Janet Horvath, Minnesota Orchestra cellist, offers some sensible guidelines for how to achieve new goals with our instruments without hurting our bodies doing so.
Sometimes it is necessary to challenge ourselves to reach a new level with our playing. Change can be wonderful. We can grow and learn when we strive for more accuracy, technical prowess, and depth in our performances. But for musicians, change is a time to be especially aware. Injury risk can increase with newness, if your body is challenged with unaccustomed stresses as you reach for greater heights.
Be aware that the following may increase you injury risk. These are all changes to keep tabs on:
A new instrument or bow may be heavier or larger than you are used to, it may have a higher bridge, or it may be more resistant. Even if you continue your usual practice routine, you are putting more stress on your body. Perhaps your sound is so much nicer on your new instrument or bow that you are tempted to play untold hours without thought to taking breaks and to monitoring where the time is going. Take more breaks. Make sure you are breathing and that your shoulders are down, and your hands and wrists are relaxed. Take more time to warm up.Keep moving. Alternate standing and sitting if your instrument lends itself to that. If you are a cellist, take time to get up and walk around.
A new teacher or conductor may have a teaching or rehearsal style to which you are unaccustomed. Lessons or rehearsals may be more demanding, there may be more challenging or different repertoire to play, or perhaps you are just trying harder to impress them. Again keep tension at bay by warming up more carefully, allowing your arms to hang down periodically, rolling your shoulders, breathing deeply and watch your posture. Don’t cram for lessons or rehearsals. Show up prepared.
A new job and a new city will add to your stress and the resulting mental stressors will increase the physical challenges on your body. This is a time for more breaks during playing, more warming up, more careful practice, and more stress reducing activities.
New or different repertoire uses different muscle groups. Take more care when studying or rehearsing music that is new to you by warming up more carefully, taking more breaks, and practicing this repertoire in smaller chunks than more familiar music.
New techniques that you are trying to master can also add to strain on your body. When you are trying to work on a new bowing technique or difficult left hand execution, trills or octaves or double stops for example, especially if your hand is in an awkward position, limit your time on these. Go back to them later in the day and gradually work up to feeling comfortable with a new technique. Ten minutes at a time initially is a good guide. Always increase your practice load gradually, even if the music is familiar.
Follow these guidelines and change will be a good thing without risk of injury!
From Janet Horvath’s
Playing (less) Hurt - An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians
Available for $23.95 at www.playinglesshurt.com.
© 2002 and 2006 by Janet Horvath