Monday, September 11, 2017

Marimba Body: Aching Elbows

As we gear up for fall and the concert season ahead, whether as a student, professor, or touring artist, it's a good time to reflect on our technical habits.  For those that took time off over the summer, there's the process of re-integrating hours of practice. For those that are preparing entire new programs (ehhem...yours truly), there's the challenge of not rushing through the learning process, mentally and physically. 

Throughout my time writing the Marimba Body series, folks have approached me with different questions of "do you have anything about ___?"  Coming up a few times is the issue of elbow pain - what it is, how we get it, and how to heal and then prevent it. 

Here's what I've learned, experienced, and found.

Three Common Pain Areas

Most commonly, percussionists experience elbow pain:
- on the outside of the elbow (lateral epicondylitis, aka: tennis elbow)
- on the inside of the elbow (medial epicondylitis, aka: golfer's elbow)
- at the back of the elbow (posterior impingement or triceps tendonitis)

Lateral Epicondylitis

Symptoms: tenderness and perhaps pain around the lateral epicondyle (bony bit outside the elbow);
          weakness when gripping small objects, such as mallets;
          weakness and tenderness when supinating the forearm (rotating outwards, as in to play mallet 2 or 3)

Causes: excessive use of the forearm that strains muscles;
          repetitive twisting of the wrist and forearm

Related to activities like writing, typing, playing instruments (guitar, violin, percussion, etc), painting, racquet sports (especially backhands)

Definition: inflammation at the attachment of the Extensor carpi radialis brevis (the muscle that extends the wrist, ie: during an upstroke) and humerus at the lateral epicondyle

Healing: go easy, and don't try to "play through" the ache, as it could result in a tear, as the drawing above shows;
          ice the area if it helps;
          apply a compression wrap

Awareness and Prevention: pay close attention to tightening the elbow during passages of tremolos, quick tempi, and large leaps - pause and relax the area before playing the passage again, focusing on a different physical sensation in the elbow than the time before

Medial Epicondylitis

Symptoms: slow-growing tenderness and pain at the medial epicondyle (bony bit on the inside of the elbow);
          pain while pronating the wrist (using the inside mallet on a surface too low for your height);
          tenderness during wrist flexion;
          numbness in 4th and 5th fingers

Causes: gripping a small object for long period of time (like mallets or sticks);
          repetitive wrist flexion

Related to activities like golfing, maxing-out with free weights, rock climbing, squeezing and rotating an object (ie: doorknob)

Definition: inflammation at the attachment of Flexor pronator muscles and humerus at the medial epicondyle

Healing: take a break from the painful activity;
          ice the area if it helps;
          begin therapeutic stretches and exercises as soon as possible

Awareness and Prevention: pay close attention to holding mallets or sticks tighter than necessary;
          when working on fast finger strokes, focus on a relaxed elbow and neutral shoulder

Posterior Impingement

Symptoms: pain and tenderness at the back of the elbow when the arm straightens;
          sensitivity to touch at the back of the elbow

Causes: activities that repetitively straighten the elbow while adding sideways pressure

Related to activities like pitching, martial arts, repetitive throwing, locking elbows during planks, or reaching for a note in an upper or lower octave from the elbow instead of the center of the body

Definition: compression and damage to soft tissues at the back of the elbow due to excessive extension

Healing: take a break from the painful activity;
          begin therapeutic stretches and exercises as soon as possible     
*Unlike the other injuries, posterior impingement is usually not damage to a tendon, and may take longer to heal.
Awareness and Prevention: take care that the instrument is the correct height;
          in sports activities, keep a slight bend in the elbow to prevent hyperextension

Triceps Tendonitis

Symptoms: pain at the back of the elbow when pushing against resistance;
          back of the elbow is sensitive to touch

Causes: forceful pushing, throwing, pressing as in a push-up (or applying too much tricep pressure during a stroke)

Related to activities like bench presses, pushing heavy objects, or push-ups without proper support from the shoulder and back

Definition: inflammation of the attachment of the tricep to the ulna at the olecranon process (bony bit at the back and bottom of the elbow)

Healing: stop the painful activity;
          ice the area, and use a compression brace if helpful;
          elevate the elbow

Awareness and Prevention: pay attention to not applying too much downward pressure with each stroke, especially during tremolos, rolls, and loud passages;
          when leaning against a table during study or meals, keep the back of the elbow relaxed
- - - - -
In conversations with different players, it seems that aching elbows most often occur in the non-dominant arm, while shoulder pains (especially at the insertion of the bicep) most often occur in the dominant arm.  This is just anecdotal evidence I've collected, but it would be interesting to investigate in a more formal way.

My hunch as to why it could happen is connected to my theories that improper shoulder alignment causes pain down below, as I talked about during my PASIC 2015 presentation.  Without proper support from above the elbow joint, the strength needed is dispersed to smaller muscles below the joint, hence the gradual appearance of aches and pains.
- - - - -
Sports Injury Clinic
Mayo Clinic
Hand and Wrist Institute
New York Orthopedics

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Highly Sensitive Person/Artist/Musician

Coming across a Facebook conversation about a child who was labeled as so sensitive to criticism that he was assigned to a special class, I found myself inspired to share one of the books nearest and dearest to my heart: The Highly Sensitive Person, by Dr. Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Image result for the highly sensitive person

"How to thrive when the world overwhelms you" mmm, yes

I found this book years ago, and immediately knew it was for me.

Even the cover of this edition suits a sensitive person, with mild contrasts and just enough darkness to make sure you can read what's on the cover. Lovely

There's all kinds of info in this book, from a self test, to discussion on therapy options, to discussion on how to be proud of this trait, not ashamed by it.

What does it mean to be highly sensitive?

An HSP observes before acting, notices more about any situation (artistic, natural, social, etc.) than others, and is therefore more easily overwhelmed than his or her peers.

In the Author's Note for her 2012 printing of The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine writes that the word DOES contains the main characteristics:

     D - depth of processing
     O - over-stimulated easily (due to depth of processing)
     E - emphasis to empathy and emotion
     S - sensitivity to subtlety

As percussionists/musicians/artists/good humans, there are clear lines to be drawn between these traits and our requirements and responsibilities throughout our lives.  A life in the arts particularly suits an HSP, due to the narrow focus, thoughtfulness, and innate vulnerability attached to making personal expression a regular act in the public sphere.

Here are some experiences that you may identify with if you're a fellow HSP.

- I've always worked better alone, even when I was a kid.
- I'd rather work a long time on a project and then show it to you when it's complete, not show you my process.  This means adapting to the private lesson model, where you are criticized and guided in-progress.
- I am highly self-critical, to the point that it's debilitating.  So being called out in rehearsal is the worst.
- In conversations where a person criticizes something I'm tangentially related to, I have to remind myself that it isn't a reflection on my choice to be involved, just a response to the situation in question.
- As a child, it was very easy to discipline me: no harsh tones or increased volume was needed.
- Small group social situations are easier for me, as they facilitate more 'real' discussion over 'small talk.'

Are you highly sensitive?
You can take the self test for high sensitivity on Elaine's website.

Favorite moments from The HSP

On being an HSP but functioning in a world that isn't necessarily "HSP friendly"
Some HSPs, perhaps all of us at times, get sidelined because of thinking that there is no way an HSP can be out in the world and survive.  One feels too different, too vulnerable, perhaps too flawed...  (p. 49)

Note: Elaine uses the word "arousal" to speak about the heightened state of the nervous system.
It is important not to confuse arousal with fear.  Fear creates arousal, but so do many other emotions, including joy, curiously, or anger.  (p.9)

Our culture has an idea of competition in the pursuit of excellence that can make anyone not striving for the top feel like a worthless, nonproductive bystander.  This applies not only to one's career but even to one's leisure.  Are you fit enough, are you progressing in your hobby, are you competent as a cook or gardener?... There is one other reason HSPs drive their bodies too hard, and that is their intuition, which gives some of then a steady stream of creative ideas.  They want to express them all.  (p. 52-53)

The world, as it is today, more readily rewards those that are loud, extroverted, and tend to act before thinking. see: the 2016 election
Ironically and sadly, it is not necessarily the loudest among us who are best-suited to certain positions, leaderships, and mentor roles.

On an open, sensitive mind
An expanded, loving mind, one that is open to the whole universe, is the opposite of a tightly constricted, overaroused mind.   (p. 58)

Introversion arises from a need and preference to protect the inner, "subjective" aspect of life, to value it more, and in particular not to allow it to be overwhelmed by the "objective" world.  (p. 99)
She goes on to quote Carl Jung:
They [introverts] are living evidence that this rich and varied world with its overflowing and intoxicating life is not purely external, but also exists within...Their life teaches more than their words...Their lives teach the other possibility, the interior life which is so painfully wanting in our civilization.

On social discomfort
Elaine talks about the awkward juxtaposition of an HSPs desire for deep connection with the overarousal a new social situation can create.  Often, an HSP will retreat to a corner or sit quietly alone.  The book talks about ways to combat this part of being an HSP, as functioning socially is certainly an important part of leading a fulfilled life.  My experience of social discomfort comes in waves: sometimes I can meet new people and love it, but other times I shut down and cling to my husband like there's no tomorrow.

According to Elaine's research, HSPs tend to strive for deep, meaningful relationships.  "Small talk" does not interest an HSP, and I'd assume that "shop talk" doesn't either, based on my experience.  HSPs want to talk about the inner life full of meaning and depth. can feel wonderful to stay home once you accept that home is truly where you sometimes belong  (p. 154)

You can tolerate high levels of stimulation, especially when you are with someone who relaxes you and makes you feel safe.  (p. 155)

On figuring ourselves out and perhaps going through therapy
Because HSPs have such close contact with the unconscious, such vivid dreams, and such an intense pull toward the imaginal and spiritual, we cannot flourish until we are experts on this facet of ourselves.  (p. 184)

The book goes on to provide tips on how others can deal with working with, raising, or dating an HSP.  Elaine estimates that only about 15-20% of the population could be characterized as being highly sensitive.  She says that's not enough to be widely understood but too many to be called a disorder. (Thanks, Elaine.)
_ _ _ _ _ 

Whether for yourself, your students, your life partner, or your children, learning about this trait can only help in relating to others in terms of communication style and empathy.  I highly recommend any of Elaine's writings.

I'd love to hear from you if you are a fellow HSP, or think this book may be useful to you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Collaborative Rep - Spring 2017

As collaborative piano takes up nearly 50% of my music-making during the academic year, I've started to keep lists...looooong lists... of everything I learn each semester. It's mostly so I can feel a sense of accomplishment, but it's also smart to keep a running rep list, no matter what it's for.

If you're not already keeping track of rep you learn - for whatever instrumentation - I'd go ahead and start!

Performed in Recital

Chaminade, Concertino
Clarke, Hypnosis
Mouquet, Pan et les Oiseaux
Ganne, Andante and Scherzo
Bohm, Fantasy, Op. 21
Schumann, Three Romances
Griffes, Poem
Reinecke, Ballade

Cahuzac, Cantilene
Hindemith, Sonate
Rabud, Solo de Concours
Saint-Saƫns, Sonata
Bassi, Fantasia from I puritani
Weber, Concertino in E-flat Major, Op. 26

Bartok, Romanian Folk Dances
Khachaturian, Concerto, II. 

Sejourne, Concerto for Marimba and Strings
Rosauro, Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra
Green, Cross Corners

Performed in Masterclass, Jury

Mozart, Concerto in G Major
Sancan, Sonatine
Hindemith, Sonate

Bassi, Fantasia da Concerto
Arnold, Sonatina
Alwyn, Sonata
Gaubert, Fantasie

Ibert, Concertino
Koechlin, from Etudes
Demersseman, Fantaisie
Bozza, Divertissement
Lantier, Sicilienne
Glazunov, Concerto

In looking at the list, I can tell I forgot to write down a few pieces.  Others were begun but not completed, so they aren't included either. 
Regardless, it looks and felt like a lot of music. It was split between 20 different students. 

This coming semester I've only accepted 10 into my accompaniment studio, which should hopefully make life a little simpler. It's not so much learning the music that's the problem: it's coordinating schedules with 20 students and their applied lesson professors that starts to wear on all of us after a while. I'm hoping that 10 is an easily manageable number. 

Plus, we have 11 incoming freshmen to the percussion studio, so there will be more lessons to go around there as well. And I'm planning on taking a psychology course this fall, as it has always been an interest of mine. (...If that wasn't obvious between some essays here and segments on @ percussion podcast.)

June's concerts in Chicago went well. Haven't watched the videos yet, but will do soon. We are coming up on the Staunton Music Festival, where I'll be involved in two concerts. One will feature a US premiere of Iron Curtain, a percussion quartet by Moritz Eggert, who will be in residence. Looking forward to receiving the music!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

NMG, IWBC, and Chicago concerts next weekend!

Though it may seem that this post is about testing you on your professional music acronyms, I promise that's not the case.  Laurel's been a busy bee since school let out in early May.

New Music Gathering 2017

New Music Gathering (NMG) is a pretty cool 3-day conference for anyone who participates in new music.  From May 11-13 we all gathered at Bowling Green State University to talk about, listen to, and dream about new projects together.  You can view this year's lecture, presentation, panel, and recital schedule here.  It was really cool - and not just because Steven Schick was the keynote speaker and featured guest artist. 

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, sitting and indoor

L+M Duo performed during a concert on Saturday afternoon called Grab Bag of Awesome, featuring us as well as other chamber groups performing all kinds of music.  We played our first-ever commission, Magicicicada, by Pennsylvania-based composer Rusty Banks.  Though Marianne met Rusty before (actually at NMG 2016!) this was my first time chatting with him in person, and we snapped this photo right after the Grab Bag of Awesome concert finished! 

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing

The conclusion about NMG is simple: if you're into new music and meeting people that love it like you do, just go.

International Women's Brass Conference

To have never heard of IWBC, I was surprised to learn that this year's conference, held at Rowan University, was the 25th anniversary.  It's by pure happenstance that I ended up there.

In March, I was a contracted pianist for the Southeast Horn Workshop, held at JMU.  I accompanied a masterclass given by hornist Kristen Fowler,and found her very easy to work with. Fast-forward to early May, and Kristen emails wondering if I can play for her at IWBC, held June 7-10.  It would be a quick learn of the rep, and only ONE REHEARSAL, but we did it!

The entire program was called Trauma and Triumph, and is Kristen's testimony of healing through her experience with childhood sexual assault.  She wrote prose pieces that she recited before each movement of each piece - all of which were composed by women.

I only spent one day at the conference, and didn't get to see too much for the frantic search of a warm-up and practice space.  An interesting talk (that I admittedly wasn't too sure about at first) was about social psychology theories at work when you're in a scenario made of 85% men and 15% women (or less).  For info on that, you can check out Episode 99 of @ percussion.  How's THAT for a shameless plug, hmm??

And now...Chicago

L+M Duo will close our first season in Chicago next weekend with performances at Fourth Presbyterian and Constellation.  Since they are different spaces with different audiences, the programs will vary somewhat, with the Fourth Pres concert featuring some arrangements and the Constellation concert featuring a world premiere by Boston-based composer Aaron Jay Myers - a good friend from grad school. 

His piece is called Yes, They are a Duplicitous Bunch, and is inspired by the current Washington administration. (spoiler alert: an artist comments on current society in his art) 

The piece is relentless, syncopated, and full of energy. 

If you're in Chicago, it would be awesome if you could catch one of our shows: June 23 at 4th Pres at 12:10pm (FREE), or June 25 at Constellation at 8:30pm ($10).

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PercussionMind Revealed at PASIC 2017!

 Woohoo, y'all!!
On behalf of the Percussive Arts Society, I am pleased to invite you to participate in the 42 annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC® 2017) in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year, PASIC® will take place Wednesday, November 8 through Saturday, November 11 at the Indiana Convention Center. Your Professional Development proposal, “PercussionMind: The Mental Performance Habits of Today's Top Percussionists...and Where You Fit In,” has been accepted to be presented at PASIC17!
I am beyond excited that a current passion project, PercussionMind, will be revealed this year at PASIC.  If you want a quick summary of what it is, and learn about my collaborator, Mike Cerreto, check out the tab in the menu bar above. :)

PercussionMind is inspired by that long thought-journey taken as a young adult as you wonder what, exactly, suits you best in the professional music realm.  Here's a jaunt through my personal story:

In early undergrad, I thought I wanted to be an orchestral timpanist, as I loved playing timpani with a group; but, once I realized I couldn't tolerate the process of practicing excerpts, I learned that wasn't for me.  Then, I thought I wanted to have my own college studio and go straight through school, including a DMA; but, once I realized that my passions are a bit wider than only percussion, I learned that wasn't a good fit, at least directly.  I tried competitions as a soloist, thinking that would boost my confidence and provide a platform, only to learn that you are most successful in those situations when you no longer need them.

It feels important to say that right now, as an Instructor of Percussion at JMU (a part time position), I've stepped into a niche that allows me to challenge myself and students, all while sharing that in which I'm fluent and growing in that which has fallen by the wayside.

There are many reasons I've developed into a person who's highly reflective and observant (that's another post entirely!!), but suffice it to say that I've always been interested in practices that encourage wholeness of an individual, a commitment to "true-ness" in all actions.  A career, at least to me, is a natural extension of this desire.  So, it's no surprise that when I met a Performing Arts Psychologist I couldn't stop asking him questions.

Before Mike Cerreto became my collaborator, discussions started with wondering about whether or not there were certain mental habits that one needs to be successful in the professional percussion realm.  Naturally, there are behavioral ones: diligent practice, discipline, focus, and commitment.  But what about those things that are vital and inescapable to our inner worlds: self-evaluation, emotional distraction, intellectual worth, pressure preference, and extro/introversion?

It was these questions that we wanted to answer, and so, PercussionMind was born.

We are forever grateful to 28 professionals who volunteered their time in order to create this study.  Without them, PercussionMind wouldn't be possible.  They come from four performance domains/career paths:
          International Soloists,
          Orchestral Players,
          Distinguished Higher Ed Teachers, and
          Diverse Path-Makers.

Our analysis thus far shows that though there are certain traits all paths have in common, such as long-term focus, there are others that differ from domain to domain.  It's these differences that are of particular interest to us, mostly because they hold the most meaning for anyone who seeks to gain insight about their own mental habits, and how they can best be put to use.

PercussionMind is interactive, insightful, imaginative, and above all, important.  There's perhaps nothing more important than having an understanding and respect for yourself and your mind, and how they will help you fulfill your musical goals.

I look forward to sharing developments of PercussionMind with you little by little between now and November.  And when the time comes, Mike and I both hope we'll see you at our session at PASIC:
PercussionMind: The Mental Performance Habits of Today's Top Percussionists...and Where You Fit In.

Oh, and... May the fourth be with you. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Marimba Body: Thumbs


Without them who knows how we'd play our instruments.

Interest in the relationship between the hand, wrist, and thumb began a few years ago when I took piano lessons to refine my technique. (As similar as piano and percussion are in theory, there's much less crossover than I mistakenly thought and hoped.)  
Anyway, something my mentor said was when the thumb isn't being used it should relax towards the rest of the hand and fingers.  Sure, may sound obvious, but in the throes of playing - piano or percussion - it's easy to forget little things like this. 

Brain: Play a broken 13 over 7, across 6 surfaces...crescendo...oh, right. THUMB.
End Scene

Thumbs that are mis-mapped, working more than they should, or working when they don't need to contribute to funny aches, pains, and numbness that can get mistaken for carpal tunnel.  

Just like all other subjects in the Marimba Body series, how we relate to the structure and movement design of the thumb is evident in the effectiveness of technique and absence or presence of discomfort.

Skeletal Structure


From the fingertips, the bones of the hand are the phalanges (3 in the index-pinky fingers; 2 in the thumb), metacarpals (5 of them - one for each finger), and the carpals, which articulate the wrist joint.  Disclaimer about the diagram: the ulna doesn't actually contact the carpals. There's space between.
While the metacarpals of the four fingers are within our palm, the metacarpal of the thumb aligns outside it, giving the digit a much larger range of motion and greater independence than the others.  You can try to feel the length of that metacarpal with your fingertips: anything that moves around is a tendon, but if you imagine the shape of the bone as you feel, you might be able to get a sense of how far down that metacarpal goes.

Ligaments and Tendons

Ligaments connect bone to bone, and are unbelievably strong: bones break before ligaments break, if that's any indication.

The two drawings above are of a right hand: upper left shows posterior (back of the hand), bottom right shows anterior (palm).  The labels of ligaments are too small to read, but that's ok for our purposes, as we just need to look at them.  

Ligaments above are drawn as white bands.  Along each finger they connect phalanges to one another and to the respective metacarpal.  Notice how much thicker they appear to be on the palm side of the hand; really, this makes sense considering the muscle is located here.  
Very important is the ligament running horizontally across the metacarpals of the index-pinky fingers.  This Deep Transverse Metacarpal ligament shapes the top of the palm.  
Physiologically, it stabilizes the palm and makes the job of our small hand muscles easier: imagine if we had to control each finger from the wrist rather than the top of the palm - talk about carpal tunnel and injuries.

There's obviously something that keeps the thumb connected to the palm, and that's the job of muscles and tendons.

Above, tendons are white and muscle tissue is red.  Looking at the thumb, it's clear that its phalangeal length contains no actual muscle, only tendons, ligaments, and bone. (Well, and veins and stuff, but that's not the point right now.)  The vast majority of muscle within the hand that moves our thumb is on the anterior side, near the wrist. We all remember aches there in school as we furiously took notes. Guitar and string players are probably keenly aware of this muscle, and tend to have the largest bulge there of all musicians.  

Knowing the location of muscle is key in determining if the body is being used correctly.  If you try to move your thumb from a muscle you imagine to be at its second knuckle, you will quickly get sore, as there's no muscle there to move, only tendon to swell.

This diagram shows flexor muscles that help move the thumb toward the palm. If you try, you can feel the muscles working all the way up your forearm.  Similarly, to extend the thumb up or stretch it away from the palm involves muscles of the forearm, though not all are shown here. 

To isolate thumb movement as something that only happens in the digit itself is misleading, and, for a professional musician, dangerous. 

Habit to Avoid 

One of the main culprits of pain at the base of the thumb is keeping it outstretched for long periods of time.  Though I encountered this problem first on piano, it applies to 4-mallet playing, too.  This post, by pianist Graham Fitch, is really enlightening when it comes to causes of thumb injury.It takes more energy to hold a large interval than it does a small one. And depending on how you habitually work your thumbs, your own "default" interval may tell you whether or not you are overworking the thumb.  If your "default" is larger than a 4th or 5th, you're probably overworking the thumb.  This is visually more relevant to cross-grip players.  

Since the mechanism for Musser and Stevens grips is different from the cross grips, thumb issues there are more about locking joints than overworking.  For example, a thumb whose tip points up towards the player - ie: hitchhiker thumb - is overstretching the anterior ligament between the phalanges and compressing the tendon on the posterior side. Eventually, numbness may set in as a result.  

Another place thumbs can cause trouble is in hand-drumming.  Slamming the thumb down on the rim of a conga is quite unpleasant, and so we talk at length about finger/hand position.  It bogs us down and locks us up rather than encouraging the free feeling innate to hand drumming.  Relax the thumb towards the palm, align the wrist, and away we go.

Normal Variants

From person to person there are many variants in the size and characteristics of thumbs.  Some of us have "toe thumbs" with wide tips, others have narrow tips, some are thin and willowy and others are rather stocky.  None of this is weird: it all falls within the category of normal variants, or arbitrary differences between us that don't affect quality of use.  Other examples are hair and eye color.  

I have a theory, though, that these idiosyncrasies are some of the things that determine nuances of our own technique, or even what technique best suits a player. For example, I have really long thumbs.  They don't move better or worse than short thumbs, they're just long.  Normal variant = long thumb
The first 4-mallet grip I learned was Stevens, but in comparing my hands to photos in MOM it didn't look right, and I was somehow stretching my index finger out too far.  Well, guess what, y'all, when ya got long thumbs, the only way to make a fulcrum is to outstretch an index finger. 

Check it out:

thumb length forces the index to partially extend

longer thumb makes securing an interval easier

This stretching really taxed the small muscles in my hand, and made playing something I wanted to do but never enjoyed due to discomfort.  In trying to make my hands match someone else's in form rather than function, I started to compress and lock joints in my hand.  My long thumbs don't make me a bad player - in fact, they make big intervals easier, to a certain degree - but they did tell me, through discomfort, that they were more suited to a cross grip.  It's that easy, and that non-controversial.  A 3-finger fulcrum suits me better, too, all because it more closely maintains a relaxed hand/thumb relationship.  

Our normal variants are the things that make us unique, and, I believe, contribute to our personal sound.  They are things to be embraced, not to wish were different or manipulate into working a different way than designed.  

I'd love to know if others out there have changed technique or adjusted a current one to fit idiosyncrasies, too.  Consider it a bit of informal research - I'd like to report on this for our podcast in the coming weeks!