Ergonomics and a mid-winter stretch

pedagogy corner Feb 11, 2020
 

Just as athletes have a stretching and warm-up routine, and specific ways that they learn to hold their bodies to avoid injury, so should we consider these things for ourselves as we engage in music making!  

by Cynthia Kinnunen

Stretch it out!

It's February and for many of us in the colder climates, that means we’re looking ahead to the potential of warmer days. It’s the perfect time to think about how to bring our bodies back to life and to maintain good physical health.

I have learned from many musicians (and physiotherapists!) how important it is to make stretching part of your regular routine. It only takes a few moments but can make a world of difference. As examples, I like to start my practice or performance sessions with the following:

  • Reach your left hand out to the front with palm forward and fingers up. With your right hand, pull back gently on your fingers. Then turn your left hand down towards the ground and make a fist. With your right hand, push the hand in a downward stretch. Repeat with the opposite arm/hand.
  • Pull back on each finger and thumb, taking a moment to let the stretch happen and then relax.
  • Reach up to the ceiling with both arms, spreading your fingers out and upwards, with palms facing in to each other. Twist wrists and stretch again with palms facing outwards. Open and close hands and fingers between a fist and stretch as you are reaching up.
  • Roll shoulders forward and back, and then roll your head, taking time to look up to the sky and down to the ground, left and right.

Just as athletes have a stretching and warm-up routine ... so should we consider these things for ourselves as we engage in music making!  

Ergonomics for playing

One you’re warmed up with stretches, we should consider the position of our bodies, how we hold our instruments, and move our arms and hands. They’re all important aspects of playing that not only enable us to play well, but also avoid things like repetitive strain injury or discomfort. I reached out to friend and ukulele teacher, Dave Egan from California, who runs comprehensive workshops on this very topic at ukulele festivals around the world. While there is a lot to consider, he has some quick tips to get us started and encourage our students to think about.

Dave’s Quick Tips for Ergonomic Success

  • The left hand should come up to shoulder height and wrist should remain as straight as possible in a relaxed position. The ukulele strap should be adjusted to locate the uke neck comfortably into the left hand at this position. Place the uke where the hand should be, don’t place your left hand where the randomly adjusted strap locates the uke.
  • The palm of the left hand should be mostly in front of the neck, with only the thumb resting on the back of the neck. This allows the strength and weight of the whole hand to be in play, not just the fingers.
  • All fingers should be in a relaxed, gentle curve with no sharp angles or clenching.
  • When barring, the index finger should be held perfectly straight. This will greatly decrease the amount of force needed to create a barre chord.
  • Don’t squeeze too hard – location is far more effective than pressure. Place your fingers as close to the fret as possible and do not push the string all the way to the fretboard – it’s only necessary to trap the string against the fret. Not as much pressure required as you might think.

Some great ideas for getting started if you are not already doing some stretching or monitoring of your playing positions. Why not pull yourself and your students out of hibernation by starting your next class with these tips. Your body will thank you!

 

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