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Lighten Up! A Study Of Lightweight Professional Model Flutes For Injury Prevention

In Flute, Pedagogy and Teaching, Resources by AngelaLeave a Comment

According to a 2011 study[1], 95% of skilled flute players suffered some form of performance-related musculoskeletal disorder.  While many injuries are a result of overuse and muscle imbalances, playing a heavy flute can contribute to additional problems. For many flutists, a lightweight flute can help mitigate these imbalances, lessening the chance of injury severity.   Throughout the past 11 months, Francesca Leo and Angela McCuiston worked with Flute Specialists, Inc. and the Flute Center of New York to test 42 different flutes and headjoints across 14 different brands to compare the differences in weight versus sound quality.

In general, the average weight of all flutes tested was 18.09oz (1.13lb).  The weight comparison between material demonstrated that the silver flutes were the lightest (average of 17.47oz), followed by gold (18.39oz), Platinum-Clad (18.3oz), Gold-Silver Fusion (18.9oz), and wooden flutes being the heaviest (19.84oz).  The lightest flute was the Used Powell Silver Flute 1975 model with no add-on features (14.49oz).  Because there was a drastic difference in weight from other silver models, we can conclude that the addition of extra keys changes the weight significantly.  The lightest gold flute was the Muramatsu 9k Standard Wall Flute (16.72oz), the lightest Platinum-Clad flute was the Burkart Elite 5/95 (18.19oz) and the lightest Gold-Silver Fusion flute was the Powell 14k Aurumite (18.24oz). 

A lot of the weight differences came from the thickness of the metal and the weight of the mechanisms. The split E options weighed more than those without or those that have the “donut” or “high E facilitator” (a small circular ring inserted into the left hand G tone hole that helps stabilize the third octave E.)  If you are set on a heavier flute model or material, you can decrease weight by requesting a model without a C# trill key or a Split E mechanism or changing to a lighter headjoint. There is also a drastic difference in weight between B foot and C foot models and if you don’t need a B footjoint, switching to a C foot can help significantly.

The results of this study highlighted a few common misconceptions:

·       The karat of gold used in different flute models does not always add more weight.   

·       Wooden flutes are not always lighter options, and the weight depends on the brand and the density of wood.  Grenadilla wood is more dense on average than Boxwood, Cocobolo, or Mopani.  

·       Gold-Silver fusion models are not always lighter than gold flutes. 

 Both participants noted the difference in projection between the heavy wall and lightweight models, but there was not a drastic difference in sound overall. Adding a gold riser or lip plate to a lightweight silver flute broadened the depth of the sound and added resistance.  According to the participants, the difference in sound quality between lightweight and heavy wall flutes was not drastic enough to deter the consideration of lightweight flutes.  Since each flute responds differently depending on the player, we encourage all flutists to test a wide variety of flutes.  

Notes on Hand Size and Injury

Angela: “During the play-testing of these flutes, I was suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which caused numbness, tingling, muscle spasms and shooting electrical pains down my right arm. For this reason, I was in the unique position of finding myself NEEDING a lightweight flute.

I have large hands and ergonomically found several flutes challenging to play. I found the Haynes custom models very easy to play, but something about the position of the thumb key made my left hand start to cramp.  On the Powell Aurumite flute, the placement of the G# key prevented me from playing the flute at all: my third finger sat comfortably on the G# key and I could not get my hands to fit on the keys as they should. This could have been a specific serial number issue as I did not have the issue on any other Powell flutes. Overall notes for the grenadilla headjoints were that they felt easier on the wrists, I did not tend to grip the keys as much.

Regarding TOS symptoms, It’s interesting to note that even though both of the Burkarts were the same weight, the 10k felt lighter than the 9k.  While I was experiencing more severe TOS symptoms, I could play the 10k longer with no increase in symptoms. Also the Powell solid grenadilla flute seemed lighter weight, which helped as I was able to play it during a particularly heavy playing schedule and at a particularly painful point in my diagnosis.”

Francesca: “I have also been managing performance-related tendinitis in my shoulder and forearm for the past several years, and I really noticed a difference between different brands and models of flutes and how they felt physically.  I found that I was able to manipulate a good sound on all of the flutes that we play-tested, but the flutes that felt and sounded the best and most comfortable for me personally were the Muramatsu, Brannen and Haynes flutes.  I have very small hands, and the Brannen flute mechanism was among the easiest to navigate because of this factor.  With gold flutes, I felt that the most comfortable playing on the 9k Gold Standard Wall Muramatsu.  This gold model did not aggravate my performance-related injury even when I played on it for a significant amount of time.  I later discovered that this model was actually the lightest gold flute out of all of the gold models that we weighed.

Personally ,I experienced challenges playing the wooden flute models because the tubing size felt a bit larger than silver and gold models, and having small hands it was difficult to reach the keys comfortably.  The grenadilla wood, whether it was a grenadilla flute or just the headjoint, also added a noticeable amount of weight.”

 If you should find yourself needing to find a lighter flute to perform in a variety of settings, consider the following:

1.     Consider adding a denser metal headjoint (platinum, gold, fusion) to a lightweight body.  You can also find lighter headjoints with a denser metal riser or lip plate.  You may consider trying an Arista 14K Rose Gold gold headjoint (3.07oz) on a lightweight silver flute.

2.     Consider removing the split E mechanism and add the E Facilitator instead.  Also try removing the C# trill key or consider switching to a C footjoint if you find yourself seldom using the low B footjoint. 

3.     Look into lightweight pinless mechanism options.  Wm. S. Haynes Co. specifically provides this option on their custom flute models.

4.     Compare the thickness in tubing between different models and look for softer silvers (925) as opposed to 950 or 997 silver.  You may consider trying a Muramatsu GX, a Brannen 725, a Miyazawa 602 or a Sankyo 901 as lightweight silver options.

This study was intended to be as comprehensive as possible, but due to the plethora of options and variations on each model this is not an exhaustive list. We encourage you to utilize the results of this study as a guide to compare general weight differences between brands and models.

Flute Weight Database: https://flutisthealth.wixsite.com/fluteweightdatabase

Project Sponsors:

Special offer from the Flute Center: Use code “LightenUp” for $50 off any order over $500, plus free shipping on your next flute trial! (Discount code may be applied to purchases of flutes or accessories, limit one use per customer.) 

https://www.flutes4sale.com/

Special offer from Flute Specialists, Inc.: Mention “flute weight” and receive free shipping on your trial PLUS a cash back offer when you purchase

[1] Ackermann BJ, Kenny DT, Fortune J. Incidence of injury and attitudes to injury management in skilled flute players. Work. 2011;40(3):255‐259. doi:10.3233/WOR-2011-1227

By: Francesca Leo and Angela McCuiston

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Exercises for Flutists

In Corrective Exercise, Fitness, Flute, Special Thanks by AngelaLeave a Comment

Recently I was asked to write an article for Flutist Quarterly, the quarterly publication of the National Flute Association. There are a LOT of beneficial exercises for flutists, but I picked 2 stretches and 2 strengthening exercises I felt were the most beneficial, with no equipment, for the general population of flute players. These may be more difficult for some, too easy for others, nonethess, they have their place in a DAILY workout routine for all flutists to keep you mobile and strong, so you can continue playing pain free.

For the first time ever, you can download the entire magazine FREE, even if you aren’t a member! Here is the Spring 2020 Download

We also were able to expound on the article on FQ Plus, the online link. I go into much more detail, with pictures and videos and include a BONUS ROUTINE FOR TIGHT NECK MUSCLES.

You can access that article here: FQ PLUS: Beneficial Exercises for Flutists

Beneficial Exercises for Flutists 

The chair of the Performance Health Care Committee recommends these exercises to help reduce playing-related pain. Read more about them in the spring 2020 issue of The Flutist Quarterly. In addition to those discussed in the article, a bonus exercise for neck and shoulder pain is included here.

Chest Stretch

Put your arm in a doorway with your elbow at 90 degrees. Squeeze your shoulder blade back and down toward your low back and twist your body away from the door. If you don’t feel much, try bringing your arm up higher. Hold for 30 seconds.

Chest Stretch

Wrist Stretch

Facing a flat surface with straight elbows, turn your fingers toward your body and lower your arms until the tops of your hands are flat on the table, if possible. (Don’t force them; take them to maximum stretch and hold gently.) Touch your fingers and thumbs together; try to lift your knuckles off the table. This should not be possible. If you can do this, you are leaning too far forward or your elbows are bent. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds, and hold 30 more seconds. Come out of the stretch gently.

Wrist Stretch 1

For a more intense stretch, turn your hands so that they are palms down on the table with fingers pointed toward your body. (Don’t force them flat if wrists are too tight; take them to maximum stretch and hold gently.)

Wrist Stretch 2

Upper Back and Shoulder Strengthener: Prone T Exercise

Stand with your feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent. Push your hips backwards, keeping your spine neutral, so that you are leaning slightly forward. Raise your arms straight out to either side, with thumbs pointing to the ceiling and palms facing forward, keeping shoulders away from ears. Think about bringing the bottom of your shoulder blades together. Do 15 times.

Upper Back Shoulder 1 DSC_9592
Upper Back Shoulder 2 DSC_9595

Core Strengthener: Deadbugs

Lie on your back, with knees bent and feet flat. Pull your belly button toward your spine and mash your low back into the floor. Raise your arms overhead and drop them alternately behind your head as far back as possible without causing pain.Core Dead Bugs 1

For additional strength building, lift both legs to a 90-degree angle and drop one heel at a time toward the ground.

Core Dead Bugs 2

BONUS: Tight Neck Muscles

Flutists turn their heads to the left but also tilt them somewhat forward and down to the right. As a result, two muscles tend to get overused and cause problems: the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and the levator scapulae.

The SCM attaches to the collarbone near the sternum and inserts on the skull just behind each ear, turning the head and also flexing it forward. The levator scapulae muscle attaches to the upper part of the shoulder blade on the inside and goes up the neck, where it inserts on the C1–C4 vertebrae of the neck. It helps shrug the shoulder upwards.

With the advent of cell phones and other screens, the levator scapulae can become shortened while the SCM becomes tight on one side and weak on the other. This may cause headaches, pain in the back of the neck, or pain on the inside of the shoulder blade (the rhomboid muscle), and—combined with tight chest muscles—can cause the rhomboids to become weak and overstretched, causing pain. Relaxing the SCM and the levator scapulae and strengthening the rhomboids can be the trifecta to bring the upper body back into balance.

Try these two back to back, in the order given here. If either of them doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.

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Addressing Mental Health for Musicians Through Exercise

In Fitness, Resources by AngelaLeave a Comment

I was recently asked to be a contributer in the are of fitness to something called The Musician’s Wellness Starter Pack, which is a comprehensive approach to addressing all areas of musician’s health, but focusing mainly on mental health. As something that doesn’t get talked about enough, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

I took a different approach to an article I had previously written titled: The Hidden Benefits of Exercise. Instead of posting the article here, I want to encourage you to read it on their site and also browse around and see all the great resources they have on the site!

Here is a link to the article: https://blog.recordunion.com/the-wellness-starter-pack/the-hidden-benefits-of-strength-training

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Podcast Interview with Corpsonore

In Entrepreneurship, Fitness, Motivation and Success, Resources by AngelaLeave a Comment

If you are not following these ladies you’re doing yourself a great disservice. They have a fantastic podcast and website on musician’s wellness from all aspects. I’ll include the podcast audio here, but do yourself a favor and check out the page for more goodies!

Link to my episode on their page: Corposonore Podcast Interview with Notes and Recommended Reading

I also wrote an article for them that you can read here: Debunking Weightlifting Myths for the Musician

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New Decade Special!

In Uncategorized by AngelaLeave a Comment

It’s not just a new year coming up, it’s an entirely new decade!  Forget New Year’s resolutions, why not change your lifestyle habits and finally get real lasting results?

One of the biggest hindrances I hear musician have when it comes to fitness is a lack of consistency in their schedule.  However, there are times, like the next few weeks, when the schedule slows down, the gigs slow, the recording slows, the tour ends, you take a break from the studio and the stage and you rest…as you should.

However…..

Sometimes that turns into too much idle time. A lot of times we think “oh this is the perfect time for me to go to the gym since I have time!…..but what do I do?”  so you either go and feel like your time is wasted or you don’t go at all.

Let’s turn this down time into ME TIME. Let’s take this time and see what real, consistent, progressive training looks like so you can start to make fitness a priority – sometimes all you need is two weeks to really see what structured fitness training can do for you physically, mentally and emotionally and also for your career!

Ideally, you can then transition that new found appreciation into a program that works for you – either 2x/week with hours that roll over to the next month if you don’t use them, or an online touring/training package so you have your workout on the go and can train with me when you get back in town.

Either way….it’s two weeks, and wouldn’t you like someone to do the work for you for that short amount of time?

So click on the picture and let’s get started!

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Playing Flute with Scoliosis?

In Corrective Exercise, Fitness, Flute, Pedagogy and Teaching by musicstrongLeave a Comment

A little while back, I received this email from a teacher concerned for her student with scoliosis:

“I have a student that has scoliosis. She has been told by her doctor that she is going to have to stop playing flute due to the severity. I know that if she is sitting correctly, and using complete correct posture this really shouldn’t be a problem. I need expert advice from a professional to make sure she is doing all that she can in terms of posture to keep her playing. She loves playing is upset about the report from the doctor. What advice or strategies do you have?”

As chair of the Performance Health Committee for the National Flute Association, I sent this query out to my committee members and the advisory panel. Our advisory panel is made up of licensed medical professionals and the committee is made up of flutists with an interst and/or specialized background in health/wellness/fitness. These are their answers and hope they give some insight for those who may wonder about this question.

Disclaimer: this is not medical advice or a prescription, merely optionion and speculation based on the fact that none of those polled have actually seen, treated, tested, etc. the child in question. We are going on the limited knowledge we have at face value and this is not in any way to disregard the treating clinician.

Dr. Steve Mitchell, ENT

I am confused why this child’s doctor feels she has to stop flute playing. Granted deep breathing and tidal volume would likely be less than her peers, but so what? Just add more breath marks. Quite frankly, anything that helps the child with deep breathing exercises is usually encouraged. A flute is much more fun than a respiratory blow bottle.

Dr. Michael Treister, MD: during my orthopaedic career I treated lots of people with scoliosis. I cannot specifically relate scoliosis directly to flute playing in terms of specific recommendations. Pulmonary function is probably the main overall issue: breath capacity is often reduced in individuals with scoliosis. Taking additional breaths in the right place is appropriate in this case. Additionally, if standing causes back pain, you just have to perform sitting. As long as their upper extremity function is not affected they should be able to play the flute just fine.

My suggestions: avoid marching band (perhaps) and if there is back pain, perform sitting. If anything, flute playing should be therapeutic and not harmful in scoliotic patients as I see it. If there are therapeutic recommendations they should come from an orthopaedic expert who primarily treats children with scoliosis. Scoliosis is not a contra-indication to playing the flute.

Dr. Michael Weinstein, MD

Here is a link to the Mayo Clinic’s page on scoliosis:
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scoliosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350716

I agree with the other MDs that it is a curiosity that this person was told not to play flute.
A variety of interventions, from breathing technique modification, to improved seating, use of a flute stand, etc…Could be useful.

Dr. Chip Shelton, DDS: The treating doctor would likely endorse a practice regimen consisting of 60% end blown flute and 40% transverse flute, ergonomically-postured as suggested. I presented at NFA Orlando on end-blown flutes (article on NFA committee page).  Ergonomically re-designed flutes seem to all have significant learning curves, particularly the one I write about in my synopsis. However the limitations are surmountable and well worth the resultant benefits. Here is a link to an audio example:

Susan Mayer and Kristen Gygi

In addition to the MD comments, there is support for people with scoliosis in yoga therapy, massage therapy, personal training and Alexander Technique. 

Lisa Garner-Santa

My guess would be that scoliosis, which already creates some imbalance due to misalignment, could exacerbate the assymetry required to play the flute for extended periods of time. I agree with Michael that it would be impossible to give a “one size fits all” prescription since each individual’s case of scoliosis would be unique.

As a yoga teacher I’ve had numerous clients who come to yoga as a part of their therapuetic plan to alleviate pain due to scoliosis.  I’m guessing that flute student might benefit from something similar? In all honesty, some of my best yoga students are the ones with scoliosis.

I’m sure there are also strength training activities that might support a diagnosis of scoliosis.

Angela McCuiston, NASM-CPT, CES

My first thought, having trained several people with scoliosis, is that while strength training cannot fix the problem, we can at least strengthen the muscles in the opposite direction of the rotations while incorporating more overall core strength, as well as bilaterally and unilaterally.   I wonder if 1) the student is in marching band, which, we know, can contribute to poor posture choices due to the straight nature of the instrument, rotational compensations must be made and if in the opposite direction of her scoliosis could contribute to pain or if in the same direction as her scoliosis could make the problem worse or 2) the student rotates her upper body due to being cramped in the section, or just naturally over rotates causing the above concerns?

In either case, body awareness of posture would go a long way in addition to strength training and the all the other suggestions made.


In summary, the overwhelming response is confusion as to why this doctor would tell the child to stop playing. A suspicion is that this doctor has no idea about playing a musical instrument and is giving a standard “stop playing” answer. This is all said without knowing any particulars about the student or her situation, which leaves out a lot.  But overall, we see no reason scoliosis should hinder her from playing.

Summary  

  • If playing is affected by not being able to breathe well, add more breath marks, but continuing to play should actually help this problem.
  • Playing the flute is actually beneficial to increasing volume of breath and tidal volume
  • if due to postural distortion, is it because of unreasonable demands in marching band, natural over rotation in her posture, cramping in the flute section, etc? If so, those are easy modifications to be made.
  • If it is more of a postural distortion problem, body awareness techniques, Alexander Technique, yoga and strength training in the opposite direction of the rotation, improving overall core strength, etc. could be VERY beneficial. 

Have you had experience with this? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences! You can find the official page for the PHC Here and the unofficial Facebook page here. Love to hear if you have more questions!

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Workshop At Belmont University School of Music

In Entrepreneurship, Pedagogy and Teaching, Travel, Workshops by musicstrongLeave a Comment

Recently, we were delighted to be asked to present at the Belmont University School of Music on our workshop of injury prevention for musicians. We have workshops in 1-2-3 hour increments. This was the two hour workshop and the students came excited and eager, enthusiastic and engaged and not only did we have a lot of fun, we learned a lot.

Currently I’m in Phoenix at the NASM OPTIMA conference: a 3 day advanced continuing education conference for fitness professionals. I’ll be learning everything from the latest in neck rehab to helping those with joint replacements, to low impact high intensity cardio! It’s a HUGE recharge to my fitness career batteries, as it reminds me how much I love to help people, musicians especially, and being around so many passionate, like minded, humble and SMART trainers and professionals is just the thing I need to keep me going. We’re a small but dedicated bunch and I’m glad to see it growing!

Immediately after this, I’m headed to Durango, Colorado to be the artist in residence at Ft. Lewis College! I’ll be giving my 3 hour workshop on Becoming Music Strong, a flute masterclass and a flute recital. All my workshops help meet the National Association of Schools of Music requirement for accredidation, and I am taking requests for 2020, so drop me a line! Here are some pictures from Belmont, hope you enjoy!

setting up the PowerPoint

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Welcome New Brand Ambassadors!

In Entrepreneurship, Motivation and Success, Resources, Special Thanks, Travel by musicstrongLeave a Comment

Are you sold out on what we do? That musicians can be strong and that strength training is actually a good thing for musicians? Do you believe in our mission to empower musicians with knowledge about how to take care of themselves so they can live their longest, healthiest, pain-free lives and careers? Do you want swag? Do you want to travel? Are you good at social media, conversing with others or just have a big mouth or a platform? 🙂

Well, WE WANT YOU.

We have been putting out the word on social media and we’re proud to welcome these new brand ambassadors to Music Strong! Please give them a like and a follow and if you’re interested in being a brand ambassador for us we’d love to hear from you!

Welcome New Brand Ambassadors!

David Cartolano – “The Conditioned Musician” “I’m a musician, personal trainer, exercise physiologist, and student doctor of physical therapy. I truly believe in the power of exercise to help not only shape someone’s body, but their mindset and their ability to cope with challenges in life. Better muscles, better mindset, better music is my slogan.” You can catch him on Insta at @theconditionedmusician and definitely check out his podcasts for the latest musicians crushing it on the fitness scene.

Valerie Speights – violist with an incredible bounce back story: “Having recovered from being over 70% disabled due to playing-induced chronic pain, I’m passionate about injury prevention, conditioning, and passing on what I’ve learned to others. ” Instagram: @whatisvaleridoing

David Margulis – Opera singer and Crossfit athlete/coach with a passion for heavy lifts and high notes. Instagram: @dmtenor25 Really…..does any more need to be said?????

You can submit your application here: Become a Brand Ambassador for Music Strong.

What do Brand Ambassadors do?

  • Promote Music Strong any way they can! Through Social Media, hashtags, picutres, videos, blog posts, word of mouth, advocation in schools, being a go-between, sharing YOUR story, etc.
  • Tag us in everything! Let’s see you wearing your swag (we send it to you!) talking it up, in short, what it means to you and how it helped you and others!
  • Join us at events, trade shows, etc. We are in need of excited, passionate people who believe in what we do to join us at various trade shows conferences, etc. We have one coming up in Nashville on Oct 24, so if you’re local, reach out! And for sure one in Dallas, TX in August 2020, so holla at us!

Wondering what you get? Well, it’s not all work and no reward! See the initial benefits below!