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Postural Considerations in Flute Playing

Posture plays an important part in playing all instruments. Careful attention to this critical factor can alleviate many musculoskeletal complaints, enhance chest and lung volume, and ease up freedom of movement. In this article, we will examine a flutist’s posture and see how it relates to musculoskeletal stresses and lung capacity.

Three photos were taken of our subject, Jason Eckl, a music student at Cal. State Hayward. Shown here are some the most common postures witnessed in flute players, but it also relates to any instrument involving a seated posture. Violin, cello, woodwinds, brass and piano instrumentalists all can benefit by these suggestions.

In Figure one, the "slouched posture" there is compression of the anterior rib cage due to the increased curvature of the upper spine. This decreases total lung capacity, thus the lungs are taking in approximately 60% to 70% of their normal volume. Of course, this has a tremendous affect on the player’s capacity to maintain a continuous unwavering tone. The player also has an increased tendency towards developing spinal problems due to the tremendous stress to the upper back (thoracic spine). Notice where the arrow is pointing. The part of the spine has a increased curvature. Subluxations (misalignments) of the spine in this region not only can give localized back pain, but also pain in the front of the chest, and internal complaints such as heart, lung, and stomach irritations due to nerve compression. The lower back is also affected in this posture. Notice the arrow pointing at the low back. The slouched position forces the lumbar spine (low back) into flexion. This irritates the spinal ligaments and can compress nerves as well.

The slouched posture has another drawback. Once you anchor your body against the chairback, you loose freedom of movement of the torso. This forces all movement to be translated to the upper extremities, leading them prone to repetitive strain injuries such as tendonitis. Freedom of movement is imperative for musical expression. It would be quite difficult for a pianist to play expressively with his back resting against a seat. The same goes for any seated instrument. Cello players, for example, must use upper body movement to translate the bow across the strings. A slouched posture will force all bow movement to the shoulders, arms, and wrists, thus leading to strain in these structures. Just as a baseball pitcher uses his entire body to propel the baseball forward, so does a musician use her entire body to translate movement into her instrument to produce beautiful musical tones.

In figure two, Jason takes the preferred posture with ears directly above the shoulder and hips. This posture maximizes lung volume, allows for freedom of movement of the torso, and provides normal curvature to the lumbar spine. Jason simply tilts his hips slightly forward (about 5 degrees) to obtain maximum spinal relaxation. In fact, in this posture he has noticed a reduction of upper back soreness that has plagued him for many years.

Some musicians will achieve this posture with the help of foam seat wedges that have a forward decline. (See figure 3). This places the pelvis into a slight forward flexion, naturalizing the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spinal curves.

Figure 4 shows the "forward lean" posture. How many of you do this to read sheet music on an improperly placed music stand? Notice how the neck arches forward. The average head weighs about 12 pounds. In this posture the neck extensor muscles must continuously contract to keep the head from falling forward. This leads to neck fatigue and the propensity towards spinal misalignments. Again, Jason is compressing his upper thoracic spine and rib cage. This reduces lung capacity, compresses spinal nerves and irritates the spinal ligaments.

An easy way to determine if you are sitting incorrectly is to have someone take photographs of you from the side while you are playing your instrument. This gives you a quick self-examination of your posture. You could also sit beside a mirror while playing to evaluate your posture. Either way, check your posture now to prevent injures from developing later.

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