Monday Mailbag – Dealing with Pain

I have a question brought up by one of my students. She asked me if my back ever hurt after practicing for a long time. I told her yes, and then began to wonder if there was anything I could suggest for her to do to help it not hurt (and for me too!). I look forward to seeing some of your suggestions.

This is such an important issue! So many musicians have had to quit or greatly reduce their playing due to pain. Thankfully, though, in recent years an incredible amount of research has been done and many individuals and groups are working to educate musicians on how to avoid injury while playing.

One of the things that I learned when I went through some Suzuki piano training is that every part of the body is interconnected and there are both natural and unnatural ways of using them. The point of pain may not necessarily be the root of the problem. For example, a pain in the back could come from tension in the shoulders. Or it could come from an incorrect sitting position on the bench (anyone heard of the “sit bones”? :-)). Or I’m sure there are plenty of other possible root causes.

I would recommend reading the notes from the workshop presented by Beth Grace called, Beyond Scales and Hanon. Beth’s workshops (I’ve been to several) have been some of the most valuable resources for me as a teacher. Above all, I have learned from her the importance of researching and educating myself on the area of technique and proper/natural body movement so that I can intently observe my students, properly diagnose technical problems, and guide them in finding solutions that will make their playing easier and more beautiful.

Gerald Klickstein, of The Musician’s Way, has an extensive list of wellness resources that would be a great starting point for finding books and/or articles related to specific areas. A quick list of easy-to-implement tips that you’ll find in almost any discussion of this topic include:

  • Do appropriate stretches before you commence practicing. Just as athletes set aside time to stretch the muscles that will be called upon in their sports, musicians should take time to stretch and warm up their muscles as part of their practice session.
  • Take periodic breaks. Practice sessions don’t have to be marathons. I tend to be a chunk-of-time person; I like to set aside the time and work until I finish a project. But I’m learning that with practicing it can be better to take short breaks or spread the time throughout the day so that the brain is refreshed and you can focus better on the task at hand.
  • Drink lots of water. You should be constantly replenishing your body fluids through the day to maintain optimal brain and muscle functioning. Just have a glass of water somewhere close to the piano and take drinks in between pieces.

I know there are others who have done much more extensive research and have more experience in this area than me, so if you have comments or suggestions related to dealing with pain, feel free to comment!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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