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hypermobility at piano

hypermobolity finger curl piano

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#1 ten left thumbs

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Posted 17 March 2019 - 11:25

Hi,

 

I'm looking for some input please in a situation with a young student. I've been teaching this boy now for just over a year. He has multiple issues including dyspraxia, eyesight problems and hearing difficulties. Now I can add hypermobility of the fingers to the list. 

 

I only found out when pursuing a long-running campaign I have of getting him to switch to from the black notes to the white notes. He has terrible trouble maintaining fingers at the piano, without them flying all over the place, while he's paying attention to some other note, or perhaps looking at the music. I asked him to curl his fingers more (needed for white notes) and asked if it hurt. Generally, they say, no, and I say "Well, do it then!". I was somewhat taken aback when he said 'yes', and his mother piped up from the corner that he has finger pain due to hypermobility, if the fingers need to curl. 

 

I have asked the mother for more detail, which she can't give me just now, but she will find out. In the meantime, if anyone has experience of hypermobility at the piano, what helps and what doesn't, I'd be glad to know. 

 

 


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#2 zwhe

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Posted 17 March 2019 - 13:41

Are they able to tell you what sort of hypermobility he has, as usually curling the fingers helps relieve the pain. I'm hypermobile, and two of my children are too. Personally, playing the piano is one of the few activities that doesn't hurt, unless I am overstretching to play big intervals. 

I can think of two possible causes:

The first is that he is over-extending the joints during the day before the lessons and that is actually the cause of his pain (and stiffness). I find writing painful as I have never managed to hold a pen without pushing the top joint of my index finger the wrong way (by about 45 degrees), so if I do a lot of writing that leaves my fingers aching for hours afterwards.

The other possibility is that when he pushes one finger down curled, the others are being strained. If I hold my fingers straight, and then bend just one of them, the others all flex backwards at the lower joint. If he has any tension at all, this may be happening as he is playing.

Muscle strength is key to controlling symptoms, so piano playing will help in the long-term. How old is he - if he is young, it will be difficult for him to understand what he needs to do himself to manage the condition, especially as it might be worse in the short term.


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#3 ten left thumbs

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Posted 17 March 2019 - 16:13

Many thanks, zwhe. He is just little, but actually, wise beyond his years in managing his own learning. We also have a good rapport, and he knows I am trying to help.

 

At this moment in time, I can get no further information from the family. The mother has been wary of giving me information generally, and I am in no position to judge why. Eventually I hope to have some more specifics to go with. 

 

I will ask him to write me something and observe what happens with his fingers. Generally, I notice all children bend the index finger the 'wrong' way while writing. I'm fairly sure they are not taught how to hold a pencil, and they go with whatever causes the muscles least amount of work.Of course, with hypermobile joints there may be more to it. It may be helpful for him to notice what he does through the course of a normal day, and what actually causes pain.

 

I will watch carefully what happens with his non-playing fingers. It is entirely possible that these are the ones that are causing him problems.

 

My instinct is that he just doesn't want to play on white notes because it involves more mental effort, and knowing what the note is actually called. Maybe I should start referring to the black notes by their absolute names too, just to level the playing-field. 


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#4 zwhe

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Posted 17 March 2019 - 17:45

Yes, most young children have a degree of hypermobility. You often see fingers bent the wrong way in the first few years of playing. The difference between normal childhood hypermobility and having it as a medical problem, is there is no strength in the joints. This is often compensated with excess tension, which increases the pain.

If you get him to completely relax his hands so they are floppy, are the fingers curved? If so, it may well be an excuse. If they have a smaller curve than you would normally ask for, I would go with that as his playing position - you can always adjust it as he gets older, even though it will be more effort than getting it right in the first place.

He may have learnt that it is a way of getting out of things - my youngest used to pretend to have asthma attacks so she didn't have to go to school, as she knew that asthma means sit quietly and don't do anything until you can breathe!


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#5 ten left thumbs

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Posted 24 March 2019 - 15:42

Many thanks, zwhe!

 

Update:

 

I observed closely how he uses his fingers last lesson. When I am distracting him with another task, his fingers take a very normal natural curl. When he thinks about using a finger, for example, pressing a piano key, he jabs with locked finger joints and a great deal of pressure, with the result that the finger is bent backward. In addition, the non-playing fingers are held tense, away from the keys in an effort not to press the wrong key. He has no idea he is doing this.

 

Discussion with his mum, as they'd just been to see the physiotherapist. He's been given finger strengthening exercises involving theraputty (I'd never heard of it), and will do these every time before practicing piano. The physio also mentioned wrist strengthening. I am constantly on at him to let his wrists go floppy at the keyboard, but it may be that doing some wrist exercises before playing will help. I've asked him mum to bring the theraputty so I can see what he's to do. 

 

I passed on, from my limited info, strength is the best thing for him, so from that point of view, piano may count as good physio. I can do some warm ups with him, asking him to watch carefully what his fingers are doing. It could be we have progressed too quickly to written music with me asking him to look at the sheet music, whereas he needs more time to watch his hands. Also, I can record him playing on the ipad, so he can see, after the fact, what he is doing. I think for this kid, asking him to curl fingers is going to be pressing his buttons, so I'll likely get further by emphasizing strength, flexibility and relaxation. 


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#6 Gran'piano

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Posted 24 March 2019 - 16:09

This is really very interesting and it's great to see that you might be getting to the root of the problem and thus may be able to find solutions. In another area but similar problems, I found that silly suggestions about 'being floppy like a rag doll' or the pupil saying a word together with an action works better than pure 'correction' which, with all his problems, he probably gets more than enough of.

Good luck to you both.


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#7 ten left thumbs

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Posted 25 March 2019 - 09:26

Good point!


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