Robert Estrin - piano expert
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How to Avoid Injury When Playing a Musical Instrument

Useful tips to avoid injury when playing a musical instrument

Released on July 31, 2013

  
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Welcome! I'm Robert Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com with a very important show: "How to Avoid Injury Playing a Musical Instrument." We all practice, if you're a musician like I am, you practice, you perform and if you ever risk ruining your hands, or your embouchure if you're a wind player, what's it all for? So this is a very important show that I want to share with all of you.

Well, there are many things to think about when avoiding injury when practicing or performing and you really need to think holistically. It's not like you can just do one thing and that's going to solve the problem. In fact, for example, every morning I do some yoga just to stretch and feel good and it's not just good for musical instruments, it's good for life. Just feeling good and having the muscles all worked out, taking good walks, having some regular exercise routine, eating healthy, all of this plays into avoiding injury when you're playing an instrument. After all, if you're out of shape and you barely get any exercise, it's very easy to hurt yourself playing almost any musical instrument. So that's very important.

Now, when it comes to actually playing your instrument, of course all instruments have their challenges. If you're a string player, holding a violin for example, is not the most natural position in the world. Flutists also have a hard time. Maintaining a position like this for hours can take it's toll on your arms and your joints. I'm going to talk a little bit about piano. Here I am sitting at a piano. Now, what kind of approach is appropriate? Well for one thing, the height of the bench is absolutely critical for being able to feel good at the piano. If you're sitting too low and your arms are at an angle, either up or down, they should be straight like this and that's a good position to be in because it's very comfortable to maintain, with the wrists straight.

Now, how about the distance? I've seen sometimes students come in and they're sitting like this at the piano. How can you possibly be comfortable being on top of the piano? Likewise if you're too far away you're going to be stressed. Take the time at the beginning of your practice. If you're a wind player, the chair you choose, maybe you need a cushion to be at just the right height. I also play the French horn, and I find it is incredibly important, if I'm sitting on a chair for example as many do that slant slightly backwards, oh boy, that is really tough to be able to breathe well. It ruins the whole experience. And not only that, but you will play better when you're right in the zone of where you want to be and how you feel. So take the time to adjust the bench.

This is really important, by the way, sometimes at a musical performance you've got a whole audience out there and you might feel "Well I'd better play quickly, they don't want to see me take the extra time." First of all, time is very strange, it's all relative. Now when you're up there and the lights are on you and you've got all these people watching you, you'll think it's taking a really long time. You'll feel like you're taking an eternity to set things up. You might just rush and want to start. Don't make that mistake. First of all, you are not the only center of attraction, even though you are the main one. People are out there, they're looking at their programs, they're talking to the people next to them. What seems like an eternity to you is a flash, just a moment for them. Take the extra time, you'll be pleased that you did once you start your performance and you feel good.

So, what else can you do? Well, one thing that's really important is to take frequent breaks in your practice. If you're going on and on for 40 minutes, an hour without ever stopping, even just a short break of a couple of minutes walking around the room, stretching your arms in the air, boy that really makes a difference because almost any instrument you play, you're going to be confined to one position primarily. Just being able to alternate and take a little walk can make a big difference in how you feel. Likewise, varying the music you play, varying the repertoire as well as the practice techniques. For example, if you've been working on scales for a while, do something totally different like sight reading or memorization. Try to keep it changed up and you'll find that you won't get so fatigued physically or mentally and you'll have a more productive practice.

So these are just some of things you can do and if you think of any other techniques that have been helpful for you to avoid injury, please send them my way. I'd be very, very willing to share them on the website for all of you to take advantage of. Thank you for joining me. Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com. Until next time.
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Christopher slevin * VSM MEMBER * on June 24, 2015 @8:19 am PST
I have progressive lenses and they drove me nuts trying to read must aid. When at the ophthalmologist I helad my arm in front of me at full stretch with the back of May hand at 90degrees to my wrist. I then asked for a prescription to fit that focal point. I don't know whether this is good advice. I am nowhere near entertains publicly so my extra glasses just stay on the piano. It worked for me but perhaps Robert Estrin has some useful input?
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Robert - host, on June 24, 2015 @2:47 pm PST
I know people who use bifocals or progressive lenses. I have always had 20/20 vision. However, just like everybody else, my near vision requires reading glasses at this stage of my life except in very strong light. So, I have a trick!

I have reading glasses that sit high on my nose. That way, I can see the keys of the piano beneath the glasses, yet I read the notes through the glasses. I'm not sure if this will work for you, but it's great for me!
Meera Thadani on August 2, 2013 @9:13 pm PST
I am one of those oldies and I had progressive bifocals made and it made a big difference to my sight reading. I also chose a slightly bigger frame than the skinny fashion ones and that helped a lot also.
Thanks for all the tips.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on July 31, 2013 @7:35 pm PST
I would like to mention a very important thing for those oldies like me who wear byfocals. Make sure you get a pair of bifocals made with the intermediate distance lenses at the top and the reading lenses at the bottom. Don't attempt to read music with the reading part of your glasses, your neck won't like it! And you will find how useful is that pair of intermediate/reading lenses for other tasks around the house, like painting the ceiling or the walls.
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Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on August 1, 2013 @8:04 am PST
That's a really good point Fulvia, and I agree with you 100%! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Robert - host, on August 3, 2013 @10:04 am PST
I finally had to succumb to reading glasses a few years ago. (My distance vision is still 20/20.) When I read music, I place the glasses high on my face so I can see the keyboard without looking through the glasses! You must find what works for you.
Lois Uscher on July 31, 2013 @6:20 pm PST
Good advice about how to avoid injury. So important to break up practice time and move about and then return fresh to your instrument. Stretch your upper body so that your shoulders and neck do not become problems.
Maria * VSM MEMBER * on July 31, 2013 @4:58 pm PST
Hello Robert,
great suggestions as always! I have found Tai Chi before starting practice, or before a concert, is also very useful and helps to "settle" the body.
Eileen Sephton on July 31, 2013 @6:59 am PST
Hi Robert,
I was just watching your advice on avoiding injury and thought I'd share my experience as I only discovered my problem after playing for 15 years. As a violinist, I used to get very sore round the base of my neck. When I upgraded my instrument the problem disappeared. The reason - my new better violin was much lighter. I hadn't realised how heavy my particular student model was, nor that this excess weight was causing my problem. Weight of the violin in relation to the person playing it is now something I consider when guiding students in their purchases.
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Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on July 31, 2013 @8:17 am PST
Thank you Eileen for sharing your experience, as a violinist myself I can confirm that what you wrote is 100% true! The weight of the instrument plays a big role on that as well as having the right shoulder rest.

For violinist like you, be sure to check out Lora's video about the Best Violin Posture:
http://www.virtualsheetmusic.com/experts/lora/posture/

Thank you again for sharing and, please, let me know if you have any additional questions.
Robert - host, on July 31, 2013 @9:59 am PST
You bring up such a good point! Problems can develop with any instrument that is either faulty or not the right fit. Finding the right mouthpiece can be critical to keeping a relaxed, healthy approach on a wind instrument. Pianos with excessively heavy actions can certainly cause problems. Many violists struggle finding an instrument that isn't too big or heavy. So this is an important subject for all musicians.
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