a collection of my own thoughts on health issues that may interest you as teachers and players.

self care - the gym - after injury - other influences - motherhood

Self care

You play through your body and the cello is a large, physically taxing instrument. Looking after your body is vital. Always make sure you are warm before and during your playing. Sitting still cools your body down so wear layers. A dancer or an athlete would always prepare their body for work. So should you. Warm up your playing and then do a set of stretches through the major muscles in your upper body. Never stretch from cold. Do more stretches when you take a break in your practice too. When you finish playing do another set. It is a good idea to work on the legs too when you have enough time.

There are many good books to guide you and to teach you about musculature, anatomy and body-care. For example, look at:

  • The Muscle Book, and the very thorough Stretching Without Pain, both written by Paul Blakey. (Both are Bibliotek Books)
  • Stretching by Bob Anderson (Shelter Publications) is a classic.
  • Mind and Muscle by Elizabeth Langford. (Best found on Amazon.com)

For those of you wanting to become professional musicians, even though it applies to all of us, make a point of getting and staying fit. Yoga and Pilates are excellent ways of developing and maintaining your overall well-being and both are used by people who use their bodies for their work.

The Alexander Technique will really help with re-aligning and developing body-consciousness that most of us need.

Take care in the gym

What works for one person's body, does not work for another's. Be active in getting informed and reassess regularly what is going on in your body as you exercise. Weight training shortens the muscle whereas you, as a player, need length and flexibility.

Running will affect your skeleton, and particularly the knees and back, as many times your total body weight travels through your joints on each move! If you are a runner, trainers and therapists recommend using sorbothane inserts in your shoes to absorb the shock even if wearing state of the art trainers.

Cellists are prone to back problems often from the sheer compression of the spine from carrying your instrument around.

Feed and water yourself. Your brain needs H2O to function well. We should be drinking two litres each day to function well. If you don't already do this, you will notice a radical change in brain speed once you start!

If you are having a physical dip, go for a protein, rather than a sugar hit. We all need energy to exert energy.


You may have had whiplash, a broken arm, a fall or back problems. You may feel the fallout from these acutely when playing your cello. My own experience of injury has taught me a lot and I have learnt much from those who have treated me. Though your body will never return to pre-injury condition you can, with care, exercise and with the right treatment function more or less normally. Many don't find the right practitioners and end up with chronic conditions.

For any deep problems involving skeletal or spinal problems, ask around for good osteopaths and chiropractors. For muscular damage you may also need the deep treatment from a sports and remedial massage therapist. These people read your musculature like a book, have great expertise and offer real solutions. For a local therapist look at www.lssm.com.

Other influences

The work of people in other fields can help us see things anew and differently. Here are some of the books I've read and been affected by recently.

The eminent teacher and violinist Kato Havas has a lot of wisdom in her writing. Take a look at Stage Fright published by Bosworth. I like her honesty and depth of understanding that leads to real solutions. There is a lot here for us cellists to learn from her violin technique and approach.

For those of you wanting to know more about the baroque style, have a look at Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners by the violinist Judy Tarling. It is a Corda Music Publication and is excellent.

Simon Callow's book, Being an Actor (Vintage Books) is a very funny and informative account of his, and an actor's development. Finding out about other professions and their parallels is fascinating and there are lessons in here for any performer.

Impro by Keith Johnstone (Methuen) is another theatre book which will stimulate you.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a Simon Schuster publication. It's thick, but packed with help, ideas and new ways of working more usefully and meaningfully, and for defining and setting goals.

Big Bangs by Howard Goodall, published by Catto and Windus, is an excellent book that delves into five seismic events that changed musical history. Get a copy!

It's not how good you are, It's how good you want to be. This small gem of a book is by Paul Arden who worked in advertising [published by Phaidon]. It is very smart, brief, clever and revealing. The illustrations are brilliant and provocative too. Get yourself a copy whatever you do! It costs a fiver and I hope you are already out the door in pursuit of it!

Motherhood and cello playing

You return in excitement to your cello after having a baby and realise you probably don't have an unstrained muscle in your body. Parts of you seem to have migrated to different points of the compass. Discomfort at this time can make less experienced cellists think they are playing incorrectly. If you have not been playing for long, you may be, but I've found with my students and myself that the real culprit is more likely to be general muscular pain from so much lifting, bending and post-natal tendon wobbling. Don't confuse one issue with the other.

There cannot be a mother on the planet who does not need physical treatment after pregnancy and birth. Do go and get a body MOT, maybe some deep massage and see if you need further rebalancing. Ribs, hips and spine are commonly out of alignment.

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