Music is one of the only scientifically-proven activities you can do that works on multiple positive areas including coordination, problem-solving skills, creativity, teamwork, organisation, focus, and discipline.
That being said, it can undoubtedly have negative impacts, especially on the body. Paying attention to these potential problems as early as possible will increase your enjoyment of music. Nothing is worse than not being able to do the thing you love due to that very thing damaging you. Many musicians have significant hearing loss, tinnitus, back trouble, or tendonitis due to the lack of awareness around health and safety when they were younger.
The best approach is prevention and, playing bass, that starts with good technique and a relaxed, easy posture. That’s the case for any instrument.
There are some practices and products that can really help and we’ll take a look at some here.
Older musicians will tell you they wished they’d done (or not done) things that could have prevented negative impacts further down the line. Wearing earplugs is a good example and, as an older musician myself, I’ll urge you to wear ear protection! I developed tinnitus after a few weeks of very loud rehearsals 18 years ago. It’s like a strange, annoying, constantly present friend whining in my ear. There’s nothing I can do about it now but I’ve learned to live with it. It can affect people really badly though.
The best solution to prevent this and to minimise hearing loss is to wear earplugs. At the very basic end, you have something like these Senner earplugs at around £22.
Flare Audio make the Isolate Mini earplugs for a similar price.
You could go super cheap with some Mack’s foam earplugs or even a tiny bit of rolled up toilet paper inserted carefully into your ear (yup, I’ve been there…).
I use these ACS custom molded plugs which are more expensive but take off just enough volume to be safe whilst being able to hear the music well.
In-ear monitors (IEMs) are commonly used on gigs these days and can protect you from the loud volume levels from speakers and drums whilst giving you studio-level control over what you’re hearing. Provided you keep the volume level low enough this is a great option for pop and rock musicians. The downside is that many of these units are very expensive, although I know people who swear by cheaper models such as these Shure earphones.
The reason musicians don’t wear earplugs is simply the excitement and enjoyment that loud music offers. That can’t be ignored because it’s true. However, you only get one set of ears and until the boffins can work out how to fix all those precious damaged stereocilia we need to protect our hearing!
A daily stretching practice is really important, especially as you get older. Lugging gear isn’t fun and it helps to keep yourself strong and flexible. Yoga, light weight training, body weight training, and any form of cardio are great ways to keep yourself in shape. Working on your core and back muscles especially is key.
Flexibility is one thing that goes with time, especially when you have a heavy bass strapped on to yourself for years. Muscles shorten and tighten and stretching is the best way to maintain a supple body.
This is one area of my life that I constantly have to remind myself to do. I wouldn’t say if I’m honest, that this is a daily habit yet but I know the return on a tiny investment of time would be huge. As with music practice, a consistent ten minutes a day with some intermittent stretches throughout the day would yield huge results. I do have the Start Stretching app and try to use it regularly.
I remember doing a support tour with Status Quo and seeing them travel with a flight case of weights. Very impressive for a bunch of rockers in their 60s. They were awesome though! All the old bands seem to have realised they can’t party forever and they now look after themselves well. The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger personifies this.
Just look at that relaxed strut.
There probably isn’t an instrument that doesn’t require some part of the human body to contort or strain in ways it wasn’t designed for. The very best ways to avoid any kind of back or joint issue are to relax, maintain good posture, breath deeply and regularly, not over-practice, take breaks and actively look after your health. I don’t know many musicians who do all those things and I know, whilst I try, it can be tough. There are some great products you can use to take care of your body.
Car Back Support
I use this back support when I drive. Musicians spend a long time in vehicles and it’s good to keep your back supported.
Body Back Buddy
This strange looking contraption allows you to manipulate any sore or tight areas yourself. Getting a sports massage is great but the costs do add up. Using this gizmo means you can loosen up without continuously opening up your wallet.
Roll this under the balls of your feet or lie down with it concentrated on one area to relieve tension. You can just as easily use a tennis ball.
Musicians tend to be obsessive types, beavering away in their practice rooms, mastering their craft. Health is one of the first things that can be overlooked in this state, including overworking, not getting outdoors much and ignoring physical fitness. If this post can convince you of one thing it is to value your health above everything else and take care of yourself. That way, you can be the best musician and best human you can be!
Do you have any health tips or products you use? Comment below.