Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.
As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.
The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.
Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.
December 1, 2020IM -
Musicians are facing a struggle during 2020 and into 2021. Gigs are gone. Bars are closed. Tours have ended. Teaching Zoom lessons is the new norm. Everything about the gigging life has been disrupted, and for some, that may mean a disruption in self-care. How do you maintain your body condition while enduring the pandemic? The pandemic is temporary and there will be a time when you perform again. (I know, it seems like that will never happen, but it will.) Will you be physically ready for that day, or will you be totally out of shape and at risk for injury? This is the time for preparation. Let’s talk about what you can do now to train your body using your own body weight along with low cost items you can buy online or may already have at home.
When considering a training program, the first thing you must contemplate is your goal. Why are you considering exercising? Do you see those “love handles” growing at a rapid pace? Do you feel like a slug and have little energy? Do you just feel deconditioned after the long haul of the pandemic? All of those are great reasons to get started, but the desire must come from within. You must really want to achieve a better level of health and wellness. There is no carrot at the end of the stick. You must make that inner decision to change yourself, and then make it a ritual for a month. If you get through the first month, you are unstoppable. If you slip up, then start again.
Performing music is a full-body sport. You use the muscles of your core, your back, your legs, your arms, your neck, your feet. Every muscle group of the body is integrated into performing music. Each instrument has its associated major muscle groups that need to be well developed. You are an Olympic athlete in training, and that time is coming when your opening ceremony will occur again, when theaters, bars, and performance locations reopen to the public. Let us empower the body now in preparation. We will focus on four main regions of muscular development: the core (which includes lower back, abs, pelvic muscles, and even hamstrings and quads), the upper back and chest, the extremities (arms, legs), and enhancing heart function.
Every musician needs core strengthening. Having strong core muscles allows you to express yourself with more strength, finesse, and power into your instrument. Exercising the core group of muscles, like the abs, lower back, oblique abdominals—I would include the diaphragm and pelvic muscles as well—is really simple. There are two easy ways to exercise the core at home. The first is by doing planks. If you are not familiar with planks, go to YouTube and type it into your search screen. There are many forms of planks, but keep it simple: 30-45 second planks, repeated two or three times, performed daily, will greatly enhance your core strength—and make you less susceptible to back injury. More importantly though, it will develop those muscle that allow you to enhance your musical style, whether you are on the drums, piano, strings, or woodwinds.
Another great tool to work the core is an exercise ball. These come in different sizes based on body size. Exercise balls integrate core muscle strength, arm and leg strength, brain coordination, equilibrium, and balance. They are fantastic for developing great, balanced muscle tone, enhancing brain connections to muscles, and creating better stability. You can find them online and in stores such as Target and Walmart very inexpensively, for around $20. YouTube has a plethora of instruction videos for exercise balls, and many exercise balls come with a chart of the different forms of exercises.
If you can purchase a small free weight dumbbell set or some exercise resistance bands, you can perform many forms of upper body workouts. But again, let’s keep it simple. Push-ups are one of the best chest exercises you can perform using your own body weight. Push-ups involve core strength, chest, arms, and upper back strength. You should always balance the back muscles and the chest wall muscles. Therefore, for the upper back, I recommend either band exercises where you attach the resistance band to a non-movable object, and perform rowing type movements, bringing the arms back and shoulder blades together. Or you could use free weights to do this same exercise. Again, go to YouTube and type in “upper back resistance band exercises” and you will learn many ways to enhance your upper back strength right in the comfort of your own home.
If you have been not performing regularly over the past eight months, I guarantee that you have lost some strength in your arms. Unless you have purposefully practiced your craft with dedication every day, your muscle mass will have decreased due to less demand. One of the most injured areas I see as a chiropractor is to the structures of the forearms and hands. These injuries are typically caused by inadequately strengthened forearm and hand muscles in relation to the demand placed upon them by the thousands of movement repetitions involved in a performance and in practice.
In fact, the most common time to see injuries is when ramping up rehearsals and practice time just before performances. The COVID pandemic may extend through spring/summer 2021, and we all pray that music, theater, and the entertainment industry will be restored at that time. The worst thing you can do with your arms and hands is to begin ramping up practice and rehearsals just months before returning to the stage. You will make yourself highly susceptible to injury. Now is the time to prepare.
The forearms and wrists can be exercised easily with some free weights, or even with some objects around the house, like a used plastic container for bleach or laundry detergent that you fill with water. This simple solution can give you an immediate five-to-seven-pound object to use for strengthening. You can use this weight to do arm strengthening—lateral and forward arm raises will work the shoulder muscles very nicely. Do this three times weekly.
Wrist flexion and extension exercises (again, just YouTube that topic) also should be done at least three times per week. These exercises strengthen the flexor and extensor muscles that attach up into the elbow. I can’t state strongly enough how important these exercises are for every musician. I would also recommend purchasing a finger flexor/extensor exercise strengthener—but you can keep it simple by squeezing a tennis ball and using rubber bands around your fingers and extending them against resistance. You can perform these finger toning exercises every day.
Depending upon your instrument, your legs serve as your stability and send force up into your upper body for performance. Pianists are constantly working the muscles around the ankles for pedaling, and of course for drummers, the strength of your legs, ankles, and feet are crucial for performance. Consider string instrument players also—although the legs are not typically moving, they create the foundation of your upper body movement. If you doubt this, try playing your instrument without your feet touching the floor. You will notice how difficult it is to create the force and tonality you enjoy on the instrument.
For leg strength, you can simply walk more. I do not recommend a treadmill as you do not get the propulsion needed to fully strengthen the calves, ankles, and feet. Walking in your community, up and down hills, up and down stairs, or to and from work are some of the best things you can do to enhance leg, ankle, and foot function. For drummers and other instrumentalists that may have enhanced needs for strength, I recommend ankle and toe raises on the stairs. You stand on a stair (hold on to a railing) and place only your toes on the tread of the stair. Then slowly lower and raise the heel so you are working the calf and anterior leg muscles along with the foot muscles. Doing three sets of 10 repetitions for each of these exercises three days per week will keep your ankles and feet powerful.
Your heart is a muscle and it also must be kept in great shape. Again, walking at a moderate to fast pace for a half-hour will greatly enhance heart function. Of course, other aerobic exercises like running, swimming, and biking are also fantastic. Choose the one you enjoy the best and maintain a regular routine to elevate your heart rate purposefully three to five times a week.
I hope you realize how much you can do right in your own home with very little cost to enhance body function during COVID. As I stated at the onset, it takes a decision, commitment, and an inner desire for excellence of your craft to begin and maintain an exercise program. I am sure many of you are already involved in some sort of exercise. But if you are not, then this is the rally call to begin the process of empowerment, because COVID will not last forever, even if it feels like it has already. There will be a day when you are releasing that inner joy of performing music once again. Prepare now so you can enjoy that moment without risk of pain and injury.
Dr. Timothy Jameson is a chiropractor and Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner in Castro Valley, California. He specializes in the treatment of repetitive strain injuries in musicians and runs the website