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Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A. (MOVEMENT THERAPY)

Focal dystonia appears to be an involuntary movement, a neurological problem, but is usually a deeply learned bad habit that appears to be totally out of the musician’s or athlete’s control.

As an Alexander Technique teacher, what is it that I do when a musician or athlete comes to me with a body movement that defies the performer’s or athlete’s control and technique?


An example would be the first finger of a guitarist’s right hand that has a life of its own, a movement of its own, what is labeled as focal dystonia, and is not moving the same as the rest of the fingers of the right hand.

By the time the guitarist comes to me, he or she may have tried everything from metal hand contraptions to Botox.

So, this means the habitual out of control movements of the first finger are believed to be pathological, which means the guitarist will never truly ever use the first finger well. This may not be true.

If the performer is committed to regaining control of the finger, then he or she has a chance.

This means defining what great right hand technique is for the classical or flamenco guitarist, or for any other instrument like the piano or violin or for the athlete runner. My experience with most performers and athletes is their beliefs of what great technique is are pretty vague or are too rigid.

So, we clarify what is the best most user friendly technique for the instrument or voice or sport and proceed to internalize it.

This can go pretty quickly, if the client accepts what I have to say about great body use and posture and technique are true. This is always a collaboration between me and what the client defines as great technique, so we’re not butting heads.

The general revamping of the performer’s or athlete’s technique can go more smoothly, when I ask that the first finger of the guitarist or that the right leg of the athlete do what the other fingers are doing or what the other leg is doing, at a slow pace.

But the first finger may revert back to being out of control, as he or she plays faster and faster, making the musician feel like he or she is backtracking.

What do I mean?

Up until this point at a very slow tempo the guitarist is seeing the first finger move like the other fingers for the first time in years, and is really feeling positive about getting past focal dystonia. But usually at a higher tempo, the dystonia kicks back in and the performer feels helpless to do what he or she wants. Here is where I slow everything back down again, and really support the performer in accepting and believing he or she will eventually be able to do what they want at high tempos.

But there’s more to it than telling the guitarist or the pianist or athlete that the wheels don’t have to fall of the wagon at high speeds.

The best technique for instruments that require that fingers play the instrument, is that the fingers play through the strings or into the keys at the speed of the reflexes, even at slow tempos (lots of time between notes).

What this does is set up the conditions for fast and clean playing, rather than later having the fingers go faster at higher speeds. So, that even playing slowly is trusting the fingers to play through the strings or into the keys of a piano or French horn reflexively. This means as the performer plays faster and faster, they will already be used to being “out of control while in control” (playing reflexively).

Ultimately a musician or athlete will have to accept that their “focal dystonia” may not be pathological and not insurmountable, and that really bad habits can be overcome with practice and faith and inhibition and the best possible technique.

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