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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningPractice Room(Moderator: blast) Neck and shoulder tension
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zsiegel

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« on: Jun 07, 2014, 05:25PM »

For the past month or so, I felt great while playing. Playing seemed relatively effortless.

That changed about a week ago when I came back from school for the summer. Suddenly, I have enormous amounts of tension in my neck and shoulders while playing (and only while I'm playing). I've read other posts about relieving tension and tried different suggestions, but nothing seems to stick. This happened to me last summer, too and it took me a while to recover from it. Basically, I don't want any more set backs and I'm really looking for some experienced advice! Please leave any if you know what will help me.
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« Reply #1 on: Jun 07, 2014, 05:48PM »

When was the last time you took some time off playing?  Maybe you need a week or so to just relax and forget about the trombone?
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zsiegel

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« Reply #2 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:56PM »

I took yesterday off completely, but it has been a long while since I have taken more than a day off of playing.
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« Reply #3 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:08PM »

If this is something that only happens once in a while and is not a constant issue, I'd be inclined to suggest taking a few days off, getting a massage, and just generally relaxing for a bit.  If it is still there when you go back to the horn, then there might be other things to try.

That's my opinion, anyway.
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« Reply #4 on: Jun 07, 2014, 08:10PM »

I am a very tense player myself. I find that if I am not careful I can get pains in the neck and back after playing for more than an hour. I have to practice relaxation everyday when I pick up the horn. I have to always double check and be mindful to not let the technique of playing the trombone create tension. I hope your problem resolves itself and you find a fix.
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Burgerbob

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« Reply #5 on: Jun 07, 2014, 09:02PM »

A few posture things-

Make sure you are bringing the horn to you and not bringing your head forward to the horn. That adds a ton of tension to the back of the neck (muscles at the back of the skull mainly).

Make sure your shoulders are down and back. It's very easy to let the left shoulder come up to the horn to support it and let the right shoulder come forward to make outer positions easier.

Also with the neck, check it out in a mirror (which you should do with all of these of course) to see if you are shifting your head to the left or right when the horn up. I have a habit of shifting mine to the right. Leaning one direction or other with the head is in this category.
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« Reply #6 on: Jun 07, 2014, 09:59PM »

Off the wall suggestion (feel free to ignore).

Is your current sleeping arrangement different from school?  Bed firmness?  Pillow thickness?  Different hours?  See if you can simulate the school sleep conditions at home and see what happens.
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« Reply #7 on: Jun 07, 2014, 10:07PM »

Bruce has great points too- if you sleep on your side (like I do) the right pillow firmness and height can make a huge difference in how your shoulders/neck feel every day. I personally have a firm, very low pillow due to how I am built.
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« Reply #8 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:29AM »

Make sure your shoulders are down and back. It's very easy to let the left shoulder come up to the horn to support it and let the right shoulder come forward to make outer positions easier.

Aidan, I'm curious about this part of your comment.  I've been playing with my right shoulder forward for about the past year specifically to facilitate outer positions.  Prior to my change, the way I played would often result in a "bump" when moving quickly to 6th or 7th.  I frequently use alternate positions, so I began doing this after trying several different things. Like Sam says, "try everything and use what works for you."  This seems to be working well for me.  :)  But I'm interested in knowing if you or others think this may lead to other issues (like the OP's neck/shoulder tension, etc)?
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« Reply #9 on: Jun 08, 2014, 08:51AM »

Of course by "back" in this case I really mean centered- most people have a tendency to round out the upper back and have their shoulders forward, just to clear up confusion.

I also have my right shoulder a little forward, but if you have it a too far forward you introduce a lot of tension to the back of the shoulder and neck. I prefer to pivot to the right for outer positions when I have to use them.
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« Reply #10 on: Jun 08, 2014, 01:33PM »

 Anything you do a lot of can create tension. When any musician picks up their instrument,they begin to resist gravity. Over time,you will develop the muscles involved. Based on one's mechanics(efficient or not)some will develop problems,some won't. In most cases it's purely up to chance  as there is little competent instruction on good mechanics,unless you have a teacher who's overcome real problems and has a real understanding. And it's not just trombone playing-it's sitting at the computer,texting and a number of unchecked areas where we are completely unaware of how we constantly resist gravity in an inefficient way,thereby adding more tension.Taking time off will not resolve tension problems. If it is your trombone playing where the problem arose,it is through a careful cultivation of awareness that will change things. Work for good form always and everywhere.
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« Reply #11 on: Jun 08, 2014, 01:53PM »

David Vining does some with posture/balance/tension and has some good videos on YouTube, for example this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXBjqQxpd8k&sns=em

That may or may not be helpful at all, but thought I'd throw it out there.

He's got several videos out there, so maybe there's one that might better targeted to what your looking for.
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« Reply #12 on: Jun 08, 2014, 02:11PM »

I had years of teachers and colleagues telling me to relax and use less tension in my playing.  The problem was, I felt relaxed and in control, I couldn't be more relaxed. After some time between teachers and physiotherapists I changed my meaning of the word relaxed. When I now play I think 'active' rather than relaxed. By doing this I focus in the muscles that are required to hold the horn level, articulate cleanly and create great airflow as opposed to relaxing the muscles that are not involved. Due to the nature of the body, if the right muscles are active,  the opposing ones are relaxed. I don't know if this is a solution or hindrance but I find that finding the right cues and keywords for your own situation can help more than 1000 exercises that are not personally thought through.
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« Reply #13 on: Jun 08, 2014, 02:29PM »

In today's practice session, I decided to see if the intensity of my airstream might be the problem. By blowing slower and less intense air, I noticed a slight change for the better. I feel less tension now. Is it possible this was the problem all along and any tension I have now is just residual? Thoughts?

Thanks to all of you, by the way!
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Doug Elliott
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« Reply #14 on: Jun 08, 2014, 02:36PM »

As Bruce mentioned, it has happened more than once, both coinciding with the same change in environment.  It's very likely unrelated to playing and more related to your sleeping position and/or mattress/pillow situation.
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zsiegel

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« Reply #15 on: Jun 08, 2014, 03:09PM »

My sleeping situation at home isn't all that different from the one I have at school, but the pillows and mattress are not the same in both places
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« Reply #16 on: Jun 08, 2014, 04:48PM »

David Vining's video is an excellent introduction to developing the type of awareness that can lead you to a clear view of what's actually taking place when you play. Mileage can increase. Also maybe read "Zen in the art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigal".
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« Reply #17 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:30PM »

Of course by "back" in this case I really mean centered- most people have a tendency to round out the upper back and have their shoulders forward, just to clear up confusion.

I also have my right shoulder a little forward, but if you have it a too far forward you introduce a lot of tension to the back of the shoulder and neck. I prefer to pivot to the right for outer positions when I have to use them.

Thank you. That helped to clear things up.  I agree!  And, I do both.  I play a little forward with the right arm/shoulder, and I have been playing with a slight adjustment to the right.  Both adjustments have improved my extended positions slide motion.
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« Reply #18 on: Jun 08, 2014, 07:13PM »

Something is different.

Likely it is sleeping environment, but it could also be your playing area.

I often find in a rehearsal area I can't get the stand where I want it, or the slide room, or the right lighting.  Anything like that can throw your posture off, and it doesn't take much. 

Last rehearsal there were a couple of trombone features where we were short a copy.  I had to look on another person's stand, and with my vision difficulties that's almost impossible.  Nothing I did could get both my bifocals and chops aligned at the same time.  We have a pretty solid section in this community band and the director tries to program a trombone feature or too, and I crashed and burned on that one.  (followed by Rolling Thunder at tempo, where I redeemed myself a bit)
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« Reply #19 on: Jun 09, 2014, 05:37PM »

Hi After years and years of playing pit shows I have developed Trombone players hunch and even though I play completely relaxed my neck sometimes aches. I have also lost a bit of height. When sitting in a pit orchestra sometimes you don't have enough room to move your slide and you may be jammed in a corner with a cello in front of you. When we did Beauty and the Beast I had to go in first and the others followed in order including Harp. Once in there was no way of getting out. So much for health and safety. In between numbers I just relaxed and let everything hang loose. I found the Alexander technique helpful. Max
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