Music and Movement,
A Special Event With Ann Joseph

Review by Jodi Lipson

As a young piano student, I liked nothing better than to please my teacher by practicing for a whole hour no matter how slowly those long minutes passed. And as an adult student, I thought that practicing for that straight hour was still a laudable goal. Wrong!

Ann Joseph, a specialist in fitness training for musicians, advises that we dont practice for an hour straight. Better, break up your practicing into segments of 20, 30, or 40 minutes. At the very least, take a few 5-minute breaks, or get up and stretch a few times.

Those were just a few of the tips Joseph gave members at an AMSF workshop on March 26, on keeping musicians fit. Joseph, a teacher and performer in the Washington area for many years, expanded her interests to help other musicians maximize performance, reduce stress, and avoid injuries. In addition to breaking up practice time, she advocates a variety of approaches.


When were nervous, Joseph explained, many people breathe shallowly. She remembers feeling lightheaded and dizzy before performances. When youre nervous, she says, remember to breathe deeply. Workshop participants formed a circle to practice traditional yogic breathing, which involves breathing in (try 8 counts), feeling your breath fill your diaphram, your neck, and your head; and hold (try 16); then slowly, mouth parsed, exhale (try to the count of 8). Breathing fills the body and the muscles with oxygen.


You think youre doing enough just practicing? Now Joseph suggests an added commitment: stretching your muscles prior to, during, and after practice sessions. Her handout explains why: Muscle speed, strength, and efficiency of contractions are enhanced by a rise in temperature of the muscle. Muscles that are overused, fatigued, and underconditioned are more tense and require more work for a demanding task. Untoned muscles are less resilient and more injury-prone.

Here are just a few of Josephs recommended stretches. All should be done slowly.

  • Raise both arms over the head, and then relax to sides (20x)
  • Shrug shoulders up and down. (20x)
  • Pinch shoulder blades together. (20x)
  • Clasp hands behind you at hips and gently raise arms, pulling shoulders back. (5x)
  • Reach forward, hook fingers, press palms outward. Reach upward, lifting arms over head. Stretch up, pressing wrists upward. (2x)
  • Beginning with the arms relaxed at sides, circle forward (5x) and then circle backward. (5x)
  • Spread fingers, make a fist, stretch thumb out and back. (5x)
  • Turn head to left then to right. Look forward, bring right ear to right shoulder. Bring left ear to left shoulder. Bring chin to chest. (2x)
  • Lay on your stomach, hands under chin, elbows out. Press on hands to raise the body up, curving the spine, hold, then release your elbows and lower your upper body back down. (5x)

One neck exercise to avoid is leaning the head straight back.

Warm Up

Besides stretching, Joseph shared her personal secret: Isotoners. Her point? Dont let the hands get cold. Joseph suggests running warm water over your hands and massaging your hands and forearms.

Develop Good Posture

The many drawings of muscles, tendons, and bones Joseph shared reminded us all too vividly of the importance of good posture. Think about it the next time you catch yourself hunched over the keyboard looking at your fingers.

Rest When You Can

If youre playing a difficult piece, take advantage of points when you can rest your hands, releasing muscle tension by dropping your wrists or hanging your arms down in front of the piano bench.

Recognize Your Limits

Unfortunately, we all have limits. Someone with small hands, for example, may not be able to play Brahms. "So play Mozart!" Joseph once told a client. "Theres no shame in that!"

And, as mentioned, most of our bodies cannot tolerate long intense practice sessions. As computer use increases, so does the incidence of repetitive stress injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. "Its no longer just us musicians!" exclaimed Joseph. To avoid these injuries, practice in short spurts. Play a bit in the morning and later in the day, if you have that luxury. Or at least take short breaks.

And dont think all your practicing has to be done with your instrument. "Do you ever practice off the keyboard?" she asked. It may take a few weeks to get used to, she admitted. But she recalled a time when, in Europe before giving a concert, she had no access to a keyboard. She practiced with her fingers and in her head, and performed well. Studies have shown that even without a keyboard, your arm and finger muscles are moving, so you are in fact learning the piece kinesthetically.

Stop If It Hurts

No pain no gain does NOT mean you should continue playing when you experience pain. If it hurts, then stop.

Treat Injuries

Whether you apply cold (bags of frozen peas work well) or heat, refrain from any use or cut back, build up muscle strength, medicate, or undergo surgery, depends on what your doctor recommends. Several participants, as well as Joseph, had doctors to recommend if needed.