Warming up your body is recommended, because it prepares your muscles, tendons, joint fluid for the coming activity, meaning your tissues will be more cooperative and responsive, and you will reduce risk of injury. Anything that gets your whole body moving, in big motions to reach the full range of movements in your joints, and gets your circulation going, works well.
Anything that gets you moving is good as a warm-up, examples would be: - Yoga series - Vacuuming in your home, including moving all loose objects off the floor - A brisk walk with exaggerated arm swinging - A few moments of arms swinging from side to side and in large circles, and then bending the whole body over, low (as if reaching for toes) and rolling up slowly.
During a practise session, my main advice is to change your focus of practise a few times to not do the same thing the whole time, and to take frequent breaks, readjusting your position. Variation is key. Although practising is largely about concentration and working on a certain element, your body needs the balance between repetition (for learning) and variation (for recovery and re-focusing).
Variation may strengthen your ability to focus!
Examples to diversify your practising session:
- Keep a glass of drinking water across the room, so that you'll get up every now and then.
- Scheduling your practise sessions: every 15 minutes, take 2 minutes break, thinking of something else, and try to move around in the room.
- Remember that it's ok to leave something you're practising on a little before you feel entirely finished; this means you will look forward to coming back to it and may be more motivated to get back into it. Gritting your teeth just to "finish" something might cause more harm than good.
While playing, it is recommended to use micro-pauses. This means letting go of tensions within a piece or phrase, briefly coming back to neutral position, before continuing. Drop your shoulders, breathe, relax your wrists.
After having practised a proper session, and your muscles have been working hard, you may want to wind down with a few large, loose movements with the whole body. This helps with transporting away waste products from the muscles.
Relaxing may be difficult if you try too hard. That's why I've stressed so much the importance of a strong, stable posture: this and only this allows for using only the necessary amount of tension for the correct movement, and provides the base that allows the outer "shell" of surface muscles to release tensions that may otherwise cause pain.
There are two types of muscle fibres: type I and type II. Type I muscle fibres are specialised in enduring low-intensity contractions, and are therefore mostly found in postural muscles. Type II muscle fibres are specialised in dynamic, higher power contractions but have less endurance. One can think of these types as muscles for "being" and muscles for "doing".
For the next part of Questions and Answers, we will touch on which are some common physical problems that musicians and harpists experience; why we have not spoken at length about arms and hands, and a brief return to the core, or centre.