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 The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: Hank Lehrer 2017
Date:   2019-03-09 04:50

Hi All,

There has been much discussion over the years that I have been a contributor to this bulletin board about the various injuries incurred in playing the clarinet or that prevent individuals from enjoying the instrument to the fullest. Finding cures for these sometimes almost disabling maladies is often very difficult. In many cases, the medical profession has had little if any experience in diagnosing and treating such conditions. Fortunately, a former student of mine (and more importantly a great friend) has made a very bold attempt to overcome several of these treatment barriers.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Sheri Lynn Rolf, MD. Dr. Rolf, who holds a permanent seat in an excellent upper Great Plains symphony orchestra, recently completed her DMA dissertation at The Ohio State University under the guidance of Dr. Caroline Hartig.

A brief quote from the Abstract states:"The purpose of this study is to elucidate the interactions of the clarinet with the body of the person playing it. Emphasis will be placed upon the musculoskeletal system, recognizing that playing the clarinet is an activity that ultimately involves the entire body...The muscles responsible for the fine coordinated movements required for successful performance on the clarinet will (then) be described" (p.ii).

In the 194 pages of this document, Dr. Sheri has given the academic clarinet community an expert treatise on how the "harmonious function of the body is essential for the clarinetist to perform at his/her highest level" (p. 142).

Here is a link to this dissertation:

You can download the file but if you have any problem viewing or in the transfer, please send me an email and I'll provide you with a copy.



Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2019-03-09 07:00

Thank you Hank. I just read the abstract and table of contents - the rest later.

Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: Hank Lehrer 2017
Date:   2019-03-13 18:52


Has anyone other than Philip Caron downloaded this file? If so, do you have any comments?



Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-03-14 03:13

Hi Hank. I also downloaded the file. You asked for comments, so...

I've skimmed through the whole dissertation. I have to admit that, as about two thirds of it is written in very technical anatomical language describing the musculoskeletal system, I imagine that most clarinettists (myself included) are unlikely to study most of it in detail. I find sentences like "The middle pharyngeal constrictor arises from the hyoid bone and the stylohyoid ligament" quite daunting and don't see how they will immediately benefit my clarinet playing! But I suppose it is a good resource for people to refer to when they need to study anatomy.

The description of the use of the diaphragm in breathing seems to contradict Tony Pay's explanation of our ability to use this muscle as an opposing muscle of controlled support during exhalation. She writes: "During expiration, the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its original position. This process occurs as a result of elastic recoil and involves no contraction of the diaphragm."

The chapter on posture is quite interesting.

Thanks for posting it.

Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2019-03-14 06:10

The author, Sheri Lynn Rolf, is a medical doctor with a residency in otolaryngology-head & neck injuries. She also has a masters degree in clarinet performance. I wonder how many doctors have gone back to grad school to earn a doctorate in applied music? I would imagine, not many.

Much of the dissertation is a presentation of anatomy without specific reference to the clarinet or clarinet playing. In those sections she uses the technical language of the anatomy book writers. But she can be perfectly plain and colloquial in describing key concepts such as in her definition of posture: "The human body is designed to move. Optimal posture is a continually moving target" (102). She makes it clear that "the rigid military posture . . . is an example of bad posture" (104).

The parts that would be of most interest to clarinetists are probably those devoted to ways to prevent postural problems and abnormalities from developing--techniques that include the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, Pilates, Yoga, Rolfing, and Body Mapping as devised by cellist William Conable. She provides a photo of her hands holding a clarinet and shows the use of a Kooiman Maestro 2 Thumb Rest. The catalog of "what could go wrong" as a result of poor posture includes carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve entrapment, temporomandiblular joint dysfunction, thoratic outlet syndrome, focal dystonia, and a rare form of pneumonia.

Post Edited (2019-03-15 06:27)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: Luuk 2017
Date:   2019-03-14 13:36

I read the dissertation. Again, it is shown how complex the human body is, and how problems at one location can lead to pain or unease in remote parts. Especially the part about 'balancing' the head on the neck made some things clear for me.

Also, it is made clear that the use of metaphores in explaining clarinet playing, and especially for blowing will in general not be enlightening, but may only lead to confusion.

Aside from this, I personally find the repeated use of the word 'designed' in relation to biological organs striking.


Philips Symphonic Band
The Netherlands

Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: shmuelyosef 
Date:   2019-03-15 03:37


<Luuk> said:
"I personally find the repeated use of the word 'designed' in relation to biological organs striking."

The term design is not always used in the active sense ('to design'), but often in describing a particular arrangement of objects, e.g. "the stones at the shallow bend of the river made a very interesting design". I believe that is the mode of the author's usage.

Reply To Message
 Re: The Structure and Movement of Clarinet Playing
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-03-22 00:41

Hi Hank,

Thank you for putting this on the forum. I'm a clarinet player with wrist trouble and a biomedical science background, so I will definitely give it a go.

I'm learning the clarinet on medical advice to try and strengthen my lungs to sort out a condition called chronic hyperventilation so I could probably offer Dr Rolf a sequel if she would like it. :-)


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