Sit Up Straight!

In our blog and newsletters, I have mentioned more than once the health benefits of playing an instrument. There is mounting proof that those who play or listen to music have healthier immune systems, better able to ward against cold, flues, and viruses. In addition, playing an instrument is good for the brain, a natural chill pill, and increases memory and concentration.

However, I don’t think I’ve ever addressed the physical challenges that may arise from playing your dulcimer. Playing an instrument can be very much a physical activity and your body may experience a number of physical issues as a result. So let’s address some of these one by one.

  • Fingertip Soreness: This doesn't usually require treatment, although icing and numbing creams can provide short-term relief. Simply playing your mountain dulcimer regularly until you build up some calluses is the best remedy. Also trim your fingernails because long, protruding nails can make fretting difficult. It is recommended that the nails in the fretting hand must not extend beyond the fingertip.

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive, forceful movements of the hand, especially with the wrist or hand bent in an awkward position. If you are experiencing this, take frequent breaks to gently stretch and bend your hands and wrists. If this becomes a chronic issue, consider wearing a wrist brace or consulting your doctor.

  • Hand Cramps: The best way to avoid hand cramps is to warm up before playing. The warm-up should include three to five minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise, such as stairs or a fast-paced walk around the room. Follow that with some movements of the larger joints – shoulders and elbows – and then add some movements of the wrists and fingers. Stretching is another great way to prevent cramping.

  • Back or Neck Pain: Incorrect posture rolls shoulders forward, shortening the neck and shoulder muscles and compressing nerves in the neck and back. This poor lady's back is going to ache if she continues learning forward like that to play.  Actually, I sit like that at my keyboard when I try to read music without my glasses.   As my mother (and my husband) would say, “Sit up straight!” 

  • Eye Strain: If this is an issue for you, maybe it's time for you to just memorize your tabs.  For the most part, I have given up trying to read music.  If I wear the right strength glasses that will enable me to see the notes on staff paper, then I can't see my hammered dulcimer strings clearly.  Aaaarrrgh!  And I can't look back and forth fast enough to be accurate.  So my current process is to work out a new tune line by line, and memorize at the same time.

Your attention to injury prevention must be a priority when learning to play your dulcimer. Keeping yourself healthy will go a long way to making your practice times more comfortable AND productive.



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