exercise

fitness for musicians

By Robin Steinweg

It’s obvious. Physical fitness helps us be better vocalists, pianists, guitarists, whateverists. We grow more fit as we practice our instruments. This is probably especially true for voice or wind instruments. And it probably goes without saying. But teachers can also encourage students to great physical fitness during lessons.

Fitness by-products of playing or singing

  • Better posture
  • Breathing more deeply and breath control
  • Endurance/stamina
  • Better eating habits—especially stressed in vocal lessons, I suspect
  • Better hydration—I offer water to all students, not only vocalists
  • Greater body awareness
  • Emotional health

I recall one of my voice instructors telling me that if I were to sing correctly I’d probably never need to do crunches! It’s true that vigorous practice or performances can be taxing. But over time, they also build us up and energize us.

12 fun ways to encourage fitness during lessons or practice

(use some of these as practice challenges—get parents, siblings or grandparents to join in!)

  • Sit on an exercise ball during lessons or practice http://ow.ly/rRdc300JTeK
  • Stand to play, even at the piano
  • Walk around the room while playing or singing
  • March in place while playing
  • Practice vocal scales as you trot up and down the stairs
  • Dance the rhythm of your piece
  • If syncopated, add handclaps
  • Bounce a ball in rhythm while walking and playing (try it with a partner)
  • Jump on the rests
  • Listen to a recording of your piece—choreograph with steps and arm swings—like aerobic dance
  • If you have a trampoline, young students could practice bouncing in time to you or a recording
  • Set up a gentle obstacle course (chairs, cones, folders, stairs) and walk it while playing or singing

Note: check with parents before engaging students in activities (wouldn’t want to bring on an asthma attack or anything!).

How do you promote physical fitness as a music teacher?

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daisy-504491_640

Arguably, the most important skill a musician can acquire is the ability to “play by ear!” Am I dismissing the art of reading notation? Absolutely not. In many aspects of my life as a musician, reading music is essential to me. What I really mean is that, whether a musician is reading music or not, his or her ability to carefully listen to the sound they are producing whilst playing is essential to creating a musical result. I like to call it the “LAD” technique (no offense LADies)! Listen, Analyse and Develop. You have to Listen carefully to the sound you are producing, Analyse the musical elements and then adjust to Develop it yet further. A person might be the best “sight reader” in the world but unless they focus on progressing their “playing by ear”/listening skills, the impact and message of the music will be lost on their audience. “Playing by ear” surely is at the very core of what we do!

So how do we as musicians and teachers develop these essential skills both in ourselves and in our students?

Ear Training Methods

One effective way is to record ourselves and hear our music back. Suddenly we are listening as a third party to the sound and can hear what’s good, bad and ugly! Carefully listening whilst simplifying the music by practicing it slower (and hands separate if possible) can help us focus on detail not previously heard. Other musicians use the

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