You may have heard the old saying no pain no gain. Unfortunately, many ambitious musicians take this literally, when in reality the exact opposite is true:
With Pain, No Gain!
A women goes to the doctor. The conversation goes like this:
Doctor: So, where does it hurt?
Patient: It hurts when I do this (the woman lifts up her arm)
Doctor: So don’t lift it!
That’s actually really good advice for musicians too. When it hurts, stop doing it.
We must never continue practicing our instrument while experiencing physical pain. Pain is our body’s warning signal that something is wrong. It tells us that we are using our body the wrong way. When we continue ignoring the pain, we may injure our body permanently. At the least, we won’t have fun playing our instrument any more.
Avoiding physical pain must therefore be the prime directive of any practicing!
What to do when pain sets in
Here are my recommendation for how to deal with physical pain:
When you experience pain, stop practicing immediately and analyze what most likely causes the pain. There are many possible reasons for why we may feel pain when practicing. To figure out the exact cause, follow this checklist:
Checklist of reasons for pain during practicing the piano
- Are you tense while practicing?
If YES loosen up, walk around, breath easy.
- Have you played for an extended period of time without taking a break?
If YES take a break, relax your body and mind.
- Have you repeated the same passage over and over?
Stop practicing it, when you come back to it later do less repetitions.
- Are you playing faster than your brain can process it?
If YES, your muscles tense up because they don’t get a clear signal from your brain. Slow down until it feels comfortable.
- Do you twist certain bodyparts into an unnatural position during practicing?
If YES, stand up, stretch a little, shake your hands out, and sit back down properly.
- Do you experience the very same pain during activities other than playing piano?
If YES, see a doctor.
- Did you have a piano unrelated injury that may cause this pain?
If YES, you know where the pain comes from. It just means you will have to take it easy with playing the piano for a while.
By answering all those questions you should have gained a pretty good understanding of what causes your pain, and how you can avoid it.
Other things I do when I feel pain
First, let me tell you what I don’t do:
I don’t ever take painkillers, and I certainly don’t rationalize why I should continue practicing with in pain by saying things like”I’m not a wimp”, or “I will get through this, I’m a big boy”.
I found the most responsible and also most beneficial way to deal with pain is to stop practicing for a while until the pain subsides, before it becomes a serious issue.
See a doctor if the pain won’t go away
Of course, when the pain continues, you must see a doctor immediately. Don’t think it’s okay to get used to the pain. You will possibly insure your body permanently when ignoring the pain. The consequences maybe horrible. I know concert pianists that hat to quit playing the piano because they injured their body irreversibly by not paying attention to the first signs of pain.
Bottom line: avoid practicing with pain at all costs!