Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.17

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

True enjoyment comes from
activity of the mind and exercise of the body;
the two are ever united.
-Wilhelm von Humboldt

We have been talking about how to become a musician this month- at least in behaviors, actions, and attitudes. At the heart of it is always that priority list:
1. The music
2. Our colleagues
3. The audience
4. Ourselves

Unfortunately, since it puts "ourselves" last, people often use that as an excuse NOT to take care of themselves. We end up pushing ourselves beyond our limits into wearing down of our energy, skills, and careers. The issue of balancing extremes that I talked about last week in relation to our actual playing is just as important when it comes to taking care of ourselves. It can be so easy to mess up our lives by not paying attention to what’s important in how we look after ourselves. We ignore warning signs of extreme fatigue, we think that we will always be able to do everything we have always done, we will not take care of our body, mind, and spirit. Many of us will actually take better care of our instrument than we will of ourselves.

In reality if we don’t take care of ourselves we can easily get into deep trouble physically and emotionally. In the end the music we produce will suffer, the relationships with other musicians will deteriorate, and we might not have an audience to play for. Taking care of ourselves, I am convinced, is the same as cleaning, caring for, and tuning an instrument.

Last summer I explained to Bill Bergren at the workshop what I was hoping to get out of an individual lesson. He took my horn from me, pulled out the tuning slide and looked down the lead pipe.

“When was the last time you cleaned this?” He looked in my mouthpiece, handed the trumpet back to me and just shook his head.

I cleaned it that night- and there was way more of the ugly green gunk than I wanted to see. That green gunk is a metaphor for what happens to me when I don’t take care of me!

So I did some surfing around the Internet and found many good bits of advice as I got ready to write this week’s post. They sum up the different areas of our lives that need self-monitoring on a regular basis. That is the “mindfulness” that I talk about so often. The better we pay attention to ourselves and what is going on around us, the better we will learn to take care of ourselves.

I put the things I found into a series of categories:
✓ Balance
Avoiding extremes
✓ Breathing/Relaxation
Developing tension releasing activities
✓ Commitment
Making self-care non-negotiable. (It has to be part of the daily routine!)
✓ Exercise
Keeping the instrument of self physically tuned
✓ Gratitude
Developing an attitude of humility and grace
✓ Mindfulness
Learning to be self-aware both inwardly and outwardly

First, on the Musician’s Way website, ( Gerald Klickstein had twelve habits of a healthy musician. Here are the ones I felt fit best with this post:

• Manage your workload (Balance)
• Heed warning signs (Mindfulness)
• Minimize tension (Breathing/Relaxation)
• Take charge of anxiety (Breathing/Relaxation)
• Keep fit and strong (Exercise)

On the website Psych Central ( there was an article about how medical clinicians and counselors learn to take care of themselves. Here are some of the tips from there that seems most appropriate.

• Remember that self-care is non-negotiable. (Commitment)
• Put it on your calendar — in ink! (Commitment)
• Know when to say no. (Balance)
• Identify what activities help you feel your best. (Balance)
• Take care of yourself physically. (Exercise)
• Surround yourself with great people. (Mindfulness)
• Meditation (Mindfulness)
• Check in with yourself regularly (Mindfulness)

To be a healthy musician, then, let's put these together:
  • Mindfulness:
    • Check in with yourself regularly
    • Heed warning signs
    • Meditation
  • Gratitude:
    • Surround yourself with great people
  • Balance:
    • Know when to say no
    • Manage your workload
    • Identify the activities for relaxation and renewal that can help you feel your best
  • Commitment:
    • Put your self-care activities on your calendar in ink
    • Remember they need to be non-negotiable
  • Breathing/Relaxation:
    • Minimize sources of tension
    • Take charge of anxiety
  • Exercise:
    • Take care of yourself physically
    • Keep fit and strong
As to that last one, I have been a wannabe exerciser for years. I manage to keep at it for a while, then something changes and I get lazy or off-track. (I have been a certified group trainer, as well.) Yet I have always known and experienced that when I am taking care of myself physically through exercise and better eating, I am better overall, and I am a better musician. There are many places to find ideas about exercise for musicians. I came across one set that was really helpful. The site is Take Lessons ( and they had a wonderful bit of information for musicians. They also had a number of links to helpful videos. Here are seven of their ten ideas, chosen more by my own experience to share:
  • Yoga- Stretching and movement with balance and intention is a great metaphor for musicians. We can learn it well through yoga. The website talked about “power” yoga. Not a necessity in my opinion. Yoga will do it without all the extras added.
  • Core Exercises- The core, the abs, are the supporting foundation for all good health. They provide a way for musicians to be more focused and relaxed because they are well supported. The benefits of a strong core I don’t think can be overstated! Pilates is an excellent way to build this.
  • Posture- We have all heard that having good posture does a lot- we just ignore it. Yet a good posture will support better music. It also has a lot to do with breathing. And efficient use of breath is essential to those of us who are wind musicians!
  • Arm Strength (biceps, triceps, shoulders)- Think about holding the instrument! Need I say more?
  • Cardio- A healthy heart will help get that air moving and increase endurance.
  • Neck & Shoulder stretches
  • Meditation- Yes, this can be an important part of exercise. Next week I will talk more about this in relation to T’ai Chi and Qigong.
I hope I am preaching to the choir in this post. I am a strong supporter of self-care. It is not being selfish. It is taking care of yourself as a way of helping others. It is in line with the instructions you hear on an airplane. If the oxygen mask drops down, put yours on FIRST before helping even a little child put their on. You can’t help if you aren’t safe yourself.

Take care of you. It’s the only you that you will have.

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