Stretching exercises are essential for musicians. Like athletes, music composers need to exercise their core muscles daily. By that, I mean their fingers, mouths, throats, and arms. Musicians tend to practice several hours a day and put in a lot of work into their compositions.
Hence, they need to take special care of their muscles to preserve and even enhance their musical ability. Here are just a few stretching exercises that musicians should do to help preserve their natural talents.
1. Neck/Shoulder Movements
Neck and shoulder exercises are quite essential to musicians. They prevent the straining of muscles and help to keep them loose and free. Usually, because of constant playing, the muscles are known to get taut.
An excess of tension can ruin playing ability and cause tremendous pain if left unchecked. This is essential stretching for musicians.
Here are a few neck and shoulder movements:
1. Place the right ear on the right shoulder. Then slowly and gently press the end towards the shoulder with the hand on the same side. Your opposite shoulder should be relaxed during this time. Hold this position for 12 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
2. Place one arm straight across the chest. Do this while gently pulling it inwards towards your body with the opposite hand. Do this and hold it for 12 seconds. Repeat this with the other arm.
3. Put your arms by your sides. Raise them outward and upward so they rest above your head. Then return to the normal position at your sides. This should be repeated ten times. Think of it like jumping jacks without the jumping.
4. Bring your arms by your sides. Shrug your shoulders up towards the ears slowly. Then bring them down into the relaxing position. Repeat this process 10 times.
2. Wrist and Finger Movements
Wrists and fingers are particularly useful for drummers, pianists, and guitarists. Those who play stringed instruments and wind instruments also find the use of wrists and fingers instrumental (pun, fully intended). Since they are some of the smallest muscles and tend to get the tautest, they require regular relaxation.
Here are a few exercises for wrists and fingers to help you keep those muscles healthy:
1. Extend your arms in front of you and extend those fingertips as well. Rotate your palms up and down 10 times. Then do the same with your wrists 10 times.
2. Extend arms in front. Extend fingertips. Wave your hands by keeping arms in front. Remember, this is just for your wrists and fingers. No arms should be involved in waving. Next, rotate your wrists outwards (towards your little finger) and then inward (towards your thumb). Repeat this 10 times.
3. Extend your arms and fingertips forward. Face your palms towards the ground. Then pull your fingertips gently from the top upwards and towards your body with your other hand. When you feel a slight stretch in your hand, hold that position for 12 seconds. Repeat this for each finger. Then repeat the process except pull down on the fingers towards your body.
4. Spread fingers out as far as you can comfortably. Then squeeze them into a fist without discomfort. Repeat this process 10 times. To get this right, pretend as if you’re gripping handlebars or a steering wheel. Shake your hands after the exercise is done.
3. Elbow Movements
Elbow movements are quite necessary for Cellists and Violinists. They can also be essential for trumpet players and bugle players. They can work for any instrumentalists that use their hands to constantly extend and rise.
Here are just a few Elbow movements to help ease up those muscles:
1. Extend your arms in front of the body with the palms up. Don’t lock your elbows in place; this is essential for the exercise to work. Bend and straighten the elbows slowly. Then repeat this exercise 10 times. You can add 5-10 pound weights to your hands to build more muscle and strength.
2. Extend your arms outwards on your sides. Don’t lock your elbows for this one either. Bring both elbows up so your fingertips touch behind your head. Return your arms to your sides and repeat the process 10 times.
4. Stretching Forearms
Forearms are a critical part of the body when it comes to playing instruments. You can exercise them with a simple technique.
First, stretch your arms in front of your body. Then take the right hand’s fingers with the left hand and pull them towards your body. Stretch until you can feel muscles stretching and hold for 12 seconds.
That stretching you feel are the muscles in your forearm connected to your fingers. Then release one hand and continue with the other. Do this ten times for each hand.
5. Qi Gong Exercises
Qi Gong is a type of stretching exercise from China. It’s part of the Tai Chi martial art form. You can use this handy video to find out more about the stretching exercises.
Remember that they are oriented more towards relaxing the entire body. However, they will work wonders for any taut muscles, whether from music or regular stress.
6. Watching for Signs of RSI
RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury refers to injuries caused by increased strain to muscles. These occur in athletes and especially in musicians. The ones that are most affected by it are those that work with string and wind instruments.
Here are a few tips to help avoid RSI:
1. Drink a lot of filtered or spring water. Fluids help to keep muscles healthier. You will also think and act better if you get a lot of fluids in you. They also help with the healing process.
2. Caffeine and alcohol may hydrate you, but they will also tense your muscles. Alcohol, in particular, has the opposite effect which dries your body out. You get hangovers that way.
3. Remember to start your day by performing routine stretching exercises. Do them again at work if you can. Rest muscles during frequent breaks as well. Taking a 5-minute break after every 30 minutes is essential.
4. Write down if any symptoms are occurring repeatedly. If there’s a sharp pain in any part of your body, don’t ignore it. Make a doctor’s appointment if things get too severe. The more you ignore an injury, the worse it will get.
5. Try to avoid stress in your life. Make sure that you get most of the big stuff out of the way during the day. This will ensure you sleep better and that you get better sleep.
6. Also, watch your posture while working. Make sure you sit up straight. Your back and neck will thank you for it.
7. Avoid cold environments. These worsen RSI.
8. If any areas of the body become swollen, use an ice pack. Ice packs should be used for no longer than 15 minutes at a time though. If you need to still apply the ice pack after that time, wait half an hour.
These stretching exercises and health tips are sure to help you stay fit as a musician. They will also help you live a healthier life in general.
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