RhythmArt Blog

A day in the life of a percussionist

RhythmArt Blog

Check Your Habits

January 17th, 2012 · No Comments · lessons, life of a percussionist, practicing

The human body is an amazing machine. Do anything often enough and consistently enough, and it will start to feel natural. This can be both a blessing and a curse.

As musicians, we want our physical motions to become habitual. As I always tell my students – we study technique so that we don’t have to think about technique! Having our note-producing mechanisms happen automatically means we never have to  think about how to play, we just have to think about what to play, and it happens. This is the goal.

Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t very good at discriminating between good motions and not-so-good motions. We really can get used to just about anything. For an easy example – check your posture right now as you’re reading this. Are you sitting comfortably? Are you sitting correctly? The two should be the same, but often they are not!

Just because something feels natural, that doesn’t mean it’s ergonomically correct. This is an important distinction to make, because making an incorrect motion, or holding an incorrect posture, over time can lead to permanent, debilitating injury. Imagine having to someday stop playing your instrument for no other reason than that you’ve done it incorrectly for too many years. It happens all the time, and it’s sad, but it’s preventable.

So, what’s the solution?

Here are some tips to help you prevent injury, and promote a lifetime of technically-supported playing:

  1. Learn A Method – There are a lot of methods to manipulating sticks, mallets, and hands when playing percussion instruments. Most of them are valid, though I have seen a few promoted that aren’t. What I see a lot more though, is people who play without any kind of method at all – “I just do what feels right.” Feeling “right,” without any kind of reason or direction, can often lead to feeling very, very wrong. It can also keep you from reaching your full musical potential, as you have to fight physics and the nature of motion every time you produce a note. Find a teacher who can demonstrate a technical method to you, and explain its strengths and weaknesses in various musical situations. Then practice it until it becomes natural (and then keep practicing).
  2. Study Correct Posture and Motion – There are techniques to holding your body in space, and moving it through space. Any little bit of people watching will tell you that most people in the world do not know these techniques. don’s be one of those people. Study up on human anatomy and ergonomics. Take some yoga classes. Study Tai Chi, Alexander Method, Feldenkrais Method, or classical ballet. Consult with a massage or physical therapist.  Do something to learn how the body works, then apply it to your daily routine.
  3. Don’t Rely On Habits – Habits can be great helps, but they have a sneaky way of morphing into something unrecognizable over time. I like to pick a time each year (the summer is good for me, but it also makes a great New Year’s resolution) to double check my playing technique. Set up a mirror or video camera and watch yourself play. Check in with a teacher. Some body specialists will watch you play and give you pointers and exercises to correct imbalances. Always remember, preventive maintenance  is better than fixing something that’s broken.

These are just a few quick tips on supporting your music making through proper technique. If you have any great tips to share, make sure to add them in the comments!

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