Ergonomics - overview




Good singing and playing posture - overview

Playing and singing are both physically strenuous and very demanding on the body. Ever-increasing competition and high requirements on quality also add to the pressure.

Playing and singing are static and strenuous muscular exercises. The right basic position and correct use of support muscles enables you to use the "playing and singing muscles" economically and to move them freely.

Musicians and vocalists should have good awareness of their body, joints and muscles, and they should find a natural basic posture that causes the least strain. It is useful to know which muscles maintain the posture and which muscles create the movement needed to produce the music. A good understanding of playing posture and the right breathing technique can improve the sound quality and are directly linked to a good playing technique.

The basis of a correctly functioning body is the natural position of the spine and the pelvis (the centre position). In the centre position, the support muscles operate optimally.

In the left-hand picture, the pelvis and the spine are in the centre position. The arrows point to the power vectors formed by the lumbo-pelvic (midriff?) support muscles. In the middle picture, the pelvis pushes forward and the curvature of the spine increases. The lumbo-pelvic(midriff?) support muscles function poorly, resulting in a faulty posture. The right-hand picture illustrates the difference between the postures.

Furthermore, keeping the spine and the pelvis in the centre position facilitates optimal muscular support for the shoulder blade. These muscles are crucial for proper arm movement. Correct breathing also depends on the proper position of the pelvis and the spine. Incorrect posture affects the mobility of the rib cage, which in turns impedes the breathing muscles. Wind instrumentalists and vocalists regulate the air pressure primarily with the deep oblique abdominal muscle and the pelvic floor muscles (abdominal support).

Cross section view of the ring formed by the Transversus abdominis and Multifidus muscles at the fifth lumbar vertebra.

Incorrect posture affects the control of these muscles. The result can be overcompensation that leads to muscle tension in the superficial abdominal muscles, neck muscles and larynx muscles. In turn, tension in these muscles affects the quality of the voice and makes it harder to play.

In terms of finding the natural movement of the shoulder blade, the key muscles are those located between the shoulder blade and the rib cage and between the shoulder blade and the spine; in other words, the muscles that support the shoulder blades.

The shoulder blade is rotated and supported by a group of muscles.
The right-hand image illustrates the lifting movement of the arm, with the bottom corner(= medial inferior angle of the shoulder blade) of the shoulder blade rotating outwards.
U= Top of the Trapezius muscle
I = Bottom of the Trapezius muscle
M = Middle arrow, middle of the Trapezius
S= Serratus anterior muscle

These muscles should maintain the correct position of the shoulder blade when you are holding up your arms and the instrument. If the shoulder blade does not have enough support, the shoulder joint moves into a faulty position and the movement of the entire limb is affected. When the arm is lifted, the bottom corner of the shoulder blade rotates outward and the humeral joint surface of the shoulder blade rotates obliquely forward and up.


In the left hand figure, the shoulder blade support muscles are not functioning correctly; the bottom corner (medial inferior angle) of the shoulder blade rotates towards the spine and wings off of the rib cage. In the right hand picture, the shoulder blade support muscles are functioning correctly and the bottom corner rotates outwards.

Strain injuries in the forearm and the wrist are very common and problematic for musicians. Common causes of prolonged strain injuries include poorly functioning support muscles of the shoulder blade and faulty positions of the wrist, palm and fingers. An incorrect position of the shoulder blade affects the entire upper limb and increases strain on forearm muscles. Likewise, the muscles that maintain the position of the shoulder blade are dependent on the correct position of the spine and the rib cage.

The best finger movement is achieved in a position where the wrist is extended by 15 degrees and tilted towards the little finger 15 degrees (the centre position of the wrist). This position allows for the best muscular movement in the forearm, fingers and the palm, and the risk of strain injuries is minimised. The palmar muscles provide important support for the flexors and extensors of the fingers and the wrist. The palmar muscles are located between the metacarpal bones (both on the back of the hand and on the side of the palm), extending from the wrist to the middle joints of the fingers, but not crossing the wrist joint. These muscles are involved in forming the longitudinal and transverse arches of the hand.


Longitudinal and transverse arches of the hand.

There are two transverse arches; one is at the wrist bones and the other extends across the knuckles. The longitudinal arch is formed between the wrist and the tip of the middle finger. The fingers must remain in an arched position during playing. Overextended or overflexed joints can increase strain.

The safest way to correct the musician's posture is to start with the pelvis, spine and shoulder blade. For example, if the musician has an incorrect wrist position, it is often caused by a fault in another part of the body, such as an incorrect position of the spine or the shoulder blade. A faulty position of the spine can change the position of the shoulder blade, which in turn causes overcompensation and incorrect wrist position. Correcting the wrist position itself (for example, by adjusting the position of the instrument) may affect another part of the body and therefore it is not a very safe way to correct the posture. For that reason, problems are best resolved in conjunction with the instrument instructor and a physiotherapist who is specialised in instructing musicians.

Exercise for finding the centre position

Sitting on a chair

  1. Push your pelvis as far forward as possible, then bring it back as far as you can. Repeat the back and forth movement a few times; continue while reducing the movement. Finally, leave your pelvis in the centre. When you are sitting with your pelvis in the centre position, the ischia point directly downwards, against the seat of your chair. Back muscles are engaged but not tense. If your back muscles tighten so much that you cannot maintain a good sitting position, you should sit on a higher chair.
  2. Keep your pelvis in the centre position. Curve your thoracic spine inward as far as you can so that your breastbone is lowered. Then, extend your thoracic spine as far as you can, so that your breastbone is raised. Repeat a few times; continue, but each time thrust inward and outward a bit less. Finally, leave your thoracic spine in the centre position. When the thoracic spine is in the centre position, breathing becomes easier, the abdominal muscles are relaxed and the back is supported by back muscles that are "pleasantly engaged".
  3. Keep your pelvis and thoracic spine in the centre position. Bring your head and cervical spine forward so that your chin pushes forward. Then bring your head and cervical spine back, creating a double chin. Repeat this back and forth movement a few times. Reduce the movement and finally, leave your head and cervical spine in the centre position. When the cervical spine and the head are in the centre position, the neck muscles are relaxed. The head is like a ball on the end of a stick: mobile yet balanced.