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Is there a known relationship, either direct or indirect, between physical fitness and musical performance? I haven't been able to find a definitive source or study that confirms my belief that there is a connection between the two, and I'm very interested in knowing if you have. If you have actual, personal experience you could share, that would also help.

This question is open to all musicians, regardless of genre, instrument, or skill level.

I first thought about this question when Garry Kasparov, the chess player, said in an interview many years ago that he exercised as part of his chess training, and swore that this helped his mental abilities required for chess playing. At the time I thought it was silly that something so mental and sedentary as playing chess would benefit from physical exercise. Now that I'm older and wiser, I wonder just how much of what we do as musicians is mental vs. physical.

  • As I get older (and stupider?) I'm less sure that you can draw a sensible line between 'mental' and 'physical' - which is part of what you're saying, of course! – topo Reinstate Monica May 26 '16 at 23:39
  • @topomorto Exactly. I can't believe it took me this long to realize how thin that line is, if there is one. (So, to correct you, it seems you've gotten smarter, not stupider!) – Max Finis May 27 '16 at 0:01
  • I only have personal anecdotal evidence, but here it is: as a tuba player, there is an obvious direct correlation between my cardiovascular fitness and my ability on the horn. If I've been running for a month, there's a noticeable difference in my sound. – Richard Jul 12 '16 at 20:14
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Musicians are small-muscle athletes. We have the same issues with strength, flexibility, endurance and rapidity as other athletes but our issues tend to be with the small muscles, joints and tendons that control our fingers and hands. If we play wind instruments we also have issues with breath control and cardio fitness. And most of us have issues with our backs.

Like other athletes, musicians benefit from an exercise program that benefits whole-body fitness as well as our specialized fitness. If you only engage in specialized musical fitness (practicing) you run the risk of injuring your undertrained muscles and tendons when, for example, you load in your gear for your gig.

Cardio fitness training definitely benefits overall mental alertness, mood and endurance. Strength training definitely benefits your back.

I personally regularly exercise and have corrected my performance technique so that it is as ergonomically efficient as possible. As a result, my performance-related injuries are now almost non-existent.

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I can only speak from my personal experience here, as I haven't studied this subject at length in any formal way. I've gone through periods in my life of being in-shape and less-than-in-shape. In general, I notice that it's easier to focus and be alert when I'm in shape. This applies to performing and composing music as well.

There is also of course the literal ability of being physically able to play your instrument, like physically lifting a chess piece off the board, but I think I'm stretching your metaphor here and that's not really what you're going for.

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    There are many artists who are woefully out of shape, but perform at a very high level, but I have a feeling that anyone would benefit from being better fit. My experience mirrors yours. – Max Finis May 27 '16 at 21:32
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It really depends on the instrument as to how much and what type of exercise is required. Empty's answer above is good but seems to be focused on stringed instruments and standing. I have found for guitar that weight training with some emphasis on back and leg exercises helps for when you have to stand long periods and play. This combined with wrist curls and hand exercises ( https://kellyrichey.com/3-awesome-hand-strengthening-exercises-for-guitar-players-2/ ) really help with fretboard work. Over the past couple weeks I have been taking voice lessons and notice a significant difference in higher end vocal range after running combined with healthy hydration afterwards.

Short answer: Yes, exercise will improve your playing, and you can focus exercise toward the type of playing you engage in.

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