Strike a Good Pose–
Importance of Posture for Musicians
By: Megan Piersol, DPT
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain (Bob Marley).” This may be true for the listener, but what about the performer? Playing a musical instrument can lead to bad postures and compensations that can compromise your ability to perform at your fullest potential. I have treated various musicians for neck, elbow/wrist, shoulder, and back problems due to hours spent practicing and performing in poor posture. It is easy to get captivated by your own music and lose good body position. For beginning musicians, it is also common to want to constantly look down at your instrument creating a strain on the neck. As a guitarist myself, I find a constant struggle with trying to maintain a good posture while playing. Those pesky bar chords require a lot of stretching with the fingers and can often lead to compensations of postures to achieve the position. Not to mention the awkwardness of holding a bulky instrument. It is easy to slouch down and play guitar, but there is a price to pay later, a price that builds over time.
When you are sitting or standing in a bad posture, your muscles are constantly fighting to support your body and bring it back into a good position. Over time, these muscles start to develop adverse physiological changes and restrictions creating that nagging pain or ache. Add in the weight of your arms and, for some, the instrument you may be holding, and you are creating a recipe for disaster. Once a muscle is being held in an improper position for periods of time and then stressed (as when playing an instrument), trigger points (irritable spots within the muscle) and taught bands of tissue begin to form. These structural changes can create decreased blood flow to the muscle and misalignment of muscles creating a compromise of the muscle’s performance. “Tight” muscles can also create a strain on the joints of the neck, back, shoulder, and elbow causing pain in these areas as well.
Being a musician requires long hours of practicing and performing. This can be very hard on the body, especially if you do not have the correct posture or muscle strength and endurance to support a better posture. Playing an instrument also requires overusing muscles. If these muscles aren’t at their strongest and flexible, injuries can occur. Good posture, muscle strength, and muscle endurance can place your body in better positions advantageous to your performance and health.
Below are some useful tips and tools that can be used to help restore good posture and muscle flexibility.
- Tennis balls are a good tool for working on keeping your muscles “loose.” You can apply pressure or roll along the muscles of the arm, shoulder, and back area, being careful to not place the ball on your joints or the spine.
- Keep your head in alignment with your shoulder, chin slightly tucked back (NOT looking down), and looking straight ahead. You also want to make sure any music you are looking at is at eye level. Read the music using your eyes and not moving your head.
- Violinists and woodwind musicians will require variant head tilts and this is where good neck strength, body position to get at a straight and eye level position with the music, and upper body posture will help
- Make sure your hips are level and not tipping too far forward (arching back) or too far backward (rounding of the back). This also allows for more space to expand your rib cage and bring in air. This is important if you are singing along with your instrument. Bad posture can compromise your vocal depth, range, and projection (also your organs).
- Make sure you are playing from your shoulders and keeping your shoulder blades slightly “pinched” backward. You don’t want to feel like you are reaching outward (which would cause rounding of the upper back). You should feel your shoulder blades working along with the shoulder. This can be a tricky thing to master and may require guidance.
- If you are sitting, make sure your knees are bent at 90-110 degree angles. If you have a foot plate (drummers and pianists), make sure your foot is resting softly on the pedal.
- In standing, make sure you have a slight bend in your knees and a natural curve in your back (you should still have level hips). Stand equally on both legs, so you aren’t stressing one side more than the other.
- Most importantly, RELAX! You should freely flow with your movements.
HOW CAN I CHANGE MY POSTURE?
- Use a wall to sit or stand up against to get an aligned torso/back and shoulders
- Mirrors are helpful to allow you to see how your posture is playing your instrument and make needed corrections
- Adjust the height of your music stand, so it is at eye level and your head can stay straight
HOW CAN A PHYSICAL THERAPIST HELP ME?
A physical therapist can observe your posture while playing your instrument and help you make the needed corrections. They can also provide you with needed strengthening exercises to balance out each joint used for playing your instrument and promote better ability to hold good posture. Most musicians suffer from overuse injuries. Having good strength of the muscles used in playing an instrument, as well as the correct supportive muscle strength, can help decrease the prevalence of overuse injury. Furthermore, a physical therapist with a manual therapy background can help restore muscle flexibility needed for playing your instrument. This can be done through various hands-on techniques including trigger point dry needling. At ISSA Physical therapy, we welcome musicians of all levels and instrumentation. I, like you, have a huge passion for music and want to help keep you playing. Yes, the show must go on, but you don’t have to compromise your body or be in pain to do so.