Should you Practice with an Injury?
Updated: May 26, 2020
My name is Manuel Diewald and I am a Sydney based guitar teacher in West Pennant Hills who is in his final year at the University of New South Wales studying music with a stream in Pedagogy.
Before I get into this I want to be clear that you should always seek professional advice first. This blog is about my experience with a recent injury and how I worked around it. The severity of my injury wasn't drastic but still effected my playing for a couple of weeks. I also want to add that a couple of weeks before this injury I could play my program start to finish, I just needed to refine some sections in each piece.
Ok, so now we got that out of the way, about a month ago I sprained my index and middle fingers on my right hand, 2 weeks before a big exam. Well, this is unfortunate, what do I do? The first week was probably the trickiest as moving it from the knuckle still hurt though luckily the part of my finger that was affected the most wasn't really needed to play classical guitar (middle joint). After seeing a doctor and getting an X-ray before I tried to play, I sat down with the guitar and played an open string trying to alternate my fingers (back to basics). This felt pretty good and although it was sore, I had hope because I knew that once the main swelling goes down I should be fine. This gave me a chance to work on slow practice and check memorisation all the while playing very softly (pianississimo). Now, say my right-hand was too sore to play, what would my options be? Well, what I would do, even if I knew my hand would not heal in time for the exam, I would focus on the left hand. Find those tricky spots (chord changes, leaps, slurs, etc.) and focus on accuracy and placement. Do this slowly... how slowly? Whatever you think slow is, do it slower. At this stage I am not trying to play anything fast, I am just refining things. You could take this a step further and visualise what your right-hand would be doing.
The other thing to consider may be changing some right-hand fingering/patterns. for example, I was playing some pieces that involved strumming sections. One of them I was playing a triplet pattern with my middle finger and the other piece was a big downward strum using my whole hand. All of these required a forte dynamic. What I ended up doing was using my ring finger (anular) and pinky finger for the big downward strum sections and just using my ring finger for the triplet strumming section. Luckily by the time my exam rolled around, I could use my middle finger again for the triplet strumming section though still used ring finger and pinky for the other section as this strumming part required a bit of force and I did not want to risk injuring my finger even more, especially since it was the second last piece in the program.
The main point I wanted to get across in this blog was that there may be a way around an injury to get some practice in, even if it's not as efficient as you would like it to be. You will be limited but, if you can find a way to get some practice done, without causing further damage to your injury, then it's probably better than nothing. Again, I cannot stress enough that you should always seek professional advice first. Other than that, you probably know your body best and it's limitations.
Thankfully, I passed my exam and although I am still injured, it's healing pretty good. I am still able to play guitar and did not end up causing more injury while performing. Hooray!