by John Lunn
If you are considering having your flute modified to better fit your hands, there are many "homemade remedies" that you can try to find out if they will help. It gives you an opportunity to test the water without having to spend a lot of money. In the long run, however, it is wise to replace them with permanent extensions.
If you want a cushion where the left hand index finger supports the flute, stick a round corn pad (from a drug store) on that spot. You can also use a Bopep (available at music stores). This is a plastic clip on crutch for the left hand that makes the flute feel like it is as large around as a wooden flute. It can help relieve tension in the index finger and relax the position of the hand by reducing the angle. You can put the corn pad on the Bopep, too. There is also a Bopep available for the right hand that helps support the thumb behind the flute.
To find the best finger positions, plug open holes with corks or plastic plugs (also at music stores). Once the holes are plugged you don't need to touch the center of the key so you can place your fingers wherever they comfortably reach. For the left hand, experiment by playing on the outside edges of the G and A keys. This will give you a chance to straighten out your wrist a bit while maintaining a bit of a curve in your fingers.
To make extensions, find or make plastic discs about 1/2 inch in diameter to glue* onto the top edges of the keys. You can cut disks from plastic bread bag ties. With this you can reposition your hand to a more comfortable, natural position. For the G#, buy a false fingernail and glue it onto the top of the lever.
For the index finger of your left hand, glue an 1/8th to 1/4 inch slice of round cork to the top of the C# finger button. This helps reduce, possibly even eliminates any kink in this finger that causes pinching. This can be used in conjunction with a bopep.
On the right hand, most difficulties stem from the reach to the footjoint. Even if you feel discomfort in the other 3 fingers, it can be caused by the stretch between them added to the reach to the low rollers. After plugging the holes, bring your 1st and 3rd fingers together so that they are almost touching the trill levers. (Keep in mind that years of practice have trained you to automatically feel for the center of the cup so you must consciously remind yourself that you are trying to keep the fingers in a new position.) If that stretch isn't causing problems, but you find that you must rotate your wrist to reach the rollers, at least plug the D cup so that you don't lose that note.
Unfortunately, there is nothing temporary that can be done to bring the footjoint keys closer. This must be designed and reconfigured by a skilled craftsman. My angled footjoint cluster is a proven success for this.
After you have worked with the plastic shims, fingernails and plugs you will discover some things help and others don't. Be careful to keep tabs on your progress. If the extensions relieve pain in one area but you start feeling discomfort somewhere else, remove them. Transferring a problem is no solution. Don't overdo. Most things that you try must be tempered with a dose of common sense.
Custom designed flutes are becoming more and more acceptable. If done properly, it can be aesthetically and functionally preferable. Offset G and closed hole flutes are no longer seen as just "student models". There are a variety of special headjoints and key configurations that can be designed on any new flute. When you start looking for a new instrument consider comfort and reach as much as you would acoustic design because a lifetime of playing requires hands that work as well as an embouchure.
*Contact cement works best because it's easy to use and, if you don't like where you put an extension, you can remove it easily enough and then you can remove the remaining cement with alcohol.
~ John Lunn is a flutemaker who specializes in finding solutions to hand problems for flutists.~
Since there was no pain involved, I didn't panic. However, the problem didn't disappear. I continued to research over the next 5 years trying different crutches, developing better muscles, practicing the Alexander Technique and even shock treatment. Still my thumb wanted to cramp during any rapid motions.
In 1987, I started working with Dorothy Taubman techniques which involves learning to use muscles in new ways which prevent injuries. The first step was to stop injuring my hand any further. To accomplish this I developed a method of "throwing" my thumb from one key to the other, which is a pianists technique for striking the keys. Rather than stretching or lifting my thumb, I move it from low down near the wrist and, while keeping my wrist straight I 'throw' it off the B or Bb key.
By the time I consulted a hand specialist in 1991, I had
gathered enough information to target my condition as a focal dystonia,
which accounted for the lack of pain. The hand specialist confirmed my
diagnosis. I heard about the possibility of having the left hand keys modified
to fit my small hand so I had extensions put on the G and G# keys to allow
my wrist to better straighten out. This helped me develop the thumb throwing
Lately, I have been playing an old Louis Lot flute and found no need for extensions because my thumb throwing technique works so well.
|After being advised by so many different professionals,
I learned that I needed to evaluate all the information and make my own
decisions. Each professional tends to make a diagnosis which relates to
his or her area of expertise. Although I learned many useful things from
them, individually they did not solve my problem. Reading about different
performance-related injuries helped me recognize my own condition. The
Dorothy Taubman techniques enabled me to find alternate solutions through
retraining. Adapting my flute helped it fit my individual hand size. There
wasn't one formula readily available for focal dystonia in the lefthand
thumb of flutists. As flutists, we must take an active part in our treatment
and recovery. No one else knows what difficulties we encounter and how
much it means to us to keep playing. We must become our own best advocate,
judge, teacher and healer!
This article was submitted to HANDS ON! with the stipulation that the author remain anonymous. It is a good indication of the problems that still face flutists. There is still fear and doubt that employers and peers won't accept anyone who must overcome problems just to keep their job. Until everyone can start talking about it openly, stories like this one will continue to go untold, flutists won't know where to get help, and many won't be as lucky in finding a solution that works. ~editor
by John Braverman Levine, M.D.
Heather Mandry, in A Return from the Brink (HANDS
ON! 2:2) recommends psychological support for injured musicians. But psychiatrists,
psychologists, and social workers experienced in coordinating medical care,
particularly in hospital settings, are resources for more than psychotherapy.
Consultation-liaison psychiatry, a branch of general psychiatry and a sub
specialty in its own right, deals both with patients' emotional responses
to physical illnessand with the direct effects of medical illness on mood
John Levine is a psychiatrist in private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.