SOPP268: how to keep the back and neck pain free and hopefully injury free while practicing piano and organ?
V: Let’s start episode 268, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Lorelei. And she’s our Total Organ student. She writes:
I think it might not be a bad idea considering my case, to do a podcast or an article on how to keep the back and neck pain free and hopefully injury free while practicing piano and organ etc. I must say I have in the last 5 weeks a very keen interest in the subject. Thank you for your well wishes and again, thank you for your wonderful contribution to the music world.
V: So Ausra, have you ever had a back or neck pain?
A: Of course. I think every body who plays [an] instrument has experienced this.
V: Why do you think organ is so, organist sometimes get this kind of pain, or more often than on other instruments?
A: Well I think that everybody who does the sitting, jobs, gets this pain. I think this pain is also often, in those people, who for example work with a computer all day long. Because I think in general, back doesn‘t like this sitting position, and especially when you play organ because you cannot place your feet on the ground.
A: You have to keep them on the pedalboard.
V: And they‘re playing, and you have to find the balance and it‘s a very delicate thing.
A: So, the spine suffers from it.
V: Remember at musical academy, we had this friend Vitalijus, who had back problems many times.
A: Yes, I remember that.
V: So, one thing that was recommended to him was probably some kind of yoga stretches. Don‘t you think that‘s helpful?
A: I think you need to be careful with yoga and stretching. You really need to know what you are doing because you may hurt yourself even more. I think in general, maybe not so much stretching is important, although it is important, as it’s important to strengthen your back muscles.
V: Oh, so that‘s where Pilates might come in.
A: I think Pilates might help.
V: Tell us more.
A: Well, what? (Laughs). I‘m not a Pilates instructor, but i know I,,,
V: Is there one particular exercise from that program that you attend which helps to support your back muscles?
A: Yes, actually it‘s a very simple one. You just have to lay down,,,
V: On the stomach?
A: Yes, on the stomach, and then you have to take your hand and leg, opposite side.
A: And to,,,
V: Slowly raise them.
A: Slowly raise them, and then to put them down, and then to do that with the other side of your body.
V: So then when you raise your right hand, you at the same time raise the left leg.
A: That’s right.
V: And then you slowly lower them down, and you raise the left hand, while raising the right leg.
A: Yes. So, it should be always on opposite hand and opposite leg.
A: Or I should say arm, because you have to raise entire arm.
A: So basically this is a classical exercise for stretching your back.
V: They also have this, Superman, remember, pose,,,
A: Yes. Although Superman is harder sort of exercise. If you are just beginner then you better start with the first one.
V: Or a swimming exercise: You lie on the stomach, you probably raise a little bit your front, and with the hands extended, you do some kind of swimming motion, right? And the same with the legs too, at the same time.
A: So there all kinds of exercises you need to know, to try some of them. And of course, another thing; if you are experience the pain, you need to break between your practicing.
A: You could not sit and play for a few hours in a row, without exercising and taking breaks.
V: Mmm-hmm. Taking breaks usually works for me every twenty-five minutes of the thirty minutes. I get also tired and I need to talk a walk, get a glass of water, stretch. I do this Salutation of the Sun, collection of exercise. It takes only a couple of minutes, but then my entire body is stretched and warmed up and ready to do some work in many positions. Not only in sitting but I could do some strenuous strength training afterwards.
A: Another thing that would might help would be swimming. Swimming is also very good for back.
A: And in general for your muscles. So, you need to try some of these exercises, swimming. And never think you need to check if you are sitting right on the organ. Maybe your position is incorrect.
A: Maybe you are sitting to low, or too high.
V: If you are sitting too high then I think it’s easier than too low, for your back.
A: Well, it could be either way. Because also if you are sitting to high as you try to reach the pedalboard, you might injure your back too.
V: Hmmm. Right. So the classical sitting position on the organ bench is when you place the bench in parallel to the pedalboard, yes? And when you sit, your feet have to touch the pedals, but only gently, without depressing them. And the bench should be positioned in relation to the manuals so that your toes should almost touch the sharp keys, right?
A: That’s right.
V: Naturally, while you relax your feet. Then you know you are sitting correctly and efficiently. Some people move the left side of the bench further from the keyboards. Is that healthy?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t thinks so. Because in that case you need to twist your back a little bit and I don’t think it’s good. Also I found sometimes you have to practice your hands on a different manual. And for example, if you practice for a long time, and let’s say your left hand is always above the right hand; let’s say you have a three manual organ and you practice the right hand on the first manual and left hand on the third manual. I had experience like this. And if you practice for an hour or two in such a position, you back is sort of twisted. It also might hurt your muscles.
V: Right. So change the position of your hands frequently. Right hand goes on the upper manual, and then left hand goes on the other manual, and vice versa. Switch them up, maybe with each repetition of the piece, right? One repetition could be this way and the second repetition could be that way.
A: Yes, and this is especially useful when you practice for example, such piece as trio sonata.
A: And it’s also, if you practice on one instrument and when you will go to perform on another one, it will be easier for you to get used to the new instrument. Because you never know for sure how you will register it when you will be finally arriving on the organ,,,
A: On which you will perform.
V: I remember the time when I was a student and it was really difficult to adjust on the situation when my right hand was supposed to be on the top manual, and then I had to switch to the lower manual, because my professor suggested also this way. Now I understand I had to practice constantly, changing the manuals.
A: Yes, if your back problems, or neck problems will increase or will not release you from the pain, I think it’s better if you will consult your physician. Because it might a serious condition, really serious.
V: Mmm-hmm. Our advice is very basic and general. Of course, it is applicable for people who don’t have a back pain but want to prevent back and neck pains in the future, right? But if you have something really serious and specific for your situation, obviously you need to check with your physician. Thank you guys. This is interesting discussion. We hope this was helpful to you. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,,,
A: Miracles happen!
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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