Mindful Movements: The Musicians Body,by Karen T. Hogg , 2003©All Rights Reserved

 

This past summer, while teaching at the National GuitarWorkshop, I attended a seminar given by a famous blues guitarist.I heard he had many physical problems that hindered his guitarplaying in the past, so I asked him how he dealt with that. Hesaid in addition to taking up relaxing practices such as Tai Chiand Hatha yoga, he was also constantly aware of his posture. WhileI watched him playing onstage, I saw this to be true. He alwaysseemed relaxed. His shoulders weren't hunched up towards his earsand he wasn't making any unnecessary movements.

Playing guitar is a physical activity. As a musician andyoga teacher who has dealt with my own share of various achesand pains, I am constantly reminded of this. Muscle memory isan integral part of learning your chords and scales. Both yourright and left hands have developed fine motor skills from manyhours of practice. In this respect, we musicians have a lot incommon with athletes. We put our bodies through rigorous trainingin order to achieve desired results. Over the years though, ifwe do not treat our bodies with respect and care, injury can occur.

Unfortunately, many of us aren't aware of the movementswe make while we play. Have you ever watched a videotape of yourselfplaying? Were you surprised by what you saw? A lot of musiciansplay with their shoulders hunched up towards their ears. Eventually,this will cause tension in the neck and shoulder areas. In addition,some guitarists play with their instruments hung too low, a laJimmy Page. This puts excessive strain on the back. Why is thisimportant? Because pain can inhibit your playing.

Being mindful and aware of how we move is vital to havinga long, enjoyable life of music making. Many injuries may be preventableby taking these precautions:

 

STRETCH

Athletes warm up before practice, and so must musicians.In addition to doing warm-ups on your instrument to get the bloodflowing into your hands, you should do gentle stretches to warmup the entire body. Warm-ups that stretch the shoulder and neckarea are especially important for guitarists.

If you're not familiar with proper stretches to do, thereare several resources available to you. You could attend a localgentle yoga class. If there are no yoga centers in your area,check your local YMCA or YWCA. They frequently will have yogaclasses in their weekly schedule. If no yoga classes are to befound, you can always work on your own from a book. Your localbookstore is sure to carry some books about stretching. "Yogafor Dummies" by George Feuerstein and Larry Payne is a goodstarting point. It provides clear explanations and excellent picturesto describe each of the poses and how to execute them.

 

EXERCISE

It has been proven time and time again that exercise isvital to a long and healthy life. Exercise helps circulation.The more oxygen and blood flow to all your various body parts,the better everything will function. Joints and muscles will behealthier, therefore your playing will have less of a stressfulimpact on the body.

Again, you have some choices here. If you're not the typewho likes to sweat a lot, you can still help your body by engagingin low impact activities. Even simply taking regular walks canbe extremely beneficial. Walking can help loosen up the back musclesthat often get stiff from staying in one position for too long,i.e. practicing for hours on end. The important thing here isto experiment with different types of exercise and see what worksbest for you.

 

TAKE BREAKS

While you are playing, are you experiencing any pain orfatigue? This is your body trying to tell you something. It meansyou're overworking your muscles. When this happens, STOP! Takea break. Taking breaks, even if it means you don't play as muchas you would like to on a given day, is better than being outof commission for a much longer period of time because of an injury.

This might seem like common sense, but you would be surprisedhow many people don't take breaks when practicing. Sitting inone position for too long is not beneficial to the body, regardlessof what you are doing. It is a good idea to take breaks at leastevery 30 minutes. Get up and walk around. This gives the musclesa chance to relax. Even if you feel fine or feel like you're ona roll with whatever you're working on, this is an important stepto take.

 

DOES YOUR INSTRUMENT FIT YOU?

This is also might seem like common sense, but really thinkabout it. Does your instrument fit you comfortably? Is it tooheavy? Is it too big (or too small) for you? If you feel likeyou really have to reach over the guitar in order to get to thestrings, it probably means the guitar is too big for you. Manypeople, when first learning to play, buy dreadnought steel-stringacoustic guitars. While dreadnoughts have a big sound, makingthem a joy for most of us sound-obsessed guitarists, they areactually too large for many people to play, especially women andkids. When trying out a new guitar, make sure your shoulders feelrelaxed. Experiment with different sizes of guitars. Smaller-sizedacoustics, such as parlor guitars, are enjoying increasing popularity,not only for comfort, but also for their warm, intimate sounds.

With these suggestions in mind, it is possible to have amore physically easeful practice on your instrument. Rememberto always treat your body with honor and respect. Happy musicmaking!

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About the author: Karen T. Hogg is one of the most well-respectedguitar instructors in the world. She is on the faculty of severalmusic schools. teaches at the National Guitar Workshop & hasbeen published in many leading music industry publications.