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ISSUE 117 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/3/2003

Cellist offers injury advice to musical students

By Shannon Merillat
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 3, 2003

Most people consider sports related injuries to be common, but what about musical instrument related injuries? Cellist Janet Horvath addressed that question at a lecture on Monday, where she spoke to St. Olaf students about her new book, “Playing (less) Hurt.”

Horvath is a cellist in the Minnesota Orchestra and a self-described "injury preventer extra ordinaire." In her lecture, as well as in her book, she discussed the causes of musical instrument related injuries, the danger signals that an injury may be present, and preventative measures.

According to Horvath, causes of injury include body size, misuse of the instrument (such as bad technique or bad habits), and sudden changes in routine such as switching teachers, playing on a new instrument, or practicing more than usual. Danger signals musicians should watch out for are pain (if it hurts, stop!), muscle burning, tightness, weakness, heaviness, fatigue or loss of sensation in the affected area, and clumsiness.

Horvath also pointed out that degrees of pain may fluctuate. Many musicians feel pain before and after playing, but not during the actual practice session itself. This is because their muscles are loosened when they play.

Horvath emphasized the importance of five main practice rules:

1) Warmup! Musicians should start in the middle range of their instruments. They should also warmup away from their instruments, for example through walking or yoga.

2) It is important to take at least a ten minutes break for every hour of practicing. This allows muscles to relax.

3) Musicians should vary their repetoires. This gives different muscles groups periodic breaks.

4) Musicians should increase their practice loads gradually. They should also plan ahead for events such as big recitals.

5) It is important to reduce practice intensity before a recital.

A first-year French horn player who asked not to be named agreed with Horvath's advice. "Any time you take something that you're serious about, do everything in moderation and make sure you're careful," she said. "There's no reason you shouldn't be able to play your instrument for a lifetime.”

The same first-year student also recounted her own experiences with injuries that prevented her from practicing. “When you're injured, you feel so helpless, because playing is such a part of your life,” she said. “It's not fun to sit and watch everyone else play if you can't.”

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