Performing artists of all disciplines can benefit from Pilates, but sometimes it can be difficult to help a musician client find their bearings. Many former dancers teach Pilates, but few instructors have experience playing an instrument or working with professional musicians.
While the exercises of Pilates do speak for themselves, understanding a musician’s instrument, practice regiment, and bodily adaptations can help a teacher connect the work to musicians on a deeper level.
The first thing to identify with a musician is their context-do they play an inherently asymmetrically held instrument such as violin, viola, cello, bass, guitar, flute, bassoon, french horn, trombone or tuba? Do they play an instrument that is more symmetrical in nature such as oboe, clarinet, trumpet, piano, percussion, or harp? Is the client a performing professional, playing many hours daily, or an amateur? When working with athletes, it’s important to have an idea of their context, and their sport; the same is true for musicians. Many musicians start playing an instrument very young, between the ages of 5-10, and can play up to 8 (or more!) hours a day, especially during collegiate studies. In addition, starting an instrument as a child means that your body may grow and adapt to your instrument- I’ve worked with a few musicians who began developing functional scoliosis in their young adulthood as a result of their instruments and careers. If it’s been a while since you’ve explored musical instruments, take a moment and investigate, thinking about how the ways musicians hold their bodies and instruments could impact their patterns over time.
The second element to address with musicians is progression, and progressive overload. Many musicians shy away from movements that could endanger their wrists, shoulders, and necks, often because of injuries sustained from other disciplines moving too fast, too soon. Many musicians are also sedentary- the demands and expectations of a performing career often places self-care and exercise way down the priority list, and the fear of injury may be high. Whereas many beginning clients might be able to do certain movements on the mat or equipment, musicians are often lacking in full wrist extension, abdominal strength, shoulder strength and mobility, and hip mobility. As you layer in more challenging exercises, be conscientious about progressively adding load and difficulty, building strength and comfort in those ranges of motion over time.
The third element to address is their spinal mobility and strength. Most musicians, regardless of instrument, sit for a substantial portion of their day, whether in rehearsals, teaching, or driving. In addition, most instruments are in front of the body, either supported by the body (most orchestral instruments), or exist in front of the body resting on the floor (such as piano and many percussion instruments). As the movements are all in front of the body, many people overly round their spines, and adapt by side bending, twisting, bringing the head forward, or making other compensatory movements. It can be extremely helpful to assess different ranges of motion through the oblique sling systems, or just observe the different ROM on both sides of the spine in different movements.
Approach a musician as you would any other client; understanding their activities, challenges, and adaptations can make you a better teacher, and offer your client a better workout!