Understanding Anatomy as a Musician

For those of you who are musically inclined and have spent time refining your craft on your instrument of choice, you’ve likely realized at some point or another really how physically demanding playing an instrument can be. Some of us have learned over time that – like any athlete – we need to warm up before playing.

However, for a few years after I began playing I didn’t realize the importance of warming up. After all, I figured, I’m young and I’m just playing guitar. Everything seems to work fine so why worry?

But as I practiced and practiced and improved my technique and vibrato, I became curious as to what was physically occurring in my arm, wrist, and hand as I was playing.

(Quick background: my style is mostly improvisational. This is a very challenging skill to acquire and requires immense patience, dedication, and determination. In essence, you’re playing scales, melodic patterns, modes, arpeggios, vibrato, etc, over chord progressions. So it’s very physically intensive for your hands/arms.)

So what was going on when I played? Well thanks to spraining my wrist after having slipped on ice and now seemingly having ample time in my day, I looked up a clip of a cadaver with the skin removed, leaving only the tendons, ligaments, and joints, and watched as the doctor used an instrument to tug at a tendon in the forearm. And just like that the finger curled. He then pulled 2 tendons and like a puppeteer pulling strings, two fingers curled. It’s an intriguing thing to watch. I had never really given it much thought. I was accustomed to just moving my fingers around the fretboard to execute a number of different movements and everything just working flawlessly. However, this exposure taught me to more fully appreciate my body and the intricate physical actions that it performs so admirably day after day, month after month, and year after year. If you’re also interested in seeing the clip for yourself, here’s the link: https://youtu.be/9V1ZzAiB1rY?t=331

After having seen the method through which our tendons in the forearm enable the fingers to nimbly dance across the fretboard and perform so many other functions, I finally understood the importance of warming up my hands before intensely playing the guitar. Those tendons, ligaments, and tissue are elastic, and like a car’s engine on a cold morning (containing a rubber belt and other such parts), they need to be warmed up to prevent damage or injury. My fascination with the intricate components of the hand and its critical importance in performing daily activities – especially guitar for myself – has actually inspired me to be a hand surgeon. Now I’ll again use an assortment of ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue in crossing my fingers and hoping (read: proactively working toward) to achieve this goal.

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Author: Symbiosis

I am a premedical student whose interests lay at the intersection between the humanities and science. I believe that by broadening our interests and investigating both the humanities and the sciences, we can engage in a humanistic approach to science and concurrently promote intellectual innovation by forging productive connections between the two cultures. - E.J. Tanenbaum

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