Musicians, Like Athletes, Need Proper Equipment

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Annie 5“There are many similarities between what the human body is asked to do in sports and in music,” explains Dr. William J. Dawson, Past President of the Performing Arts Medicine Association and Associate Professor Emeritus of Orthopedic Surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He’s also served on the editorial board for the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists.

“Heart rates go up, breathing changes, the body gets ready for the adrenalin response – fight or flight,” notes Dawson, who says this is true whether an athlete is running a race or a musician is playing an instrument or singing.

Risk of Injuries. Coordinated physical movements, often performed at a high rate of speed for prolonged periods of time, are required to play a musical instrument. Finger dexterity, fine and gross motor skills and coordination are also involved.

Instrumental musicians must partially or completely support the weight of an instrument weighing anywhere from 2 to 75 pounds. These physical demands predispose professional musicians, in particular, to postural dysfunctions and overuse injuries that could jeopardize a career.

Static and Strenuous. Musicians must often maintain a relatively static, seated position for extended periods of time. Certain instruments require static and awkward positioning, which may contribute to fatigue. Vocalists and wind instrumentalists must perform strenuous diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing to move high volumes of air either through vocal cords or an instrument. Wind players must also maintain the proper facial structure and embouchure (mouth position in relation to the instrument’s mouthpiece).

Better Alignment. To minimize discomfort and pain, thereby maximizing musicianship potential, the position of the spinal column and respiratory system are crucial. In the normal standing posture, the spinal column forms a natural sacro-lumbar curve, with the organs and upper body weight in balance. The fewest possible muscles are required to maintain this position; the diaphragm moves freely, efficiently providing the air movement necessary for playing or singing. For a seated musician, any limitations on torso movement, or any posture that interferes with the normal breathing function will compromise both air and sound production.

Crucial Equipment. No one questions that athletes need proper equipment, such as helmets, pads and proper footwear to play – and stay — safe. For musicians, their equipment includes the instrument they play and the chair they sit in. Professional musicians primarily rehearse and perform while seated, so the chair becomes a crucial piece of equipment — an extension of the musician and their instrument.

Ideal Music Chair. The ideal music chair should promote proper alignment of spinal column, eliminate long-term sitting discomfort and provide the necessary freedom for the diaphragm and related respiratory muscles to endure strenuous breathing. The chair should also allow freedom of motion necessary for the upper body, arms and hands to properly support and manipulate an instrument. It should also promote a degree of body movement for all extremities, helping prevent prolonged muscle contractions that can cause discomfort and pain. In future blog articles, we’ll meet professional musicians and learn about their quest for the ideal music chair.

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