“The simplest things are the ones that count.”
–Pablo Casals, cellist
Casals and the Art of Interpretation, p. vi
Have you ever dealt with discomfort caused by sitting?
Most of us sit for hours each day as we practice, study, and use computers.
I’ve observed, though, that few musicians know how to sit optimally, and, as a result, many endure frequent episodes of back pain.
Here are 4 principles that contribute to optimal sitting.
All are expanded on pages 250-269 of The Musician’s Way, where you’ll find additional guidelines as well as dozens of photos of different instrumentalists demonstrating favorable and unfavorable habits.
Four Principles of Optimal Sitting
1. Balance on Your Sitting Bones
To get a feel for balancing on your sitting bones (i.e., ischial tuberosities), try this:
a. Sit at the front edge of a standard-height, armless chair with only your pelvis contacting the seat.
b. Place you feet flat on the floor.
c. Position your knees hip-width to shoulder-width apart.
Next, rock you pelvis forward and back to sense your two sitting bones. Then, cease rocking, and balance on the tips of those bones.
2. Position Your Hips Higher than Your Knees
Positioning the hips higher than the knees helps release the lower back muscles and can facilitate breathing.
Forward-sloping seat cushions are ideally suited to achieving this sort of hip alignment (I’m sitting on one as I write this).
For taller musicians, chairs can also be modified in a pinch with the likes of thick phone books, as demonstrated by cellist Kendall Ramseur in the above image.
“Positioning the hips higher than the knees helps release the lower back muscles and can facilitate breathing.”
3. Release Your Shoulders
To enable unbridled use of the arms, for starters, place your hands on your thighs and allow your shoulders to release down and away from each other (the shoulder blades will move closer together). Then, let your shoulders remain free as you make music or do any activity.
Shoulders can be tricky to coordinate because they’re our most mobile joint. Many instrumentalists, for instance, tend to stiffen one or both shoulders as they bring their hands into playing position.
So, in addition to adopting good shoulder use, take regular breaks during which you roll your shoulders, circle your arms, and otherwise counteract any buildup of tension. Pages 75-82 of The Musician’s Way present instructions and photos to incorporate six such restorative movements into our practice breaks.
“Shoulders can be tricky to coordinate because they’re our most mobile joint.”
4. Align and Lengthen Your Spine
“From your tailbone to your head, let your spine lengthen toward a vertical alignment, and allow your head to rise as if it were a helium-filled balloon.” (The Musician’s Way, p. 252)
Avoid slumping forward or arching your back like a soldier at attention.
In tandem, instead of holding yourself rigidly or staying in an unchanging position, move as needed, and periodically vary your sitting position in subtle ways.
To evaluate your spinal alignment, place a mirror or camera at your side; it’s also useful to ask a knowledgeable teacher or colleague for feedback.
“Instead of holding yourself rigidly or staying in an unchanging position, move as needed, and periodically vary your sitting position in subtle ways.”
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It also helps for us to have adequate strength in the abdominal and back muscles. If you feel that your strength might be lacking, consider seeing an athletic trainer or a physical therapist for advice about exercises, but bear in mind that strength alone won’t suffice; optimal sitting habits are crucial.
“Strength alone won’t suffice; optimal sitting habits are crucial.”
All content © 2011 Gerald Klickstein