Musicians’ hands are vital to their musical performance. Rapid, complex and coordinated movements are required and they frequently have to play in less than ideal postures and environments; usually without the support of a medical team and with poor facilities. Touring increases the hours of playing with reduced sleep. Noise, alcohol levels and pressure can be high. In summary, musicians as well as singers and other performing artists often have to perform to the limit of their abilities physically and emotionally. As a result, the risk of acquiring injuries that can lead to difficulties or an inability to play or sing can increase.
The touring musician or singer can be exposed to a number of environmental, physical or personal effects that may increase the risk of problems. Environmental aspects such as the temperature of the room, layout of the space and lighting should be considered. Physical risk factors like playing or singing technique, hand position and vibration should be acknowledged as well as personal aspects such as nutrition, posture, or psychological stress to name but a few. For the touring musician, identifying the presence of such risk factors is the first important step. Once these have been determined, the important questions of how to manage these risk factors and prevent injury can be addressed.
The vast majority of problems that musicians have are non-traumatic and highly related to posture or lifestyle. This means it’ is easy to prevent them by listening to the body and identifying signs early. In general, preventative strategies might include; planning regular breaks within practice schedules, good nutrition, hydration and sleep. Incorporating pre performance techniques such as relaxation and concentration exercises can be useful as well as ensuring a good warm up and cool down is carried out each performance. Like all other performing artists, general fitness, body awareness and a good balance between strength and flexibility is essential in preventing injury. Taking regular classes such as yoga, thai chi and pilates can also provide practical, portable exercises and relaxation techniques that can be utilised on tour without the need for specific equipment or a studio based setting.
Trinity Laban Health Physiotherapist Isabel Artigues Cano has come up with some more specific top tips for musicians on the road:
1. Preparing for Musical Performance
Warm up (10-20 minutes before playing)
- Start the warm up away from your instrument
- Actively move your body gently: Neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, spine, hips, knees and feet
- Undertake some soft stretching
- Practice of some easy passages concentrating on accuracy of sound as well as settling in a comfortable and sustainable posture.
Cool Down (5-10 minutes after playing)
- Reduce gradually the level of activity over five minutes (i.e. slower, easier and gentle passages)
- Practice some easier passages concentrating on accuracy of sound again and noticing areas of tightness
- Stretching exercises must be included at the end of the cool down
2. Carrying or Lifting Equipment
- Think before you lift!
- Keep the load close to the waist
- Ensure a good hold on the load
- Don’t twist when you lift
- Keep your head up
- Move smoothly
- Know your limits
3. Performance Anxiety
Releasing Tension: Sitting or Standing. Balance supply on your sitting bones or feet, let go of any tension in your shoulders and arms, allow your spine to lengthen, let your head ‘float’ freely on your neck.
Breathing: Lower your gaze, inhale through your nose and deeply into your abdomen, exhale through either your nose or through gently pursed lips.
Affirm: Mentally or out loud, utter a positive statement that captures your attention; bands or chamber members can affirm together.
Examples: “I am grateful to be able to make music”, “I’m ready: this is going to be fun”, “Let’s make some music!”
Focus: Fully direct your attention to the task at hand: during personal practice, set and then act upon your practice goals. Backstage, mentally review some opening phrases and get into character. Onstage, before beginning a piece, mentally image the opening phrase.
4. Hearing Protection
There is evidence that exposure to live music can cause hearing damage. Noise regulations require each employer to manage the risk to their employees and, where possible, freelancers.
- Control, reduce and monitor your exposure to noise.
- Many of the controls are simple and cost-effective (i.e. ear plugs)
- The audience can still enjoy the performance with controls in place
5. Voice care
- Try to control stress levels: Stress can lead to forceful voice production, resulting in possible tissue damage.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol and certain over the counter medication: Caffeinated or alcoholic drinks as well as some medication such as antihistamines.
- Drink lots of water
- Frequent heartburn may means stomach acids are rising up to your larynx which may lead to voice problems. If you experience these symptoms, avoid high-acidic foods and late night eating. Elevate your head with extra pillows or raise the head of the bed.
- Don’t smoke! Smoking irritates the tissues used for singing and talking.
Amelia Wilkinson, Administrative Intern for Health & Dance Science Graduate Intern
Isabel Artigues Cano BSc MSc HCPC MCSP, Performing Arts Specialist Physiotherapist at Trinity Laban Health