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Being injured as a classical musician is a pain that does not come alone. If you have endured a playing related injury in the past you will understand the guilt, hopelessness and anxiety that can accompany even the shortest rest sentences in your playing career. You are not alone! A study conducted in 2018 on 100,000 orchestral musicians found that 82% of them had spent over a year without touching their instruments due to a playing related injury at some point in their professional careers. A further study discovered that 99% of those musicians believed they were personally to blame for their injuries AND that a staggering 30% of those musicians had not consulted a physical professional aside from musician colleagues, friends or teachers. No article can deliver the personalized advice required to combat a physical playing injury, so we’re not going to - but if you’re at a wits end after the doctor has recommended an extended period of rest from work and play, then here are 10 ideas for what to do with the spare time you have now been afforded. After all, after a year like 2020, we’re all professional silver lining detectives!

1. Use the time to read up

Perhaps interpretation is the last thing on your mind right now, but whilst you’re barred from jumping right in and trying something out on the instrument, why not take this time to read those treaties you were sent by a colleague a few years ago that have been on the back burner ever since, to spend an afternoon searching for the manuscripts of a piece you are playing in a library and pouring over the markings, to read through an orchestral score whilst listening through one of your favorite recordings. Whilst this might be a down time in terms of physical efforts, there’s no limit on the inspiration you can collect, and when you are back to playing you can put it all to good use!

2. Use the time to listen

The amount of incredible records available online are overwhelming and unending, so with your extra hours a day why not listen to some music you have never heard before and get inspired by the work other musicians are doing. Feeding your brain in this period is the inhale to the exhale you will perform once you are back behind your instrument.

3. Use the time to focus on other types of health/strength

It should go without saying, but for most musicians, aside from the tiny muscular changes in the fingers, physical health is not all that important. Musicians are well known for their love of self-deprecation, and even the healthiest of us are prone to a 6hour sitting session in a dark room. Take this time to take a walk outside in the fresh air and to focus on other types of physical health that you can control, your body will thank you for it in the long run.

4. Use the time to consider your options

Perhaps this period is one of the first in your life that you will experience a real break from playing your instrument, and if so - wonderful. How many times in your life will you have both the time and the distance to be able to recall put into question your love of this lifestyle and of the instrument. Perhaps you will find yourself feeling desperate to get back to playing and that desperation will be motivated by love, but if it isn’t and your desperation spans from guilt about duty or expectation, then perhaps it is the perfect time to reflect a little on the reasons you play. It does not mean you need to take drastic action, this is simply a perfect moment to realize what it is that really drives you.

5. Use the time to sort out your online presence

What better time to cultivate your online presence than a period where your screen time will probably be through the roof anyway! Start with what you have and dream about where you want to be, what image do you want to create? Where would you like it to lead you? Set about taking the necessary steps towards what you envision and you’ll find that your future playing self will be incredibly grateful for the time and the stress relief!

6. Use the time to dream about the future

When was the last time you dreamt about what the future held for you? Perhaps you have been caught up in deadlines or the next lesson or the next concert, but this is a period of your life where you finally have time to reflect, assess and dream! If you could make 5 wishes towards your future what would they be? If somebody would give you $5000 towards kickstarting your career, how would you spend it? Start with these two thoughts and give them some real attention, and then set about making them happen! The best time to start is NOW!

7. Use the time to reorganize your practice ethos/rituals

All of us have unhealthy practice rituals, whether that is practicing too long, not warming up before playing, sitting hunched over a laptop, having the music stand too low - the list goes on. This is the perfect time to reassess the things that are making your practice more tired and more prone to injury and make resolutions for how to inject more healthy practices into your routine!

8. Use the time to give your instrument some TLC

A largely overlooked area of practice, mainly because there’s always some passage that needs attention, is the maintenance of your instrument. This is a perfect task to do during a period of rest as it can be done slowly and thoughtfully. Now that you have some time, spend it taking care of the companion that got you in this mess in the first place!

9. Use the time to practice in other ways

People always say this - but practice does not have to be at the instrument. In fact a lot of wisdom and improvement can be gleaned from working away from the instrument and instead focusing on harmonic/analytic/visualized patterns and memory. Try taking the score and practicing in your head (this article might help you with that!)

10. Use the time to rest

Well, it was always coming down to this. You have the chance to rest, so take it. Rest is something that musicians have a really complicated relationship with, especially when the modern world has us believing that productivity and rest are opposites. Take the time now not just to rest, but to work out which things help you to feel well rested, after all these are things that you can take back into your practice routine once you are back to playing that will help you and your playing greatly.

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Guitarist

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