By Sarah Kenner

As a professional classical violinist, my self-care routine is invaluable. With such a demanding instrument, I find that many things support my ability to play my best; good sleep, regular and enjoyable movement, a healthy mindset, hydration, and my personal favorite, delicious and nourishing meals.

For the purposes of this post, let’s zero in on those meals, shall we? You see, I have a not-so-secret secret… On top of my career as a musician (and working on the Fiddle School team!) I have been running a recipe blog for many years called The Hungry Musician. In that time, I’ve learned a few things in the kitchen, and have become a firm believer in the idea that cooking truly makes me a better musician. Read on to find out how!

1. Mental and Physical Energy

Playing the violin/fiddle asks a lot of us both mentally and physically. Whether we’re sitting down to practice at home, playing in a jam, entering a contest or audition, or performing a 4-hour opera, we are going to need lots of energy to do it. Making sure we are well-fed is important, because food provides the energy that our brains convert into focus, and that our bodies convert into notes and sounds. 

Every time we eat food that makes us feel good and provides us with energy to play, we are giving a great gift – not just to ourselves, but to those who get to listen to our music. And every time we cook food that makes us feel good, we are active participants in fueling our musical growth at the source.

2. Creative Health

An aspect of self-care for musicians that (in my opinion) isn’t talked about enough is creative health. Creativity, like any physical muscle, benefits from exercise. It likes to be stretched, strengthened, and given rest regularly through a diverse variety of activities. When I was in college for music, I quickly learned that my creativity (and my playing, too) was not at its best when I was only practicing violin for hours on end. Instead, it was at its best when I was taking time to explore my other creative interests and hobbies.

Every time I cook a meal, it’s not just out of necessity – it’s a mini creative retreat. I exercise my creativity every time I choose ingredients, figure out the puzzle of cooking times and temperatures, and experiment with new flavor combinations. And when I’m chopping, stirring, and doing the otherwise repetitive tasks in a recipe, I’m allowing my brain to rest and enter an almost meditative place. In the process of cooking one meal, I give my brain everything it needs to return to my instrument with renewed creative energy. Plus, is there anything more rewarding than enjoying something you made with your own two hands?

3. Improvising

If there’s one major skill that performing and cooking share, it’s improvising – because at one point or another, you’ll have to think on your feet. When you play a wrong note or skip a step in the recipe, have a memory slip or add too much salt, those skills will come in handy.

Let’s say you’re making a soup, and along the way you discover that it just doesn’t taste quite right. You can’t go back in time, and you probably wouldn’t throw the whole thing out. Instead, you’ll listen to your intuition and add some lemon juice or salt, a couple pinches of herbs, or whatever you feel is right.

Similarly, we can’t go back during a performance – we can only move forward. A wrong note or a misstep is not a reason to end a performance and walk off. It’s an opportunity to learn in the moment, improvise if necessary, and re-focus on what you need to be successful for the rest of the performance.

Simply put, cooking is a great way to practice thinking fast and course-correcting. And who knows – maybe the soup you end up with after a few mistakes is even tastier than the soup if it would have gone as planned. Which brings me to my final reason…

4. Owning Imperfection & Individuality

The beauty of cooking is that if you were to give ten people the exact same recipe, you would inevitably get ten different results. Similarly, if you were to teach ten people the same tune or piece of music, you would hear it played ten different ways. If you’ve ever watched The Great British Baking Show or listened to a bunch of different versions of the same tune in a row, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Being a musician is a daily exercise in accepting imperfection and embracing individuality, and I find that cooking is a great (and often lower-stakes) way to practice this:

  • How can I make this recipe (music) my own while sticking to the overall idea that the author (composer/teacher) intended? 
  • How can I push past my comfort level when cooking a new recipe (interpreting a piece of music or tune), and be okay with it not turning out perfectly? 
  • When something doesn’t go as planned, how can I learn from my mistakes or imperfections? 

As soon as we accept that none of us are perfect but that we all have something unique and individual to offer, we become better musicians for it.

About Sarah:

When she isn’t working on the Fiddle School team, Sarah makes her career as a professional violinist in the New York City area, specializing in historical performance on period instruments. Sarah is the creator of the popular blog “The Hungry Musician,” where she shares delicious recipes and kitchen tips to help make cooking more enjoyable and accessible, and offers cooking classes specifically for musicians. You can read more about Sarah’s culinary offerings here, check out her musical happenings, or follow her on Instagram to stay in touch.