Task Specific Focal Dystonia Cured: Trumpet embouchure back on track

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Jon GorrieThis is going to be a long post – best get a cup of tea!

Firstly some background:
Cutting a very long story rather short…

I began playing trumpet at age 13 in New Zealand. At 18 I started university, and at 21 auditioned for (and was accepted for) post-graduate trumpet studies at some of the leading music schools in the U.K. – specifically the Royal Academy of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, and Trinity College London.

At 23, after having completed 2 years at the RNCM, I moved back to NZ, and began working in the orchestras there as a freelance trumpet player.

I did my first ever audition for a job in 2003 (principal trumpet in a regional orchestra) and won the audition. I then moved to Sweden later in 2003 for professional development studies. All the while, my trumpet playing seemed to be continuing to improve steadily. I began freelancing with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and appeared as a soloist at the Concert House in Gothenburg.

First signs of task-specific Focal Dystonia

During 2004 I noticed that certain elements of my playing didn’t seem to work as well as they once used to – although I was practising just the same way as I always had done.

My pp playing in the upper register seemed to be hard work – which was strange as it was something I had always found fairly easy.

(In fact, in 1999 I remember playing through Don Quixote with Jamie Prophet (the now principal trumpet in the BBC Philharmonic) in our student days at the RNCM. I had a pp entry on a high C and I remember distinctly Jamie saying “How do you do that?!?” :) – I digress…)

A short time after my pp playing worsened I noticed my endurance beginning to suffer – which again was strange, as I had always had excellent stamina.

Task specific Focal Dystonia kicks in

I’d been playing about 1 hour each day during the Summer of 2005, just to keep in shape so I would be ready for the beginning of the next season. One day I went to warm up, and my face literally ‘forgot’ how to form an embouchure. There was no pain, and nothing was wrong away from the trumpet, but I just couldn’t seem to play. Everything had gone. My chops went AWOL overnight – it was like losing a limb.

Prior to that day I had had a range spanning about 5 octaves, from 3rd pedal F to F over high C. Not anymore. A 1 octave C major scale was about all I could manage. As for quality of sound? Well, suddenly there wasn’t any. Articulation was gone too. More or less, I sounded like a poor beginner on their 2nd or 3rd lesson.

Looking in the mirror, I could see what was going on. The muscles in the right side of my face weren’t responding, and the left side was trying to compensate. As I said, things were fine without the trumpet, but these muscles just didn’t respond when I wanted to form an embouchure.

I’d heard of Bells Palsey (a type of facial paralysis) before, but my symptoms were certainly not indicative of this.

So began the tests

Again, cutting some long stories short, I had several tests done:

Results from the dentist: “My, what nice teeth you have! But it looks like you grind them at night. Maybe you have excess jaw tension?”

Results from the physiotherapist: “I can see the problem happening, but I have no idea what’s causing it. However, it looks like you have excess jaw tension.”

Results from the neurologist: “You have a rare neurological disease called Focal Dystonia. There is no cure. You can get botox for the symptoms if you like. Oh, and it looks like you have excess jaw tension.”

My thoughts: “A rare neurological disease? But I feel fine! Except I can’t play trumpet anymore! Hmm…and what’s all this about jaw tension?”

(Just to let you know, I declined the botox treatment. And I’m glad I did, as I later found out that it is largely useless in treating focal dystonia of the embouchure…)

A symptom of a deeper problem

After quite some time, and a LOT of research, I figured out that the jaw tension I seemed to have was in fact a symptom of something else. But what it was a symptom of, I was at this point still unsure. But it had to be more than just stress…

Anyway, I practised like crazy, and managed to get my chops working to the point where I could play certain things, and even work again in orchestras. But it felt terrible to play, and I knew that there were so many things I couldn’t do anymore – things that used to come very naturally.

Time for a change

So I decided that a drastic change was needed. I needed time to practise, away from the stresses of the freelance orchestral trumpet world. So I took a job for 1 year as a teacher/conductor/trumpet player in Norway, with a good salary, and plenty of time to practise.

And oh did I practise! However what I noticed was that it didn’t really seem to make much difference. I started myself again as a beginner. 7C mouthpiece, long G’s etc. I went through the 3 – 4 month programme I normally give my own beginner students – several times I might add. And sure, some things started to work, but in all honesty I believed that at best, I’d need a permanent career change, and may need to give up the trumpet completely.

I did a 2nd year teaching/conducting in Norway, during which, after realising that I wasn’t getting anywhere with the trumpet playing, decided to pack it in. It just wasn’t worth it. (When I say “wasn’t getting anywhere”, I mean I felt like I was far from the level expected of professional orchestral trumpet players, and certainly far from my pre-FD ability level)

Well, 2 months went by and I hadn’t played a note. But one day, I got bored, and took the trumpet out – just to see how things were. I was expecting not to be able to play a single note! Well, within 2 – 3 days, I was playing all of the ABRSM grade 8 scales – yes, after 2 months off. This was WEIRD!

So I thought, “What’s changed?”

The light starts to come on

I began to realise that my approach to the trumpet had changed – not so much on a conscious level, but on a sub-conscious/emotional level. Now, this is something I won’t go into here, as we really would be here all day!

(Suffice to say if you also suffer focal dystonia, or if you have suddenly ‘lost your chops’, there may be a very straightforward solution. Get in touch and I may be able to help!)

However, a few weeks later I heard about an up-coming audition for sub-principal trumpet in a Meditterranean orchestra. I figured I would go for it, but mostly just to start getting back in shape, and re-enter the orchestral world.

The audition

Well, still with some strong dystonia symptoms (mostly endurance and upper register affected), I travelled to the audition…and won it! I’d been more or less out of the game for 2 years by this point, and I’d suddenly just won an orchestral audition – with an “incurable neurological disease”! Hmm…get’s you thinking doesn’t it?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), after a very short time with the orchestra, several of the players, including myself, decided that we needed to leave the orchestra, due to various problems there.

Performing in The Zone, and BrassMusician.com

So at the end of 2008 I moved back to Sweden, and suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I wrote my 1st book “Performing in The Zone” – which is yet another long story!

However, to find out more about that book, how it helped me and a lot of other performers to feel calm, confident, and in control in high-pressure performing situations, check out the website here: “Performing in The Zone”

Since Performing in The Zone was released in July of 2009, I’ve been busy giving lectures about performance psychology, as well as starting this website, BrassMusician.com

Working on a cure – and a new definition

So…over the past few months I’ve been practising various exercises, as well as refining my conscious and subconscious/emotional approach to playing. In other words, I’ve been working on curing this so-called “incurable neurological disease”.

Actually, based on my experience and the other musicians I have helped rehabilitate, in my opinion it seems that a more accurate description for Musician’s Focal Dystonia is this: “A task-specific neuro-muscular disorder which seems to comprise a combination of faulty mechanics, inefficiency of direction (in the Alexander Technique sense of the word) and the emotions.” This may explain why traditional ‘nuts and bolts’ approaches do not seem particularly successful in solving the condition. In my opinion, with the right approach however, it seems that the condition can be solved. I’m living proof – and there are others that have also conquered FD.

Now for the video:

As I said, I’ve been working on a cure for my own focal dystonia for quite a while. I now understand the condition, its causes, and how to put it right. Due to so much time spent on basic exercises and a change of approach to trumpet playing, I hadn’t played any pieces or excerpts for many, many months.

So, last night I thought it would be fun to get an idea of just how far things have come since I was stricken with this so-called “incurable psychological disease.” I wanted to take stock of how things have been going, and to see if I have truly been making a recovery from Focal Dystonia.

I brought my minipc into a practice room, and recorded a few excerpts with the in-built
mic and video camera. I didn’t bring any music with me, and just decided to play whatever excerpts came to mind. Here are the results. The excerpts you’re about to hear are:

Sibelius Symphony 2, Mahler 5, Ein Heldenleben, Carmen, Romeo and Juliette (Prokofiev),  Il Pagliacci.

Please note that the idea of this video is not to give a definitive rendition of any particular excerpts, rather, to give proof that focal dystonia can be cured.

These excerpts are 1st takes (except for the Mahler, where there are 2 versions on the video as I was testing record levels for louder excerpts). I have not practiced these for what seems like aeons. What I found amazing and encouraging was that I could still remember them! :)

(For all you gear-heads, I play a standard Bach Strad 43 Bb trumpet, and a standard Bach 1½C mouthpiece. Nothing terribly exciting or ‘out-there’ I’m afraid, but it works for me :) )

Chops back on track

I’d say that now, my chops are about 95% of what they used to be before the Focal Dystonia struck, 5 years ago. What is interesting is that many aspects of trumpet playing are easier now than they ever have been. I can see that things will continue to improve over the coming months, and that I’ll almost certainly end up a better player in all respects than before I was afflicted with the FD.

Do you have Task Specific Focal Dystonia – or suspected Task Specific Focal Dystonia?

Firstly, if you have suddenly ‘lost your chops’, there can be several causes, of which Focal Dystonia may be one. My advice to you first is pay a visit to a neurologist experienced in focal dystonia in musicians. If you receive the diagnosis of having Focal Dystonia, you’ll probably hear also that it is ‘incurable’ and is a neurological disease. Don’t be discouraged. I am living proof that Focal Dystonia can be overcome – with the right mental, physical, and emotional approach.

Do you have any stories about focal dystonia, or other chop problems? Use the comment form below to share your experiences. You’re certainly not alone – and remember, with the right approach, you can overcome it! :)

For more information, visit:

50 Responses to “Task Specific Focal Dystonia Cured: Trumpet embouchure back on track”

  1. Heidi says:

    Jon, you sound GREAT! What an inspiring post! I knew you’d find a solution and I’m impressed by your efforts and hard work.

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Thanks so much, Heidi! :)

      It’s been a long road back, but it’s so nice to be able to play again, and prove to myself that Focal Dystonia is curable. And I’m convinced that with the right approach, the road to recovery can be much shorter for other FD sufferers :)

  2. Nathan says:

    great stuff dude – awesome to see you playing on video – sounding really good as well ;)

  3. Dave Gorrie says:

    Good stuff………..really interesting………now how about a gig with the NZSO ??

    • Robert Best says:

      Most dystonia patients take great exception to the notion that it is “All in the mind” I believe that in my own case severe anxiety after surgery may have caused mine. That doesn’t mean that it is any easier to cure. There may be treatments as yet unexplored or proven that could help some focal dystonias. Dystonia is not just one disease but a set of symptoms which range from mild to extremely severe. I doubt if the severe forms are just in the mind..

      • Jon Gorrie says:

        Indeed, most do take exception to the fact that it is all in the mind. This is because focal dystonia is not simply a conscious thought process, rather, a subconscious or emotional process which then evolves, and manifests itself in the body.

        Regarding non-focal dystonia, this is an area which I cannot comment on, as I am fortunate enough not to have experienced it.

  4. Robegerton says:

    Congrats on your recovery! Your story was just like mine, and that of countless other ‘sufferers’. Yes, it is psychological. Google ‘Joaquin Fabra’ the world’s foremost authority on the condition.
    Keep spreading the word: Don’t give in, it’s NOT incurable!

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Thanks Rob! And thanks for getting in touch!
      I saw Dave Scragg’s youtube documentary with Joaquin and yourself a few months ago and much of what Joaquin was saying confirmed a lot of my suspicions about FD.
      How are things going for you now?

      • Cmjakab says:

        How do I get started. I am a 44 year old female runner who can no longer run because of focal dystonia of my foot. Everyone in my area says take muscle relaxers and botox which I refuse at the moment. I am strong willed enough to know I can overcome this. I just need to know how to get started.

  5. Dave Scragg says:

    Great stuff Jon !!!
    I just wish certain sufferers and others in “high places” would actually take this approach seriously for a change !!!

  6. Johnw says:

    You had task specific focal dystonia which can be treated essebtially by retraining muscles which many musicians such as pianists and guitarists have managed to overcome. However, you did not have one of the more severe versions of Dystonia that cannot be treated easily. While I am happy for you, please don’t minimize the disorder that many people less fortunate than you have far more serious versions.

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      There is certainly a difference between focal dystonia and generalized dystonia. However, there is a lot more to recovering from focal dystonia than re-training muscles. Dr. Joaquin Fabra in Spain is the world expert in this area.

      • JohnW says:

        There is a huge difference between task specific focal dystonia and focal dystonia such as cervical dystonia, jaw dystonia, Meige Syndrome, spasmodic dysphonia, and blepharospasm. Be thankful you didn’t have one of these as I am unlucky enough to have 3 of them.

        • Jon Gorrie says:

          Yes, I have done some research into the various forms of dystonia, and am certainly grateful that I do/did not have a more severe form.

          To clarify, and out of respect for non-task specific and generalized dystonia sufferers, I have ammended the title texts in this post.

          I (and many others) would certainly like to see Dr. Joaquin Fabra’s work in this field recognized by the wider medical community, and made known to the musical community worldwide.

  7. Infoc4d says:

    First, as ahealthcare provider with several forms of dystonia, I take your thoughts about redefining focal dystonia to heart but the disorder is sooo complicated , even overlapping into other disorders including Parkinsons disease and other disorders – neurological and non neurological in nature. The person or the expert on musicians dystonia in the US is Dr. Steven Frucht. You may be aware that the pianist Leon Fleischer suffers from focal dystonia as well. However redefining dystonia , along with the variable triggers and treatments requires immense fine tuning.
    Beka RN MS NP

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Dr. Joaquin Fabra in Spain is the world expert in this area. Although I haven’t personally had treatment from Dr. Fabra, he has been curing musicians with FD for over 20 years.

  8. Cheryl Benson says:

    while I am happy for you, and was at first in glee when robert posting this aritlce, now that I have read it am disappointed for myself not for you. I have severe secondary generalized dystonia in every part of my body and it is progressing rapdily, I have numerous movement disorders, including myoclonic dystonia, or a form of it because it’s not heritary, tremors, parkinsonium, seizures, the left side of my body drags around on/off after paralzing and my left jaw dislocates, I can’t hold my head up or the trunk of my body often herniating my disc’s and my knees give out from dystonia, it’s a long list – from prescribed medications most I didn’t need. Stress and anxiety make these worse, it’s not the cause in this (my) case. Any form of mind training, getting to the root of problems concious or subconcious is going to help anyone, most need help doing so and few are good at it (EFT comes to mind, over pyscology or psychatry), many illnesses are caused from these or worsened, many dont want to believe it, but far from all. I think your chops got overworked in one postition for too long and needed a break and retraining of them, I would be interested in your resolving your subconcious experience to healing…….as I know this helps many with alot of disorders, However, I too feel you are minimalizing dystonia on the grander scale. Tell someone who’s part’s of their body have turned like stone and stayed in that position in severe pain deforming them, that they can cure themsevles by taking a break and getting intouch with their minds… hardly…. helpful yes, a cure no. the brain can heal to some extent (I have seen remarkable results in oxygen chambers from tramatic brain injury not totally healed but great improvement), you have stated that you think you retrained the pathways in your brain…. this makes sense to me for, and is not new in the medical field except most of the medical field aren’t interested, they are big on drugs and cut and paste. I wish you all the best

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi Cheryl – thanks for your comments.

      An important point to note here is that there is a significant difference between generalized dystonia as in your case, and task-specific focal dystonia, as experienced by many musicians.

      From what I have seen, Dr. Joaquin Fabra in Spain, the global expert on focal dystonia, is helping a large number of musicians sufferers with the condition.

      All the very best.


      • Cheryl Benson says:

        in my experience anything that is task speciic and repeatitive can cause damage (carpal tunnel syndrome which I have had and cured with no medication or surgery), and can be healed in many cases, if the bone structure below isn’t damaged as well. thank you for your response and acknowledgement , and am grateful that progress such as this is being made in this area for those afflicted. I will research Dr. Fabra later in the day. Namaste

  9. Jon Gorrie says:

    To see a documentary about Dr. Joaquin Fabras – the world expert on focal dystonia in musicians – click here: http://brassmusician.com/task-specific-focal-dystonia-understanding-and-treatment-as-an-emotional-condition/

  10. Steven Leung says:

    I’m a violinst who has had focal dystonia for 10 years and it has gotten better with a different approach to practicing and playing much as Jon has mentioned in his experience. I haven’t taken many auditions and am teaching primarily but am gigging with internationally re-known guitarist Billy McLaughlin who has FD but has taken matters into his own hands, or reverse hands, and switched playing to left handed guitar playing. I’ve meet many people with this disorder and have seen all the top doctors in the field. I’m one of the few who has managed to figure out a way to play and I’d say currently I’m 90-95% of what I could do before the dystonia. I may take some lessons with Joaquin Fabra as well on Skype as I’ve heard good things about him and how he’s helping others with FD. Anyway, thanks for the post and congratulations! It people like you, me and others who’ve managed to figure out a way to pursue their career and passions despite something as career altering as FD!

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi Steven – thanks so much for your comments! And it’s fantastic that you too have managed to more or less overcome FD with a change of approach!
      If you do meet with Joaquin Fabra, it would be great to hear about your experiences!
      All the best!

  11. Hello everyone,
    I suspect myself of having developed this syndrome. Whilst even picking up the guitar my middle finger curls into my palm and my index shoots straight out if I am unawares – and that is before even playing a note!
    I have arranged to see Dr. Joaquin Farias (not Fabra) in Seville during November 2010 for eight seminars. Does anyone here know what I can expect?
    I am determined to learn from this condition, because I think that it is a great learning opportunity. Not just a great opportunity for playing specific situations but for life in general. I would like to express my deepest and most sincere thanks to Dave Scragg for the work he (you) have done on the net. I would be very happy to make a contribution to that work. Perhaps documenting the rehabilitation from start to end? Any suggestions?

    Miguel Bengoa

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      That’s right, I found out recently that there are 2 Joaquins, both in Spain, both doctors, and both FD specialists!

      Miguel, once you’ve had your seminars, would you mind writing a shirt summary of your experiences with Dr. Farias here?

      I’m sure it would be very useful and valuable for others to read.

      All the very best, and good luck! :)


  12. David Vining says:

    This is an interesting and compelling story. I have had a lot of experience with this topic and I’ve never heard of such a spontaneous resolution. My own re-training took years! Here is a web page devoted to what I went through:


    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comments!

      For me it was more a case of two steps forward, two steps back, and then two steps forward, and only one step back, for quite some time.

      This was until I found the ‘key’ or core to the issue, and began dealing with that. I’m still learning and refining every day, and improving over time. What I’m finding out (as I’m sure you also have) is that it is more a matter of “not doing”, “just being” or simply “allowing” things to happen, rather than “doing”, “controlling” and “trying” to make things happen.

      Is this also in line with your experiences?

  13. miguel bengoa says:

    My seminars with Dr. Joaquin Farias were incredible. I am auto-didactic and learned more from Joaquin in those eight hours than in thirty years of playing. Not about my music but about how to play. The ideas commented here of different approaches to practising, and by extension, playing, certainly rings true to me as that is exactly what I learned. I am very lucky because I can take my time and start from scratch, relearning every step once again – I am not a professional. Having done the relearning, and I know that I will be a better player than before. That is my comfort.

    What “key thing” did I learn with Joaquin? That I must have had a really huge guitar to have to play with such force! In other words, my task is to reduce force to the minimum necessary to produce the desired sound. The idea is wonderful. I try to apply it to every aspect of my life. Less is more.

    I take heed at what other people have commented about Focal Dystonia here and the important distinction between task specific focal dystonia (TSFD). (And I will edit my own site accordingly). I feel that I learned a great deal about TSFD, but note: my own and only my own. Each dystonia is different – indeed I find that I am still discovering new ones as I continue to study. I understand Jon’s comment “two steps forward, two steps back, and then two steps forward, and only one step back” and I would even add the sideways steps…

    I have written a “testamonial”, which very briefly describes the process of the seminars on his site http://www.focaldystonia.net/, please go ahead and read. If you wish to contact me regarding my seminars with Joaquin, you can do so through my site http://miguelbengoa.com.

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi Miguel!
      Thanks so much for posting your follow up – it was *very* interesting to read! I particularly like this quote, which sums it up for me as well: “my task is to reduce force to the minimum necessary to produce the desired sound.”
      All the best with your continued progress!

  14. edgar pujol says:


    It’s really nice to read your text about FD. I’ve been suffering from the same problem for quite a few months and it gives me a lot of hope to read stories like yours. I’m a violinist, and started to have dystonia in my left hand about 8 months ago. Somehow i make it to play, but i often feel quite uncomfortable. It started, like most people, with a period of tension, coming both from playing and from my personal live. Now i feel it’s under control, but not yet gone. As soon as i get to feel better (can’t wait…) i’ll post my own story as well on my website.

    Thank you for posting this text, and congratulations for the recovery. You sound wonderful!!

    All the best:



    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi Edgar,

      Thanks for your comment and kind words! I highly recommend Alexander Technique lessons as part of a treatment for musicians FD. I had a couple – towards the end of my recovery – and the lessons really confirmed my own thoughts and suspicions about the use (or mis-use!) of the ‘self’.

      Best wishes for your full recovery!


  15. Stu St Hill says:

    Fri 17/6/11

    UH practice room 8.15am – nice little warmup – my own. Establishing sound – middle C. Worked over the tricky scales -in maj, min etc. Did some lip flex and worked a little on the Chicken head – intonation coming along nicely. Bottom lip much better. Scraped it last night and on Sat evening to remove hard skin – always feels better to play on after that. Putting set together for Lass.

    Practice in UH – lunchtime – dreadful – can barely play a note – no range, tone or tongue? What happened since this morning?

    Focal Dystonia – is this my problem?

    NSW Youth Band 1983 – first rehearsal – 3 hours and wrecked after it. Problems all camp. Brian McGuiness took me to me to see Mal Piece and fiddled around with mouthpiece but to no avail. The tour later that year – some good days some terrible. One memorable great concert in the freezing cold in Invercargill NZ singing out top b’s on the soprano. Go figure.

    Toronto & District Brass Band – Ian Wilson – complete breakdown on soprano – unable to play a note. Went on to tenor horn with good success. You were in the band then. Also recall contest at Dubbo where it left me completely with Ian. Became very unreliable.

    Around this time started playing with Hipslingers on trumpet and gave brass bands away. Developed a method of playing with a bug and an amplifier successfully but without it pretty awful.

    Mid eighties – met Reg Bishop – he was great set about rebuilding embouchure and was a great mentor. Got me back playing but never regained really regained range or endurance.

    Numerous occasions since then where ability to play disappears. Especiaally early in the day and in the winter. Most recently week before last day before recital exam – gone. Nothing. Left it alone for that day and as mentioned in my diary prepared as well as I could morning of exam mentally and physically and got through it – see following:

    “The big day. I did everything I could today to do my best at this. Warmed up lightly at 8am and went over scales then top and tale pieces. Went back into town had a haircut then a shower – feeling fresh but nervous. Ate a meal about 10.30am. Walked into town for a little exercise beforehand and then a very light warmup at 11.50 before the exam at 12.20pm. I was well prepared with my list and music just as John suggested and examiners commented on that. Scales great with only one tiny slip. Study – hmmm – struggled in places with some uncharacteristic slips in places I don’t usually. Not a very good rendition – thin and loose on top. Battled through it though and made no excuses. Then onto pieces – I’d practiced that Mueva bastard – but Chris asked for Nature Boy I was sure he wouldn’t because he heard me play it the day before at Performance Practice. But sure enough that’s what he asked for. I have played that tune a thousand times and I’d written it down as Improv jazz standard – so my intension was to launch into it from memory. It just complete left me the opening line was bloody awful. Fortunately, I had the chart up so I reverted to the script and got through it ok – but I was pissed off with that. Very nervous despite trying hard to give myself a chance. He then asked for the “Round” which I played really well actually. So then I was expecting Mueva but they called for “Moanin’” which I had thrown in only this morning as the extra. Would I mess this one up too? I launched into from memory and pulled it off per the script – no repeat on the first part of the head – nice and bright and bouncy. Volume change in the final part and nice tag at the end. That Round gave me back by confidence I think. Then the sight reading – I reckon I pulled it off note perfect with all the written articulation as well. I kind of sensed surprise from the panel seeing as I struggled a bit on the study and Nature Boy. My sound was strong and tone was good. It was a good confident finish.

    So overall I wasn’t that happy because I’d worked pretty hard on the study to have done it much better – and the nervous lack of confidence afterwards to fuck up Nature Boy of all things was demoralising. But the scales, sight reading and rest of the pieces went well so I guess we’ll see what they think.

    My bottom lip was an issue but I didn’t make excuses for it – to them or to myself. And confidence in that situation is the learning curve I’m on for the rest. I enjoy and react and find a way to a crowd particularly in a band situation or say the Jazz Orch concert when put on the spot to do something. The one on one stuff is still an issue so more to do there to settle the nerves and give it my best.”

    Same thing in the practice room last Friday and on the gig a week before.

    Its so frustrating and demoralising because I never know when its going to occur to the extent where I often avoid taking on jobs because of it.

    Playing in Fish Fry seems to be the exception from the rule although there have been plenty of times where I hade problems there too. Luckily they are a wonderful supportive non judgemental bunch that it really doesn’t matter. (I remember ringing Wal up distraught 7 or 8 years ago telling him I was going to resign and give up playing all together because I didn’t feel like I was pulling my weight. But of course he was great, told me to chill out and that it didn’t matter.

    The thing is it matters to me because it’s the most important part of my life. Playing music is me. And I know I can do it. John, I recall in one of our lessons me writing:

    Monday 18/4

    I did a light warmup over in the rehearsal rooms and then a short blow before my lesson in Pete Grey’s room. Why can’t playing be like this every day!!! I passed comment to John that it was the best I had felt on the trumpet for as long as I could remember. Playing was effortless – tone and intonation was great, playing with style and making most of the notes through the various studies (Small and Clark) that we went through. Even my range was good – As and B flats getting nicely through the slurred section of the Clark waltz – once I got the rhythmical hang of it. I don’t know whether John noticed it but compared to last week – the beginning of the year – it was chalk and cheese. I WANT TO BE ABLE TO PLAY LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME!!!!! Is it all about managing mental and physical fatigue? Stress? Physical health?

    But a couple of days later:

    Tuesday 19/4

    Up early – around 6.30am and spent a couple more hours on Doobie Bros remix. Did lips and mouthpiece before uni and had a light warmup in rehearsal room going over natural minors. Then onto Brass Techniques class – doing jazz improvisation – Ed Wilson stuff. Playing really well with great sound, intonation and power – felt really great in that class particularly on the unison call and answer stuff. Play most of it in the upper register – pentatonic scale stuff to high C. Became a little more reserved when exposed but I felt I did really well in that class. Obvious benefits to my jazz playing to learn the pentatonic and blues scales – and will get a hold of that Ed Wilson book and CD – really handy practice stuff – cycling through the keys in particular. And enjoyable. Did a Jazz Orch practice not long after for 20 mins or so but felt myself becoming fatigued and stopped. Didn’t play again today. Bloody tired but went out with Merrie and had dinner and a couple of beers. Pretty unsettled sleep.

    Wednesday 20/4

    Woke up feeling pretty tired and hung over – only had two beers!!! Did a session at home on the Jazz Orch stuff – not too bad but intonation is off today. Just don’t feel as strong or secure with my sound. Top lip feels “soft”. A big change from earlier in the week. Possibly feeling stressed and under pressure re assignment and exam for Creative Prod although no reason too – done the work and the study so there should be no problem. But very tired physically and mentally from a busy few days at uni and personally. Did a light session in the hall on Jazz Orch stuff around 4pm for 15 – 20 mins. The notes and fingering ok but still intonation, sound and strength not there.

    I had an early night – in bed around 7pm and slept to around 1.30am. Read over Hal Leonard book for a while and went back to sleep until around 5.30am. Got up and studied for a while and.. See Thursday.

    Thursday 21/4

    Up early to study for Creative Prod exam. Did lip and mouthpiece warmup. Also blew a few notes – felt good. After exam (13/15!) went over to rehearsal room to practice for Jazz Orch assessment. Warmed up on the usual. Not feeling so secure today. Intonation is off as is centring the note. Range is ok in that I can hit some of the higher stuff but mid register is loose and without the power / sound I had earlier in the week – I wish I could bottle that!!!). I don’t think I’m particularly stressed about it – resigned to the fact that my range doesn’t allow me to do well on the last page and the rest of it is mostly ok apart from some stumbles here and there. But what concerns me is why there is such a difference from earlier in the week and what I can do to address that.

    So the Jazz Orch assessment – well I was pretty nervous but tried to get myself in the right space – played the Mueva ok – I felt I rushed more than I needed to and was over blowing but got most of the notes out. I wasn’t actually concentrating on the notes but trying think about the accents. Beyond the Sea was a little more disastrous in that the muted section was ok but intonation was a little loose and the chorus section was frankly terrible. Notes were ok but again intonation and pitch and range…… I still learnt something from that experience – TAKE YOUR TIME!! I should have relaxed more instead of rushing straight into each piece – I hardly gave John a chance to sit down!! Just need to do more of it.

    So I recognise the problem. Dad gave me a book the other day called “The Musicians Way” and in in a chapter about injury it discussed Focal Dystonia and the penny dropped. I’ve since done some research and found some very encouraging info from a guy called Dave Scragg in England and Joaquin Fabra
    Pasted from .

    I guess the question is what do you know about it, do you believe it and is it possible through the Uni to get some help given that the problem is psychological and not physical.

    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi Stu – quite an account!

      To answer your first question: After several years of research as well as personal experience, I understand the condition of Task Specific Focal Dystonia of the embouchure in brass and wind players and have an approach that seems to be successful in dealing with it.

      And your second question, besides myself, Joaquin Fabra and Joaquin Farias, I do not know of any others who are specialists with success in this area (they may be out there of course!). I do not know which university you are affiliated with and therefore cannot advise.

      Seek help with Joaquin Fabra or Joaquin Farias.

      Alternatively, you are welcome to contact me via email if you would like to discuss skype coaching sessions. info@brassmusician.com


  16. Jon Gorrie says:

    Below is a verbatim copy of a post I recently made on the brass band website, themouthpiece.com It may be useful as additional information here.


    I thought I would add my thoughts here on focal dystonia of the embouchure.

    As a previous poster noted, I have experienced focal dystonia of the embouchure, and managed to overcome it. In fact, many aspects of trumpet playing are now easier than before the dystonia set in.

    Firstly, a brief clarification. We need to be careful when using the term “dystonia” as there are several, quite different types.

    There is generalized dystonia, where a sufferer can experience uncontrollable muscular spasms in various parts of the body. This can be referred to as “focal dystonia” when it affects one specific part of the body.

    Then we have what can be experienced by performing musicians, “Task Specific Focal Dystonia” – that is to say dystonia symptoms (uncontrollable muscle tremors, spasms, and other unwanted movement) only when carrying out a specific task – eg playing a brass instrument. In this case, the symptoms are only apparent when the task is attempted, and disappear as soon as the patient stops trying to attempt the task.

    Task Specific Focal Dystonia in musicians (TSFD) is NOT a disease. It is a neuro-muscular condition with a root in the emotions or subconscious. In other words, although you may consciouslly wish to perform a task (eg form an embouchure and play a scale) you are stopped or blocked from doing so.

    Before a person experiences TSFD the following elements seem to be prevalent, whether the player is aware of them on a conscious level or not:
    * A “high achievement” mentality
    * Stress – related to musical performance, or generalized
    * Fear/Anxiety – related to musical performance, or generalized

    The reason for this stoppage or blockage is to the best of my knowledge yet to be proven, but my best guess, based upon personal experience and studies of TSFD sufferers (both from a musical, psychological, and medical perspective) is this:

    Subconsciously a TSFD sufferer has, over a period of time, learned to build a strong negative neuro-association with the act of playing

    An example of the subconscious thought: “I will feel ashamed if I crack this tuning note”
    This subconscious feeling can then develop to a real conscious fear, which in turn has physical implications.

    We as human beings are hard-wired with certain physiological responses when we perceive a threatening situation – whether it be physically threatening (in the case of being physically attacked) or emotionally threatening (in the case of a perceived feeling of shame if cracking a tuning note – there are umpteen other examples such as giving solo recitals, speaking in public etc etc.)

    Physiological responses can include a release of adrenalin, sweaty palms, tight breathing via a locked solarplexus, other muscular tension and so on. These physical symptoms can then create a feedback loop between the body and the mind/emotions. In other words, the physical responses we feel as a result of the fear actually make the fear worse. This puts us under further stress. We then learn to associate this stress with the specific task (playing a brass instrument).

    What is often a pre-cursor to TSFD in brass players is “first note anxiety” or “fear of the first note” – that is, the inability to start a note without the aid of an external source such as metronome or conductor. Many TSFD sufferers reading this will no doubt recognize this symptom.

    In time, and it can be a matter of several years, the above can create conflicting messages when attempting to play. For example, you say “I want to play C” and your subconscious says “I don’t want to play a C because this might happen, and then what will they all think of me if this happens, and then I’ll feel bad, so guess what…you’re *not* going to play a C”.

    A mental tug-of-war ensues, until finally, the neural pathways responsible for forming an embouchure break down, your subconscious-turned-conscious fear wins, and you are unable to play as one side of your embouchure stops working, or your jaw grinds or shakes, or your fingers curl, or any other one of the common TSFD symptoms begins.

    Luckily, due to neuro-plasticity, (the ability for other parts of our brain to take over functions in the case of damage), we are able to re-learn how to play, as I did.

    However! This is only possible with a new approach to brass playing on a physical, psychological, and emotional level, so that we don’t just keep repeating the same destructive tug-of-war processes over and over again. It is quite a journey (to hell and back, some might say!) and one which is certainly avoidable, with the right guidance.

    To recover from TSFD is also a very achieve goal, however again, it requires guidance from someone with a very specific skill set: brass playing and teaching, psychology, physiology, neuroscience.

    This was not meant to turn into an essay, so apologies for the length of this post! Although due to the complexity of TSFD, it seemed difficult to abbreviate this text any further.

    If you suspect you have TSFD, or experience first note anxiety, I am able to offer coaching in person or online via skype.

    I hope this post has helped those with TSFD understand the condition a little better.

    You can find more information about TSFD here: http://www.jongorrie.com/focal-dystonia


    Jon Gorrie

  17. Peter Gittins says:

    Hi Jon,
    good to read your story and hear of your success!
    Very similar to my own experiences. I couldn’t play for about 8 years, but have recovered quite well except for a weakness on my left upper side of embouchure which affects my flexibility and lower register somewhat.(air leaks out….difficult to focus it through centre of embouchure)
    Would be good to make contact and compare notes. I’s certainly be interested in reading your book if you write it!
    Best wishes,


    • Jon Gorrie says:

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your note. I give FD coaching for musicians via skype but have a fairly full schedule over the next few weeks. Feel free to send an email if you’d like to book a session.
      All the best!

  18. Hi Jon, Great article. As a professional violinist also running a hypnotherapy practice I have been developing techniques to help golfers and musicians with these issues.

    I quite agree that the first place to work is with the mind and emotions. I use hypnosis and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to help discover and release unconscious issues and develop a healthier mindset. Then physically, using these techniques with the instrument, we will work at reconnecting the neural pathways from a new perspective just as you said you did.

    Best wishes for your future success.


  19. JJ says:

    Nice read. Thanks for sharing. I am currently working my way through this. Just takes time.

  20. David says:

    I found the Alexander Technique particularly helpful. Interestingly, in the end, it was the emotional re-education that came along with the respiratory re-education that proved to be the deciding factor. What we think, even subconsciously, is often reflected in our musculature. A good AT teacher (AmSAT in the US, STAT in the UK, and sister organizations elsewhere) may have cured you in a month of daily lessons.

    It’s interesting to see people reinventing the wheel, though.

  21. Grace van Hulsteyn says:

    I am a (decidedly) older horn player, having played principal horn in several community orchestras in New York City. About three years ago, I began having problems, mainly with high notes, and had to focus hard on high passages that had previously presented no difficulty. Relatively high notes that I could manage to attack could not be sustained or repeated. I daresay I had used too much pressure in playing over the years.

    I did hear about dystonia, but the most common proposed remedy was to stop playing the horn for a year or more. I tried acupuncture but could see no improvement. So, beginning last May (at the end of the orchestra cycle), I stopped practicing, picking up the instrument only occasionally to test for improvement. Matters were worse: mid-range notes such as high E (concert A) were not only difficult but painful. That’s where I still am after five months. Any suggestions?

  22. Jon says:

    I’ve now created a new site specifically for Musician’s Focal Dystonia

    The site has a blog, a free webinar, and copies of many forum postings about musician’s dystonia.

    All the best,


  23. Anders Palmquist says:

    Read your compelling story of playing hardships because I do have problems of my own. Roughly 1 1/2 ago my trumpet&cornetplaying suddenly (to me at least) started to detoriate. I tired quickly, not able to reach the high notes I used to, sometimes unable to play anything higher than C on staff. Felt like my upperlip did vibrate in the middle of it, fluttering sound quality. This may have coincided with my ability to practise several times a day, due to my workschedule reduced to once a week, I am now 71. I do play in the solocornetsection in a Brassband since early 60:ies, lead trumpet in (swing)Big band 68-2005 etc etc. E-flat cornet with success etc etc.
    Problems autumn 12, spring 13, but suddenly OK most of autumn 13 and again terrible since christmas. I have consulted a neurologist, like you, a specialist of Parkinson; he found a certain asymmetry between
    left/right hand sides but no definite signs of said disease, anyhow he will send me to fMRI or the like for scanning of the basal ganglia.
    My questions to you specifically: Have you experienced tremor in legs
    when rhythm beating in uptempos? This flutter of upperlip (in the middle just the tiny tip of it)?? The feeling that notes above high G on staff just seem impossible, as if I will have to add great force to produce them
    Should add that in Lucinda Lewis´ opinion my problem is what she defines as “broken embouschyre”.

  24. Andre says:

    I wish I could talk to you! I’m not a musician, I am a professional golfer, but I believe the root cause is the same. I have been through hell and back over the past 10 years and all I want to do is to be able to play again without “the feeling”, a sudden involuntary feeling that happens during the swing. I don’t know when it’s coming and can cause the ball to go in any direction. Everyday is the same: I start out thinking I have the answer from the day before. I rush out to go practise full of confidence. I stand over the first shot and either know before the swing that all is not right, or find this out at the top of the backswing or coming down. Then the fight begins! I try everything until something clicks, and then I can keep hitting well the rest of the day. The problem is, that is not golf. I’m hitting one ball after another, like a man possessed, but on the course you hit a shot, walk and then hit a different shot 5 minutes later.
    I’ve done a lot of self analysis. It seems and feels like a panic attack mid swing. I had a few embarrassing situations in front of crowds when playing on tour which I think may have contributed to the situation. I could write a book really, but when I hear that people have overcome this I feel hope, but also wonder if I will ever find the answer. Thanks for your insights and this website!

  25. Ellis says:

    Reading this has seemed eerily alike the things that I have been through. I haven’t played for a year now but I am really missing it. I strongly believe that, for me, it has been down to stress and the pressure to carry on performing. I am a musician in the armed forces and experienced all the same symptoms and diagnosis’ as you; even down to tooth grinding. I really tried struggling on and practicing my way out of it but found that all I was doing was adding to the pressure I was under. Eventually I found that my tone was that of a very beginner, I could play for no more than a few minutes and my range was null. I was heavily compensating with the left side of my face and really screwing things up to the point that my face was aching.
    I am really hoping that I will eventually come out at the other end being able to play to a decent standard.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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