Beat stress in 32 seconds

A simple exercise that can help you lower your cortisol level, and that is fulfilled in 32 seconds, anyone? This exercise is easy, take a deep breath counting 4 seconds. Never stop your breath, exhale slowly now, even, counting 4 seconds. Repeat until it makes a total of 32 seconds. Good at math? 😉

By controlling your breathing, it is possible to break the cycle of the physical effects of stress, giving a contradictory signal to your brain. This is what we call cardiac coherence and was first developed by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber.

Controlling your breathing helps to regularize your heart rate and thus standardize the operation of the brain. This will improve your general homeostasis. Repeat it every time you feel your stress levels increase. Can you afford to take 32 seconds for you? I hope so!

© Jean-François Desrosby D.Mus, 2015

Left hand

The main problem related to the left hand when playing guitar is maintaining the arm in the air, often for many hours. In order to let the hand be entirely free, it is important to remember that each muscle must play the role for which it was designed. First, it is necessary to ensure that the shoulder blade is in place (in coaptation) using the technique mentioned above. To maintain the arms in the air, all the muscles of the shoulder must be involved. The arm must be held in the air, even if the instrument is not there. This seems obvious, but after several minutes of instrumental practice, those tired muscles relax, and the hand tends to hang onto the neck of the instrument and thus sustain the weight of the arm. The hand then loses a lot of agility. In addition, the small hand muscles are required to perform a function against nature. This causes unusual tiredness and multiplies the risk of injury. This is a problem that we find regularly among guitarists led by the good intention of playing relaxed. In attempting to relax the muscles above the shoulders, they place the weight of the arm on the hand.

Another issue related to the left hand is that it must be maintained in supination. I’m talking about the hand to draw your attention, because here (as in the case of the elevation of the arm), the hand is far from being the origin of the movement. If that is the case for you, learn to change your conception of things. It can be difficult to stop considering our precious hands to be the centre of the universe. As the Buddhist proverb says, “A finger points to the moon; unhappy are those who look at the finger.”

Thus, the supination of the left arm must take root in the shoulder. The rotation is done from the glenohumeral joint, which (surprise!) allows one to perform the supination of the arm from the base of the shoulder. This arm is held in place by the strong bicep muscle. Under no circumstances should the movement of supination be done through the action of muscles in the forearm. Moreover, the hand must never be the source of the movement. One must, under all circumstances, use the small radial and ulnar muscles to turn that hand and, by extension, the rest of the arm. They are not strong enough to fight against other muscles located upstream, which themselves were not involved in the road to supination. They would find themselves antagonists of the biceps, and that would harm them and cause them injury. Imagine how much the utilisation of the radial and ulnar muscles in the action of supination influences the freedom of movement of the hand. It finds itself in a state of constant contraction and effort, which inhibits the action of the fingers in the realisation of the precision work for which they were actually designed.

The forearm is mainly used to place the hand in an optimal way by extending the movement of the shoulder and biceps. It completes the positioning accuracy, because thinner muscles act with greater precision. Nevertheless, the forearm should be the engine of the full supination of the left arm.

On the topic of the optimal placement of the hand, let’s now, without going into detail, take a look at another basic principle. When the wrist is slightly inclined from the radial side (thumb), it facilitates the action of the index and middle fingers. These two fingers gain accuracy and stability when they are placed as well. However, this position is a bit more demanding on the tendons; thus, it should not be the basis of our positioning. If, on the contrary, we impose a slight flexion at the wrist on the ulnar side (little finger), the fingers will be freer and faster. Note that the change is evident especially in the auricular and ring fingers, but the middle and index fingers also gain agility. Unfortunately, they lose stability. It is also important to reinforce the elbows and shoulders in the lateral flexion of the wrist so you do not overload the muscles of the upper extremities.

The next concept to be referred to is that which Chamagne1 named in his various writings the principle of extended opposition. This concept is characterised by the ability of the thumb to oppose the other fingers. It is also important to know that the metacarpals corresponding to the last two fingers are mobile, unlike those corresponding to the index and middle fingers, which are fixed.

These movable metacarpals allow greater adaptability of the hand, whose primary function is grasping.

The principle of extended opposition is simple. When the thumb moves away from the index finger, it contracts the first dorsal interosseous and the two beams. With this contraction, the first dorsal interosseous ligament pulls on the deep transverse intermetacarpal, which has the immediate effect of solidifying the arch of the hand by blocking the metacarpal corresponding to the last two fingers.

In this way, the hand is stable, and it is easy to control the fingers in a highly precise way. The brain, which has the clear purpose of orienting itself in space, can direct the fingers in that same space with acuity increased tenfold.

It is also fundamental to find the right level of pressure of the fingers on the string. We often think that significant pressure is required to produce a sound that is clear and pure. I propose the following exercise to be aware of the weight required to produce a beautiful sound. Gently press the index finger of your left hand on the first string at the first fret. While playing the string lightly with your right hand, slowly increase the pressure on the string. As soon as you get the pure and clean sound you want, note the amount of pressure you are exerting. You have discovered the optimum pressure. 

It is essential to understand how too much finger pressure on the neck can affect the hand: This can lead to the extreme stress of the pulleys that pass through the tendons of the fingers, which then creates a virtual brake. The speed of the fingers is therefore greatly reduced.

1Philippe Chamagne is a kinesiologist specialising in disorders related to the practice of musical instruments. He is an author and speaker and the founder and technical advisor of the Musician’s Clinic in Paris.

© Jean-François Desrosby 2015

Smaller is Better!

When it comes to setting our goals, it’s easy to dream big. Dreaming is excellent, but it is often difficult to take actions that will lead us straight toward our goals.

It is difficult not to consider every obstacle in our path as the materialization of the failure of this great dream. Why not just split this dream in different stages, as the climber who climbs the mountain one step at a time, his only goal being the next step. On an expedition and in my life in general, I often use this technique, enjoying and concentrating on every step taken towards my ultimate goal.

“Do the difficult things while they are easy, and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousant miles must begin with a single step.” Lao Tzu

Not only split our dreams into intermediate steps allows us to draw a clearer path towards our goal, but in addition, each little success can be savored. This action enjoying the success, as brief it may be, will help you build your confidence in your abilities. Your brain will store all as small victories against adversity. One can also, by doing so, easily adjusts the shot and reacts to an unexpected obstacle.

Set yourself small goals, achievable fairly easily, every day, every hour, every minute, every second of your life. Next, take concrete actions to achieve them. Enjoy every success, do not minimize them.

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then  another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”  Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

From time to time, go wide angle, re-evaluate the distance that separates you from your dream, analyze if this is still what you want and finally, adjust your actions in the right direction. Continue your expedition one step at a time, living every effort, every step forward and every small victory.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matters the road is the life.” J. Kerouac

 

© 2015 Jean-François Desrosby, D.Mus.

 

Blades of steel!

 

If there were only one piece of advice to be garnered from everything that I address in my research, this would surely be that relating to the separation of the shoulder blade. This is actually the most common issues among musicians. By relaxing the shoulder muscles, we cause a structural problem in the shoulder blade region. The latter becomes prominent. If you pass your hand over the shoulder blade, and you can actually feel the tip of it, this means that your are are afflicted by this terrible “evil” that I call the “sharp blade”!

Like many nerves, muscles and tendons that cross at the shoulder blade, it is essential that it be maintained in its proper place (coaptation) to ensure optimal movement of all members driven by the structural elements crossing at this place. The effect of a well-positonned blade can be felt by the fingertips. To maintain the blade in place, it is essential to ensure the tone of some of the upper back muscles. This is achieved by extending the shoulders (and the collarbone) slightly and adding this a slight forward motion. It goes without saying that the shoulders must be extremely toned, and under no circumstances should one release the muscles below this region.

I am aware that it is difficult to visualize without example, but I am working on something that will help you better understand these concepts. Stay tuned!

 © Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)

Holidays, perspective, draw your line

On the eve of what will be for many the Holidays, with the family and friends reunions, It is a good time to put things in perspective. In this work so demanding that we make, it’s easy to put aside our friends, our family, our leisure activities and relationships, all that for the benefit of our work and professional success. It is so easy to get lost in our career, until finally, considering work as the most important thing in our life.

The danger in this way of thinking is that we end up defining ourselves by our work. Each professional failure lived in this state of mind will seem insurmountable. Healthy relationships help us to maintain a balance and a life outside of work. This could help you maintain a healthy emotional balance essential to a high-level performance.

Moreover, these friends, the family and all the people around us will be there to encourage us, to help us change our ideas, and so potentially help us increase our confidence in ourselves, which will facilitate our evolution.

Again, it’s all about balance, and that is to each of us, to draw the line.

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)

Visualization: Getting started! (What you see is what you get!)

No matter at what level is your ability to visualize, it can develop in a daily work. Start by imagining you where you practice your instrument: what it looks like, smells, how you feel when you would normally enter this room.

Imagine yourself trying to perform simple extracts on the guitar. Imagine the sound it produces, acoustics, resonance. To develop this ability to visualize, you should work on it 10 to 15 minutes a day.

For example, you can train to see yourself going up on stage, play your repertoire with pleasure and visualize the warm welcome of the public. You can also visualize a difficult passage seeing you be successful in your head, the brain then lower the psychological barrier that was created earlier.

In addition, your can train yourself to see your fingerings and your scores to accelerate memorization. You can train yourself to relive a performance that was a success for you. Imagine staying focused, despite all possible distractions. Imagine reacting  in the right way.

You can help you overcome your blockages’ thanks to visualization. The secret is in regular training.

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)

Posture and self-confidence

We already know that posture plays a significant role in optimizing our movements when playing an instrument. Many of you may be surprised to know that posture also affects self-confidence.

If we can guess the level of self-confidence of someone by analyzing his posture, it is as well true that our own posture reflects our confidence in ourselves.

So if our posture reflects our confidence, can we influence our level of confidence intentionally by changing our posture? The answer is yes. Good posture will affect your level of personal confidence in addition of giving others the image of someone more confident about his abilities. If we add those benefits to both the injury prevention and optimizing technique, there is no reason for you not to work to improve your posture, and this, in your instrumental practice as in your daily life!

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)