Stress and string instrument playing

rediscoverStress reduction

Good stress versus bad stress

Stress is everywhere! String instrument players know all about stress and how it literally shapes the structure of their instrument.  When we have an instrument that captures the balance of the dynamic pull of tensions just so, well we fall in love! We find our sound in that instrument and it becomes our ‘voice’.

As a guitarist, I remember when I found my ‘voice’ in the perfect instrument, the perfect one for me back in 1997 and still my one and only love: Parker Fly Classic from the Ken Parker company.  This creation is light but solid sounding, has the beautiful electric and acoustic tone and its body fits my torso ‘just so’.  I love playing it, I love the way it makes me feel.  It’s the perfect musical partner for me!

Being with my Parker gives me lots of options for reducing playing stress: the type of stress that isn’t so good and usually results from the challenges of holding, rotating and playing with an instrument.

The cellists and violinists, the violists and the bassists, the big arch top jazz players and the Fender fretless masters….ah the challenges of holding these instruments and having freedom of movement are HUGE!

What a lot of choice

From the various types of guitar to viola to double bass to setar and sitar, there are as many schools of thought when it comes to the best way to hold a string instrument as there are string instrument types and styles.

  • ‘no-chin-rest-ever’ people
  • ‘sit in a high stool with your double bass’ people
  • ‘use-a-foot-stool-or-elsers’
    and the infamous:
  • ‘no-pain-no-gainers’

Lets not forget the:

  • ‘sit up straight’ people
  • ‘stop slouching’ people
  • ‘gotta move to feel the music’ folk
    and yet again the infamous:
  • ‘I don’t care what you sayers’ who will deal with the pain….when it happens.

The reality of the matter is that statistically there are as many perspective on what ‘relaxed technique’ and ‘good posture’ are as the verity of tone and timbre available on a double bass, again statistically speaking.  Ok?

So, it might be worth taking a second to ‘clear the deck’ as it where and bring some attention back to the main instrument, the main-est and the best of them all:

Your body!

If you think about it probabilistically now, (not statistically this time), chances are that if you are a musician you are using you body to do this amazing job.  According to the Performing Arts Medicine Association, there are 3 things every musician needs to attend if they want to fend off the high probability of getting injured from playing, performing, practicing, lugging, not dancing and other related job criteria. And in no order of importance they are:

  1. Posture 
  2. Movement
  3. Body Awareness 

Bottom-line-ly speaking now….The good folk at PAMA, don’t have a set criteria for what these listed items comprise of, how to learn to incorporate them into your BODY (your main instrument) and what to do if you’re injured and need to get some, one, or all, or just ANY of these things under your skin RIGHT NOW.

They are trumpeting the coming of a new age with a biofeedback machine, that might be available to some medical professionals, who might be interested in taking care of a musician or artists ‘pain matters’.  Just maybe this will happen.  It will be good.  But what about if you’re in pain now?

Having delved in the history of physical remediation in a serious way over the past 10 years, I have seen a global pattern emerging that guides the hands of physiotherapist, osteopaths, massage professional and even Pilates and Yoga teachers: they are trained to see illness. 

This is very important of course.  But the truth is that PAMA will admit that musicians performance related pain and muscle-skeletal problems stem from an educational platform and not any diagnosable and physiological deficiency nor defect!

Why should I care?

You might be asking yourself “what does she care if someone out there in a practice room or a performing stage is silently or otherwise hurting?

Fair question, and my answers is pretty simple: Because musician’s wellbeing MATTERS! It’s a heartfelt thing, no probabilities or statistics here.  I just have a pretty sure footed feeling that making art and not being in pain go together and making art and being in pain don’t. 


The answers to how anyone can not only improve but pressure-proof their posture, movement and body awareness have always been right in front of our nose.  Ever since some fabulous Russian scientists started to study human brains in living bodies, they figured out how learning happens and VOUALA! The meat and the potatoes haven’t changed their substance, but the learning process can be easily learned by anyone who has had enough of the “spaghetti thrown against the wall” approach to pain management.

It all comes back to reestablishing a grounded structural understanding of what the essential elements of good posture, movement and body awareness are.

You won’t get this stuff anywhere….

What I mean is, no one will be able to ever tell anyone how to improve their posture, or how to find the most relaxed way of drawing a bow on a string or hold a classical guitar.  But there is a sure way to get a solid tool kit and learn to teach these to yourself.

It’s all very easy to learn once we realise that every single person from Pablo Casals to Wes Montgomery has had to LEARN, yes, LEARN one way or another how to attain their ease with their instruments.

No reason to get stressed over why another person plays ‘like a dream’ as you nurse your sore wrist for another day of lost practice.  It is not your fault and you can learn to trust your body to play the score or improvise the sounds in your mind; it’s a matter of balance and flow.

There is a sound method for musician’s wellbeing

Alexander Technique has helped countless musicians regain their straight and re-intorduce a healthy technique into their music and creative work.  I’ve been studying and learning with this vastly applicable method for about 20 years now.  The benefits aren’t just physical though.  Practicing with it as I play music is like turning  flow-interrupting stress into flow inducing stress!

Thanks for reading my blog and stay in touch.