Balance: The First Step to Injury-Free Playing
It was February of my final year of high school and I was furiously practicing to audition for colleges and for the All State Festival during the week while traveling to said colleges for auditions on the weekends. Mid-March, all of my auditions had finished up and I was sitting in Science class when my shoulder suddenly went into such a spasm that I couldn't breathe or talk. This was the first time I can remember having major problems with my shoulder and I remember it vividly even today.
When I look back at pictures of myself playing back then, even throughout the beginning of college, I see such obvious imbalances in my playing posture that were causing me so much pain. Throughout college, I worked through a lot of the posture issues that I had but was still dealing with a lot of chronic pain. Learning how to teach gave me a whole new insight into my own position and posture issues. Later in college, I discovered the benefits of yoga practice for posture work, breath work and focus. As I moved on from college into the work force, I dug deeper into my yoga practice attending more regular classes in the Worcester area. I thought I would share with you some of the things I discovered over the years in my own practice as well as my teaching practice.
Before I even put an instrument into a student's hands, talk them through balance in their body. Balance centers in our bodies in our hips.
poor posture and balance:
I use my yoga practice in setting students up in a modified "Mountain" pose before they put an instrument on their shoulder. Mountain pose is found by putting your feet together and feeling equal weight and pressure on all areas of the feet grounding into the floor. Once the feet are grounded your pelvis is brought into neutral position by tucking the tailbone in and activating your core muscles. Then, we talk about making sure that the shoulders and head are sitting right on top of the vertebrae almost like there is a string holding their whole body up from the ceiling attached to the top of their head. The only modification I make is to have students put their feet directly under their shoulders instead of together. This modification makes the posture more stable when we add the instrument. I talk to the student about how the balance is centered in our hips but that we can feel any imbalances in our feet.
modified mountain pose:
Balanced Instrument Position
After we have talked about balance throughout the whole body, then we talk about how to get their instrument up on their shoulder. We start in rest position, holding the instrument with the left hand around the base of the neck and body of the instrument.
Then, I have students bring the instrument out in front of their body, up above their head and down on top of their shoulder.
I look at this point to see if their shoulder rest is filling up the space between their shoulder and collar bone and the instrument. The instrument should sit relatively flat on top of their shoulder with only the jaw holding the instrument on their shoulder comfortably.
At this point, sometimes I recommend using a different type of shoulder rest if it is not bridging all of the space mentioned before. Often, I reevaluate the shoulder rest as they grow. As students grow (especially in middle school) their body changes and the same shoulder rest set up they had when they first started playing may not work. I even periodically reevaluate my own shoulder rest set up to make sure that I do not need an adjustment.
While there are many other areas of playing that require attention to balance, posture and instrument position are the most important areas of playing that help to prevent injury. The best part about fixing these problems is that our sound gets exponentially better when we adjust these things!
I am always still growing and analyzing my own playing, but attention to these items in my own playing has greatly reduced the frequency of my injuries. One of my main missions as a teacher is to help prevent these types of chronic injury in my own students.
Extremes are easy. Strive for Balance. -Colin Wright
Stay tuned for more on my journey as a performer and teacher approaching musicianship as an athlete as well as an artist!