July 26, 2017

Just be you, only a little better

As much as we talk about it, I hope you have developed an appreciation for the physical athleticism of being a musician.  From carrying your harp to sitting behind it playing Carolan’s (or Handel’s Bb) Concerto – playing the harp is physically demanding!  And playing it well is even more so.  You need strength and stamina to get through practicing, performing or teaching.  And while it is comfortable for us to focus on the “pretty” or the music, we need to face the reality – it’s a lot of work!

Given that, it’s time to acknowledge that being more physically fit will only help you play better and feel better between sessions at the harp.  This doesn’t mean you need to be ready for the next Ninja Warrior casting call.  Nor does it mean that you have to become a CrossFit adherent.  

It just means that you should put taking care of yourself further up on your priority list.  Acknowledging that this will benefit you in multiple ways.  Being in better shape can only help!

There are loads of workout plans available in books, magazines and online, so you can find what works best for you.  A simple and effective answer might be to just take a walk each day and spending time focusing on assuring you are actually breathing! If you want to do additional cardio or calisthenics, or weight lifting, that could also help you improve your strength which would help too. 

But you don’t have to become Arnold or Richard Simmons.  Be you – just a little better!

July 19, 2017

It’s a Stretch!

We all know that stretching is a smart thing to do.  We read about the importance of stretching for our good health, to improve our productivity, and to help us feel better.

Run a 5K?  Clearly your legs will need stretching.  Do a heavy lifting routine?  You’ll be feeling it more if you don’t stretch.  It makes sense that we need to stretch after strenuous exercise.  After all, you do all that hard work, and it’s clear that you will need to stretch to recover from it

But what about when you do very focused but less strenuous work?  Lie in bed sleeping all night and you will need and want to stretch when you wake up.  Binge watch an entire season and you will be glad to stand and stretch (probably before the big season finale!).  Spend time at your harp practicing and what do you do?

It’s so easy to just get up from the bench and get a cookie!  But don’t!! The time at your harp, especially if you are working hard learning or perfecting, may be the worst combination of strenuous work and lying about!  Your larger muscles (think butt and legs which are not moving much) are holding still while your smaller muscles (think fingers, hands, and forearms) are working continuously. You may also be tense which will make all your muscles work harder.

In other words, when you are playing you are both not moving and moving like crazy!  As we said above – both of those will leave you needing to stretch!

So be sure to add stretching to the end of your practice time. Stretch your small muscles – fingers, hands, arms, shoulders – to help them relax.  And stretch the larger muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps – to help reinvigorate them.

And don’t feel like you have to wait until the end of your practice session to get a little stretching in.  You can stretch at least every 45 minutes.  Alternately, you can stretch at the end of each practice segment (warm up, exercises, reading, learning, etc.) to help keep you limber, focused, relaxed, and productive so you get the most out of your time at the harp.

July 12, 2017

Checking in at the midpoint

It’s July and we’re about half way through the year. It is a good time to check in and see how we’re doing.  While it is a good exercise to review goals, it is also an excellent time to review other important things.  Especially those that we take for granted and think are taking care of themselves!  Let’s start with….Posture!

Your posture really is the core of all your playing.  That’s not just a play on words.  Being able to hold yourself upright and to keep your arms up but relaxed, your hands in an appropriate position, and keep your core tight all take work.  Are you ready for that work?  

There are numerous resources available providing methods for strengthening your core.  By incorporating appropriate exercises to strengthen your core you’ll be able to sit up straight with good balance for as long as needed with less fatigue.  That means that your next long background gig will be easier.  And your long practice session will definitely be easier to sit through.  Your core works while you’re sitting and supports your back and your hips.  A strong core will also help you avoid curling into the harp while you’re playing which can cause strain on the neck and increasing the possibility of injuring yourself. It also will provide you with the stable base from which you can build your good technique. 

Of course, a strong core will also be good for you away from the harp assuring your balance and stability are better whether you’re carrying your harp or walking down the street.  Strengthening your core isn’t just sit ups!  Spend a little time online to learn ways to get stronger so you can play as long as you like!

* I am, of course, not an exercise physiologist or a physician – but you already knew that! Consult your physician before undertaking any exercise program.  Don’t do any of this if your physician tells you not to.  Seek specific advice from qualified individuals.  This information is presented for educational purposes only.  It does not replace or substitute professional advice from your physician, certified trainer, or any other health-care professional.  Use of the information on this site is solely at your own risk.  Don’t be daft – get the right help and don’t hurt yourself!