I Gave Up Piano Because of Pain. This Was My Way Back.
Kurt Vonnegut would have said I was a man in a hole.
I was 27 and working fulltime as a pianist when I developed RSI. For me it was pins and needles in both arms, pain and weakness in my hands, arms and shoulders. I lost my income, my career, and much of my social life which revolved around work. And I was told by some that RSI wasn’t real, so there was self-doubt as well.
Definitely a man in a hole.
If I'd known, I'd have picked a different one.
In the 1960s, Kurt Vonnegut developed a- “The fundamental idea is that stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads”. There is the “Boy Meets Girl” shape, the “Cinderella” shape, the “From Bad to Worse” shape. And there’s the “Man in a Hole” shape – “somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again, and ends up better off than where they started”.
Once I accepted I really was in a hole, I tried a few things to get out of it – physio, massage, osteopathy, there were more. They all helped in the short term. But when I sat at a piano again, or in front of a computer, or even just chopped some vegetables, the pains and problems returned. I’d get a little way out of the hole, and then slide back in again. It was snakes and ladders, really, with short ladders and too many snakes.
It wasn't a fairy godmother.
Alexander Technique was my way out. It showed me how to change the way I played piano, used a computer, and chopped vegetables. So rather than reinjuring myself one practice session (or carrot cake) at a time, I could at least break even and not feel worse after these activities. And over time, I grew into a healthy posture, one where arm and shoulder pain had – and still has - no place.
And perhaps most importantly, I learned to ensure this change continued and was under my control. I had a new skill and could use it whenever I chose to.
So now I can (and do) play pain free, all day if needed. Of course I'll be tired after playing for 6 or 7 hours, but there is no pain, or even stiffness, in my arms and shoulders. What seemed impossible twenty years ago is now a regular occurrence due to this new skill I have acquired.
Perhaps you can avoid it?
Of course it’s better if you see the hole coming, and prevent the fall. So if the warning signs are there – little aches, stiffness, recurring pain – that’s the best time to start changing your ways. It won’t be as good a story as the ‘Man in a Hole’, though - “people love that story, they never get sick of it”, according to Kurt Vonnegut. But when you’re in the story and not watching it, the priorities are different. And of course, you get to write that story. So write thoughtfully.
Bradley Newman teaches the Alexander Technique in Sydney. For more information see firstname.lastname@example.org .or email Bradley on