Rock’n’rest: Musician & vocalist overuse injuries

Musicians and vocalists are prone to overuse injuries due to the amount of playing and singing that they do. These injuries can have a devastating effect on the careers of performers.

See the page on repetitive strain injury re. general principles on how to deal with these.

Crosstraining applied to musical instruments

I generally play the piano, but reduce the amount of repetition and physical stress by applying the principles of cross training by varying  my piano playing with a bit of guitar and harmonica. In a way it’s not ideal because it’s probably better to focus on one instrument, but there are other advantages with being a polyinstrumentalist.  I think that you learn more because if you play something on different instruments you look at what you are playing from different perspectives.  The guitar and the harmonica are also very portable which is great.  I’ve found the harmonica a particularly useful instrument to be able to play because not many people can play it and it works well with guitars.

Another way to apply the principle of cross training to playing a musical instrument is by having more than one piece that you are working on at the same time.This ensures that you are not repeating the same movements too much. To get the crosstraining benefit of playing the guitar and piano, you must ensure that you are not repeating similar movements on the guitar and piano e.g. if you are using your little finger a lot playing a piece on the guitar, avoid doing this on the piece that you are playing on the piano.

Efficient Practice

If you are reducing the amount of play you are doing in order to rest, then you may gain as much benefit from your practice if you practice in a efficient way i.e. by doing less random playing. I find that I can reduce the amount of time it takes me to learn a piece by analysing the piece first so that I understand what I am playing more. I have 2 ways of practicing – the first is what I call ‘Mindful’ playing where I play and think about what I have learnt from analysing the piece. The second way of practicing is by ‘playing with feeling’ without thinking about the technical aspects of the piece.

In terms of analysing the piece, there are two ways to do this. You can look at the piece before playing and analyse it from a music theory point of view e.g. if I noticed that there is a certain pattern in the chords of the piece then I aim to be aware of this when I play. This is where having some knowledge of music theory is useful. Alternatively when you play it you can look at physically what your hands are doing, e.g. on the piano are you playing with the hands in close position to each other or are they a few octaves apart.

I also practice the piece at different points within the piece, i.e. rather than starting at the beginning each time I may start at a more difficult point and try to get that right.

Efficient practice is probably also enhanced by investing in having lessons.

When not playing:

All musicians need to be careful with their bodies whilst not playing. For example, it is foolish to get into any fist fights with people because this can damage your hands (and is not sensible anyway!).  Look after your ears by purchasing specially moulded ear plugs if you go to gigs.  Take breaks from the noise at gigs and in clubs. Follow the other advice about protecting your hearing that you can find online.

Active rest:

If you need to rest for a few weeks or months from playing you can still make progress during this time by studying music theory which you will find will greatly enhance your playing.