Dear Mr. Friedland,

I just read you response to a question about right wrist pain on Mark Charette’s Woodwind clarinet page. I’m a junior in high school with hopes of a career in music. I love playing the clarinet! However, I was recently diagnosed with tendonitis in my right wrist. It got pretty bad, and I was forced to rest in a cast for 7 weeks. (However, you can maintain embouchure by just playing on the mouthpiece, and memorizing pieces can still be accomplished by looking at your music carefully while listening to recordings. :O) Anyway, the cast has come off, and I am enjoying playing again. But the pain is back. I have a neck strap that I am using faithfully. I am doing shorter more frequent practice sessions rather than “marathon” sessions, as my teacher calls them. :o) But as a full time high school student with a part time job, time is limited. Do you have any suggestions? I would appreciate any help I can get.

Thank you so much!


Hi Becky:

You know, we all have problems learning to play the clarinet, throughout our lives. I think somewhere within my articles there is one related to the strange “DeQuairvains Syndrome” I had in my left wrist. It got more and more painful just to move the fingers of the left hand, and the thumb was really quite awful. I bought all kinds of braces, then tried gloves for arthritis (I thought it could be that, and it may have been, because the tight gloves, which made my fingers warm actually helped). During my retirement concert I had to perform on my Mazzeo-system clarinet, a fine Selmer Paris clarinet, the Mazzeo-system being a fingering configuration which minimized left hand moving. That was a help as well. However nothing really took the pain away. In retrospect, I suppose had I rested the hand for a month or some long period of time, I might have gotten rid of it, but I finally had the operation … a very minimal cutting of a tendon by a plastic surgeon and after a few days it was fine. What happens, according to the surgeon, is that there is not enough room in the wrist to house all the “wires” in there, so it becomes inflamed and it hurts. When the tendon is cut, extra tissue is grown …scar tissue, so the space is opened and you have more or less permanent relief.

But your problem is not that. And I believe I know the solution: This is a true story. I had a doctoral student who began to experience pain in his RIGHT hand. I checked his finger and hand position, saw nothing incorrect, and after many sessions, sent him to my doctor. My doctor is not a musician … and frankly I often wondered if he had any real insight … but he solved the problem for my student very easily and quickly.

The student had to bring the clarinet and play for my doc. In about five to ten seconds he had found the problem, and here is the solution for you, Becky and for all of you who chance to see this.

My doctor said, “It is obvious. You have to lower you thumb rest.” The student brought the clarinet in to the music-repair store and had new holes drilled so as to lower the thumbrest … and that was the end of the problem!

Of course that may NOT be your particular problem, however it will cost you nothing to try. OR, you may purchase one of the many adjustable thumbrests available which may also help.

Please remember that logically, any change in the position of that right hand will or should change everything. So the pain may or should subside.

Or you may have been wrongly diagnosed. Rest in a cast should have done it. If the pain came back, there may be some damage … or then again, change your hand position somewhat … a very small change will help enormously, or can.

Right hand problems can also frequently be alleviated by the use of a thumbrest that another student told me about: Do you know those milk containers that one finds in a school lunchroom, the great big things that you put your glass under when you get your lunch? They have a rubber-like spigot on the end which they change whenever they change the milk container. Get them to cut you a piece about an inch or two long. It will fit on your thumbrest, and because of its softness and extra length it CAN give you the extra support which may be needed.

Please let me know if any of the above help. The clarinet is sometimes more difficult than just practise. One more thing, THINK slowly and carefully about every or any movement you make. That in itself will center you on the problem, and should help as well. DO NOT obsess (think about nothing else), a few minutes a day will help.

The last thing is DECIDE WHAT YOU WILL PRACTISE AT EACH SESSION. PRACTISE NO MORE THAN YOUR DECISION … don’t doodle around playing nothing. That can be a waste of time.

Best of all good luck for the new year.


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