pelvic floor strength - is there hope?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by ten left thumbs, Oct 27, 2017.

  1. Please please be nice if replying, because I don't find this easy to write.

    I played cornet as a kid, and while I wasn't brilliant, I did sit in the front row in the school band and high C's were not utterly impossible for me.

    After a break of some decades I have come back to playing, and while I love playing, I have found it an uphill struggle all along, and general stamina and ability to play high notes is utterly lacking. I have spent years with G (space above the staff) as my highest playable note and I just can't get higher. I am making progress, with a teacher, on E's and F's.

    I have always breathed well (since childhood) and I don't use too much mouthpiece pressure.

    A while ago I worked out that pelvic floor strength was a major issue. Not completely surprising at my age, and, I've had kids (with accompanying birth injuries, I was previously a midwife, so I have some idea what happened to me). I took up pilates and I do this regularly, and this has been good for these muscles. However I still know if I don't engage them, I mean really really engage them deliberately before a note, anything above D or E, my bladder muscles just won't cope. The higher the note, the more muscle power I need to, ahem, stay dry.

    (I did say this was difficult to write).

    My teacher has noticed (bless him) that I get all tense when preparing for a high note. Well, I think some muscles make me tense all over, and I'm not entirely in control of that, I just don't want to wee over his lovely carpet. I don't find it desperately easy to discuss this with ... a man.

    Going back to midwifery experience, I know I'm not the only one to experience this, and I think brass playing is a pretty stiff test of pelvic muscle strength. If having kids means I can't expect to play above a G, then I'm ok with that, and given the choice, I'd stick with the kids. But I would like to know.

    Has anyone else dealt with this, successfully or unsuccessfully?
  2. GER

    GER Active Member

    Hi, sorry, I can't offer any advice on how to treat your problem, but just to say you are not on your own. I am a 60 yr old male, returning after 15 years away, and find that a trip to the bathroom before I start practise/rehearsal/concert/contest is the best thing to do. Whilst I have never 'overflowed' it has been close on a couple of occasions, so now it is part of my routine to ensure my bladder is as empty as it can be before playing, and judging by the use the wc's get I am not the only one.
    It is distracting, and can severely dent your confidence, there are products which can deal with any 'overflow', if my problem gets any worse I would seriously consider using them, as I'm sure most would agree, you need to feel good to play at your best.
    Just for info I have been checked and my prostrate is swollen-nothing more
    Hope this helps, and I agree it is difficult to write about it
  3. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Some rather general comments on what is a sensitive topic.

    When someone suffers in the way that you two have then I would have thought that a conversation or two with a Consulant at your local Hospital was in order. Better to check out and understand why what’s going on is going on, as far as that is practical. My apologies if you have already done that.

    People suffer with lots of different personal type things so please don’t feel that you are the ‘only one’ who has a particular ailment. Banding does throw a diverse group of people together, once you get to know your fellow band members better it’s suprising what sorrows, hardships and difficulties they quietly manage. Again my apologies if that is something that you are already well aware of.

    Some folk do strain to get the higher notes and others don’t, I used to find lots of different muscles straining and now it is less so. I’m not certain why that is but just suggest that it might be due to changes in technique over time, perhaps note production technique changes might help focus the correct muscles and leave the others undisturbed? Tom King has written some really good posts about playing technique so a search of his posts and a PM might point you towards some answers. In the meantime good luck and congratulations on having the courage to raise a difficult topic.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2017
  4. TrumpetNick

    TrumpetNick Member

    Now, though my situation is different, the cure may be similar. I recently got inguinal hernia, which is not a surprise for a brass player, but it is also kind of a family thing (my brother had one, my grandfather had one and my father died because of incorrect treatment for twisted intestines)

    While waiting for surgery treatment (which is due to happen for me in 7-10 days) I had to find a way to 'reform' my breathing in order to avoid further harm or complications. I came on my own with something that lead trumpeters happen to identify as 'wedge' breathing. Basically is taking a small diafragmic breath than moving the air towards the chest before using it for playing. The base line is, that air compression doesn't happen only down there, but also in the chest as well as in the mouth (as in permanent breathing). You can (at least in theory) compensate for one of the failing components. I advise you to look up the videos (trumpet) of my teacher, Larry Meregilano. You can look him up on youtube or facebook, I am sure that you can find there something useful for yourself.
  5. Fettler

    Fettler Member

    Google stress incontinence - an issue for lady weight lifters, including many young with no kids. There maybe some answers there.
  6. TrumpetNick

    TrumpetNick Member

    There are answers, but they may be confusing, which is why I didn't precisely comment on any treatment - there are some treatments, including yoga exercises, but I have no idea how relevant and effective they are. This is work for a qualified person who can eventually see her, or have a more detailed conversation about her symptoms and complains.
  7. Fettler

    Fettler Member

    You're a bloke mate. The female stress incontinence thing is probably different so I'm not surprised you found the answers confusing.
  8. Thankyou one and all for not laughing at me.

    GER, thankyou for replying and sharing your experiences. You've been checked out, which is good, and I should too. I hope you were pointed in the direction of exercises to help. Of course it's not just a 'women's thing', thought sometimes it might feel like that to me. Bottom line, these are muscles we need to get working for us. If they are weak, they won't get any stronger by themselves.

    2nd tenor - I would certainly say I 'strain' for higher notes - at least just now. I am working with my teacher on this. Maybe, as with many things, it can get easier once you can already do it. I will check out Tom King's posts.

    Trumpet Nick, my best wishes to you for your upcoming surgery. The wedge breathing certainly sounds interesting. One of the strange thing about pilates is they insist on breathing laterally, into the ribs (you feel like you're breathing into the spaces below the armpits). Very strange, but it does make you aware of all the spaces there are. But I feel: top, bottom, front, back, right and left - these are the dimensions of the space, and they all have to work together for air flow. That space is only as strong as its weakest point. Like a balloon, or a chain, it breaks at the weakest point, and then all the rest doesn't matter. I will check out Larry M.
    2nd tenor likes this.
  9. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    It is brave of you to discuss a matter like this in a forum such as this. of course many aspects of health have an impact on things we do. One of our problems as healthcare professionals is that we often do not take the advice that we would give (and I am guilty of this myself) . What would you recommend to another woman with this problem? I am sure it would include a visit to her GP, possibly an obstetric physiotherapist or a uro-gynaecologist. To answer your question, there is hope, but it is probably not found here, I wish you all the best
    TrumpetNick likes this.
  10. Thankyou, pbirch. I did make a GP appointment today, though I'm not really holding out for any radical fix.

    What I have done is googled some more exercises including ones which involve blowing up balloons in all sorts of positions, and trying to do it right, that is engaging the right muscles and not the wrong ones. (I think the standard pelvic floor exercises we give out are necessary, but not nearly sufficient). I've also been trying to do the same when blowing notes at my challenge line, engage the right muscles and not the wrong ones. I've also been doing the pen exercise as described by Larry M, which counts for me as double-purpose exercise.

    Possibly more important, I've been feeling a bit less - er -emotional about it. I mean, people have all sorts of problems, it's as big a problem as I make it.
    2nd tenor likes this.
  11. TrumpetNick

    TrumpetNick Member

    Make sure you correct any body use issues, such as posture, breathing, alignment etc. Alexander technique or yoga instruction may be very helpful.
  12. TrumpetNick

    TrumpetNick Member

    One more thing - range and endurance are different skills but mostly depend on correct body use, embouchure setup and compression. To enhance and improve those, you can use...Clarke or Arban, which is hardly a surprise. But with a different approach - Play a whole page without rest (you can start by half of a page if too challenging) in the softest dynamic possible, but trying to get the best sound possible (if you sound rough at the beginning is not a big deal, just try to improve). Don't take the mouthpiece out of your lips for the time being - Carmine Caruso type of approach (practicing breath attacks may help as well).

    Here is an extreme example (whisper tones)
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2017
  13. An update: Since posting I have seen a doctor who referred me to the physio, I'm not holding my breath for an appointment, but it will happen at some point. The doc said the exercises were best done under 'supervision', so I'm trying not to think too hard about what that might entail.

    Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, I may have had a breakthrough based on something I came across while googling. There was a website by a physio who had had problems after giving birth, can't find it now. Anyway, the most important thing she said was, don't do the buttock-clenching thing, it draws the muscles away from where they're needed. Lightbulb moment - that is exactly what I had been doing, not really realizing I was doing it! duh. I had been an extra layer of defence. But, simply the knowledge that I shouldn't, has made me focus very hard on, for example, sneezing without crossing my legs. Instead, I have to trust the proper muscles. Which has been jolly hard after, erm, decades of not trusting them. But actually all that pilates has done its job, and I'm actually OK. :)

    So, working on the principle that our bodies work mostly on ingrained habit, and habits take time to change, I tried to change daily habits, before then applying to cornet. I am now working on blowing G's (which is my highest note this century) without doing the buttock-clenching. And it actually works. This takes all my focus - embouchure and breathing can go to pot as long as I get the below-the-waist stuff working properly. This has been such a relevation! :)

    I am posting in case this help anyone else.
    2nd tenor, Tom-King and pbirch like this.
  14. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    Good for you! I hope your physio appt doesn’t take too long and that it sorts out your problems. I think though, that the most important message is that health issues are best dealt with by professionals rather than the internet and sooner rather than later. Again, I wish you all the best with your playing and everything else
    David Evans likes this.
  15. TrumpetNick

    TrumpetNick Member

    That's hardly surprising TLT, but it is nevertheless good news. Musicians have worked with all kind of disabilities by finding a way around. Keep on trying.
  16. Thankyou both. Pbirch - indeed, professionals are there for a reason! :)
    TrumpetNick likes this.
  17. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Thank you for sharing your experience, I hope that it is a help to others with health problems.

    A word of reservation on professionals and the potential for us to put them at some god like level - sorry to say that I’ve met the occasional one that behaves like they are too. They are human, are faliable and occasionally don’t get things perfect, and to be fair who does get everything spot on every time. Indeed trust the professionals but from my recent experience (when the trainee, assisted by a specialist internet resource, made a correct diagnosis whilst their supervising GP didn’t) it’s wise to politely question and get supporting information when you can.

    Good luck and all the best. 2T.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2017
  18. Yes indeed, I wouldn't argue with that!

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