Marina Petrov

Award winning Pianist, Occupational Piano Injury Specialist, Lecturer & Piano Teacher Managing Director of Around the Globe Piano Music Festival

Award winning Pianist, Occupational Piano Injury Specialist, Lecturer & Piano Teacher / Managing Director of Around the Globe Piano Music Festival

Musician's health : General advice

General advice to musicians that may help to prevent and ease symptoms of occupational injuries

Whether you are an instrumentalist, conductor or singer, you should be aware of musicians' occupational hazards which involve certain strain on the body and mind. Musicians with a long career, at least once in their lifetime suffer from occupational injury, which includes physical or mental stress. Apart from medical experts who are able to help you with symptoms, many other measures can also be taken to prevent or recover from musicians' injuries. Self-knowledge of one's body and abilities as well as mental and emotional traits may well be the key factor in healing or preventing injury. Your lifestyle, as well as your diet, could also improve or aggravate your condition. Therefore, it is important to consider all the factors involved to ease the symptoms in order to help yourself and improve your general well-being.

To relieve physical stress

  • Musicians need to take extra care of their bodies as their profession involves long hours of performing and teaching including much sitting or standing,. In our line of work, professional musicians often suffer from "over-use injuries" as certain muscles overload including arms, shoulders and spine. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to keep our body fit in order to cope with excessive work and strain. Exercises and sports for musicians that can improve the posture, physical stamina, breathing patterns, as well as helping to release stress and muscle tension include: swimming, Pilates, Yoga [1], Alexander Technique, Thai-Chi [2] and any other similar activities, and they should be practised in moderation. Various dance classes, table tennis, aerobics or other similar workouts could also be of benefit. However, exercises that involve any heavy weights for the arms and upper body including some workouts at the gym should be avoided. Tennis, most forms of martial arts and any other hazardous sports are not advisable either.
  • Even an experienced musician should always pay attention to hands, arms, neck and body posture. Due to musicians' work burden over the years, posture can deteriorate. This needs to be acknowledged and taken extra care of.
  • Try to adapt the instrument to your body and not the other way round. If possible, try to move around the room or make a gentle dance movement while playing/singing. That may help to release any body and arm tensions as well as loosen your stiff muscles.
  • Our body is not designed to stay in one position for hours and our mind cannot stay focused at the same intensity for a long period either. Try to make short breaks of 5-20 minutes between your practise every 1-2 hours, depending on your general mental and physical fitness. For a less experienced musician or someone who previously suffered from musicians' occupational injuries, these breaks should be more frequent and at least every 45 minutes.
  • However busy you are or have limited time to practise, you always need to find the time to warm up your hands or voice with scales, arpeggios or studies and exercises before working on your main musical programme. These should be practised from slow to moderate speed, in mp or mf dynamics for at least 20-30 minutes, depending on your instrument and musical fitness.

To relieve mental stress

  • It is recommended that we avoid bringing stress from the outside world to our daily practise as it may seriously damage playing/singing. Under psychological or emotional stress muscles can get tighter unwillingly, especially the ones that are being used the most. Furthermore, the memory may diminish and concentration can weaken whilst performing. Instead, try to do some form of meditation for several minutes before practising your instrument. The best is to think and mentally focus on the music that you need to work on before actually doing it.
  • Many of us suffer from extra stress before and during the concert. Performance anxieties or stage-fright symptoms can be risk factors to general health and can spoil the quality of our performance. Memory loss due to nervousness can often threaten our musicianship and confidence. Therefore, to help minimise performers' emotional and mental tensions as well as anxieties, it is advisable to practise various meditation and breathing exercises. From my view, the most beneficial and quick to perform before going on the stage are Carola Grindea's [3] Liberate Body and Mind exercises. Highly recommended!
  • Furthermore, in severe cases of stage fright, nervousness, depression or any other related problems where self-healing methods cannot help, cognitive therapy might be the answer. Talk to you GP about it or seek advice from a professional psychologist.

Other factors (instrumentalist only)

  • Hands should always be kept warm and extra precaution taken, especially when the weather is cold. It is advisable to wear warm gloves during autumn/winter months. Playing should be avoided if your hands are very cold as this can cause hand or arm injury at the later stage.
  • Try not to carry heavy loads if possible (not more then 3 kg/6 pounds), as it can damage muscle tissue if playing subsequently. However, if you do end up carrying much weight, try to avoid playing for several hours afterwards or ideally, that same day.

Importance of diet and sleep

  • To cope better with nerves and any other tension before and during performance, it is of essence to pay attention to your diet and sleeping regime. The night before, it is desirable to stay away from any heavy food, avoid indulgence of any kind including stimulants such as drugs and alcohol. A good night's sleep is also highly recommended. If enough hours of sleep are not possible due to concerts' travels or any other commitments, try to find the time to rest by using various meditation techniques. Thus, you can improve the quality of your resting time and enhance your mental abilities throughout the day. On the day of the performance, it is important to have light meals with energy food (i.e. bananas) as well as food rich in vitamin B (to help the nervous system) and vitamin C to help with your concentration. For smokers, it is not advisable to smoke on the day or before the concert as it can add to tensions causing extra tremors, sweaty palms, cooler hands, etc.

Recommended literature for further reading:

  • Carola Grindea, Great Pianists and Pedagogues in conversation with Carola Grindea (Kahn & Averill, 2007)
  • Irene Samuel, Musical Maestros (Rosters Ltd, 1987)
  • Raija Roivainen, Singing - a Continuous Muscular Movement, ISSTIP Journal Vol. 15, Autumn 2008, 7-9
  • Prof. Earl Owen, Mayhem from Music, ISSTIP Journal No 11, July 2002, 4-6

To purchase ISSTIP journals/download the articles refer to www.isstip.org.

Footnotes

  1. Famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) was passionate advocate of yoga's benefits to musicians. The book written by him Light of Yoga is highly recommended. Downloads from: www.pdfdatabase.com/light-of-yoga-by-yehudi-menuhin.html
  2. For your further reference you could read an article Integrating Qi-Gong/Thai Chi Practise with Piano Practise: Consideration and Benefits, by Andrew Krauss. It is published in ISSTIP journal Tension in Performance, No 1, Issue 1, 2010 and you could buy/download from: www.isstip.org
  3. Carola Grindea (1914-2009) was a famous piano professor whose primary concern was musicians' well-being. She was helping musicians with injuries as well as promoting prevention techniques. Her legacy developing her own Carola Grindea Healthy Piano Technique as well as, International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance (ISSTIP) has helped many performers. She was also a founder of European Piano Teacher Association (EPTA) as well as Beethoven Piano Society of Europe. Found out more: Carola Grindea Obituary (The Guardian) or Carola Grindea Obituary (The Telegraph). Further information and enquiries at www.isstip.org