Importance of Health and Wellbeing
It is very important for health and well being to plan physical practice and include proper recovery principles. Mental health means managing stress and anxiety and physical health means meeting the requirements of playing and recovering fully. For painless playing you will need to build up your strength to prepare the body for the demands of professional life. In this way, you will plan so that your best physical condition times exactly with your performance and therefore you will feel confident. Mental wellbeing correlates closely with physical wellbeing. For instance breathing and relaxation skills are physical techniques, which at the same time have strong mental effects.
Research shows that more than half of all musicians have injuries during their career. These types of injuries include tendonitis, problems with their neck, shoulders, back and arms and embouchure issues. If you focus in your practicing on your recovery and optimal physical feelings, you will develop your strength and body for demanding playing. You will feel better and stronger all the time. You can prevent injuries by planning your practicing well and developing your muscle strength.
The following article is one important part of the practicing. It is about how to plan physical practicing and avoid injuries. It also helps you to build up strength and prepare your body for playing harder repertoire in the future without developing overuse syndrome problems. It also makes you aware of your physical wellbeing in a new way. When you try it for few months you will start noticing good feedback from your recovering and strengthening muscles. Improved body feelings makes you mentally more secure in performing too.
I have been teaching these skills to students and professional musicians now more that 10 years together with a Medical Doctor Jouko Heiskanen. His special areas as a doctor are music medicine and physical recovery principles. We have got very good feedback from the effects of teaching these principles to musicians.
Your body is “the other half of your instrument” and you have both an “artistic musician” and a “biological musician” that work together in you. By the ‘biological musician’ we mean those mental and physical areas of competence, partly inherited and partly acquired, that affect how musician’s skills will develop and be maintained. Ergonomics is a very important part of your biology and practicing because it means finding your ideal body position and optimal technique. Musicians and vocalists should have a good awareness of their body, joints and muscles, and find a natural basic posture that causes the least strain. It is useful to know which muscles maintain correct posture and which muscles create the movement needed to produce the music. A good understanding of playing posture along with correct breathing technique can improve the sound quality and playing technique.
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Resting and breaks
Only by resting your body can you recover from practicing. You also need to add rests into your daily practicing sessions. Hand surgeons say your hands should have a rest from playing every 30 minutes so that the nerves can recover. When you have rests you can stretch your body, walk around, practice in your mind so that you can still be focused on practicing if you want to. Remember that if you check your phone during a short break, it takes 20 minutes to get back into a focused state of mind again.
The advantages of planned practice
- Enables optimal development
- Prevents backsliding
- Helps you to avoid burnout and overtraining
- More effective recovery
- Practice produces better physical results
- Variety increases your enthusiasm for practice
- Decreases your risk of injury
How to plan your practicing?
Your body is “the other half of your instrument” and you have both an “artistic musician” and a “biological musician” working together in you. By the ‘biological musician’, we mean those mental and physical areas of competence – partly inherited and partly acquired – which affect how a musician’s skills will develop and be maintained. Ergonomics is a very important part of your biology and practicing because it means finding your ideal body position and optimal technique. Instrumentalists and vocalists should have a good awareness of their body, joints and muscles, and find a natural basic posture that causes the least strain. It is useful to know which muscles maintain correct posture and which muscles create the movement needed to produce the music. A good understanding of playing posture along with correct breathing technique can improve the sound quality and playing technique.
Planning short term practicing
When you practice, your muscles get tired. When you rest and don`t play, you get the strength back. It takes your muscles about 24 hours on average to recover from a demanding practice session. This means that you need to plan your practicing in terms of alternating days of light and heavy sessions so that you don't strain yourself. On the lighter day, it is recommended that you include an easier practice session so that your body will keep strengthening your tired muscles.
In practice it means that during a heavy day you could play through your program or play more loud things or just play longer. On a lighter day you could focus more on the details, take more short breaks or practice physically "lighter" repertoire or just practice for less time.
Short term practicing means practice time frames from one to three weeks.
Daily rhythm/weekly rhythm
With short term recovery principle your three weeks practicing schedule could look like following:
Define your playing as
- 0 = rest day
- 1 = very light day,
- 2 = relatively light day,
- 3 = standard day
- 4 = relatively heavy day
- 5 = very heavy day
(NOTE! These scores don’t denote the number of hours you practiced for.)
Planning long term practicing
During the month-long time frame you can plan your practicing so that you increase the amount of practicing during the first three weeks. You can then have a “light week” (week 1), “medium week” (week 2) and a “heavy week” (week 3). It is important that after three weeks of increasing the practicing every fourth week is always a recovery week (average). Week 4 should be lighter than week 1 in terms of physical loading. This is because the tiny blood vessel networks that transport energy to your muscles need time to renew themselves after heavy practicing. If you want to improve your overall muscle condition whilst avoiding possible injury through heavy practicing, you have to give your body time to renew and repair its capillaries. By gradually building up your physical playing month by month to be a stronger player, you`ll prepare your body well for harder repertoire and longer playing times while still keeping yourself strong and healthy.
In case the four weeks planning cycle doesn`t fit to your plan sometimes, you can have a recovery week also sooner (better than later).
This is actually the most typical way of getting an overuse syndrome: Playing more that normal for 2 to 6 months with no recovery weeks, and then suddenly loosing your sensitivity, easiness of playing, good sound, easy and light feeling in your playing. If you keep on trying to practice it all back, it only gets worse and you start having pain too. When you finally try to rest some days or some weeks, it doesn`t help you. Better be aware of the recovery principles in short term and long term practicing beforehand and avoid problems.
There seems to be a “never ending” conversation about a proper daily practicing time. The brain researchers say the optimal time of learning daily is around 4 hours. Some research result says that average practicing time seems to be 3h 45min a day, string players and piano students keep saying they need much more hours. In my opinion it is not about the time but the quality of practicing what counts. If you keep practicing long hours every day with not so good focus, repeating mistakes and getting results slowly, you might be wasting your time anyway. Find good / best practicing techniques for yourself, recognize your best practicing times, learn to be more focused when you practice and get good results in shorter time.
Musicians are different also in physical way. Different people have for example different kinds of muscles types. One type of muscle maintains strength easily but needs more time for sensitive motor skill practicing and another type of muscle works more easily in sensitive and fast movements but cannot maintain its strength for a long period of time. Each individual musician needs to focus on their own balance of physical needs during their practice. Make sure you find the best way for yourself - don`t compare your physical self with other musicians.
When planning your practicing, you can chose to vary your repertoire with playing through movements / working with details and keeping the time the same every day. You can also vary the practicing time and keep the content the same. What ever suits best for you or the situation.
As a teacher I have noticed that after learning to plan their practicing students seam to have developed their endurance and strength in playing, they have been able to time their practicing better before the performances, they have felt less guilty in their free time, they have been more focused on practicing and they have been more aware of their physical and mental condition and limits. When students have planned their practicing they have been more patient with their learning process as well.
For more information go to webpage www2.siba.fi/harjoittelu
Often musicians get physical problems during their career. There might be problems with their teeth or jaw,hands, arms, shoulders, back or other areas. Often there are also combination of problems at the same time. Most of the problems are curable, if you look for help early.
The most common problem is overuse syndrome. You practice more than normal, usually for a longer period, and then you start getting symptoms like:
- Losing the sensitivity of sound
- Clumsiness in playing
- Heavier feeling of playing
- More pressure in playing
- Feeling tired every day when playing
- Feeling tired soon after starting to play
- Not recovering normally
- Numbness in part of the lip
- ”Needle pain”
- Sometimes even muscle spasms and shaking muscles
You try to rest for several days or weeks, but the symptoms don`t go away.
What can you do?
- Keep resting
- Go to see a Doctor who is a Music Medicine specialist if possible
- Go to see a teacher who can help you
- Don`t wait – take action
Take care of yourself
- Do some aerobic training like walking, swimming or biking to help your body to recover better
- Take care of your good physical condition, have enough sleep and healthy food
- Avoid extra stress
- Eat bread, pasta etc. carbohydrates
- Enjoy nature and life in spite of the problem!
When you see a Doctor
- He/she decides about a sick leave length, checks your health, symptoms, situation and considers medication.
When you see a physiotherapist ask them to
- Check the ergonomics of your playing position
- Give exercises for strengthening the body and getting rid of pain
When you see a teacher ask them to:
- check your relaxed and ergonomic playing and symptoms
- provide possible corrections and exercises
- help to plan recovery practicing both now and into the future
- give help with mental strength practicing
- build up trust in the future,
- follow up the recovering
- let the teacher co-operate with a Doctor and Physiotherapist , if possible.
How to start your recovery practicing after you have seen the doctor, physiotherapist and teacher
- A month or more without any playing (good starting point…)
- Recovery practicing: Start practicing every second day 10 min
- every second day do only breathing exercises, relaxation & mental exercises.
- Play in the middle range, mp, easy, legato exercises
- Warm down carefully to relax in the end of each session
- Be patient, use good memories as mental exercises and be optimistic
Feedback from a student having overuse syndrome
“I wanted to tell you how my playing has been developing. I did my exam concert and it went very well. I could do the whole program that I wanted to play and I didn't have any problems with endurance. I practiced the whole summer according to the practice plan. It has been fascinating for me to see how I with less practice have so much better endurance.”
Feedback from a professional musician after a one years sick leave and then following a three months practicing plan
“I feel that my focus has approved a lot, and the fact that I have so short time to practice, means that I really have to focus on the important things, and my practice now is a lot different than before. Now I am my own teacher in a new way, and I spot the problems very fast, and then find a way to train it and then it is solved - very quickly! I also play much more relaxed, and I feel that my high register playing is very much better. Bb as a top note is now just fun, no pressure, no problems. It is very strange for me, because I used to struggle a lot with the high range.”
When you are back in shape it`s important to practice more carefully in the future. To prevent injuries it is important to take care of your physical health by planning your practicing. Systematic planning is important for structuring your practice and for getting better results. During your student years in particular, it’s worth dividing your practice into periods of time to foster development and enable your skills to develop as required. These can be periods of weeks or as much as a year in advance. Practice periods, for example, of a month can be linked to previous exercises and skills you have learnt. Healthy, varied practice that exercises your whole body guarantees sufficient general strength alongside your ‘instrument-specific’ practice. The advantages of planned practice enable optimal development, helps you to avoid burnout and injuries in the future and produce better practicing results.
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Copyright by Erja Joukamo-Ampuja