P is for Posture Last updated: 08 February 2023 Posture is often the cause of musicians’ injuries, aches and pains. As well as relieving these, improving posture can also improve the quality of playing and performing. For the teacher and student, observing and understanding posture in relation to their instrument will pay off in terms of comfort and the prevention of fatigue and injury, as well as improving sound, technique and musical expression. Good playing posture keeps the body balanced and provides core stability, which allows finely controlled movements of the arms and fingers to be undertaken freely. It also avoids unnecessary and inappropriate muscle use, reducing the risk of muscle overuse and imbalance. Aim to avoid posture that overworks some muscle groups, resulting in tension, fatigue and pain. Encourage a posture that will be more comfortable and less tiring – a “neutral” posture. In a neutral posture of the spine, there is symmetry and alignment (or balance) of the head above the pelvis. The spinal curves are lengthened so the back of the skull and the base of the pelvis are far apart. Posture is habitual. Whatever your posture, it will feel “normal” because it is familiar, even if it is generating tension in some muscle groups. Often, small and simple changes to posture can significantly change the quality of playing and the comfort of the player. Deviation from optimal posture during playing is inevitable, particularly during performances, but should be kept to a minimum to avoid bad habits developing. Ensuring that the body can move easily and from neutral to playing position, returning to neutral after playing and letting go of tension, is an important lesson that can be taught early and reinforced regularly. It is therefore important to maintain good posture when practising by regularly reassessing playing posture in front of a full-length mirror. What does a good posture look like? Attention should be given to both standing and sitting posture, as appropriate to the instrument and playing conditions. When standing to play, balance and stability of the lower body is achieved by evenly distributing body weight through both feet. The feet, which face forwards and slightly outwards, should be positioned with a width that is between pelvis shoulder width. The head, shoulders, hips and knees should be positioned so that the spine maintains its alignment when viewed from the front and its natural curvatures when viewed from the side. When sitting to play, the pelvis and shoulders should be parallel to the floor. The centre of gravity of the instrument should fall within the region of the thighs, and the natural curvatures of the spine (especially that of the lower back) should be maintained by ensuring the hips are at a higher level than the knees, either with the use of a wedge-shaped cushion or a tilted chair. When reviewing posture, the additional factors of ergonomic attachments to the instrument and playing-related equipment should be taken into consideration. Playing posture is highly influenced by the ergonomic set-up of the instrument, including shoulder and chin rests (violin, viola), the spike (cello) and support straps (guitar, saxophone). Such ergonomic aides must therefore be tailored to the anatomical and technical requirements of the individual player in order to optimise their posture. Playing-related equipment, such as chairs, music stands and microphones, should also be adjusted and positioned to improve the musician’s posture. Ask the student whether they feel any strain when they play, then help them identify small changes to equipment that might help. Playing posture must be adapted to evolve with the growing child, especially during and after the growth spurt, to ensure it remains optimal into adulthood. Adapted instruments can often be used for smaller people. Don’t forget to keep making adjustments as young musicians grow and their bodies change. Healthy seated posture example Here is an example of healthy seated posture compared to poor seated posture: Further resources and information Alexander Technique,The body mapping, Feldenkrais and yoga can all help musicians better understand their body and improve their posture. All can be researched online and accessed relatively easily. MU members can access weekly Feldenkrais sessions and the Musicians’ Yoga Essentials Course, a bespoke yoga course, both online, as part of their membership.