If you want to suffer from less aches and pains, and if you want to improve the quality of the music you play there are seven things that you should do. These are not things you will learn from a traditional music teacher. First, let me explain.To play most musical instruments you need to hold the same (often awkward) posture for long periods of time. You also have to repeat similar movements many times. This can lead to all sorts of painful syndromes.
For example a violinist keeps his chin, neck and shoulder fixed in one position while his fingers and hands are in constant repetitive movement. I often see violinists with neck and shoulder problems. The root cause is usually excess tension in the neck and shoulder. Muscles that were once soft and flexible become hard and fibrous. Because all muscles pass over joints and contract in order to move joints, when they become tight they tend to compress the joints they cover. It time, these joints can become inflamed and this inflammation causes the muscles to contract further. So you can see that a vicious circle of increasing dysfunction can occur between muscle and joint. In the case of the violinist, this can eventually lead to more serious problems like frozen shoulder and arthritis. Excess tension in the shoulder and neck can also give rise to headaches. In addition to the obvious physical repercussions, ongoing pain and stiffness can lead to fatigue, bad temper and depression. This must inevitably lead to a poorer level of musicianship.
So, it is important to look after your body because it can lead to discomfort in the short term and injury in the long term, it can affect your state of mind and most of all it can affect the quality of the sound you produce.
I saw Evelyn Glennie, the deaf percussionist, on television a couple of weeks ago. She explained that the cells of a finely tuned body can pick up and interpret sound waves. Because she is deaf she cannot hear any music with her ears and yet she has become a world renowned musician.”Listening” to sound vibrations with her body has enabled her to perform as well, if not better than most musicians with normal hearing.
Ira Kirschenbaum, MD, chairman of orthopedics at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York said “We know Stevie Ray Vaughan played music that affected the soul, but only an orthopedic surgeon can attest that this music flows through the bones.”
If you have mastered your technique and want to improve your playing then it is worthwhile learning to “tune in” to your body. (Or get the tune in to your body!) Not only is your body the thing that you move over you instrument in order to create music, it is also an organ of perception, interpretation and expression. Music does not just come into your ears to be interpreted by your brain. Music dances through your body and if you are awake to it, it will dance back out of your body into the hearts of your audience.
It is easy to become so focused on the individual notes, pitch, timing and other technical aspects of the music that you lose sight of the spiral flow of the music. You forget that your body is really the musical instrument. You are alive. Your trumpet is just a lump of metal (or plastic nowadays!). You may have a fine trumpet with a beautiful timbre, but if your body is clogged, tight, tense, fibrosed you may as well be playing on a cardboard tube.
So what to do? Fine tuning the body is a lifetimes task. Maybe most of us can only experience rare moments of “flow” where everything seems to fit together, where we can create real beauty and a sense of connectedness, but it is still worth striving for.
Here’s the list.
1. Find a good physical therapist such as an Alexander Technique teacher or a chiropractor. Ask them to observe you playing your instrument. Let them point out where you are holding unnecessary tensions. It can take a lot of effort to change dysfunctional postural patterns that you associate with playing your instrument. In the beginning you may find your playing getting worse because you have become subconsciously used to the “prop” of a particular posture, but in the long term, if you can find a more relaxed posture to play in, if you can use more gentle movement patterns you will start to play better.
2. The chances are your joints are already moving dysfunctionally so get them realigned by a chiropractor.
3. Have some massage to relax your muscles.
4. Learn to meditate, get used to what it feels like to a have relaxed body and mind.
5. Practice daily exercises that work with those parts of the body that are under strain when you play.
6. Do some stretches before you play.
7. Practice a mind body connecting discipline such as yoga, tai chi or pilates.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, please subscribe. I will be giving more specific exercise for musicians in the future.