The Joy of Practice : Part 8 - Your Body
No matter what instrument you play or whatever you do, in order to be successful, enjoy what you do and have some longevity, you have to take care of and consider your body. Aches, pains, injuries and strains can conspire to make activities unpleasant and uncomfortable.
Although, there is no guarantee that you won’t ever have to face any physical challenges in your life, there are certain measures
that you can take to minimize, reduce or eliminate the prospect of you actually causing these problems during practice and play.
The most immediate concern is your posture. Whether you are sitting, standing or moving, being aware of your position, the quality and efficiency of your movement and your balance are crucial in order to perform at your highest level in a way that is pain free and avoids injury. If you are playing any instrument (or doing any activity) while seated, your first order of concern is how you are sitting. The 2 initial factors that contribute to your effectiveness and efficiency are the quality and stability of the chair and your balance and posture in that chair while simply sitting. The next challenge is to observe the ways in which your activity (playing a drum set, flute, piano, trumpet, etc.) affects your balance and posture and strategies that allow you to execute your activity with the same sense of relaxation that you had while just sitting. Ergonomic set-up of your equipment (that functions well with your body) and careful attention to your movement, along with body consciousness - being aware of how you feel, where there may be tension, etc. are also key ingredients to optimal performance. I have worked with students who had chronically raised shoulders, elbows held out to their sides, slouching backs and they were completely unaware of their tendencies. Learning how the body is naturally aligned through Dance class, Yoga,Tai Chi, Swimming and other modalities can be very helpful.
Everything that you do has to be calibrated to accommodate your body. There are no fixed rules about body positioning vis a vis an activity. You must take into account your specific dimensions. If a student that is 6’5” tall plays my drum set, that individual is going to feel incredibly cramped and constricted. Their arms and legs are necessarily much longer and each component of the instrument will need to be farther away from their core (seat). Before engaging in any activity that requires equipment, make sure to adjust it to your comfort first!
Stretching, before, during and after practice is important to prepare and maintain your body. Exaggerated movement during practice can be used to establish your mechanics and/or develop flexibility. If you see a runner before a race or practice, they are extended far beyond the range that they will employ in the actual running. On the other hand, an important part of practice is to clarify and economize your movement so there is no wasted motion or energy. You need to be clear about what you are practicing and why in order to get the most out of your effort. A mirror or series of mirrors can supplement your body awareness with a visual cue of bad posture, tension or lack of balance. Sometimes you don’t notice inefficient and harmful postural or technical issues until you see them. You can also video record your practice or performance for feedback.
While you consider your body more, become conscious of how you feel and correct your posture and approach, you will see and experience a higher level of performance and enjoyment!