This video is a great illustration of how playing music engages practically every aspect of the brain. Whereas listening to music results in certain parts of the brain being activated, playing music is like a full body workout to the brain. It engages the visual, auditory and motor parts of the brain and increases the size and activity in the corpus callosum.
The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides!
-Artur Schnabel (Austrian pianist)
The pause is as important as the note.
-Truman Fisher (American composer)
The more I grow as a musician, the more I have come to understand that the pauses and spaces in a composition are equally important as the notes played. As a young musician in an ensemble or group improvisation setting, the temptation for me was to play all the time, often to exercise my zeal in a recently new found skill or technique. But how much more there is to the musical experience when one stops to listen to not just the individual parts but to the piece as a whole, including the spaces and pauses in between.
Which leads me to this. The pause.
What are you doing your pauses when performing and practising?
You are likely listening to the music or perhaps counting measures.
Here are a few other tips I encourage the musical athletes I work with to practise:
Reset your posture: Find that neutral position again where your head and shoulders are sitting on top of your pelvis, with equal weight exerting through both legs or both sides of your buttocks when sitting
Deep breaths: Take a deep, slow belly breath (diaphragmatic breathing). This helps you relax any nervous tension that may have developed when playing.
Shoulder rolls: No matter what instrument played, most musicians will carry some sort of tension in their shoulders. A simple way to reset the muscles is to roll the shoulders forward and backwards a few times during your break.
These few practises will help to prevent unnecessary tension in the muscles. This will benefit you by decreasing your chances of injury; easing your tension when playing, both from the physical and mental aspect.
Musicians are often compared to athletes. You push your body for hours at a time to practice and perfect your skills so that you can perform better. But sometimes, your bodies become overused, and playing becomes painful. The terms below are often associate d with the performance of elite athletes. But did you know that these same
issues aﬀect the performance of a musician as well?
P O S T U R E
PLAYING WITH PAIN doesn’t always happen right away. Sometimes it starts with “fatigue” or “tension” that eventually goes away. But as time passes, you may ﬁnd that these symptoms linger for a little
longer and don’t go away as easily as they used to. So you take a long break from your instrument and the pain goes away.
B U T W H A T H A P P E N S W H E N T H E D I S C O M F O R T R E T U R N S W H E N Y O U S T A R T P L A Y I N G A G A I N ?
Musician Injuries often happen because playing your instrument, whether it is the violin, piano, cello, guitar, ﬂute, drums or even the glockenspiel is REPETITIVE and ASYMMETRICAL.
Muscles and tendons need time to recover and rebuild after use. Without adequate rest, their ﬁbres will break down and inﬂammation and pain occur. We call this tendonitis. It ﬁrst starts with fatigue or an ache, and eventually turns into pain and swelling with any type of use, leading to loss of ability to play.
Asymmetry combined with repetition is the perfect environment for an injury to brew. It may not appear immediately, but at some point down the road, an injury is likely to occur.
BUT I PLAY ALL THE TIME. WHY DOES IT HURT NOW ?
Often times, changes in technique, practice habits, instrument set-up, posture, and other life changes can contribute to injury. You may want to examine whether there have been any changes lately and whether they were introduced quickly versus gradually.
MY MUSCLES ARE WARM TO TOUCH, REALLY TIGHT, AND THEY HURT WHEN I PLAY. WHAT CAN I DO?
Warmth, pain, and loss of function are signs of inﬂammation. Use the acronym “R.I.C.E”. Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. REST from the aggravating activity. ICE on the area for 15 minutes at a time. COMPRESS with a tensor sleeve or brace. ELEVATE the area for 15 minutes at time if it is swollen
Then, consult your physiotherapist to help you get to the
root of the problem to prevent the injury form recurring. You
can ﬁnd more tips for musicians at www.gophysiotherapy.ca
Vanessa Mae, violinist and skier. Photo from http://www.supertravel.co.uk
P O S T U R E
These are all words you might associate with an elite athlete, but do they apply to musicians?
British violinist, Vanessa Mae, will be competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi this year, representing her father’s native country, Thailand. Though quite a contrast in disciplines, I am not surprised that she was able to qualify under FIS standards, as she is probably quite experienced in practicing and perfecting her skills to perform to a certain standard.
I often like to compare musicians to being like athletes. They push their body for hours at a time to practice and perfect their skills so that they can perform better. However, the resources for high-performing musicians are limited. Whilst elite athletes have access to doctors, physiologists, sport psychologists, dieticians, sleep consultants, in addition to their variety of technique coaches, musicians do not often have the same access to resources that enhance their performance.
The goal of this website is to educate the high-performing athletic musician and performing artist in order to enhance their performance. With my background in physiotherapy, the majority of posts will come from a musculoskeletal perspective. However, don’t be surprised at the global health and wellness topics I hope to address in the near future.