Janet Horvath  

Static Loading, Back and Disc Problems:
Winner of the Independent Book Publishers Gold Medal

Janet Horvath
June 9, 2019

It is important to counter forward shoulder and hunching upper back positions by doing motions opposite to the ones we do constantly at our instruments. Try the foam roller stretch, which stretches the pectoral muscles and shoulders. (The foam roller stretch is described in Janet’s book. – Ed.)

It is very important for cellists to maintain proper end-pin height and to avoid hunching over cellos or thrusting heads down and forward. The neck of your cello should be above your left shoulder, not on it, and the neck of your cello should be away from your face. Sometimes cellists become very uncomfortable and tight in their neck when the C-peg snuggles into the base of the head at the neck. It is important to angle your cello slightly across your body so this does not happen and your neck and head can feel free. The C-string peg should be under and behind your left ear and not touching your head, allowing some clearance. Your cello can also be tilted toward the A-string side of the instrument or the C-string side depending on what you are playing at the time. Gently rotate the instrument with your knees and maintain constant fluidity rather than squeezing with your knees. If discomfort still occurs, String Vision carries ergonomic key pegs or “posture pegs.” These replace the C and G peg heads so that they are flush with the scroll. Tuning is done using a removable key and no alteration to the scroll is necessary.

Tingling and numbness in the ring and pinky fingers, pain across the back of the shoulders as well as headaches can be caused by extending the neck forward for too long. This is exacerbated when arms are extended forward and/or the torso is bent forward or shoulders are raised. Where numbness is concerned, always consult a physician to rule out a nerve entrapment such as carpal tunnel syndrome or ulnar nerve compression.

Violinists, violists, flutists, bassoonists and others who tilt or rotate their head can create muscle imbalances over time. The muscles on one side become shorter and stron­ger than those on the other. This can lead eventually to joint dysfunction and possibly nerve compression.

Limber your neck by warming-up. Take breaks. Reduce “holding” tension. Violin­ists and violists, refit chin and shoulder rests. Be careful about your head and neck angle. Sometimes we may be susceptible to neck tension despite our best efforts. To release try nodding, looking side to side, tilting your head (left ear to left shoulder, etc.), shrugging your shoulders, doing shoulder circles often, and rotating and shaking your head periodically. Be vigilant about posture at all times, even away from your instrument.

A Few Suggestions for Good Posture

Sometimes musicians are so accustomed to their playing positions that they are the last ones to know their torsos are angled, twisted or tense. Use a mirror. Ask a colleague to assess your posture or videotape yourself.

Don’t stop there. Place your upper back against a wall and bend knees as if you are sitting. Mime playing your instrument. You may discover that this position does not correspond to your accustomed playing stance.

Good posture should be balanced and relaxed. You should not have to strain to maintain it. Keep your shoulders down and not pulled upward, backward or forward. Keep your lower back in a natural curve (lordosis): neither exaggerated nor flat. Many body awareness experts use imagery to help with correcting posture. Yoga teachers ad­vocate “making space” in your torso. By raising your rib cage and filling your lungs with air (or pretending it’s helium), you allow your internal organs the space they need. Think about draping your shoulders over a raised rib cage and elongating the length of your spine, especially at the back of your neck. Alexander Technique specialists suggest you think of yourself as a “puppet on a string” held from the top of your head, with your arms and shoulders hanging down. For others it helps to “think tall” to counter the effects of gravity pulling us down.

When sitting, avoid twisting or leaning to either side, backward or forward. Your center of gravity should be forward and your body weight should be on your sitting bones and your feet. Do not play with your legs crossed at the knee or ankle or while curling legs around chair legs. To test your sitting posture, put your instrument aside and sit with your feet flat on the floor. Now try to get up. Your weight, if balanced far enough forward, will allow you to get up without any major re-shuffling in your position. Bring the instrument to you rather than compromising your posture to reach for your instrument.

Musicians who are able to practice while standing should alternate between sitting and standing. Make sure while standing that you are maintaining a natural curve or lordosis, by keeping your knees slightly bent instead of locked or hyperextended (actually bent slightly backwards). Your body should feel fluid. This is equally important for conductors, who may bend forward at the waist or lock knees and arch too far back. While sitting, shift leg position frequently. Cellists, one foot slightly in front of the other seems to work well.

Be vigilant about your music stand placement. If you are alone on your stand, place it directly in front of you at a height that allows you to keep your head level. If you share a music stand, move your chair and body so that you do not have to turn your head or twist your torso to see your music. Align it in such a way that you can see the music and the conductor without any up and down movements of your head. Pianists also should be vigilant about the height of their music racks. Keyboard players need to try to adjust their music racks in such a way that their heads and necks can maintain as neutral a position as possible.

• Page 2 of 4 • Next Page »

Please log in to comment: