Runners stretch before a race; baseball players stretch before getting up to bat: dancers stretch before a performance and practice.
But beyond the comical image of a maestro cracking his knuckles and stretching his arms before hitting the keyboard of his piano, have you ever seen musicians stretch?
If the answer is yes, then your mission at the end of this post is to help other musicians understand the importance of stretching and other physical prep before practice, and to help remind them (by example, at least) of the importance of keeping their body in good shape as a part of good musicianship.
If you are not used to seeing musicians prepare their bodies before practice and performance, then your mission will be to start stretching and preparing regularly before practice and performance. No matter what the instrument: piano, guitar, sax or voice, there are warm ups and stretches that will help you to stay on top of your musical game, reduce the chance of injury, and overall, will help to make you a better player/performer.
Professor Estrin of the University of Florida’s Clarinet studio writes in an article for students: “The most basic and perhaps most important part of practicing is warming up. How you go about doing this is essential to your success on the clarinet.” [ed. Note: of course, this is true no matter the instrument.]
Michael Smith, director and chief instructor of Morningside School of Yoga and Physical Culture. Says in an article for MakingMusicMag.com that “. . . you should perform one to three dedicated fitness workouts a week with quality instruction to keep your body fully in tune.”
So, do you have to do yoga on the beach before each practice? No. Of course not.
But you really should prepare before practice.
In a perfect world we’d have all the time we need to get ourselves into a perfect mental and physical state before we practiced and played. But we often don’t. We have schedules, and deadlines, and many other things that pull us in many different directions, often switching quickly from one activity to another.
But consider the effect this can have on our bodies. “If one is confined to a rather static position for a long length of time, the body will become stiff and tight in certain areas. If, after that, you try to move suddenly . . . if you do not stretch and warm up properly, you are literally begging for an injury. You are asking muscles that are tight/weak/stretched to do things that they are not ready nor capable to do.” says Angela McCuiston in an article for Innovative Ideas in Performance and Pedagogy.
So, while stretching and preparing physically to practice and play is very important, it can often get missed just because we don’t seem to have time to do it.
I had the experience as a guitar student of walking in to my first practice and being told not to touch my guitar. Instead, I was giving a ten minute instruction on how to move my fingers, hands and arms before a practice. Since my lesson was only 30 minutes long I left not being very happy about this. I wanted to play! On my second lesson, my teacher again went through the exercises with me, and seeing that I was not happy with this, told me that if I promised to do these exercises in the car on my way to practice, we wouldn’t spend time during my lesson doing them. But he very earnestly made me promise, and told me that one thing I had to learn was that these exercises were not something outside of practice, but the beginning of practice itself.
With this approach he taught me two things: 1.) Physical preparation is part of practicing your instrument 2.) Sometimes you can start practice before you even walk into the room.
We play music for many reasons, and we practice to be able to make the music we want. Neglecting any aspect of practice would be a detriment to performance, and that would be a mistake. In our busy lives we need to find ways to stay physically and mentally prepared to do the thing we love. So, be sure to make the time, even if it isn’t right in the practice room, to do the stretches and physical exercises that will keep you limber and prepared to play.