• Elizabeth Kinnear

Relaxation and Musicians

You may be wondering what relaxation has to do with music. Are we going to talk about how music is relaxing? Or maybe mention spa music? While music can be relaxing, that is not the topic that I will be discussing today. Rather, I want to discuss how important it is for musicians to be relaxed when they are playing their instrument, performing, or singing.

While many beginner musicians are not aware of it, playing an instrument puts physical stress on certain parts of the body depending on several factors including the instrument you play, whether you are playing with the correct technique, or how long you practice. This stress or tension is the enemy of musicians! And if not dealt with may hinder the musicians growth or cause physical injury.

You may wonder how a musician can injure themselves from being too tense. After all, playing an instrument is not as dangerous as playing football. I teach piano and voice so I will use these two instruments as examples. When a piano player plays with tension in their wrists or hands (normally resulting from incorrect technique, hand placement, or anxiety), their wrists and hands cannot move as smoothly as they should in order to play well. Long practices (many collegiate level pianists are expected to play roughly 15-20 hours a week) with tense wrists can lead to strain, pain, and in extreme cases tendonitis in one's wrists/hands.

Similarly, vocalists who are tense will find their sound is more closed off than when they are relaxed. It may also take more effort to sing high or belt out notes. If a vocalist continues to sing when their throat/neck is tense, especially when singing high or belting, for extended periods of time, they may develop vocal nodules.

I do not say this to scare you away from learning an instrument because these problems are easy to prevent if you are able to relax. However, that is often easier said than done. Here are some ways to relax when you begin to feel tension. It is important that you never push through pain or tension!

1. Make sure you warm up.

Teachers do not assign warm-ups just because we can or because we like them. Warm-ups help you slowly warm up your body in order to perform or practice well. Just like athletes must warm-up before doing any physical activity, musicians should warm up before practicing or performing.

2. Stretch/Warm-up physically

Scales and technical warm-ups are great, but sometimes you need to physically warm up as well. Stretching and yoga can help you release any additional tension in your body before you play. The important part is to work out any physical strain and relax your body.

3. Ensure you are playing with correct posture and technique.

When practicing, make sure you are practicing in a way that will not create tension. Stretches and warm-ups won't help if your playing will only cause tension. Piano players should ensure their wrists can move freely, they are playing on the tips of the fingers, and are sitting with the correct posture.

4. Take breaks if you are practicing for extended amounts of time.

For pianists, pieces requiring many octaves in a row can cause tension if one does not allow their hands/wrists a break. If you find a specific piece more taxing than others, play a relaxing piece between attempts at the song or take a break to stretch and relax your body.

5. Relax mentally as well.

Being overly stressed about a piece or passage can cause your body to tense up. If you find yourself too tense from stress, take a break from practicing, calm your mind down, and practice again when you are more relaxed.

6. If you are teaching yourself, consider taking a few private lessons.

While one can teach themselves the basics of playing an instrument (how to make the correct sounds and read notes), it can be difficult to learn correct technique on your own. A private instructor can notice when you are tense in certain areas and give you tips to help you combat that tension.

I hope that some of these tips can help you stay relaxed when playing an instrument or performing! If you have questions regarding tension when playing with a specific instrument, contact your teacher or email us at contact@rhythmmusicstudio.com for information regarding lessons!

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