Do you ever experience pain while you play the flute? What about after a long practice session? Maybe it's just because I'm creeping up in age, but I've noticed a lot more pain issues associated with flute playing than I did when I was a teenager and through my twenties. In fact, it wasn't until I began studying music again as a graduate student that I really began noticing the debilitating effects of practicing for longer periods of time. The biggest problem for me is the area on my back between my shoulder blades, but I've also had issues with my arms, hands, neck, and even my legs (from standing "pigeon toed" rather than both feet facing forward). I've tried many things to alleviate the pain including cold/heat therapy, stretching, pain medication, etc...but to really prevent the pain from happening in the first place, one must adopt a proactive mindset.
If, like me, you also struggle to get through painful practice sessions, I've rounded up a few ideas from other flutists and other professionals on how to deal. I'm looking forward to reading as well, because even as I sit and write this post--my neck is killing me!
Happy Pain-Free Practicing!
Pain-Free Flute Resources
1. Alexander Technique
I first heard of this practice when my undergraduate flute professor, Jill Heyboer invited an expert in the field to present a masterclass to our flute studio. Being the idealistic (and sometime idiotic) young person that I was, I didn't pay much attention to what he had to say--in fact, I don't even remember his name. In my mind I was invincible, and I could just push through my pain--no big deal. Looking back, in addition to having much compassion for my flute professor and her endless patience with me, I also wish I would have taken the whole idea more seriously, as I'm sure I wouldn't be experiencing the pain I do now. Another Alexander Technique teacher and professional percussionist, Mark Josefsburg, wrote a brief yet enlightening article on how this practice can be used by flutists. To learn more about Alexander Technique, Mr. Josefsburg covers it all in this informational video. To locate a practitioner in your area, go to THIS website and search by state.
To combat stress in my twenties I began practicing Yoga, and I did notice a difference in my posture while I played my flute, as well. There are many "fluties" who are also "yogis," so finding info about how the two intermingle isn't very difficult. I found a great flute/yoga article written by professional flutist and piccoloist, Cindy Ellis. She covers the benefits of yoga and how it has affected her musical career. If you'd like a secluded arena in which to introduce your tight limbs to the practice of yoga, I'd suggest purchasing a few of these Gaiam Yoga Videos. If you are in the Columbia area and ready to venture out into a class setting, alleyCat Yoga Studio is one of my favorites. They have a restorative yoga session that is most helpful.
3. Flute Posture
For some helpful tips on posture, read this article written by Laurel Ann Maurer. In the post, she explains why she holds her flute parallel to the ground, rather than a downward angle. I'm constantly reminding my conservatory and private students to heed this advice because of how it affects air flow, tuning, and proper head/neck/shoulder alignment. This can be a controversial topic, so if you are a studying with a flute teacher, talk it over with them before changing the way you hold/play the flute.
4. Physical Therapy
This last find is in honor of my poor illiotibial band (IT band)--which has nothing to do with flute, really, but the concept applies. Two months ago I decided to train for a vigorous and LONG bike ride. I did it in three weeks, and in my usual "invincible" attitude, I didn't do much to stretch or strengthen my muscles aside from the actual training rides. As a result, after my 115-mile ride through the hills of mid-Missouri, I haven't been able to run, bike, or sometimes even walk because of pain in my IT band. I had to see a physical therapist who prescribed a specific stretching/strenghening/foam-rolling regimen for several weeks--and maybe...just MAYBE I'll get to work out again soon. So...all this to say...if you don't prepare your body to play the flute--especially during endurance type practicing or performing situations--you will pay for it! Maybe not today...maybe not tomorrow...but soon. Very soon. If you would like to learn more about how to avoid this terrible fate, I suggest reading this article about physical therapy for flutists by flutist/physical trainer, Angela McCuiston.
What are things that help you avoid pain while playing the flute? I could use all the suggestions I can get--and I'm sure I'm not alone!
Thanks for reading!
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