Every spring (not counting 2020) toward the end of the academic year, many freelance musicians get BOMBARDED with gigs after the quieter months of January and February. Even those of us who spend a healthy amount of time practicing during the “off-season” suddenly experience a huge uptick in daily playing hours come spring. This was true for me during college/grad school and my years as a freelancer.
Most violinists and violists practice standing up, but for most of these spring performances we have to sit in poorly designed chairs in orchestras, pits, and chamber ensembles. And so, every spring it’s common to experience least one concert that puts the back in a great deal of pain, even if one works diligently on posture awareness and healthy habits.
Injury Prevention Can Be Tricky
The best we can do with ill-fitting chairs is to carry with us footrests, seat cushions, and/or something for back support. However, in what real-life music profession do people religiously carry all this stuff to every gig? For folks living in the big cities and taking public transit, it isn’t practical at all, and no traveling musician will take these heavy objects on an airplane in addition to their instrument! Until more custom concert chairs are invented and become widely accessible to adapt to different players’ anatomies for best support, the best we can do is take injury-prevention measures before and after practice sessions, rehearsals, and concerts. This is a habit that all upper string players must develop and incorporate as part of their “program” before injuries spiral out of control.
Target Muscles to Exercise for Violinists and Violists
The most common site of pain for violinists and violists is the upper left trapezius and neck area. Often because of the lack of back support, the upper traps get overworked and the mid-back section gets weakened; I learned this in physical therapy several years ago. Even using a custom-fitted chinrest/shoulder pad combo prescribed by a professional body mapper is not enough – we must regularly take care of, and condition our bodies for playing.
Last week I played a double rehearsal and knew it was absolutely crucial to strengthen my mid-back, core, and pectoral muscles to prevent acute injury. These are the three most important areas to target for violinists and violists. I decided to put some of these exercises on video to share with you. Feel free to modify, and many of these can also be done with resistance bands: