5 Habits of Healthy Music Practice

Posted by Anthony Cerullo on Sep 13, 2016 09:00 AM

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It's likely that your music teacher has stressed the importance of healthy practice techniques from a mental point of view, but has he or she helped address the physical discomfort you sometimes feel as a result of practicing? Some musicians tend to brush over this aspect, but it's something everyone should pay close attention to. After all, you aren't going to be very productive with a hurt hand, aching back, or a sore throat.

Think this would never happen to you? In a recent study, 84 percent of professional orchestral musicians have reported pain or injuries that interfered with their playing during practice and performances. Don't let yourself become a statistic like this. There are plenty of ways to approach healthy practice, but today, we're going to look at five of the most important ones.

1. Take baby steps

So you're an ambitious musician. That's a great quality to have, and you shouldn't try to stifle that ambition. That being said, some ambitious people tend to go a bit overboard. You're not going to learn Mozart's entire collection during the first week of playing piano, and you'll certainly hurt yourself if you try.

It's fine to practice every day, but if you're just starting out, take baby steps. Over time, your muscles will build up and you can then begin to gradually increase the length and intensity of practice sessions.

Besides the physical benefits, taking baby steps like this will help your sanity. Playing too much, without proper rest, will burn out creativity and you may begin to hate music itself. It doesn't get much worse than that.

[5 Solutions for When Music is Burning You Out]

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2. Structure your workload

Building off the first step, structuring your workload is a great way to manage those baby steps, and it'll help you figure out your mental and physical limits. Once you do, it's important to respect these limits, or you'll become counterproductive.

Once you've organized a manageable workload, it's important to stick with it and even review it regularly. Perhaps you'll find one aspect of your practice routine that often gets neglected. If that's the case, then put it at the top of the list next time around.

From there, make sure to handle each task one at a time and finish each one completely before moving on. That way, your mind will be clear for the next one and you can get a better feel for your limitations.

[4 Ways to Structure Your Practice Time for Maximum Effectiveness]

3. Warm up and cool down

Just like someone gearing up for a run, warming up before you play will enhance your speed, strength, and efficiency. Cooling down can help prevent cramping and tightening after periods of heightened activity.

Muscles that aren't warmed up tend to tire quickly. When they tire out, we have to try harder to get them to do what we want, and tension is increased. From there, the tense muscle gets tired and sets itself up for easy injury. Check out these warm-up and cool-down routines for some ideas to get you started.

If you do get an injury from not properly warming up or cooling down, it's important that you do not self-diagnose. Many disorders have similar symptoms, so it's important to seek professional treatment. With things like this, the earlier the better. If you wait too long for treatment, it has the potential to become a long-term problem that could jeopardize your music career.

When recovering from an injury, go back to step number one. Even if you've worked up to peak levels of practice, jumping right back into that intensity after an injury is devastating. Start small, and slowly increase your daily practice time. You must respect the healing process – it's simply not worth the risk if you want a long career in music.

4. Listen to the signs

If you've chosen a career in music, you've (hopefully) mastered the art of listening. Listening goes far beyond just the music, though. You need to listen to your body as well. Some of the injury signs can be subtle, so you must pay close attention to how you feel, and above all, don't ignore them.

That may seem like common sense, but unfortunately, many musicians will play through an injury or simply ignore it in favor of playing the gig. No one wants to be associated with bailing out on a performance, but pride needs to take a backseat on this one. Your bandmates will understand if you're truly in pain. Playing that one gig isn't worth it if it leads to more missed gigs down the road due to a worsening injury.

Of course, these awkward situations can all be avoided if you listen to the signs in the first place. Symptoms tend to show themselves before the issue gets serious. By addressing them quickly and properly, it's possible to avoid any mishaps in your music career. 

5. Exercise and eat well

You know those fried potato skins and candy bars you eat for lunch every day? Well, sorry, but they're making you a worse musician. It might not seem like it, but talent and a balanced diet are closely related.

In order to be a consistently good player, you'll need strong reserves of mental and physical energy. This is made easier with a healthy diet. There are all kinds of different fad diets out there that dabble in the extreme, but this doesn't have to be a major lifestyle change for you. Most nutritionists agree that eating a diet high in fresh fruits, veggies, and lean protein will make you feel better. Feeling better means dedicating more energy to the things you love, like music.


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Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.

Topics: Performing, Honing Your Craft


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