As in all walks of life, we need to be aware of our health and how our activities may affect it. As musicians, we may experience a range of health issues which affect or are caused by our music making. Common problems include muscular and joint pain, tendonitis, back pain, performance nerves and stress. Our mental state will also affect our performance.
Physical health: During practice we may sometimes experience muscle and joint pain. To avoid physical problems it is important that we do a short warm up at the beginning of a practice session in order to prevent muscle damage. This would include gentle left hand finger exercises, bowing exercises and arm and finger stretching exercises such as those included in my Daily Studies for Violin/Viola. It is also beneficial to do some general body stretching exercises at the beginnning and end of a playing session. It is important not to continue to work ‘through’ pain, but to stop and relax the muscles before continuing. It may be necessary to practice in shorter sessions with regular breaks if we need to do prolonged amounts of practice. If our general physical health is good and we take regular exercise, we will usually experience fewer physical problems when playing.
Mental health: Over the years I have seen many musicians – particularly at conservatoire level – define themselves by how well they feel they are playing. Their sense of self worth and happiness becoming completely bound up with how well they feel they are progressing as a player. This is a dangerous road to go down. There is more to life than just playing an instrument and we do well to remember this. Keeping a sense of perspective is important and we will be happier and better musicians if we can do this. Understanding how to cope with the technical and physical difficulties we encounter and how we can improve through structured, reflective practice are the key to achieving this.
Remember – quality over quantity. It is better to practice in a focussed way, planning and concentrating on what we need to do to improve, rather than just ‘playing through’ in an aimless way. In this way we will enjoy our practice more and be able to achieve more in a shorter time.