23 Dec 2010

A high proportion of musicians experience injuries at some point; ultimately as many as 75%. Frozen shoulder, tendinitis, back/neck/shoulder pain, RSI, focal dystonia, etc etc. Professional musicians and conservatoire students are under great pressure to attain their optimal level of performance as quickly as possible. Concerts, competitions, interim exams, student try-out concerts and the pressure to accept all offers, for fear of missing out next time around. Musicians are exposed to all of this without general access to injury prevention measures, psychologists, masseurs and personal coaches – all of these are standard facilities in the world of top sport. In the musicians’ world injury and anxiety related issues are still taboo. Musicians are ashamed if they are struggling or if they have an injury; then they feel weak and experience it as a failure. As a result of this taboo and the prevailing culture of ‘the show must go on’, they sometimes keep on playing through the pain and are reluctant to seek help.

However, prevention is better than cure.

Ten questions that you can ask yourself in order to gain insight into your risk level of suffering injuries:

  1. How do you play your instrument, or how do you ‘use your body’? (amount of excess tension, quality of your coordination)
  2. How do you react to pressure to perform? (Do you become tense and do you work even harder? Or, on the contrary, do you perhaps sidestep the issue? i.e. avoidance behaviour)
  3. Do you take enough breaks? (Vacations but also breaks during practice and during the day)
  4. Are you too often overstressed? (The immune system works less effectively when you are stressed, so you run more risk of getting sick or becoming injured)
  5. How is your planning? (Do you take on too many competitions/concerts? Are you able to say no?)
  6. Do you dare to immediately seek help if you have pain? Do you have a healthy lifestyle? Do you sleep and eat well?
  7. How do you practise? In a nervous, stressed, hasty or anxious manner? Do you suffer from ‘over-practising’ as a means of calming your performance nerves?
  8. How is your internal dialogue? (It’s out of tune again, I can’t do anything right! or; I can manage it now but I’ll fail next time for sure…)
  9. Do physical/genetic factors play a role? (For instance, small hands, propensity for developing inflammation?)
  10. Is your instrument in good condition? (Easy/difficult to play)

If you answer the above questions for yourself, you will discover that you can do something about most of the risk factors. The Alexander Technique focuses primarily on the first cause of injuries listed above: poor coordination. However, following Alexander Technique lessons may result in other changes occurring with regard to your planning, how you react to stress and how you practise. Simply through becoming more aware of yourself and your habitual physical and mental patterns.