Musicians’ Fingers and Thumbs

Human’s opposable thumbs are thought to have developed c.2 million years ago during the Homo Habilis time of our evolution. They may have been used for food gathering, and most certainly contributed to the development and use of tools.  Our Chimpanzee cousins have opposable toes as well as thumbs, which makes them much better at climbing and swinging from trees than us, and koalas apparently have two opposable thumbs on each hand, so they can climb trees and collect leaves at the same time. Just think how good they’d be at playing the violin!

It’s of course the thumb that is the most unique part of the hand, and that allows us our manual dexterity, ability to hold and grasp, as well as our fine motor skills as musicians.

The Balance between Force and Lightness

Our fingers are capable of a great deal of force. And at the same time, a large amount of sensitivity. Both of which we need to successful perform well for any length of time. However, some of the problems as musicians come from habitual ways of using our fingers, that lead to too much force being used for too much of the time.

Whilst you might know using an optimal amount of force is a good idea, and more force than necessary can lead problems in your hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders, how do you know if you are or not?

How do you know what your habits are?

One very practical way of finding out is to come to a lesson tomorrow, or in the next few weeks, as we concentrate on the movements and connections of the hands. Feldenkrais lessons offer a way of becoming more aware of what you’re doing, so you can have more choice in the matter.

You’ll be exploring possibilities, options, whilst growing your awareness of the quality of movements that you choose. Each lesson brings you a self-awareness practice that over time will transform your connection and knowledge of yourselves. Along with more comfort, ease and mastery in your artistic and daily life.

“If you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.” Moshe Feldenkrais. 

How we can reduce tension and find more ease in the fingers?

In the next 20 minutes from reading this, count how many touches your fingers and hands make. Every touch. Every key stroke, everything you hold, grasp, touch. And every different stroke on the keyboard, or your instrument.

Just in getting out of the door this morning, I’ve touched my bag to close it, picked up my keys, touched my coat several times to put it on. My scarf, the door handle, the key to lock it, the main door of the building. My bag, to get my tube pass out, the pass , to hold and to tap on the turnstile, my bag to put it back, and already a 100 or so letter touches on my phone to write this. That’s before I get my viola out at my destination.

Each one requires a certain level of connection with the item involved. And if we are using more force than we need, which most of us do, that’s hundreds, thousands, of heavy handed touches a day. All of which add up to more tired hands, and less stamina.

As the fingers are over-used like this, most of you will also be holding extra tension in the thumb and palms of the hand. We’re just not aware of it.

What we’re aware of, we can change. What we’re not aware of, we can’t.

Awareness is one of the hugely powerful tools we use in these lessons to bring your attention to something you’re doing, that you weren’t aware of before. Each piece of ourselves that we can bring more clearly into our foreground is a part we can then move in a more efficient and useful way.  In the lesson I taught on Friday for the Musicians Union, one musician said as soon as I asked her to pay attention to the way she was using her hands, she was able to change what she was doing.
If you don’t know, and most people don’t, it’s nearly impossible to change. 

 We need to be able to sense and feel differences to learn. And that’s exactly what we do in each Feldenkrais lesson. It’s a laboratory of learning about yourself. Each new chunk of self-discovery giving you more agency, more options,  along with more effective ways of moving and being.

One of my regular weekly students, who has had arthritis for many years said she “had fallen in love with her hands again.”

Another felt at the end of a lesson for Musicians on the hands, that he “developed greater control over the fingers – greater dexterity. Playing became much less frustrating and more enjoyable.”

It’s not just your hands that are affected.

In the lessons I’ve been teaching on the hands in the last few weeks, many people noticed that their shoulders had released. One person, who has had RSI for some time, for the first time felt the connection between the tiny movements we were exploring in the fingers all the way into her back and shoulders. Places she has had pain for many years.

Our fingers connect through the skeleton and fascia all the way into the shoulders. But we need to feel to really experience and know it. And with awareness, we can all improve the sensitivity that we use.

Join us in the next weeks to explore the connections of your hands.

What would a lighter touch on life feel like for you?

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