December 7, 2011

Cooling down

Last week we talked about the importance of warming up – a necessary activity each and every time you sit to play. But when you’ve finished your practicing, you need to close with a cool down. Cooling down is always included in a good practice session.

The cool down helps the body recover (remember that musicians are the athletes of the small muscles!). In extreme cases, the cool down helps avoid muscle soreness. It also brings your practice to a controlled end (rather than a frenzied rush off to the next activity on your list) which may help you remember what you’ve learned throughout the practice session.

You may know how to cool down from athletics (running slower or walking or stretching) but how do you do that at your harp? It won’t take more than 5 – 10 minutes and it is just as important (and maybe more important) than the warm up was.

To begin your cool down - play more slowly and less loudly. You are still looking for a good closure of your hands to get the relaxation of the muscles that comes from playing with good technique. Finish up your practice time by playing something you like and know every well – something that doesn’t require practice. Relax. Keep your technique strong while you let your play unwind. When you are ready to stop playing move on to stretching.  Be sure to stretch as your hands and arms, as well as your neck, back, and legs.  We spend so much time focused on our hands that we forget that our entire body is contributing to our playing and needs to be included in our warm up and cool down.

It is important to build your own practice for cool down.  When you have build the cool down that works for your, you can perform it like a ritual after each practice session and after each performance. Using a ritual-like approach will help you leave your practice or a performance thoughtfully.

And sometimes, especially during the holiday season, you just don't have time to spend at your harp. On these days, your practice could be condensed to just a warm-up and cool-down. At least you’ll have sat down to your harp which is better than missing the day entirely.

Cool down and stretch so I won’t have to write you a blog post on icing injuries!

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