The word of the day is: Conditioning!

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful massage session thanks to AJ at Celestial Touch Wellness Studio. After suffering for months with on-and-off tendonitis in my forearms from wrestling with a mic stand and overplaying the keyboard, she gave me a myofascial release, which is the equivalent of driving a steamroller over my arms.

I was tender for a day or so afterward, but then…no pain.

Miracle.

She advised that I come back periodically to get treated some more, because breaking up and re-assembling muscle tissue is never a one-and-done affair, as any athlete will tell you. And in the meantime, I have to start developing an exercise regimen for my fingers and arms so that they can handle the level of keyboard playing I’m committed to without injury.

That means I get to dust off my Hanon book.

A lot of musicians come to her with performance-related tension and injury which could have been mitigated or avoided with conditioning – those boring, mechanical warm-up drills that no student musician has the patience for anymore, like scales, chord progressions, and anything else that sounds like an army of marching ants. For singers, that means sirens, sighs, hums, lip trills, and any other crazy noises that make instrumentalists and others look at you funny, even though they know exactly what you’re doing.

Well, now the music teachers have lost all patience for drills because that’s one of the reasons why they lose students – they’re bored and they don’t see the point of doing them. Because of this, there’s an invasion of shiny, sparkly programs developed by savvy music educators to take the daily conditioning drills OUT of music practice so that a teacher can keep their students engaged. The programs involve (among other things) not practicing every day, or only doing “real” music to get students into performance mode as quickly as possible.

For a while, I was in support of this, because you DO want to have students engaged and wanting to learn all the time. You want to do whatever is possible to keep their love affair with music going strong. But there’s a risk that comes with throwing out conditioning – you will put your students at risk for injury.

Not that AJ minds having extra clients, but she will be the first to tell you that musicians (especially pros) don’t do nearly enough conditioning to keep their performance healthy. Of course, you don’t want to over-condition, but if you’ve ever had to jump up and sing or play something when your bodily mechanism is completely cold, it’s no good at all – at best, you sound and feel creaky, and at worst, you hurt yourself.

Professional athletes condition every day – they’re constantly at the gym, the weight room, or the running track. And they have massage therapists and nutritionists on hand 24-7, for obvious reasons. I watch hockey, and HERE’S a game where no one can afford to miss a morning skate or gym time if there’s a career at stake. I have a poignant memory of the oft-beaten-in-front-of-the-goalie-net Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings saying that on the first day of his retirement at age 40, he could finally get up in the morning without feeling pain. I’d say if it weren’t for conditioning, he’d have hung up his skates much sooner.

Granted, not every musician aspires to be a pro with that level of rigor to their game. But you don’t want to have performance-related injury be the reason for not pursuing that goal, or for breaking off one’s love affair with music forever.

So for cripe’s sake, do your scales. Do them with good technique and steady regularity. If you’re a singer, do your sirens and sighs and hums and whatever else you can do to get the voice in shape, even if you don’t do actual music for the day. Do them just enough to get you ready for the task at hand, and you can take off anywhere from there. If you do nothing else musically today, at least do your conditioning!

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