Musicians Practicing in a Classical Ensemble“Nearly all musicians’ injuries are preventable.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 230

Each fall, as the academic year begins, millions of music students dive into intense practice schedules.

That fresh start, though, comes with a high risk of injury.

The Dangers of Overuse
Risk of injury spikes because students tend to suddenly increase their practice time as they prepare for auditions, participate in lengthy rehearsals, and otherwise pursue their musical passions.

Such abrupt increases overwork delicate tissues, producing small traumas that can lead to tendonitis, vocal strain, muscle pain, and other overuse injuries.

If symptoms arise and musicians don’t heed warning signs, lasting impairment can result. See Chapters 12 & 13 of The Musician’s Way for more about the nature of musicians’ injuries and ways to prevent them.

Safe Limits
Fortunately, if musicians know how to pace themselves, they can increase their practice time in stages and minimize the risk of injury – not only at the start of new school years but also during other high-risk periods such as when recitals approach, auditions loom, or summer festivals begin.

Ideally, musicians would be able to maintain consistent levels of practice so that surges in playing or singing time wouldn’t arise. But, in reality, most performers find themselves faced with periods when they need to practice more.

How much can we safely increase? Here’s how I answer that question in The Musician’s Way:

Physician Ralph Manchester, editor of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists, counsels musicians to confine any rise in playing or singing to a maximum of 10-20% per week. If you normally make music two hours per day, then your topmost increase would be anywhere from 12-24 minutes a day for one week. Even so, if you step up for three straight weeks, it might be prudent to practice less on the fourth week so that you don’t get worn down. (TMW, p. 12)

Efficient Practice
When musicians have piles of music to master, efficient practice strategies can enable them to be productive without exceeding their physical limits.

Those strategies incorporate the use of mental practice techniques, smart warm-ups, frequent breaks, and targeted problem-solving tactics. Ample sleep is important too.

In the words of the late cellist David Soyer, “Practicing well is virtually an art in itself – the art of achieving economy of time and means.” (The Musician’s Way, p. 20)

Related posts
5 Causes of Musicians’ Injuries
Can Focal Dystonia Be Prevented?
Hear Today. Hear Tomorrow.
Heeding the Signs of Injury
The Total Warm-Up

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Stokkete, licensed from Shutterstock.com

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