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Physically Fit, Musically Free!

December 13, 2011; Beth DeLucia

These days nearly every magazine and a news-streaming website that has a health-related article as a focal point? An ever-present message in this day and age is that our physical well-being is important for longevity and for illness prevention.  But did you know that being strong and active could improve your musical abilities?

For me, the proof came in college, when studying and practicing took up much of my time.  I had little concern for doing any exercise beyond walking to class (we all have an excuse).  Then one day during my private lesson, my flute teacher told me to start doing sit-ups.  Evidently that would help me control my breathing and increase projection, areas with which I had always struggled.  I wanted to be a better player, so I looked up core-strengthening exercises online and started doing them three times a week.  Once I had committed to the routine, I found that I could play longer passages and each note was strong and steady. 

From that point, my motivation for being physically fit went beyond making me a healthier person; it also made me a better player.  What started as doing simple exercises to improve one area of playing evolved into a moderate lifestyle change.  While I wasn't an intense health nut, this experience helped me realize that even a small step can make a big difference, both for my music and my health.

The idea behind this is quite simple.  Think about the instrument you play.  Whether it's the violin, guitar, piano or an air-driven instrument like saxophone or trumpet, they all require physical discipline to master.  You may have already experienced preparing for an audition when you've committed to practicing every day for hours.  How did you feel at the end of your session?  If you're like me, you've felt exhausted, like you had just run a 5K.  And like training for a 5K, preparing for a high-stakes audition (or just day-to-day rehearsals) requires getting in shape. 

Certain activities will strengthen muscles that can help remove some hindrances that may be holding you back as a musician.  Here are some key points:
 
* Weight/strength training can improve balance and muscle control.  This means better posture and your arms won't be so tired after holding up your horn for 3 hours at a time. 
* Cardio workouts like running or spinning can improve stamina, which means you'll be able to play longer.  Who doesn't want that?
* Abdominal exercises can provide breath control/endurance for wind players.
* One benefit of doing Yoga is that it relieves stress, such as preparing for your audition or the gig at Carnegie Hall you have coming up (that's where you're headed, right?). 
* Take a break, especially if you have long rehearsal sessions solo or with a band.   Stand up and stretch every hour to loosen your chops and prevent strain.
* Don't forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day (at least 64 ounces) and during rehearsal time to prevent dehydration and replenish your fluids.

Try not to stress yourself out and think that you have to become a fitness guru to reap the benefits.  Your health is vital, and the first step to being healthy is buckling down and taking initiative.  Even a brief 15-minute workout a few times a week can make an immense difference.  Let your passion for music be your motivation.  Start slow, and ask your doctor what regimen is best for you.   

Good health, and good playing!




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