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Safely Increasing Practice Time

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

The academic year is getting underway, and millions of music students will dive into intense practice schedules.

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

5 Causes of Musicians’ Injuries

“I continued to play with a sore arm with the rationalization that I could play through the pain and that the discomfort would just miraculously go away as I got into better shape as a cellist. But the pain didn’t go away. It got worse.”
–Janet Horvath, cellist (The Musician’s Way, p. 231)

High-level music making brings immeasurable rewards and also comes with risks of injury.

But if we understand the risks, we can minimize them and position ourselves to keep performing for life.

This post spotlights the 5 main causes of musicians’ injuries (aside from those that affect hearing) along with ways in which we can sidestep common mishaps. Continue Reading

Can Focal Dystonia Be Prevented?

“Begin slowly and increase gradually any unaccustomed use of the hands.”
–Michael Charness, MD (The Musician’s Way, p. 237)

Guitarists Billy McLaughlin and Liona Boyd, pianists Leon Fleischer and Gary Graffman – all are musicians whose careers were upended by the mysterious condition known as focal dystonia.

Focal dystonia is a movement disorder characterized by painless, involuntary muscle contractions that occur when a person does a particular activity.

The images shown here portray a guitarist’s hand and a trombonist’s embouchure during dystonic contractions. Continue Reading

Sitting Tall

“The simplest things are the ones that count.”
–Pablo Casals, cellist (Casals and the Art of Interpretation, p. vi)

Have you ever dealt with discomfort caused by sitting?

Most of us sit for hours each day as we practice, study, and use computers.

I’ve observed, though, that few musicians and computer users know how to sit optimally and, as a result, many endure frequent episodes of back pain. Continue Reading

Heeding the Signs of Injury

“I ignored all my body’s warning signals in the name of ‘dedication’ to what I was doing. I had absolutely no idea that this little problem
would in fact threaten my career.”
–Christine Harrison, violinist (The Musician’s Way, p. 238)

We may not like to admit it, but we all have physical limits. And given that music making is so physical, we musicians sometimes exceed our limits, much as dancers and athletes do.

Still, we can prevent minor hurts from escalating into dire injuries, if we’re able to recognize and respond to the body’s warning signs. Continue Reading

The Total Warm-Up

“Like sensuous opening ceremonies,
warm-ups prepare the body, mind, and spirit for making music.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 37

I always take pleasure in my daily warm-ups. As I open my guitar case, tune, and play my first notes, I feel inspired and grateful to be able to make music.

Students, however, often lack clarity about how they might warm up.

In response, I’ve developed an adaptable 6-part framework that musicians and others can use to fashion warm-ups. Continue Reading

Balanced Shoulders, Open Heart

Violist Sheila Browne demonstrates balanced use of the shoulders. (c) Gerald Klickstein“The better you use yourself, the better you will play.”
–Pedro de Alcantara, Alexander technique teacher (The Musician’s Way, p. 257)

Music making may be the most integrated of all human activities. It’s no exaggeration to say that singing or playing requires us to coordinate everything that we are – our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Often, though, the rigors of practice and performance cause us to use ourselves in ways that are less than optimal. Continue Reading

The Competition Question

If you’re a rising musician, you’ll probably have opportunities to perform in competitions.

This post will help you decide whether a particular contest is right for you. Continue Reading

Dialing Down the Effort Meter

When you confront a technical challenge in your music making, does a voice within you ever say, “Try harder”?

I get the impression that many rising musicians believe that trying harder will result in greater precision.

But I advocate a reverse strategy: withdrawing effort. Continue Reading

The 12 Habits of Healthy Musicians

Have you ever experienced pain or discomfort as a result of your music making?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Continue Reading