Learn More About Breathing for Upper Body Relaxation in My Article for the February 2020 International Musician:
Learn More About Pilates for Musicians in My Article for the March 2019 International Musician:
The Link Between Pilates and Musicianship
I believe Pilates is great for musicians! But why? What makes it unique from other forms of exercise and movement?
Two of the primary principles of the Pilates method are balanced muscle development and whole body movement. Often when we find ourselves in pain or discomfort, we can look to muscular imbalance as the culprit. Many musicians find themselves overly developed in one part of the body while underdeveloped in another, depending on their instrument and the physical positioning it requires. Pilates addresses these imbalances by looking at the body globally. It’s not enough to say that we need strong arms to hold up a viola, for example- we need a strong back to support those strong arms, strong abdominal muscles to support that strong back, and strong legs to support that strong torso- you get the idea. That’s where the principle of whole body movement comes in. In a typical Pilates session you will get around to moving every part of your body in a variety of directions- quite the contrast from the more specific, often smaller movements associated with playing an instrument. I’ve found that musicians’ bodies benefit greatly from this contrast.
In Pilates, we are always focused on form and alignment. That makes it not only a great form of physical exercise, but a vehicle for mental focus as well. The “muscle” of mental focus gets stronger as we observe our own movement and alignment while exercising. I’ve found that this focus translates beautifully to the kind of focus that is required to play music.
Many musicians become curious about movement techniques at some point in their careers. Unfortunately this is often due to a playing-related injury, but I think there is another reason behind it. In order for our hours of practice to become efficient and effective, musicians have to teach themselves how to learn. This idea of the process of learning is important in movement as well. We all learn a little bit differently, and part of learning effectively is in coming up with processes that work best for the individual. This can be a very engaging and creative pursuit- both in the music practice room and in the Pilates space.
I can’t possibly talk about the benefits of Pilates for musicians without addressing breathing. The Pilates method puts a strong emphasis on breathing and integrating the breath with our movements. This is clearly beneficial for winds, brass players and singers, but I think it might be even *more* important for musicians who play instruments that don’t require air flow to generate the sound. I can definitely attest to this as a string player- it can be all too easy to hold our breath while we play! This can lead to a number of problems, including physical tension, diminished sound production and heightened anxiety. It’s well worth it to learn how our breath informs our movements as musicians.
I’ve seen Pilates benefit musicians at all stages from student to professional. I’ve worked with orchestral musicians (who I think of as seated athletes) from orchestras including the Chautauqua Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Virginia Symphony, the Phoenix Symphony and the St. Louis Symphony. Students benefit from an early understanding of physical alignment and healthy movement strategies. I’ve presented workshops on these topics for music students at schools and universities including the University of Texas at Austin, the Ohio State University, Eastern Michigan University, Bowling Green State University, Wayne State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University and the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts.
I love the way Pilates makes me feel. I believe when we feel good, we do our best work. For musicians, that translates to unlocking our greatest musical potential through the freedom of movement.