Posture, Tension, and You
Sit up straight! Music students, how many times have you heard that one before? Or, perhaps you’re self-taught and no one’s said that to you before! Let’s think about it though: Does it seem like an arbitrary demand? Posture is actually enormously important for most things in life, and it doesn’t just look nice, either. Posture can make the difference between difficulty and dynamism in your playing, and your life. Let’s look at this a little more closely- (but not so closely that you have to lean over and end up hurting your back).
First- why should we care?
Your posture is an indication of your general health and well-being. If your head is down and your shoulders are hunched over, not only will your mood (and how you see yourself- see this awesome TED talk for more on that) will be negatively impacted, your circulation will be poor, your breathing will be shallow (singing students know this one especially well!), and you’ll be putting yourself at a high risk of injury.
To give you a very personal example of how powerful posture can be, I lost the use of my hands when I was in my early twenties due to consistently poor posture and high tension while doing hours and hours worth of carving and sculpting. Re-evaluating how I was holding myself and releasing extra tension (not to mention putting stress in check!) realigned my body, allowed it to heal, and gave me the use of my hands back. How can we make sure that doesn’t happen to you?
Make sure you’re seated correctly!
It might feel fine to recline in your armchair with your flute/violin/tuba/harpsichord/the rest of your choir, but that’s not especially preparing you for playing in a “real life” situation, is it? Unless you’re very lucky, you won’t, in a real performance, have access to a big squishy couch on stage. If you spend most of your time playing in this posture, for example, you’ll be forming a habit that won’t serve you in the long run.
If you play an instrument that you have to sit and play, and you’re having some back issues, take a minute now to think about the kind of chair or bench you’re using. Is it at the right height? Is it comfortable? Think of the kind of chair/bench your music instructor has in their studio for your lessons. Do you experience pain when you are in your lesson, or just when you practice? Next time you go to practice, pay attention to when the pain or issue first starts, and take notes to bring to your next lesson to get some help from your instructor.
Evaluate yourself from all angles using video recording.
If you’re not already video recording your practices, we encourage you to try this now, especially if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort when you play. You can use the video recording as a diagnostic tool to see how you’re holding tension, how you may be twisting your body, that you are unable to pick up on while you are actively engaged in practice. We’ve discussed previously why you might want to record your practices anyway, this is just one more benefit. Perhaps when you watch back, you’ll see that you never noticed that you clench your jaw and twist your foot while you play before.This would be an example of tension creeping into your playing that you would want to minimize if possible. Having a mirror nearby is always a great idea too!
Please keep in mind, if you are trying to correct a deeply ingrained posture issue, this will take time and patience- do not lose hope! Try practicing for very short periods at a time with the specific goal of keeping correct posture in mind, and stopping when you are unable to keep it up any longer. It will get easier over time to assume the updated, corrected posture for more than a little while. Record your progress! Evaluate what is and is not working using video! You’ll surprise yourself. If you catch it early, you’ll be sure to be playing music for a very long time.
What about you? Do you have any bad habits that you’ve recently beat, or have just learned that you even had? What are your victories? Leave us a comment below!