From tendinitis to carpal tunnel syndrome, overplaying and over practicing can have devastating consequences for musicians. I am lucky, because I have yet to have a performance injury. There are plenty of musicians who have had (or currently have) a repetitive stress injury (RSI).
How can you avoid RSIs but still make enough progress on your instrument? The short answer is to listen to your body. The long answer is a little more complicated.
Performance health is important for any artist or athlete. Working to hard or too much can cause a performance injury. When music is your career, you have to find a balance between practice and physical health. That’s what this blog post is all about.
Listen to Your Body
The most important thing you can do is listen to your body. Slight discomfort is one thing; you can experiment to find a better playing position. Pain, on the other hand, should not be ignored.
If you experience any sort of pain, even if it is mild, stop practicing. Even if you have a performance coming up. Even if you have to warm up for a lesson. Stop practicing.
Do some stretching to help relieve the pain, but be prepared to take a break if stretches don’t work. Your body is trying to send a message, and you should listen.
If you practice a lot, make sure to regularly stretch commonly used muscle groups. For flutists, that means stretching our hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and facial muscles.
Just as you start a practice session with musical warm ups, you can also do some body warm ups. Almost every flutist knows the horror of navigating the right hand pinky keys. If you will be playing a lot of low register stuff, make sure your right hand is tension free.
Pianists can benefit from finger stretches to help with those octave plus reaches. Cellists should always stretch their shoulders to avoid thoracic outlet syndrome.
No matter what instrument you play, stretches will help you stay flexible so you can play without pain.
Break Up Your Practice
This tip is for both physical and mental health. I am not one of those people who can just practice for hours on end. I have to practice in 30-45 minute bursts throughout the day. This not only helps me avoid over practicing, but it also improves my focus.
Even if you can practice for hours at a time, consider taking short breaks. Drink some water, walk around, or read a blog post like this one 😜.
Shorter practice sessions can improve your productivity while keeping you physically fit to play your instrument.
Okay, so this tip only works if you play more than one instrument. If you want to avoid repetitive stress, try practicing a different instrument. Most instruments have their own requirements for posture, so switching can free up certain muscle groups.
You should of course stretch first. (Remember?)
If you play multiple instruments, switch off between them. That way, you can still reach your practice goals and avoid playing in the same position all the time.
As an example, flutists can switch to piccolo. That brings the arms closer to the body and can put less stress on the arms and hands. A curved head alto flute can serve the same purpose.
Find Other Ways to “Practice”
If you can’t actually play your instrument, find other methods to practice. Other practice methods include score study, listening to recordings, and watching videos.
Don’t let pain keep you from progressing as a musician. There are plenty of things you can do to keep up with your music.
For inspiration, check out The Joyful Flutist’s 100 Days of Alternative Practice on Instagram!
Don’t Give Up
While it is always best to avoid injury, sometimes you can’t avoid it. If you do have an RSI, follow your doctor’s orders so you can get better.
It can be tempting to play if the pain isn’t severe, but doing so can cause more damage. So listen to your body and find other ways to practice.
But most importantly, don’t give up.
Have you ever had a performance injury? How did you recover? Let me know in the comments!
And be sure to check out these exercises for left hand only…perfect for those days when your right hand just ain’t havin’ it! (Subscribe for the password)