Philoso-chops #4 [physical aspects of performance]

As a gigging drummer and budding pianist in my early 40’s I’ve become more acutely aware of the fragile physical aspects of music creation. Practicing on two instruments that both require sitting for long hours, manual dexterity including repetitive motions can put strain on the body in ways one might not expect. Not to mention lugging heavy drum hardware and keyboards in and out of elevators, stairwells and onto sometimes small stages where crouching and bending is required for set-up.

There’s four areas of the body where I’ve noticed re-occurring strains and pains due to music performance and practice. I want to share with you how I mitigate the damage and have avoided tendonitis, carpal tunnel and other issues I’ve seen affect many musician friends over the years.

My personal areas of concern:

1) Forearm tendon pain

2) lower back strain / compression

3) hamstring / calf pain

4) shoulder / neck pain

Mitigating the PAIN:

Daily routines:

Full body stretching: morning and night utilizing a yoga mat

Specific hand and wrist stretches right before playing

Strengthening of core muscles (abs front and sides) with plank exercises

On the gig:

Awareness of deep breathing and staying relaxed while playing

Awareness of posture while playing – conserving energy with motion but also flowing and adjusting posture throughout the performance or practice session

Stretch during breaks between sets and practice sessions (ideally every 45 min)

Warm up on a practice pad and [try] to do light cardio before an intense set of music

Be aware of proper lifting techniques when moving gear – use legs vs back for lifting when possible and try to “load balance” right and left sides. Utilize a hand truck or dolly for long equipment hauls

If experiencing pain:

Hot baths utilizing epson salts before or after intense gigs

Alternating cold – warm – hot water on forearms before intense “chops” practice

If pain is re-occurring or “chronic” visit a registered massage therapist or chiropractor

Other considerations:

I believe it’s as important to exercise regularly off the instrument as on. My favorites that I feel directly benefit endurance on the drums include swimming, cycling and yoga. These exercises also offer myriad mental health benefits and provide a solace from “thinking about music” which can drive an artist crazy sometimes! Daily walks are also a useful free and less-intense option good for all seasons.

Choose not to drink alcohol on the gig – even if its free! DO drink plenty of water. Alcohol will slow you down, create inflammation and contribute to physical and mental stress even if you don’t notice it at the time. I’ve made the choice to avoid drinking on gigs and only occasionally reward myself with a couple drinks schedule permitting *after the show*

If sitting on the gig – stand during the break! I’ve changed my drum technique routine on the practice pad to standing only. This reduces lower back pain from sitting, driving, drumming etc…

Cheers and happy music making!

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