Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Pain in the neck

First up this is not a "woe is me, feel sorry for me", no not at all!  I wanted to talk about this because it took me many years to understand and learn a few things hopefully you won't have to do the same!

Question: JAW's neck...can you spot the problem?

So I used to be a pretty keen cyclist, and noticed after my 20km cycle to work down my left arm would go numb/tingly, and my shoulder blade on the left side always felt a achy.  I had worked out early on that if I lay on a cricket ball or similar on the achy spot for a while, the "pressure point" would relax and it would come good for a while.  But it always came back.  And it was slowly getting worse.

I went and saw a physio and he identified it as some sort of neck injury, where the nerves coming out the left side of my neck were being impinged up.  He had me do an MRI and the report came back as some deterioration in the vertebrae disc and osteophytes present - also known as "bone spurs".  He said "surgeons won't want to touch it, it's spinal surgery. If you couldn't move your arm and were in pain all the time then they would, but at the moment you are okay."

I stopped cycling and although it didn't go away (bones don't "go away") it was far more manageable. Lay on a cricket ball once a week, the shoulder is only a dull ache, get on with life.

A few years go by, I ask, in passing, any doctors and surgeons that I meet about grinding bone spurs out of neck and they all said the same thing - don't do it unless you have to.

Then one day my daughter is seeing a chiropractor and getting good results, for a lark I sign up as well, "a check up".  I mention the neck thing, he insists I get an xray. And the xray showed the problem to me far better than the MRI and he was able to explain it to me quite clearly.

For some reason (they always suspect an injury like a car accident but I couldn't remember anything) the disk between my C6 and C7 neck vertebrae has thinned, and the bones at the rear have been rubbing.   Road bike cycling would _not_ have helped that, nor does painting a ceiling!  When bones rub they decide to grow more bone, and that has restricted the path for the nerves that run out the side of your neck down your arm. That particular nerve deals with the outside of your arm, left pinky and ring finger, that sort of region.  So when the nerve is being impinged you get this "referred nerve pain" in those areas.  Meanwhile, my neck and shoulders and back realise that something is going wrong and then tense up "to hold the problem stable/in place", so I have aching muscles.

Answer: C6-C7 vertebrae has thinned, bones have
rubbed on bone and produced two bone spur spikey
looking things, the hole where the nerves come
out doesn't have as much room as it should.

The good news is that some exercises really help!  For instance, if you have a stretchy rubber band, hold it between your hands with your elbows by your side, standing nice and straight, move your hands away from each other and then back, keeping your elbows by your side, do that until you fatigue, wait 30 seconds, then do half the amount you previously did. This works wonders for me! Basically it tightens up some back muscles (we are generally too hunched - back muscles are weak and stretched) and this opens up the nerve passage, less impingement. Laying on the cricket ball pressure points those sort muscles that are always tense, lets them relax.  When the physios and chiros do "dry needling" that works great for me, better than the cricket ball.

Long term it is just about management. Keeping a good range of movement in the neck, building up the muscles that hold your posture in a better position for less impingement. Maybe one day it will get really bad and I will have to consider surgery - I don't like that idea, I'd hate to recover and discover my left hand pink doesn't work properly anymore!  I'll take an achy back anytime over loss of function.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Fingerstyle Arrangement Dynamic Balance

I follow a number of fingerstyle arrangers, and I do tend to focus on cover arrangements, particularly pop and rock classics. It is interesting to see other's takes on songs, and always interesting when they cover the same songs I cover.  I get so many extra ideas to throw back into my arrangements!  But sometimes I see a cover and I just can't get into it, and it largely comes down to, for want of a better term, dynamic balance.

First up I'm self taught so I have zero musical credibility; this is coming from my ear. Dynamics are how we get that extra edge of emotion into our playing, sets us apart from the robots, and that's good! But dynamics have to be balanced. A song, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has clear dynamics - there's a quiet section, then there's a thrashy section. Your fingerstyle arrangement should capture that. But sometimes I see dynamics that shouldn't be there. An example would be playing a part of a song with a pick (euw) and then the next part with your fingers...unless there is a call for extreme dynamics you shouldn't do that to keep the song balanced.

I recently saw Gabby Quevedo cover "4 Non Blondes - What's Up" and she did some strumming then played some fingerstyle, sorry, it didn't work for me! It put the song dynamically out of balance; putting dynamics where there shouldn't be.  See it here Gabby does great arrangements so this one surprised me. Phil Jakes does similar "unbalanced" arrangements from time to time and even the unstoppable arranging legend Kelly Valleau does too. I've seen it elsewhere so it's probably just me, I've done it myself once or twice and never been happy with the result.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself very well here, what do you think?

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Something revisted

It's kinda nice when you revisit a song you haven't played for a while and then get right into it. It tells me that I still enjoy my "back catalogue", even if I haven't played a piece for many months if not years, that I can still get passionate about a song I was once passionate about. Such happened with the well-covered yet quite beautiful "Something" by George Harrison/The Beatles as transcribed/rearranged from Naudo. I found myself adding a bit more McCartney bass to it and dusting off the expression. So much so that I just recorded the first verse of it on my Zoom H1N. Here, have a listen:

Something Revisited:

Give me some interest and I will update the tab for it and post on Patreon!

See how it has changed from 2010:

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Another broken nail

Cracked my right thumbnail a few weeks back. Argh. I use my left hand a lot for a right hander, to avoid breaking nails, but from time to time you break one.  This time was right on the part I pluck from, top of the nail to below the skin line. Around a 5-6 week grow out I reckoned.  Too long!  I'm not ready to go fingernail free just now!

So out came the trusty super glue. Yeah, standard, cheap, super glue. If you haven't mangled the nail, if it is just torn, put some super glue in the tear, apply a little bit of pressure and it will join straight back on, tough as! Put a little extra on the join like nail polish, let it dry out. The surface-to-surface contact joints will dry in seconds, but air drying superglue on a surface will take fifteen to thirty minutes.  Kick back, don't fiddle with it, be patient.

If you don't put too much stress on it, it will stay joined until it has grown out.  Lasted a week easy, then tore again. Applied more superglue.  Lasted another week, tore again.  More superglue. Lasted a further week, decided to give up at that point and cut it back to the start of the tear - which was 3 weeks growth, so not terrible.

When you don't want to cut off a nail at the base because you tore it - super glue is your friend!

Friday, 21 May 2021

facebook advertising

I learnt something about facebook last month. We all know that it makes money with advertisements, and the targeting of those ads is uncanny in its accuracy.

I have been involved with a children's string orchestra for 5 years now, and recruiting has increasingly been an issue.  When I started there were 55 students, at the start of this year we were down to 26. Yikes! Covid-19 didn't help, and one of our conductors retired, and there are more competing orchestras these days. I felt I wasn't not doing enough, but the numbers had been waning before I was involved - in its heyday it had 80 students and they would turn people away because they were full.

We had a website. We posted on social media. We handed out flyers. We spoke to music teachers. We advertised in school newsletters. We told everyone to spread the word - I found most new students arrived by word of mouth.

We were below the number of students required to remain viable, we were getting close to shutting down.  One of the new committee members said "let's boost a post on facebook."  We posted on facebook fairly regularly, with photos, and videos, and contact details. It didn't seem to have any effect. "It will be around $50 to boost a post for a month, we can target people in the area who are interested in music tuition/school/community". Worth a try, what have we got to lose. Even if we only had one or two enquiries and maybe it led to one new recruit, it would pay for itself.  I made a little promo video, we posted it and then boosted the post.

Well. In the first week we had around 5-6 enquiries, and that continued for the next few weeks. We've had 8 applications come in so far, and have already had 5 successful auditionees, with a few more auditions to come.

Who knew that throwing a fifty to facebook was that powerful.  If I had have known I would have done it years ago. Take note - if you are looking to attract more attention to something you have to offer.