How Cannibal Corpse Bassist Alex Webster Plays Better After Overcoming Neurological Disorder
Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster is renowned as one of death metal's best bassists and in a new interview with Bass Player magazine, he opened up about a neurological disorder that impacted his plucking hand, how he overcame it and how it made him a better player.
First, he explained the condition he faced and told the magazine, "Focal dystonia is essentially an injury, but not the kind of injury that people would normally think of – it’s not carpal tunnel, or a tendon problem, or something like that. It’s essentially a neurological problem, and it happens in a lot of disciplines that require precise, repetitive movements, and not just in music."
Webster, who co-founded Cannibal Corpse in 1988, detailed how it impacted his playing abilities and said, "The normal fingerpicking that I would do would become very strained. It seemed as if my pointer finger would be going left instead of down. When I first noticed something was going wrong, it was very confusing and frightening. I was like, ‘What’s going on with my right hand? Why isn’t it behaving the way it’s behaved for the past 30 years?'"
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When asked what other troubles he faced while trying to play, the 51-year-old bassist replied, "Basically, the signals from your brain are going wrong on the way down to your fingers. Imagine your legs walking. What if the signal from your brain was telling both legs to go forward at the same time? That’s not exactly what was happening with my picking fingers, but certain signals were definitely getting through and certain signals weren’t."
He visited Dr. Joaquin Farias, a specialist and also conferred with two musicians who had battled the same issue, classical guitarist Apostolos Paraskevas and bassisst Scott Devine, in search of a resolution.
"It’s something that can often be resolved, which is good news for anyone who gets it," added Webster, who noted his playing has improved since, having stated, "You just have to work through it, learn what you need to correct, and then take the time to correct it. What’s interesting is that in some ways, I’m playing better than I did before."
Webster theorized that focal dystonia can be a byproduct of "fundamental flaws" in playing technique.
"I’m not an expert," the bassist cautioned, "and anyone who really wants to learn about this should read the books Dr. Farias has written, but it could be that part of the trigger is having imperfect technique. I think I was maybe digging in a little too much. Fluidity and economy of motion are really the key. After having something like this happen, I’ll never take it for granted again."
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