for a second: One force is pulling in one direction, and the other is pulling in the other direction. However, neither intention is useful in terms of free playing!

With desire/wishing to be better, your mind is focussed on a future event.

Can you control future events? No.

What can you control? Your mind and your body in this present moment only.

Now, with fear/what if, your mind is also focussed on a future event – again, something you have no control over.

Setting up this future event struggle is tempting and seductive – it is the old way which contributed to the problem when it first started appearing.

Your new mindset must focus on what you can control, here and now, in this present moment.

When you are sitting at the drums, what can you control? Your intention, your body, your conscious thoughts.

So, firstly: get your body in the most optimum position to allow for efficient movement.

Second: bring your attention to something you can control – something that is constructive and incompatible with tension/FD. ie. your open feeling breathing.Be *mindful* of your breathing. Are you allowing the open feeling? Is your mind focussed on what it is that you want to achieve? (ie. efficiency, allowing your body to breathe etc).

Have you started playing the drums at this point? No – so why think about it? Who cares what’s going to happen in the future – you can’t control it! 😉

Maintaining your easy, efficient open feeling, reach out for your sticks – keep your focus on where it should be – your intention and focus here and now! Sit with the sticks.

Are you drumming yet? No – so what does it matter how you hold the sticks?

What are you doing here? Sitting, breathing, being. Be mindful again.

Now, take the sticks in a normal playing grip. Bring your attention immediately back to your open feeling of being.

Are you drumming yet? No! So why think about what might or might not happen in the future – it doesn’t help. What does help is focussing your attention to the present moment again.

Now, follow this practise loop with say an 8 bar phrase:

0) Get your physical/mechanical set up as efficient as possible. This includes the position of your drums relative to you. A balanced and neutral head and spine etc.
1) Visualise/Auralise
In your mind, see/hear the music. How do your drums sound? What rhythms are you playing? Imagine your body moving freely and easily. Focus on the music and the enjoyment you get from playing. Run through the 8 bars in your mind in real time.
2.1) Allow the open breathing to take place. Where is your focus now? On observing the body breathe here and now in this moment. That is ALL that matters.
2.2) Intention: Decide on a musical intention: What musical qualities are you going to focus on when you play? The feel? Accentuation? The groove? The sound you get out of your drums?
2.3) Play: focussing on the musical intention you decided upon in 2.2.
3.1) Review: Ask yourself: What was good about what I just did? Answer. What else was good about what I just did. Answer. etc.
3.2) Review: Ask yourself: If something wasn’t exactly as I wanted it to be *musically*, how would I like to sound the next time?

You see, with this approach, you force yourself to discipline yourself to focus on constructive physical and mental process in the here and now – in this very moment. You are giving the negative future projections the biggest b***h slap of their life 😉 by deciding to focus on things that can help you here and now, rather than walking down a future path which leads to destruction.

So, to kick your a** a little more here 🙂

“I wish my hand would follow suit” – wishing is a future event, setting up an expectation, which creates physical and mental attention. Instead, be mindful, as explained above.

“I am trying to ignore the hand as much as possible” = “I am trying to ignore getting run over by a car” 😛 How about thinking something totally different, constructive, and incompatible with the problem: “I’m taking care of my whole body, “being mindful of my mental intention. I’m ensuring physical efficiency, and allowing my body do what it already knows how. I’m enjoying the feeling of letting go”.

” (I) try and keep a positive attitude” – whenever we have to try to be positive, our subconscious says, “BS! I don’t believe you! It sucks right now and you can’t convince me otherwise!” So, if/when you feel less than 100% positive, put the sticks down. Stand up. Do something physical like go for a walk, jump up and down, do a silly-dance, whatever. Using your body in positive ways changes your bio-chemistry. You then don’t have to try to feel positive, it just happens naturally. Hold on to the positive feeling, and then go back to the pracise loop above.

“I feel so close to the end sometimes, and far away other times”. There is no end, there is no beginning. Being a musician is a constant journey, a constant process. You will NEVER get ‘there’, because ‘there’ doesn’t exist! The more you try to get ‘there’, the more tension you build up in your system. Trying to get ‘there’ is like trying to walk to the moon. Instead, be mindful of this very moment. You know what you have to do here and now in this moment. And this moment leads on to the next moment, where again, you need to be mindful and so on. Future events do not come into the equation because you cannot control them.

“Sometimes thoughts about not recovering creep into my head.” And they will keep doing so unless you train your mind to be 100% caught up in the present moment, with the positive intention and efficient body use I spoke about before. There will never be a day where you wake up and suddenly you are “healed”. It doesn’t work that way. This is the same as you don’t suddenly wake up and become the best drummer in the world. These things are *perceived destinations*, or future events. You are on a path – it is a life-long path. Walking the path is about enjoying the journey – enjoying the process. That is everything when it comes to being a musician – we are never ‘there’ – and when we try to get ‘there’ we fail. Why? Because ‘there’ doesn’t exist! Instead, we must focus on the process, and focus on something which is possible: ie. improvement is possible. How do we improve? By getting our mind in the right place, as outlined above.

“I want this so badly and I hope it will happen for me” – I think you know what I’m going to say by this point 🙂

Let me know if that’s helpful! 🙂

All the best,


Hey Jon,

This is so helpful. Thanks so much for your response. I will continue to re read this message over the weekend! This is such valuable wisdom and encouragement. Thanks!

Did any of these thoughts/concerns sound familiar to you? Was the advice helpful?


2 Responses to Kicking Musician’s Focal Dystonia In The A**

  1. Ted Stewart August 27, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    Hello Jon. I am a drummer with focal dystonia affecting my left hand. I’ve been dealing with this for some 30 years. Within the past two years, it has improved slightly, but is still frustrating in that I can’t realize my full potential as a player. I’m playing in a jazz group and an R&B group and I love to play, so I just deal with it the best that I can. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. I do meditate on occasion and I have tried exercises that are supposed to help retrain the hand. I would just like the symptoms to disappear.

    Thanks, Ted Stewart

    • Jon Gorrie August 27, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

      Hi Ted,
      Thanks for your message. I’ll email you more info now. Kind regards,