Why Athletes Make Better Musicians

Sports are one of the most frustrating things in the life of a music instructor (I’ve seen your frustrated facebook posts!). The growing spread of club sports, more rigorous practice schedules and overlapping sports seasons makes it harder than ever to work in lessons, let alone concerts and performances.

But involvement in sports has some potentially unexpected musical benefits. Let’s consider a few.

Breathing. Yeah. Breathing. Kids who play sports expand their lung capacity and know how to fill those lungs up. This can make a huge difference in tone and phrasing for wind/brass instruments and certainly for vocalists. Air support is foundational to a great sound.

Physical strength and agility. Many instruments involve some form of dexterity. Percussion instruments can be very physically involved. Students who are fit are better equipped to have consistent strokes and consistent bowing, for example. I’ve also noticed that certain types of running can strengthen the ankle and foot movements necessary for long gigs on the drum set. How about having the simple core strength and balance to sit up properly for extended periods of time?

More advanced athletes will also be able to consider the bio-mechanics involved in playing their instruments. For example, considering how the arm, elbow, wrist and hand work together can help a percussionist improve their overall control on numerous instruments. This same consideration can help them understand when to modify their grip for different contexts.

The idea of building strength and endurance also translates to playing many instruments. For example, brass players need to develop their embouchures and then regularly “exercise” those muscles to enable the highest level of musicianship.

While scheduling conflicts are unlikely to go away anytime soon, it may be worth the extra effort to allow co-existence of both athletics and sports in student life.

The benefits go both ways — It’s not just that athletes make better musicians, but also that musicians make better athletes.

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