Ergonomics for Musicians
Learning to play a new instrument takes hours of practice and can often place the body in awkward postures. Most instruments require one to learn complex, repetitive, asymmetric movements. Over the long term, poor postural habits can cause overuse injuries that are quite similar to what athletes often experience. Pain and stiffness can sometimes cause people to leave their instrument behind completely, and at the very least can affect performance.
To keep this hobby over the long term without injury, it is important to be aware of steps you can take to minimize the physical stress on your body. Ergonomics is the science of how to arrange and design things, such that the risk of injury is reduced. Commonly this word is associated with office workers, but it can apply to many different settings, including playing and practicing an instrument.
Before we go into the specifics for some of the most popular instruments, the underlying rule is that the spine and joints should always be in a neutral position. You can develop the self awareness to know if you are favouring one side by taking a video recording of yourself or by playing in front of a mirror. Things to look for are bending, slouching, twisting, or leaning. Having self-awareness will help you to consciously correct your posture. The muscles and joints should be relaxed, free of tension, and comfortable. This will ultimately provide a higher level of focus and add longevity to your musical hobby as it will utilize the body more efficiently. The goal is to use the least power and effort when playing.
Ensure that you are sitting at a suitable height. The elbows should be at the same level as the piano keys and feet should be flat on the floor (young children may need a footstool for this). The backs of the hands should be rounded, fingers curved and relaxed. The thumb, however, should be straight and relaxed. To check if your hands are in the right position, slide your hands over your knees. Notice how your fingers curve around the knee, then lift your hands while keeping it in that position and begin to play. You may need to do this every time you sit down to practice until it feels natural. The fingers should be kept strong so that they don’t buckle when you press down on the keys. You can use the weight of your arm to your advantage as opposed to relying only on finger strength to play louder. Check to ensure your pinky finger, wrist, and elbow are in a straight line.
Neck and jaw issues are common in violinists because of the prolonged head position used to hold the violin. Begin by adjusting the chin and shoulder rest. Allow your head to rest with all its weight on the chin rest without any muscle power. A long neck requires a higher chin rest, while a sloping shoulder requires a higher shoulder rest. Keep adjusting the violin until you find a height that does not require you to constantly bend your neck to the side or activate your shoulder or neck muscles to hold the violin in place. You should be able to keep both shoulders level. The bow should be held as loosely as possible between the thumb and index finger while maintaining the control you need.
If seated, you should sit up straight with both feet on the ground. You can put a footstool under the leg that supports the body of the guitar to lift it up higher if needed. Use your strumming arm to keep the body of the guitar close to your side but not flat against your stomach. The neck of the guitar should point out and away from your body at a 45 degree angle. The neck must be above the elbow of the fretting arm to prevent over bending at the wrist. The wrists should be straight most of the time. If standing, adjust the guitar strap so that the neck of the guitar is above the elbow of the fretting arm. Also make sure the grip between the fingers and thumb on the fingerboard is relaxed. The thumb is meant to support the hand, so the muscles should not be tense.
Since playing an instrument can be physically demanding, you should get accustomed to following a routine just as if you were about to play a sport. This includes a warm up for your muscles before a session and stretching afterwards. Slowly work your way up to longer sessions to allow your muscles to adapt, and stay fit by maintaining a regular exercise regimen. Finally, contact us to seek professional help from a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or massage therapist if you feel persistent pain or would like exercise recommendations specific to your condition.