The Importance of Exercise

Hello and welcome back! It’s been some time since I last posted, but I will be writing now on a much more regular basis.

I want to talk today about the importance of exercise and physical well being for you as a musician. Playing any musical instrument is a form of exercise in itself,  especially playing string bass. Therefore, part of the journey for all of us is finding an approach to the bass that gives us a healthy physical activity which strengthens our body and helps to keep us well, as opposed to putting us in pain and giving us some kind of ailments like overuse syndrome or tendonitis. We are all individuals without a doubt, but what I’m striving to do as a teacher is help each of you define, develop and refine your path, and the physical aspects of playing the instrument is a very important part of that.

As I get older, I am able to assess my own strengths and weaknesses, especially having been in an accident in 2014 where I was hit by a panel truck rounding a corner and also having gotten my self into some issues with long distance running, starting with achilles tendon. I feel pretty good about having developed my own way of playing the bass over the years and realized after the accident, which was a direct hit to my lower spine, how strong my back really was. Because I play several instruments, I saw, starting with the first time I tried playing, a week afterwards, and starting with guitar, how much I use my back to play all my instruments. So, I’m encouraging you to continue to develop the self awareness of your body’s role in your practice. And, I’m also suggesting you include exercise and body/mind work in your program. This has always been a key element for me, and certain studies I pursued were very important in my own development, in terms of the physical strength and flexibility I describe.

I encourage you to investigate various disciplines in this regard, but I want to  give a couple examples which have been quite important to me. Our family physician is also a Tai-Chi practitioner, and so I was influenced by him a great deal and learned several poses which I practice. I also pursued Alexander Technique in Chicago long ago with Ed Bouchard and was helped by him very much and it’s very much a part of my playing. For those here at school, Champaign Urbana is a kind of epicenter of AT, so I would encourage you to look into the local scene when you can. AT is hard to experience on YouTube, I would say, it’s a one on one kind of thing. I’ve not studied Yoga, other than some YouTube videos, but can tell you that I think it would be another wonderful avenue to pursue. There are several other kinds of bodywork I’m not really familiar with, including Feldenkrais, so if you know someone really into some discipline it might be worth investigating.

Of course, physical exercise, such as swimming, running and biking are very important too. It may be that just a brisk walk or bike ride will be all you’ll have time for, but some kind of aerobic exercise is important for health.

Weight training is another matter. I think it’s got some great potential, but it needs to be balanced, and I think it’s logical to suggest that the work be mostly lighter weights and high reps and not power lifting. I don’t think too many of you are into that, but it has come up in questions from students. There are some bassists out there that like to talk about the physical power aspect of playing, and it’s true when you look at someone with a really large stature it might seem, or in fact be, the case that making a big sound is easy. As a teacher, I always take the position that it’s the use of the self that makes the difference.  Music starts in the mind and and the soul and as you come into touch with your own sound you will find the way to release. Thus, we need an efficient well formed physical mechanism, you and your bass, to do that.

Speaking of YouTube, I’ve found some wonderful video courses in a variety of areas, especially Tai-Chi and Yoga, that would be good places to start.

As hard as we all work on our musicianship and our bass playing, it really important to have this balance and establish it when we are young. It will pay off later, I’m here to tell you!

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