How can Musicians avoid a BURNOUT

  • The author tries to identify the potential dangers that artists/musicians should be aware of in pursuit of the creative process that makes the world much more beautiful.

A musician, or a dancer , painter, sculptorer, writer are  sometimes known as sports men of tiny muscles. Like a footballer, swimmer, or athlete, they  are  athletes of minor muscles as they use their body, muscles, fingers, vocal chords  exercising their brain and creating joy.

However one must consider the following with care, so that the life of this creation stretches long enough, For a  professional sportman, a time comes when there is retirement as he can no longer operate or play at the high level of competition, in a fiercely competitive world of sports! He has to hang up his boots. Why ? Because one can clearly fathom, and he can feel he can‘t run that fast, or his reflexes are not as strong.

All creative artists and musicians as well, face such elements of this dilemna. The following is an attempt to try and understand the concepts and what can be done to avoid these.

Motor Fatigue

Musicians/artists experience this. It is short term, and largely due to either lack of practice, or overuse or over practice.

Well haven't we all heard of the "writers cramp/block", or a "painters burn out"?

Hence a world of caution, not to ever abandon the mind and focus when practicing, The performance world is, being so competitive, where speed, and more speed  enthralls, But speed thrills and yet kills a lot of muscles that create this joy of creation. Muscular fatigue hits the creative juices in an artist like plague! These could be lack of regularity in scales, fast repetitive pieces, and wood wing players could experience loss of sound qulaity and sometimes early fatigue.

Over use injury

This is a huge one. Over strained muscles, tissues, spinal reflexes that affect short term memory formations, often experienced in (burnt out) musicians that play a lot of concerts. Wise are those that balance this factor of what exactly is "enough" or sufficient. It is a difficult one as the musician starts living under bright lights that leads to an illusion that he is the supreme controller of all that are or to listen to his music. 

MD ( musicians dystonia), FHD ( focal hand dystonia) and ED (embouchure dystonia), is caused by over activating the antagonist muscles, and is known to have cut short the career of many professional artists!

Typical examples could be, finger curling among woodwind players, small subtle loss of control in fast tempos, fingers sticking to the key in string players, loss of control in certain parts. However, when the musician realises this he puts in more effort and complicates the issues further rarely realising what the long term effects are.

The pianists cramp, may lead from one hand to the other a bifocal dystonia may occur.

Here are probably three different triggers.

Sensory - motor trigerring factors

Workload - (its customary for musicians to fall for this one)

Technique- (blame it on pursuit for technique, how much, to what extent, and when to stop, and ponder has a  compatible balance been achieved)

Genetics (has a lot to do with musicians with early starts).


Anxiety - (performs better and better, louder, faster, instead of aesthetically improving ones art).

Perfectionism - this is a brilliant misconception! What is perfection? Does it exist? Its a myth really, yet we use this so often, be perfect, perfect note, perfect melody, perfect tone/timber yet do we examine and ponder how about the perfect (balance) of practice and play?

Constraints - Financial rewards system, fame, accolade, lure the artist in every walk of  life!

Stresses, Overfocusing and Cognitive interferences etc

Musicians work at the upper limits of their sensory motor capabilites and push their limits. They keep pushing them ahead for more speed, louder and more expression. Societal pressures add to the pressures.

Cup (or choking under pressure) commonly reported in athletes, esp. Golfers, fear of failure, increased arousal thar leads to loss of agility, muscular stiffness, and reduction of temporo spatial precision of movements, and sound quality.

So why are we raising these questions?

What is the purpose ?

What is the outcome?

What should we do to prevent ?

For those with a late start musicians, in the learning phase,  it is critical that they bite off just as much as they can chew, without transcending the thin line, when enjoyment slowly ceases and muscle power (if we can call it) takes over the mind! Smaller practice times but frequent ones, and dummy runs with the instrument without sound, just simple fingering is a way in which this slender line can be easily found and kept under ones control.

Remember: The key to the above, is knowing when to say Stop! There is no limit, and you have to make your own limits. And do not break that!

Author is a Toronto based BANSURI musician,teacher,speaker, maker of flutes of various worlds, a published author. His writings rely on his experiences of learning music, as he continues on that beautiful never ending journey. His thoughts emanate from the discipline and study of music spans over decades. He is deeply influenced by the Indian Music Traditional guru-shishya parampara; his guruji Late Pandit Malhar Rao Kulkarni bansuri musician, Swami Parmananda of Kangra Valley Ashram where he spent learning ancient Vidhis of India, principally Chanakya Neeti. The priceless subject that strengthens thought processing abilities.A  subject forgotten as Chanakya did not write any of his teachings down as a matter of his principle. The views and ideas expressed are his own, the objective being to invoke the person to think differently, on simple issues that surround all of us in day to day life. Site is

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