Key Words: Shift, Fidget, and Wiggle

Playing Less Hurt

Ignoring pain can impair or end any musician’s career. ‘Playing Less Hurt’ aims to prevent that.

Try this: Put your keyboard over your left hip. Now look at your screen over your right shoulder. Hold this pose for at least 45 minutes. That’s what a typical violinist does – for several hours every day.

And that doesn’t include twisting your left hand, while holding a bow in the fingers of your right.

So it’s no surprise that a typical musician can develop just as many career-related injuries as a football player. Strained ligaments? Tennis elbow? Painful bruises (including of the lips)?

Yes, they all belong to musicians. It’s not only the audience who suffers from cramped seats and no intermission.tuba

What is a surprise is that so many musicians – from young students through the most experienced professionals – don’t seem to know what to do about potential injuries, from prevention to cure.

That’s where the book Playing (Less) Hurt can come to the rescue. Written by the Minnesota Orchestra’s associate principal cello player Janet Horvath, the 236-page, 2010 edition is packed with thorough yet non-technical information important for anyone who plays a musical instrument.

red chairs
The author urges all musicians to remember to shift (in their chairs), fidget (look up and side to side), and wiggle (their fingers during pauses), whether during a lesson, practice session, or even on stage.

Lists, Tricks, and Tips

Ms Horvath describes in easily understandable language exactly what happens when a musician plays the instrument. Carpal tunnel, neck problems, and tendonitis are not limited just to people who use computer keyboards (take note!), but also the piano keyboard — and almost any other instrument.

In fact, musicians’ hearing can be damaged as easily as teens’ at a rock concert. Whoever sits in front of the trombones or next to the piccolo player – or even in a small orchestra pit – is in danger of significant hearing loss.

violin head

Most musicians feel their instrument is a part of them, and may fail to distinguish problems of incorrect form from inherent level of ability.

Add to physical injury are the mental bruises: “We place demands and sometimes unrealistic expectations on ourselves and in so doing, get caught in the guilt and blame game,” the cellist writes.

“If something goes wrong, ‘We didn’t practice enough!’ If we hurt, ‘We must be doing something wrong.’ ”

Unfortunately, often this compels musicians to practice harder, and longer, which of course results in further injury.

Adding to the problem are poorly designed classroom or concert hall chairs, stage fright, tour schedules and travel, and unrealistic repertoires and performance schedules.

Playing (Less) Hurt includes black-and-white photos and illustrations showing where injury can occur, and the tricks and aids to prevent or repair injury. Sprinkled throughout the chapters, cartoon illustrations show a large variety of stretching and warm-up exercises.Playing Less Hurt

Included are a lengthy resource list of books, organizations, clinics and practitioners, and clever products to help prevent injury or permit a musician to continue playing, even while healing.

The book, in English, is published by Hal Leonard Books.

— Mary Matz, Opus Osm editor

Photo Credits: All photos except bottom, Miroslav Setnička; bottom, Mary Matz

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