Daily Practice with or without pain

    Daily practice

    Practicing an instrument is demanding. You are usually using only part of your body’s capacity for movement and the same muscles are activated most of the time. You need to build up a certain level of stamina so your muscles have the flexibility to manage the stressors inherent in practicing and performing. This means you need to take care of your body’s ability to play with the right kind of preparation for the demands of your instrument.

    When a musician comes to us for help with troublesome symptoms, we check the client’s practice routines to learn how he/she warms up, what practicing involves, when breaks are taken and how long the practice intervals usually are. Often, musicians do not have a good warming up routine or understanding of the muscular systems that are called into play. Our usual approach includes the following:

    - Warm up your entire body, not just with your instrument. Jump and jog a little in place, do some air boxing, roll your shoulders, rock your knees and allow your arms to swing loosely.

    - Give yourself time to find a comfortable position for holding your instrument. Be aware of your sitting and standing positions, and switch from one to the other as much as possible. If you are used to only standing when practicing, and then must sit for long rehearsals, it is important to have gotten used to a comfortable sitting position ahead of time. Otherwise, there is a high risk of painful muscle tension setting in. Stable and dynamic sitting video seated stability and Stable and dynamic standing video standing stability  

    - Have a plan for what you need to work on ergonomically and create a structure that ensures you practice what you need to. In this way you build assurance in what you achieve and can notice how you develop and progress. Plan your breaks and use a timer if it is difficult to remember to take them.

    - Be sure to move around during your breaks and after practice sessions. This increases circulation and helps your body refresh itself by 30%–50%. This give you a chance to evaluate how your practice session went and how it felt, as well as focus on what you need to do next time.

    - Vary your practicing so that you play in 5–10–15–20–25 minute blocks. The more concentration that is required and the more physically demanding your practicing is, the more important it is to work in shorter blocks of time. This is especially important when you are learning a new piece. Easier and fun pieces and be practiced for longer periods of time.

    - After 1–2 hours of practice, a longer break is needed; at least 45 minutes.

    - When you plan your weekly practicing schedule, consider how you will vary its intensity and time blocks. If you have practiced several hours one day (5–6), you should practice less the next day. Every third to fourth week, you should have a much lighter practicing schedule. This allows the body to rest and recover so that continued practice goes well. If the level of practicing is always high, musical development will stop as the body becomes more tired and overworked.

    - Ensuring you take care of yourself during your free time is essential. Taking time for physical activity is important, as well as getting enough sleep (6–8 hours) and eating regular meals and healthy snacks.

    - Physical exercise should be included 2–3 times a week. In between training sessions, it is helpful to do strengthening, preventative and recuperating exercises, as when you take a break during your practice sessions. Here are two different films with excellent basic exercises that help stabilize the body and enhance shoulder strength and posture. Whole Body Video body exercises and core och shoulder stability video

    Practicing when you are in pain or have an injury

    When you have pain in your muscles or joints which does not lessen after a few day, this is often a sign of some sort of imbalance and/or overexertion. The muscles have been used for too long, and have perhaps been under too much pressure both physically and mentally. The body’s position has been a demanding one and certain muscular structures that need support from others, have not gotten it.

    The usual response to this situation among musicians, is to rest a few days and once the pain subsides, continue practicing without considering how to avoid recurrences of the injury. Either the pain comes back directly, or after a few days or weeks. Sometimes when pain is ignored, extra tension builds up and unfavorable playing techniques set in.

    If you experience pain when practicing, you should rest and then gradually start playing again in the following way:
    – Rest for about 1–3 days but be sure to get some all-round physical exercise. You can even just move sore areas as much as possible without any weight or pressure on them. Use contrasting movements to what you usually do.

    – Consider what causes you stress, how you regard your daily activities, the demands you have in your life, how much you have been practicing lately and how – exactly – you practice.

    – Review your sitting and standing positions, as well as your hand and thumb positions. Contact someone who can give you tips and advice on how to improve them.

    – Warm up physically before you start to practice, and play in short time block of 3, 5 or 8 minutes, with long breaks between them during which you can move about. Do this about 1–3 times and then take a longer break of a few hours, after which you can repeat the same regimen. See the examples below.

    – Increase your practice sessions gradually. For example, do 2 smaller blocks in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, or increase your playing time by several minutes.

    It might seem like a lot of time us used up, but less practicing is done, but when you have overexerted some muscular structures, they will need time to recover. Practicing less is necessary, as well as using the sore areas in a limited way to regain full function. You will maintain your playing skills and need not worry about losing them. When you practice in short time blocks you are more focused on your recovery and playing with less tension in a more balanced position.


    practice blocks

    play min

    short pause min

    play min

    short pause min

    play min short pause min total time min effective playing time min
    morning 5 2-5 5 2-5 5 2-5 34-40 15
      5 2-5 5 2-5 5 2-5 34-40 15
      5 2-5 5 2-5 5 end of session 34-40 15
    afternoon 5 2-5 5 2-5 5 2-5 34-40 15
      5 2-5 5 2-5 5 2-5 34-40 15
      5 2-5 5 2-5 5 end of session 34-40 15



    Karin Engquist och Ing-Marie Olsson
    Artist- & Musikerhälsan
    Östra Rönneholmsvägen 9B
    211 47 Malmö
    Phone: +46 (0)708 670 647

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