Why are musicians like endurance athletes? And which instrument is the most perilous for your posture? Read on to find out.
Good posture is essential for singers, which is why teachers take the time to help students get their alignment right. But what if a singer is also an instrumentalist? What other issues or concerns arise if a performer spends hours a day sitting or standing with an instrument in hand?
To find out, we spoke to Jennie Morton, a singer and osteopath specialising in performing arts medicine.
On the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Jennie explains how years of instrumental playing can cause injury and impact alignment. Here are three interesting points about posture and the performer that are discussed in Jennie’s interview.
Instrumentalists are athletes
While you might not typically think of musicians as athletic, Jennie calls them “athletes of the small muscles”.
“The way you use your muscles if, for example, you play the violin for eight hours a day is essentially an endurance sport,” she says. “You’re using the smaller muscles versus the big muscles, and there are high cardiovascular requirements.”
The exertions of performing and practising can often result in muscle soreness, fatigue, tendinitis and nerve entrapment. Poor posture can contribute to these conditions but there’s something else to consider.
“When you’re using these muscles in this drawn-out endurance way, you need to get the oxygen going in; otherwise, the muscles start fatiguing and running out of oxygen,” Jennie says.
“The muscles can switch to anaerobic respiration, but the by-product of that tends to be more inflammatory chemicals such as lactic acid. You need to look at how you are pumping blood to the system and the drainage system to clear out all those inflammatory waste products produced while playing.”
The harp is ‘high risk’
Another reason why performers can develop problems relates to symmetry. The body thrives on symmetry and balance, but when you play a string, woodwind or brass instrument, your hands do different things simultaneously.
The same goes for playing the piano or kit drums, where all four limbs could be doing different things at once.
“If you think of the spine and all the muscles that go off it, the spine is happy when those muscles have equal tone in them,” Jennie says. “But when playing instruments that require us to be in rotational positions, we end up with these asymmetrical forces coming into the spine, and then the spine gets unhappy.”
And when looking at posture and the performer, which instrument poses the most risk? Jennie says it’s that “beast of an instrument”, the harp.
“It’s so huge that you are obviously using the hands quite a bit, and you use extreme reach, but both feet are on pedals, so you’ve got no grounding.”
Curves are good
Jennie debunks the idea that good posture is all about a ‘straight back’.
“It’s nonsense. Everybody’s got different natural curves to their spine; the question is, are they exaggerated? I like to talk about ‘where is neutral for you?’. You can’t say, ‘your spine should look like this or that’.
“We must be mindful that we’re not trying to put everyone in this cookie-cutter cut-out of what we think is a good posture. It may not be efficient for them.”
Here’s an article by Jennie: Osteopathy and the Singer