Every one of us experiences periods where we suffer some injury that affects our ability to play our instrument of choice. Whether caused by playing or not, it affects our playing…and raises the age-old question of “what to do about it”. There are many things you can do while injured to improve your musicianship, but the one thing you shouldn’t do is just ignore it.
1. Stop, Look, and Listen
The old advice for safely crossing a street applies just as well to injuries. Assuming this is an injury that doesn’t require immediate medical attention – and if it does, skip this step and go DIRECTLY to step #2 – stop playing and assess what is wrong. When does it hurt? What happens? Jot notes, tune into the feedback your body is giving you, and above all, put down the instrument. Continuing to do something that aggravates your injury will only make things worse. As the old joke goes, when you realize you’re in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.
2. Seek qualified medical advice
I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), and if you aren’t either, you should consult one. Sometimes docs don’t understand your particular issues/concerns if they haven’t played your particular instrument, but whether PTM or not, you doctor probably understands the mechanics of the human body far better than you or I ever will. Take your notes – and maybe even your instrument, if it helps explain the symptoms and how they present themselves – and explain your injury to a qualified medical professional. Get their advice, then follow it.
3. Listen to good music
While you have to lay off the axe, step up your listening…and your listening skills. Since you can’t practice/play for a bit, take this opportunity to strengthen areas you may overlook normally.
Listening to pop music is a great way to informally give yourself some basic ear training. Really listen to that lead singer. Notice anything? At the risk of ruining a lot of music you may currently enjoy, you may notice that they aren’t quite as in tune as you realized. Doing this improves your pitch when you pick up your instrument again, far more than you may think.
Hip-hop and world music offer excellent opportunities to improve your sense of rhythm. Often-varying tempos and beats give your mind a workout and expand your appreciation of a set of skills you may be weaker in using.
If you’re typically a classical player, listening to jazz may help you hear improvisational riffs – and give you ideas you can employ in many different settings. Jazzers listening to classical may open other vistas for riffs, help with technique, tone, etc.. These (and other) genres offer lessons in nearly every measure, every phrase, if you listen for them.
4. Be patient
This one may be the most difficult advice to take, but it’s critical that you give yourself adequate time to recover. Rushing back to any activity that aggravates or re-injures only makes things worse than if you’d taken the time to heal properly. Do it right the first time and you’ll be happier, play better, and overall, play sooner.
5. Ease back into it
When you do get the doc’s go-ahead to resume playing, don’t just jump back into it; build up gradually. This ties into step #4 about being patient! Build up slowly – maybe more slowly even than recommended – to ensure you don’t overdo it. Just as you’d never stand on the ground and expect to jump to the top rung of a ladder, you shouldn’t expect to just pick up where you left off before your injury. Build up slowly, safely, and the results will be worth it.
Don’t use the internet as your doctor, and don’t use anything you read on the internet – including here – as sound medical advice. The internet provides a wealth of information (including some written by doctors), but seeking qualified medical advice should never be an afterthought. It’s impossible for a layperson to accurately diagnose a medical issue based upon some article(s) read on the ‘net, no matter how informed said layperson may be. Do your research, take your notes, and find a good doctor. Your body will thank you for it, and so will your music.
All the best,