This is a problem I think I have always had, it has just become more apparent to me after a recent OCD diagnosis.

I can't stop thinking about my fingers, especially when playing fast or difficult passages or scale patterns and it messes me up constantly. I know this is not a matter of having not practiced material enough because I have been playing for a long time and am very comfortable knowing the difference between material I need to practice more and mental issues with playing said material. For instance I might have trouble with a simple scale pattern I have known for years but this is mental whereas moving between unfamiliar altissimo fingerings is difficult to do in a different way. It is much more clear to me under the second circumstance that I need to practice the specific fingering more.

Any suggestions for this? I thought at one point that I could just get good enough at everything to be able to think about my fingers while playing and still succeed however I am not so sure about that now. I have had a little luck trying to focus on the sound I intend to make or just a random other thought as opposed to thinking about my fingers but I have had limited success with these things as my mind jumps back to my fingers very quickly.

I hope this isn't a bad place to ask this question but I am really struggling with this and am not sure where to turn.


  • 1
    Do you have a therapist to help with your OCD? That person might be a good one to ask for help with this. It might be more of a psychological question. Jul 3, 2017 at 5:02
  • @ToddWilcox unfortunately my lack of success in therapy is what led to my formal assessment and eventual diagnosis. I am going to be trying CBT soon so I guess I just have to wait and see. I'm in the shed a lot so it's hard for me to wait to see of this even works just because it's plaguing me so constantly. Thanks for the reply
    – user41463
    Jul 3, 2017 at 5:05
  • It is not easy to understand your description. My understanding is: You used to play well, but recently you think obsessively about your fingers, due to OCD you recently are diagnosed. The scale you used to play well, now you keep thinking about the very position of fingers, and that distracts you. If so, this sounds like not to be a music question! I have sympathy for you, but it seems only therapists can help (though you claim they have little use). Jul 3, 2017 at 6:03
  • @Aminopterin that's kind of it. Sorry I'm not an excellent writer or even talker ;). But yeah essentially I didn't get worse, I just realized a lot of the issues I almost always had were/are a byproduct of thinking about my fingers which messes with my muscle memory. Thank you for reading my post.
    – user41463
    Jul 3, 2017 at 6:09
  • 1
    This seems rather sad - therapy didn't work, so you were officially "labeled" as having a problem (and since a "disorder" isn't a "disease", that label doesn't mean there is any known "cure" for it) - but getting the label may have made the condition worse. This could only happen in a country that has a for-profit health industry, but not a health service, IMO...
    – user19146
    Jul 3, 2017 at 15:29

4 Answers 4


When you practice you could try a focus rotation. When practicing said scale or lick, stick your metronome on and for a minute (or a fixed number of repetitions - your choice), focus on your fretting fingers, after another minute focus on your picking fingers, after another minute focus on the synchronisation between both hands, after another minute focus on your string muting. You can possibly find other things to focus on. The idea is to develop a mental awareness of your own thoughts much like mindfulness and meditation. Bring your thoughts back to the focus for that minute whenever your mind begins to think about a different thing. It's difficult to do at first but gets easier with time. I think that the more one practices this sort of meditation the easier it becomes to control your thoughts and with practice you are better able to focus your attention. I might even go so far as to try some meditation exercises to see if that helps. Unfortunately I wouldn't know an awful lot about your OCD diagnosis but maybe this approach could help?

  • Thank you for your reply. I will give this a shot. I play saxophone so I might try and substitute the picking hand for blowing? I'm not sure if that makes sense but it seems like it would be the equivalent.
    – user41463
    Jul 3, 2017 at 23:12
  • Sorry, I don't know why I assumed it was guitar! But I think the principal still stands. Leave me a comment if it works out for you, I'd be interested to know.
    – Ralphonz
    Jul 3, 2017 at 23:33
  • I believe that is DCO :) I might have the same problem being related to a highly OCD/DCO mother...
    – Namphibian
    Aug 30, 2017 at 5:08

I have never had this problem with playing music, perhaps because I don't play enough, or fast enough, for it to surface.

But - I am a programmer by trade and I type a great deal and very fast, with a lot of keyboard shutcuts, etc - quite similar to playing an instrument, really. I learned touch typing years ago and worked on it until I acquired the skill and it became automatic. I have been doing it for up to 8 or 10 hours a day for almost thirty years now, and I can literally do it in my sleep - I've actually done that. (The code wasn't very good but the problem was not typos!) .

Once in while, I'll get into a sort of rut similar to what you are dealing with: I will start to think about each keystroke I'm typing, and then I can't type anything correctly at all.

It seems that once you learn how to do something by reflex - involuntarily - applying conscious effort to that activity disrupts the reflexive patterns, and your efficiency and accuracy take a nose-dive.

They often say about athletes, particularly slumping hitters in baseball (At the moment Aaron Judge) : "He's trying too hard". It amounts to the same thing: Applying conscious effort to something that should be natural and involuntary. Hitting a baseball moving at 90 MPH is very difficult and it requires a great deal of practice to acquire the skill. But once you've got it, thinking about it ruins the whole thing.

The solution in baseball and also for me in typing is to "let it come naturally" - that means RELAX, and take your mind off what you're doing physically - let your body do the work.

Of course it is more difficult than it sounds: You tend to get into an "infinite loop" - an OCD thing: You are worried about your problem and so you focus on it that much more, thereby making the problem even worse.

When it happens to me, I generally "relax" by focusing deeply on the work itself - the programming task or problem I'm dealing with. My mind gets completely occupied with that and I stop thinking about my fingers.

In your case - you say you've tried something like that and it's not working - the solution might simply be to take a break from playing for a few days - just do something else entirely. Eat,sleep, ride a bike, watch TV, hang out, go skateboarding - whatever floats your boat. That will break the vicious cycle of obsessing over your hands. You will come back fresh with a slightly different outlook on what you're doing on your instrument, and you'll be a little rusty, which will help to level things out, as it were.

Good Luck.

Note: There is also a variety of the hemp plant that is highly valued for its medicinal and therapeutic powers. Its use is quite popular among musicians, and its judicious consumption would likely be be very helpful to you.

However, its possession is illegal in must US states, so I cannot recommend it.

  • What was the code that you wrote in your sleep?? Dec 22, 2017 at 14:50
  • 1
    @luserdroog : do while true {1 != 2}
    – Vector
    Dec 22, 2017 at 15:35

I think the other answers are excellent and I have found both (all 3?) suggestions to be useful with my similar issue. The "focus rotation" exercise I found in a book called Sodhana: Eastern Meditation in Christian Form which is an excellent book I recommend for all people interested in spirituality of all faiths. And focusing on the task itself, in this case the music.

So, my suggestion is in some ways a more specific application of Stinkfoot's suggestion in a musical context. Set aside 10 minutes or so of your practice to audiation and visualization.

In audiation practice, you just read the music. But you try to hear each note in your head. Just like in your regular practice, take a figure of a few notes or a whole phrase and repeat it over and over until you hear in your head smoothly. For my efforts in trying to increase speed, this is the exercise that gave me the greatest gains. Speeding up my ability to think the music made (and continues to make) all the rest much less frustrating and more rewarding.

In visualization practice, you just read the music. But you imagine what your fingers will have to do to produce the music. And for winds, you should include breathing and tonguing in here. This is where you can best plan out the perfect spot to sneak a breath in long rest-free sections (and write it in when you find it!). Think about where the register breaks are going to be so you can cinch it. Plan out how each finger will need to move, but don't actually move your fingers, just do it in the imagination.

You could also work on sight-singing as a very helpful skill which benefits and receives benefit from these other two skills.

If the notes themselves are firmly in your mind, and the finger motions to execute it are all planned out nicely, then there's very little left to worry about. Your fingers will begin to just take care of business, and you can let your mind just enjoy the sounds you're making.


Turn away from your 'diagnosis'. It isn't any use to you. Your instrument and audience (if any) can't give you any special consideration because of it.

Do you HAVE to play? Do you make your living from playing? Maybe leave it for a time and get on with other areas of your life.

If playing IS your money-earner, I suggest you practice the stuff you DO have to play, if necessary, and lay off the technical exercises for a bit. Practice melodic playing rather than fast playing.

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