September 14, 2015IM -
by Janet Horvath, author of Playing (Less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians available at musicdispatch.com
Editor’s Note: In this article Janet Horvath suggests some stretches she devised to help musicians alleviate body stress. Always check with a physician before trying stretches, especially if you have an injury. Always stop any movement that causes pain.
When I was a young student I was criticized for moving too much when I played. “Don’t beat your foot! Don’t wiggle! It’s too distracting,” said my teachers. Unfortunately, these mantras were more important than just limiting comfort and self-expression. Although playing music is expressive and creative, we sought to quell the tendency to move and flow with the music. We were admonished to never “stick out.” As a result, we often sit like statues.
Studies today indicate that humans are born to move. Being static, still, and motionless is detrimental to our health. Static effort, or holding a position, is also much more strenuous on the body. Muscles tighten, blood flow is constricted, oxygen is not replenished, and waste products are not flushed out. Static positions make us tire sooner, and then we hurt. On the other hand, we can engage in a dynamic movement for a long time because blood is replenished with fresh oxygen.
There are unobtrusive ways to reduce tension build up and give our bodies mini breaks. I have devised a series of moves I call Onstage Tricks™ to alleviate tension even while performing. The essential guiding factor is to do the opposite motion of the positions we are required to hold while we play.
Sitting properly is the first step. Make sure that you are sitting in the optimum position for your height and instrument. Your chair should be high enough so that your knees are lower than your hips. If you are diminutive, sit forward so your feet don’t dangle. Your weight should be forward with a slight lumbar curve in your spine and feet flat on the ground. Keep your shoulders down and facing forward. Avoid turning or twisting your torso, leaning left or right.
Starting with those targeting the top of the body, try some of the following moves during practice or performance, or whenever you have a few bars of rest. These exercises are effective even if you only have time to do them once. However, if you are able to do them more than once, it’s all the better.
For the neck:
For shoulders and pectorals:
For the arms:
For the back, spine, and pelvis:
For the hips:
For healthy overall circulation:
Awareness is the key to injury prevention. These and many more “moves” for musicians are displayed in my book. Make up some of your own as well, with the goal of maintaining fluidity and ease, while avoiding tightness and tension. You’ll feel better and you’ll play better too.