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The Musician's Body: A Maintenance Manual for Peak Performance
Jaume Rosset I Llobet
Paperback: 118 pages
Publisher: Ashgate; 1st edition (30 Jun 2007)
ISBN-10: 0754662101 ISBN-13: 978-0754662105
Review by: Ed Blake, November 2007
The book, inspired by a motor maintenance manual, is a physical MOT for advanced students or young professionals. Parts of the book appear to be addressed to teachers as well, as teaching aids, and there is one aside to parents of younger children. Its purpose is to make the younger musician aware of future risk and problems, their source and to provide suggestions of ways to avoid and deal with them. The book covers the whole range of string and wind instruments, including the voice.
The Musician's Body is brightly laid out, with blocks of text in colour to draw the attention to leading questions or the quizzes that are placed at the ends of the chapters. The cartoon illustrations are amusing and add a light and friendly tone to material that might seem dry and rules that could appear authoritarian.
The opening chapters deal wth physical and mental fatigue. And the potential risks to the body. It looks at posture, breathing, nutrition, time management, sleep, exercise and a range of health issues specific to particular instruments. It includes some useful suggestions for "mental practicing" as a counter to over-use of the muscle. It also includes a general breathing exercise and a section on posture at the computer. None of the information will be new or startling to any serious student, but it is always worth hearing again in this clear, capsule form. The problem of the body in relation to the instrument gets a chapter to itself, with a list of various accessories that can help the students adjust to the demands of the instrument, including the pros and cons of each.
The middle section of the book consists of a detailed explanation of the structure of the body, important areas of the skeleton, and problems such as "why does the mobility of my fourth finger improve a lot?" The answer involves the explanation of the tendon itself. The discussion is technical and might be of interest as a teaching aid – although a student would certainly benefit from the pages on vulnerable parts of the nerves in the neck, elbow, wrist and fingers; the function of the respiratory system and the analysis of the mechanics of sound production is material that is familiar to all voice students, but the information is concise and it never hurts to hear it again, although the breathing and relaxation exercises feel a bit too similar to the earlier chapters. Indeed much of the information seems to overlap from chapter to chapter.
The last part of the book is called "mind and music" and touches on psychological factors, which cause less than peak performance: anxiety, stage fright, lack of confidence, post-injury nerves etc. It ends with a list of physical problems and solutions.
Overall, the book covers a lot of basic ground and it warns of "incorrect usage" risks in a reassuring tone - like a good therapist. It's a readable quick reference book for a young person to have on the shelf.
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