caffeine and problems in the left hand

September 15, 2019, 8:54 AM · hello everyone,

I would like to share my thoughts and give a warning regarding the influence of caffeine on performance.
The main reason is that i did an experiment, and have discovered that caffeine seems to provoke problems with my left hand that look a bit like the problems of people with so called: focal dystonia.
Because caffeine influences the central nervous system, and focal dystonia appeared to be a problem with the central nervous system, this raised for me the question if (some) people having focal dystonia, may actually have their problems due to caffeine!
Because i had a vague suspicion that caffeine had a negative effect on the muscle control of my left hand, i did a little experiment; playing a scale early in the morning before my first cup of coffee, and than playing exactly the same about one hour later, after the coffee. I was very surprised to discover that my suspicion seemed to be right!

The problems i experience i can descripe the best as a loss of motor control: fingers getting less fluent in their motion and more reluctant to command; sometimes even blocking, missing notes in (fast) passages/scales, and poorer intonation.
It feels like the agonist and antogonistic muscles are contracting together, causing a sort of cramp.
To compensate for this cramp, i tend to raise my fingers (involuntary) higher from the fingerboard, and make larger movements than i actually want; leading to clumsiness, loss of velocity, and making the fingers/arm tired sooner, causing a even greater loss of velocity and control.
From my experimentation, i noticed that there might be a exponential link to the dosage of caffeine, and the influence it has. Meaning that a small dosages give only a very slight disturbance, but the higher the dosage, the more obvious the disturbance is getting.
Of course, everyone is different and reacts differently, so this is not a plea against the use of caffeine for violinists. Caffeine has also good effects that are well known that can be positive for performance: making/keeping us awake and alert.
But to give an indication how it affects me:
I can still play with having one morning coffee, (although a little disturbance is already noticable) but getting a second coffee gives already some serious problems. I don't mind with that if i just have to practise and i feel like taking a second cup to be more focused on my practise, but of course, i do mind with giving concerts, recordings, etc.
If anyone have experienced the same kind of problem i described; give this a thought; listen to how your body reacts, it might help you a lot. Good luck!

Replies (5)

September 15, 2019, 10:51 AM · I practice every morning and am a coffee and tea addict but the only ill-effects which I experienced is a jitteriness in both hands when the caffeine starts coursing through which although I am aware of it I do not think a listener would notice it. I practice an hour before work and the coffee is a necessary evil to rouse my brain from the perfect world of dreams to the real world.

Maybe you can perk up your practice with coffee but avoid it before performing?

Edited: September 15, 2019, 3:07 PM · I don’t drink coffee or alcohol before a solo or chamber music concert. Coffee especially affects my control of vibrato and prevents my bow arm from being absolutely steady, when there’s adrenaline involved. Caffeine is a stimulant just like cocaine is. It will also cause you to perspire more.
Edited: September 15, 2019, 7:02 PM · Although caffeine may have this influence on yourself, one person cannot conduct an experiment. You have to have multiple people and a
control group. Everyone has different tolerance levels from effects of caffeine. There are some constants that affects everyone the same, depending on your coffee usage over your life, but I pity the person who tries to get between me and my morning coffee.
September 15, 2019, 6:51 PM · Coffee makes me sweat, and when I sweat, I may as well be sweating money, because it destroys my strings instantly.

Also, I can't sleep after I have coffee. So, I eat well and rest plenty for energy instead.

September 16, 2019, 10:38 AM · You might find tea to be a lot more friendly. I don't even drink coffee on days I have violin lessons - it makes it rush and tense up and make mistakes.


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