A thought/query from the lower end of the 'ability spectrum'.
Apart from the fact that it's clearly a bad habit to be too 'tense' when playing, I wonder if it might also have an
adverse effect on health as well as on playing skill/ability.
I say this because recently I have been suffering from a very painful right shoulder. This is a hangover from the
days when I spent 4-5 hours a day at a computer keyboard, and it's getting to the point where I may have to
consider cutting down on my playing time because while playing I feel that I am 'tense' - and it hurts! When I
consciously try to 'relax' while playing, the problem is less significant, but I'm finding difficult to do this. It requires
a conscious effort to relax, which takes my mind away from the music.
How do I train myself to automatically relax while playing? Yoga? Meditation? Tai-Chi? Large shot of single malt?
Is it reasonable to expect the ability to relax be beneficial in terms of improving the pain in the right shoulder?
PS: I missed DJ's post first time around, but let the question stand...
(Should this be in the Ergonomics section?)
I (literally) feel your pain. Too much computer work has given me a very painful right shoulder blade. This has made playing the fiddle very difficult – I found I had to stop playing at all for weeks on end, and at best I can only play for about 10 minutes at a time. This is partly why I recently bought a concertina – I thought it would be easier on the body – and it is!
Disclaimer – I am not in any way qualified to comment on your shoulder pain. However my experience is that this kind of pain – repetitive strain injury – probably tendonitis or something like that – is the kind of thing that just takes an absolute age to heal, and there’s no way round it. You have to rest the offending body part when you start to feel the pain. If you try to soldier on, you just keep re-injuring the thing and it won’t heal. It’s immensely frustrating and miserable. If you google ‘shoulder pain’ or ‘repetitive strain injury’ or ‘tendonitis’ you will find advice on the healing process.
But if you can play for a short time before the pain starts, even for just a few minutes, do so, put the instrument down when it gets painful and have another short session later in the day etc.
With regard to relaxing while playing, for starters watch Micheál O’Raghallaigh – he’s on YouTube. He’s one of my favourite players. He’s so relaxed he looks asleep, except for his fingers.
It’s easier to stay relaxed if you play very, VERY slowly. I think this is good practise anyway – not just when you’re learning tunes, but even when you’re practising a tune you know well. And playing slowly – kind of lazily, as if it didn’t matter, as if it was fun! – is likely to make you feel more relaxed, and will give you time to monitor your body and notice when and where it’s tensing up. Keep thinking ‘lazy shoulder!’ i.e. your shoulder shouldn’t be doing any work. It should be having a nap while things are going on much further down your arm.
When you feel yourself starting to tense up, put the instrument down and do some loosening up exercises – stand and swing your arms forward and back (as if marching), or make circles with your arms like a windmill, or do waist twists and let your arms loosely swing around as your body turns. It’s hard to describe these kind of exercises in words – but hopefully you get the idea.
Hope this helps.