By: Konner Scott
The act of playing an instrument and the act of becoming physically fit feel like they’re in two different worlds. Playing music is so cerebral and emotional, and while it does involve some level of physical activity, we often neglect to think about the connection between physical fitness and success as a musician. I am not a scientist, but I have done a fair amount of research on this, and I’ve observed how the correlation manifests in my own life. Here are some reasons that staying physically active and healthy may have a positive net benefit on your musicianship:
The Physical Act of Playing
Depending on the instrument you play, being in physical shape can make a tremendous difference in your stamina. For example, any metal drummer will tell you, exhausted and drenched in sweat, that it takes a lot of physical strength and fortitude to be able to drum at high levels of intensity for extended periods of time.
Violinists must keep both arms elevated, guitarists’ hands may get tired of picking and strumming at high tempos, and pianists may not have the forearm & wrist strength necessary to play complicated and speedy runs (if you don’t believe me, watch Evgeny Kissin’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor, and imagine what kind of physical toll that must take on a person). A little work at the gym can help supplement the physical skills required to play more complex material.
Studies nearly unanimously show that one of the best things you can do to preserve your mental function and stamina is intense cardiovascular exercise. This could include running, biking, swimming, rollerblading, handstand-walking, or any activity you can think of that will keep your heart rate consistently elevated for long stretches of time. The benefits will translate into your practice time, and allow you to stay focused for longer and better remember what you’ve learned. As an additional benefit, cardiovascular exercise is also the best known way to preserve brain function as you age. If you want to keep shredding Metallica guitar solos into your 70s, physical activity can help keep you mentally sharp enough to do just that!
In my own life, I’ve found that the stretches of time I’m most miserable often correlate with the times I’m exercising the least. It’s hard to tell which causes which, but in these low mental states, I’m less driven, less creative, and care less about my success as a musician. Emotional & mental health is a hugely important factor in developing good musicianship, and exercising frequently can release endorphins and balance out your mental state so that you have the motivation and enthusiasm to handle long weeks of grueling practice!