Why is exercise good for musicians? - By Tom Francombe

Why is exercise good for musicians?

Always one for physical exercise, Tom gives his fitness tips...

Woodwind and brass players alike use an incredible amount of energy and air to make their instruments sound beautiful, so surely, we need to work on our fitness?

I always like to compare playing an instrument to playing a sport – you wouldn't run a marathon or play a game of rugby without warming up and doing the necessary training would you? So why would we be any different when we prepare for a concert/performance?

Our practice time is like an athlete's training time. We put in hour after hour of strenuous work on flexibilities, studies, scales, sight reading… The list goes on and on. That’s just for our chops/lips/embouchure, but what about the actually physical strains that we put our body through when performing?

Being a tuba/sousaphone player, I know about these strains. I often finish a gig with a bit of back pain or an aching shoulder, but that’s part and parcel of playing the beast that I do, but I’m well aware of the smaller instruments having difficulties and problems of their own.

RSI is a huge factor for musicians, as quite often, playing an instrument will put us in quite uncomfortable positions for a long period of time, I know I wouldn’t want to hold a flute up for the entirety of Mahler’s 10th symphony, or stick my hand up a French horn throughout Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony.

My main tips for setting yourself up to be able to play for a long time are:

  • Be active - Get out and about, walking/running/cycling
  • Take time off - It’s important to relax both before and after strenuous performances to allow the body to heal and freshen up
  • Stretch - Yoga/Pilates and other forms of stretching are very good to allow our body to flex and move which will increase our comfort throughout a performance.

I personally am a very keen sportsman so this allows me to maintain my fitness whilst enjoying a hobby, but aside from all of these physical ways to remain fit and healthy, it’s good to think about the exercises that you do whilst practicing.

I would love to hear the different ways you like to keep physically fit and performance ready, as your tips will be able to help others, including myself to be the best players we can be.