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Helping Musicians Feel and Sound Their Best

Winter 2023

Sometimes you just have to cram in a lot of practice over a short period of time. I get it. It happens. But how to recover from over-practicing, or as I like to say it, under-recovering? And what does rest and recovery look like?

The first thing to do is to figure out how much practicing and resting feel best for you. This varies from person to person and even varies during a musician’s lifetime, so it’ll take a little trial and error. You may have felt great with one passive day and one active day per week for years, but things change, so you have to shift your schedule. Some musicians need a few weeks or months of an “off-season” every year, and others enjoy

playing year-round. Each body and brain is different. Each person’s life circumstances are different. The important thing is that you choose something because it feels best for you. And don’t bother comparing your practice schedule to other people. Their circumstances are different than yours, so they have different needs.

Tips for young musicians:

For musicians under eighteen years old, research suggests that organized activity time (including all practice time, rehearsals, lessons, sports, dance, etc.) should be less than or equal to the number of years of their age. So a ten-year-old ideally does not have more than 10 hours of organized activity time per week. More than that significantly increases a child’s chance of injury or burnout. Free play is unlimited!

There are two types of recovery and rest time to include in your practice schedule.

Active recovery is when you are resting from your normal activity while doing something active. You can still play - just make it feel like something else. Most of these options fall under “free play” for those under eighteen.

Play something you have already mastered that feels easy and fun. For me, my go-to is Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie.

Play something opposite to the skills you’ve been practicing. If you are playing pieces with a lot of big chords, you might change it up and play something full of long runs.

Have a super short practice session. Focus on one short section if it’s a new piece. Or if you are at a point where you can play through it, just play it once or twice to keep it fresh, but don’t dive into the details.

Passive recovery can be further divided into two options:

Option 1: Full-stop - no music or music-related things that day. These days are non-negotiable to stay healthy. Go skiing or hiking with your family, connect with your friends, learn to bake bread, etc.

Option 2: Continued practice, but without the physical playing of your instrument. This strategy is especially helpful when you need a day off but feel like you need to keep learning.

Listen. Listen to other musicians, listen to the pieces you are working on, and listen to recordings of yourself.

Mark up your music. When I was singing in choral groups, there was always time spent penciling in the markings.

Visualize: read through your score and visualize yourself playing. Research shows that visualizing activity causes the appropriate motor units in muscles to contract. This is a great way to work out the timing and coordination without the load of actually playing the instrument. If you have an event coming up, I would also recommend visualizing how the entire event will go. Set things up well in your mind so that you can feel settled in the ways that the day will unfold.

Logistics and organization: Spend some time doing all the nitty gritty things - answer emails, set up your lessons, clean off your music stand and organize your sheet music. Make future you feel uncluttered and settled in your next practice session.

Make sure to have both passive and active recovery days scattered into your practice routine. But if you’ve had a long period of time of over-practicing, or you’re feeling the beginnings of burnout starting, schedule more passive recovery than usual until you feel better. Future-you will thank you for it!

If you’d like to hear more about this, you can listen to the Rest and Recovery episode of my podcast, Play Life Loudly.

If you have any questions or topics you’d like to hear more about, please contact me at

Be well, Abby Halpin, DPT

Fall 2022

As a musician, how have you been taught to sit? Many musicians learn to sit on the edge of their chairs, lift their chests and pull their shoulders back. This position is great for communicating that they are ready to start or are alert and engaged. It’s not wrong to sit like that. But the problem is that many students sit that way all the time. Static postures cause the same joints and body parts to bear the same load for long periods, resulting in fatigue and potential injuries, such as back pain or hands that tingle or fall asleep while they practice. It also keeps musicians from moving as they play, which can hinder their connection with the music or audience.

Here are some posture cues to try with your students that allow for dynamic body positions:

  • Feel your sit bones on your chair.

  • Feel your feet on the floor.

  • Lightly float the crown of your head.

They don’t have to use all three cues; there may be one that your student likes the best. If they feel those things, they are likely alert and ready. And they aren’t locked up in the “right” posture all the time, keeping them healthy and connected to their music.

If you have any questions or topics you’d like to hear more about, please contact me at

Be well, Abby Halpin, DPT

Abby Halpin, physical therapist and performance coach for musicians of all kinds, and former piano student of a long-time VMTA member, returned to Vermont in 2022. She has shared her work with musicians and teachers in many presentations/demonstrations. Her physical therapy practice, Forte Performance & Physical Therapy, serves musicians in Vermont and nationwide via virtual and at-home sessions. You can find more information about Abby at and on Instagram at @forteperformancept.

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