The Facts of Life – David Leisner at West Dean

David big head
When I first met David Leisner, he was helping guitarists to get over focal dystonia. He stayed and taught at my house, and was the first person to offer real hope to many guitarists who were suddenly struck by the focal dystonia. He had been through it himself and had subjected himself to all manner of therapies before working out a way through before any permanent damage was done. He is a very patient and encouraging teacher.

David and GG W Dean

David Leisner and GG

David and Marcin Dylla W Dean

David and Marcin Dylla

David teaching W Dean

David teaching

Now, he is back on form as one of the most innovative guitarists around, with a beautiful sound, solid technique and unerring musicianship.
He is also an exciting composer, hence an early epithet of “Triple-Threat performer, composer and teacher” bestowed by the New York Times.

Here is a revealing interview I did with him at this year’s West Dean Summer school, where he talks about dystonia, David del Tredici and performing. Shortly after this, he went on tour in China, where it seems he was a big hit.

Here is a link to his latest CD, Facts of Life featuring music by Bach, David del Tredici, and Golijov

Slow down! Rachmaninoff’s Way

I have recently rediscovered the importance of having the right hand returning to a relaxed neutral position after each effort and also picked up Pepe Romero’s tips on playing picado, tremolo and rasgueado.
Very important information presented in a concise manner. (He is also sporting rather fetching shorts)





The following article in Practising the Piano really brings these ideas home. Extremely important for recovering focal dystonics who are retraining their hands!

If you’re serious about playing the piano, there’s no getting away from slow practice. It is a cornerstone of our work from the beginner stages right through to the advanced level, and a practice tool also used by professional pianists and seasoned virtuosos all the time. In this post, I aim to help you not only realise the importance of careful, accurate slow work but also to enjoy it fully!

I have noticed some folk think they should be beyond slow practice – that’s only something beginners do. Far from it! In Abram Chasins’ wonderful book Speaking of Pianists, the author describes a time he showed up for a lesson with Rachmaninov and overhead him practising – but so slowly that he didn’t recognise the piece at first. I know I have used this quotation before, but I am going to use it again because it speaks volumes about how a great pianist used ultra-slow practice for a work he was maintaining (not learning) to keep it spick and span:

Rachmaninov was a dedicated and driven perfectionist. He worked incessantly, with infinite patience. Once I had an appointment to spend an afternoon with him in Hollywood. Arriving at the designated hour of twelve, I heard an occasional piano sound as I approached the cottage. I stood outside the door, unable to believe my ears. Rachmaninov was practising Chopin’s etude in thirds, but at such a snail’s pace that it took me a while to recognise it be- cause so much time elapsed between one finger stroke and the next. Fascinated, I clocked this re- markable exhibition: twenty seconds per bar was his pace for almost an hour while I waited riveted to the spot, quite unable to ring the bell. Perhaps this way of developing and maintaining an unerring mechanism accounted for his bitter sarcasm toward colleagues who practised their programmes ‘once over lightly’ between concerts. (Chasins, Abram. 1967. Speaking of Pianists. New York: Knopf, 44.)”

Continue reading here….

Jorge Caballero on mistakes and interpretation Interview 3


When I was at the Iserlohn Guitar Symposium this summer, I was happy to see Jorge Caballero again, and managed to spend some time picking his incredible brain on subjects such as technique, learning, focal dystonia and why he chose to transcribe a very difficult Mozart Sonata for solo guitar. The interview is in three parts, but unfortunately the camera ran out of steam during the third part, so this ends with Jorge playing “Malaga” from Iberia by Albeniz. This is from his stunning concert at the Goldsaal Schauburg, Iserlohn this year.

Jorge Caballero on Focal Dystonia Interview 2

Jorge CaballeroWhen I was at the Iserlohn Guitar Symposium this summer, I was happy to see Jorge Caballero again, and managed to spend some time picking his incredible brain on subjects such as technique, learning, focal dystonia and why he chose to transcribe a very difficult Mozart Sonata for solo guitar. The interview is in three parts, but unfortunately the camera ran out of steam during the third part. However, what there is is still fascinating and gives an insight into the mind and method  of one of the great guitarists and musical thinkers of the 21st century.

Jorge Caballero on technique Interview 1

Jorge Caballero

When I was at the Iserlohn Guitar Symposium this summer, I was happy to see Jorge Caballero again, and managed to spend some time picking his incredible brain on subjects such as technique, learning, focal dystonia and why he chose to transcribe a very difficult Mozart Sonata for solo guitar. The interview is in three parts, but unfortunately the camera ran out of steam during the third part. However, what there is is still fascinating and gives an insight into the mind and method  of one of the great guitarists and musical thinkers of the 21st century.

Chinese meditation IBMT prompts double positive punch in brain white matter (eh?)

This interesting observation from the University of Oregon means something like this:

Scientists studying the Chinese mindfulness meditation known as integrative body-mind training (IBMT) say they’ve confirmed and expanded their findings on changes in structural efficiency of white matter in the brain that can be related to positive behavioral changes in subjects practicing the technique regularly for a month.

So this might be a good way to reprogram me those bad habits and possibly even Focal Dystonia, as it seems that real physical changes happen in the brain’s white matter.
As you can see from this brief explanation of IBMT, there is much overlap with Body Mapping.
There are measurable increases in axon density and myelin formation after 11 weeks of meditation.
Neural plasticity change is the key here. It is a term that refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury. So the brain is no longer seen as a static object.

Read all about it here

The Poised Guitarist

My first experience of mapping was failing to connect with a bar stool which wasn’t where I thought it was. Many of us have a misconception of how our joints connect and where an action starts from. The Alexander teacher Barbara Conable has done extensive research and written books on the subject of body mapping.

A while ago I wrote an article about focal dystonia and mentioned Jerald Harscher, a guitarist and teacher with whom I had an enlightening session on Skype (even though I was beginning to feel self conscious about the spelling of my name when talking to him.)

Apostolos Paraskevas Recovery from Focal Dystonia

My friend Apostolos Paraskevas has written two articles on recovery from Focal Dystonia.
He was very excited about his recovery and will be happy to share with anyone after the publication of the articles in Classical Guitar magazine.
There will be more about this most common and distressing syndrome amongst many professional guitarists.
Apostolos says:

 I was struck almost overnight by focal dystonia (FD) to my right hand after a concert. Continue reading

Forging Perseverance – Focal Dystonia and Loving Patience

Here is an article I wrote some time ago now – it may resonate with some guitarists who have suffered from a non-painful but debilitating syndrome called “focal dystonia”.

Continue reading