Updated: May 31, 2020
When my 7-year-old daughter started her foray into the world of music my goal was simply to enhance her cultural development. However something unexpected happened while watching her learn to play the violin. The physical requirements to properly play this beautiful instrument triggered my therapist instinct to observe and analyze her movement patterns. Suddenly cultural development was something that would just be icing on the cake.
At her first lesson, she stood with the violin tucked under her chin and bow in hand; she looked like a pro. But within a few short minutes, I was amazed to watch her posture collapse. Then came the bow hold; her hand didn’t have the strength and endurance to maintain the proper positioning. To top it off my daughter was looking at strange symbols on a page that she had to decipher and play.
So the therapist in me quickly started strategizing and breaking things down into smaller parts to reduce the physical demand while she tackled the cognitive demands, and vice versa. The layers of demand required to play an instrument are not as obvious as they are for athletes, however, I quickly came to appreciate that the postural control, arm and hand strength, coordination, as well as cognitive demands are akin to those required to play a sport.
In the years I have been exposed to treating musicians certainly one common thread formed the foundation necessary for them to effectively play their instrument, namely the use of proper mechanics. Incorrect mechanics leads to poor habits that not only affects the quality of playing, but also exposes musicians to potential musculoskeletal conditions such as muscle strain, inflammation, and nerve entrapments.
I have been extremely fortunate to have a professional violinist instructing my daughter who is a strong advocate for proper instruction and the use of proper mechanics. As you consider whether your child will begin playing an instrument, try to find a credentialed instructor that can facilitate the development of the foundational skills to support your child’s success.
As a therapist that has rehabilitated a number of musicians, I agree that proper mechanics is of greatest significance. Learning to use their body as efficiently as possible is particularly important at a time when adults and children alike are increasingly on computers and devices that add to exposure and risk for developing musculoskeletal conditions.
Prevention of injury can involve something as simple as sitting on a chair that encourages a good posture, whether using a computer or playing an instrument, as well as limiting prolonged exposure to either activity. For example, 15 to 30 minutes is adequate practice time for young children.
In the last few years my interest in treating musicians with various injuries has expanded to an appreciation for the many benefits of involving children in music. I’ve been amazed to see my own daughter’s growth as well as hear the difference in the quality of her playing. She’s standing taller on the outside and the inside as well.