Musicians as Athletes

David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Musicians as Athletes

The Demands We Make on Our Bodies

Physical comfort while playing your instrument is important, and your actions before and after you play also greatly influence your ability to perform.

Too often, musicians feel they can just practice, rehearse, or perform for an hour or two, and then walk away with no regard whatsoever to the demands they place on their bodies.

Sometimes, these demands are too much. You or someone you know may be playing in pain or could even be dealing with an injury from playing music.

There is even an entire medical specialty, “music medicine” that has been created to deal with the stresses put on musicians from playing their instruments. There used to just be “sports medicine.” Well, now we musicians have our very own specialty field because of the damage we inflict on ourselves!

My Own Story

This topic is near and dear to my heart. When I was in college, I suffered a debilitating overuse injury in my left hand. I was unable to play for three years and didn’t know at the time if I would ever play music again.

As you can imagine, this was a traumatic time for me.

But, I was lucky. I healed and was able to return to being a musician full time.

Since then, I’ve been an advocate of playing entirely pain-free, minimizing the use of pressure to create tone, and understanding the physiology and bio-mechanics of playing musical instruments.

Stretching Like an Athlete

You may not regard your playing as an athletic endeavor. After all, your heartbeat generally won’t rise to its target exercise rate, and you may not sweat while you play.

But, your muscles, joints, and spine are all being taxed. Make sure your body is ready for this physical demand before you start playing music.

Like all good athletes, musicians should stretch out before practicing or playing. It’s a great idea to stretch afterward also.

You don’t need to do 30 minutes of yoga or Tai Chi. Even a few minutes of basic stretching will pay off. Stretch your neck, your legs, your arms, and your hands. A little stretching now could save you from injury later.

Many musicians develop tightness or pain in specific areas. Perhaps this is the case for you. If so, focus your stretching on that area and related areas in your body.

For instance, if your hands tighten up while you play, stretch not only your hands, but also your wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and back.

Beyond Stretching

To improve their performance, musicians can also use other methods favored by athletes. In addition to stretching, it can be useful to apply heat or ice to painful or tight muscles. Massage, Alexander Technique, and Feldenkrais are helpful for some musicians.

If you think of yourself as an athlete, you will take the time to prepare yourself for practicing and performing. Stretching and other activities just might keep you healthy.

Then, you will be able to enjoy playing music for a lifetime.

Great Resource for Musicians

My go-to guy for stretching routines is Bob Anderson, one of the world’s foremost experts on stretching who has worked with many college and professional sports teams.

You can visit Bob Anderson’s Stretching website for information on his books and software.

I use Bob’s stretching book every day and endorse it enthusiastically.

To Your Musical Success!
David Motto

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2 Responses to Musicians as Athletes

  1. David Toy says:

    Good stuff thanks! I advocate stretching too. And for added “recovery” either an Epsom soak bath, or hot tub, too.

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks for your important comments. I developed sciatica after several years of flamenco guitar practice; the pressure on my right leg and back (where I hold the instrument via a brace) is probably the cause. Am going to start physical therapy this week as medications don’t seem to work.

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