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 older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: PeterinToronto 2017
Date:   2017-02-17 07:14

Hi again,

Different question: I have an elderly student who is about a year into playing. She sometimes gets a fast, steady shake in the sound, especially when louder. Today at a lesson it seemed like relaxing her diaphragm helped remove this shake, but she said a number of players in her amateur band have this issue (one called it 'dementia of the embouchure', yikes!).

I just wondered if anyone else has experience with this. Thanks again,

Peter Stoll
Toronto, Canada

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: wkleung 
Date:   2017-02-17 14:09

My adult beginner on oboe (~30 years old) also has a fast trembling in his tone. I asked him to practise long tones two weeks ago. The trembling seems to be gone today. Hope this helps!

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: faltpihl 2017
Date:   2017-02-17 16:11

I'm not sure if its' the same, but I have troubles with long lyrical passages and especially at the throat tones and the open G in particular.

No matter the dynamic, these most often sound very shaky for me.

I believe it is both that my hand cannot hold the instrument steadily against my embochure, and that my air might not be stable enough.


I am using a quite light embochure, which may cause the muscles to have a hard time holding perfectly still somehow.

I've helped this some by using a stiffer reed, which takes a lot more air and pressure and sounds more airy up-close, but I find that the small variations caused by the "shaking" are less noticable with the harder setup.



How did you "relax her diapragm"? I would love to try this exercise :)

Regards
Peter

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2017-02-17 17:51

Before you go down any other roads that *might* be dead ends, have the student check with her doctor. I have had a couple of older students who had true tremors somewhere in their embouchure or breathing muscles and nothing could really be done do help. Then the issue is whether or not the student enjoys playing enough to ignore the shaky sound. People who begin to play an instrument at an advanced age aren't interested usually in trying to become great players - they often just want to enjoy being able to do something active with music and want help with music skills like reading and counting.

If there's no neurological cause, then it could be nerves (of the anxiety type) or just over-trying (typical of many adult learners) and creating extra tension in the mouth muscles. The louder she plays, the more effort she could be putting into the whole process and the more tension could result, especially if a too-tight embouchure is fighting the increased air pressure at the reed. Couple that with a reed that's perhaps too soft (I have no idea from your post what she's playing) and you could have a blowing system that's just all tension and little control.

It would be interesting to know if any of the others in her band have had medical consults about their "dementia of the embouchure."

Karl

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: PeterinToronto 2017
Date:   2017-02-17 18:41

Thanks a lot for the feedback and ideas everyone! We just tried to get her sensitive to where the shaking might be coming from; I figured either embouchure or diaphragm. She thought her diaphragm might be the culprit, and just tried to relax it. But we'll see if this improvement is permanent; I did mention that it might be age-related (I've never had a younger student with this issue), but let's see. Thanks again!

Peter

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2017-02-17 19:28

There's always a line between "relaxing" a muscle or muscle group and "disengaging" it. You need a certain level of engagement of the abdominal muscles to control the blowing process needed to produce a sound on any wind instrument. When that engagement becomes unnecessary or misapplied tension, trouble is generally lurking. If "relaxing" helps, she still needs to control the air in some way.

What, I wonder, happens when she sings a sustained note? Can she do it without adding the kind of vocal vibrato that has become part of western singing over the last couple of centuries? If there's no tremolo, or even if any vibrato that's there is controlled and more integral to the sound, her vocal production may be a place to start in rebuilding the blowing technique on clarinet.

Of course, if the problem is actually in the lip/mouth muscles, an approach focused there is more to the point. But again, the difference between relaxed and disengaged is important. You can't play without some muscular engagement around the mouth.

But I still wouldn't rule out a neurological issue. Just how old is she? 50s, maybe not. 60s or older, could be.

Karl

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: djschwartz 2017
Date:   2017-02-17 23:02

One possibility is it could be part of an essential tremor. This is more common with aging, however, essential tremor is not restricted only to those of us who are older. Most people think of essential tremor as just shaking of the hands. However, a number of us have a central tremor which can cause shaking of the head, voice (actually a vocal cord tremor) and/or mouth or lips. Amongst other things, stress or fatigue may bring on or make it worse. Breathing exercises, relaxation or meditation may make them better which may be why "relaxing" her diaphragm helps. Drugs and other therapies are less helpful with the central tremors than with the positional hand tremors. As suggested, it is reasonable to discuss this with a physician. BTW, essential tremor is different than Parkinson's.

For me, the first 15-20 minutes of practice are to "settle in" after which the tremors have less effect on my playing, and while not completely gone, the vibrato becomes minimal. Long tone exercises and breath control are essential to this part of my practice. Also, I have tweaked my setup so I am not fighting the equipment. Great I'll never be, but that has never been my goal. I play because I love music, and it enhances my enjoyment of life. And it's fun...to paraphrase a great philosopher, 'play on'.

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: RKing 
Date:   2017-02-17 23:52

This thread also describes me to a "T". I am now an "older adult", who went back to my favorite music instruments a few years ago for enjoyment and fellowship.

Basically, my instructor tells me that I have a "natural vibrato" in my jaw muscles and I spend a lot of time playing nice long and smooth notes in order to minimize and control it. I do not have any neurological disorders or diseases. The vibrato in my jaw now is simply due to nervous tension.

I also work very hard on breath control, because the vibrato (and shaking) can start and quickly get out of control if I try to play a long passage without taking a breath. So that is another area where I have to go through my music and mark it up to make sure I don't stress out in certain areas.

My vibrato is well under control when I play the sax because I am pretty good on that horn and feel very comfortable. I am still adjusting to the clarinet and just noticed this week that I am more relaxed than when I picked it up - and the tremors have abated.

I sometimes have older people ask me about learning an instrument and I simply tell them to relax, take it slow, and enjoy it. I used to depend on music for my grocery money and it's a lot more fun to play with nothing on the line but my enjoyment.



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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: PeterinToronto 2017
Date:   2017-02-18 17:59

Again many thanks for all the responses! Many interesting ideas and points of view...

Peter

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: charlie100 
Date:   2019-06-02 16:13

I am 77yrs of age and have been playing and teaching the clarinet all my life. Over the last 3/4 years I have noticed a tremor occuring in my sound and it is very difficult to control it. I have talked to my doctor and he prescribed Propranolol. I have taken as many as 160 grams in a day and so far it hasn't helped. I am wondering whether or not to increase the dose in the hope that it might be effective.
It is less noticeable on the bass clarinet but overall very frustrating as I love playing in groups. Is anybody else having a similar experience?

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-06-02 16:49

charlie100 wrote:

> Over the last 3/4 years I have noticed a
> tremor occuring in my sound and it is very difficult to control
> it.

It may be important to say whether the tremor is in your embouchure or in your hands. I have a good friend and orchestral colleague whose hands and fingers have been shaking over the past couple of years who is able to control most of the tremor in his sound by doing everything he can to keep his hands still. Little if any of the problem seems to be coming from his facial muscles themselves.

> I have talked to my doctor and he prescribed Propranolol. I
> have taken as many as 160 grams in a day and so far it hasn't
> helped. I am wondering whether or not to increase the dose in
> the hope that it might be effective.

I hope you'd be making this decision with your doctor, not on your own. Propranolol is a beta blocker - among its uses are treating high blood pressure and other circulatory disorders as well as tremor, so you might need to monitor yourself for unwanted side-effects. (Disclaimer - I'm not a physician. The information about Propranolol is readily available on a number of sites that come up in a Google search.)

Karl

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: charlie100 
Date:   2019-06-02 18:48

Thank you Karl for taking the trouble to reply to my post.
With me the shaking is partly in my breath and partly in my facial muscles (embouchure) but not in my hands.
I think I am stuck with it. If 160gms of Propranolol doesn't help I think I'll just have to disguise it as much as possible and hope no-one notices!

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: Tony F 
Date:   2019-06-02 20:58

A good friend and bandmate has a natural tremor in his playing that comes over as a slight excess of vibrato. He calls it his Acker Bilk syndrome.

Tony F.

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: charlie100 
Date:   2019-06-02 22:23

That is interesting. How old is he?

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: Tony F 
Date:   2019-06-03 08:46

Charlie100,
He's 84. I'm 80 and as yet show no signs of it.

Tony F.

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 Re: older adult student and shaking in sound
Author: charlie100 
Date:   2019-06-05 16:14

Hi Tony,

I guess I will just have to live with it. Good luck to you both. Keep on playing!

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