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I have a lifelong habit of slouching. In recent years, my posture has improved greatly, mostly because I’ve finally learned to keep my feet flat on the floor (to prevent plantar fasciitis). That alone makes a huge difference so long as I sit in a chair with good lumbar support, but when I sit on a stool or bench I revert to slouching.

This causes me trouble when playing piano or drums, because my back tires quickly. I suspect it’s also making it harder to keep my elbows and wrists at the right height for the piano. Are there physical or mental exercises I can use to improve my posture on a stool? Alternately, are there any stools suitable for pianists and drummers with better lumbar support?

An earlier post recommends visualizing “that I was attached to a string at the top of my head and should pretend that I'm being pulled upward,” which works OK when I’m starting out, but when I’m working on a difficult phrase I lose focus and fall back into slouching.

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Hi Bradd, I did Alexander Technique sessions regularly from about the age of 16-19. I still slouch terribly when doing non-musical things but am pretty good at keeping a good posture when playing (guitar in particular). And, I am very keen for my pupils to have good, and generally orthodox, posture. I learnt a lot from Alexander Technique; I can't remember a lot of the specifics now, but I'm certain it has helped me a lot. –  Bob Broadley Jun 12 at 21:16
    
@BobBroadley Thanks, that sounds promising! Could you summarize the relevant parts of the technique in an answer so that I know what to look for? Especially if it helps with guitar too, as I also get some back fatigue after playing the bass (just not as bad or as quickly as at the piano). –  Bradd Szonye Jun 12 at 21:17
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Well, seriously, I am 20 years on from those lessons now, so can only remember a few things that don't directly relate to guitar playing! But, if nobody else gets good answers for you, I'll look into the basics again and post for you... –  Bob Broadley Jun 12 at 21:18
    
Hi Bradd, not that I'm trying to get out of doing an answer, but the Wikipedia article on Alexander Technique looks pretty good… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_technique –  Bob Broadley Jun 12 at 22:23

3 Answers 3

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You’ve only got so much focus to put towards playing an instrument, and when you try something new, it takes most of that focus. Right now, sitting up straight while playing involves a little extra focus, but trying something new involves a LOT of focus. It is likely that the more you do it, the easier sitting up straight will become. It will involve less and less thought as it becomes totally habitual. I bet that when you try something new, other aspects of your technique also suffer, unless they’ve become so ingrained that you have to concentrate to do them wrong. Just think of sitting up straight as a new skill you’re learning. Like finding notes on the keyboard, it will become more automatic the more you do it.

As far as the habit forming aspect goes, I’d recommend not slouching whenever possible. Think of it as a chance to practice your music anywhere. If you notice yourself slouching at the dinner table, sit up straight. In a meeting? Sit up straight. Chatting with someone at a party? Stand up straight. Lounging on the couch? Switch to a seat where you can sit up straight, at least some of the time. Personally, this is what gives me the most trouble. Habits are hard to change.

Another reason for slouching is that the muscles in the lower back are relatively weak. Of course, a major reason the muscles are relatively weak is that a person habitually slouches. My personal favorite solution for this is yoga, but any good strength training program will help. The advantage to yoga over other strength training is that it has a lot of focus on core muscles (including the lower back), posture and body awareness, and since it is usually instructor led, you are less likely to do something wrong enough to cause injury. Shop around various classes until you find one where you like the pace, and the instructor regularly corrects the students postures and provides variations everyone can do. Or if you don’t want to try yoga, do some other strength workout. Just make sure you are using good posture and technique, and concentrating on the core muscles.

Alexander technique is a program that focuses on relaxation during activity, body awareness, and good ergonomics. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_technique. from @Bob's comment) It is very popular with musicians and dancers, who can be very hard on their bodies, and frequently end up with chronic injuries. Everyone I’ve met who took Alexander Technique lessons said they were very helpful in preventing injury and in stopping chronic pain, and sitting up straight while playing is a part of that. I’ve spoken with a yoga instructor who had also taken Alexander Technique lessons, and she said the Alexander Technique lessons helped her yoga by making her more aware of her body while doing yoga positions, but that there was a lot of similarity between the two. The biggest drawbacks to Alexander Technique lessons are that it’s expensive, and it’s hard to find instructors in most places.

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I love the “use this exercise to practice music anywhere” element of the answer. I actually try to practice musicianship like that all the time! I will try adding more posture to my daily habits. And more core exercise too (which I also need for skating). –  Bradd Szonye Jun 14 at 17:23

This answer is going to be a bit of a guess. I've noticed that when playing drums I have almost the opposite problem: when I'm playing, I'll sit up straight, but when I'm just sitting on the stool, waiting while the rest of the band faffs about, I'll often hunch down, resting my chin on my hands and my elbows on my knees or the rim of the snare drum. For this reason, I suspect that kit set-up is a big factor.

I play with sheet music and a conductor, so my music stand is set between me and the conductor. If I'm sitting upright, the conductor is just above the stand, but if I start slouching, he disappears behind the stand, so it's an immediate reminder to sit up. If you're rehearsing in a group, you might be able to arrange something similar with another player you need to look at. Even if you're on your own, you could do the reverse: have a light pointing in your face with a card in front of it, so that if you're upright, the card shields your eyes, but if you start to sink on your stool, you get dazzled.

You might also try raising your ride cymbal. Jazz players tend to have the ride very low, whereas rock drummers often have it up at the same level as other cymbals. If your ride is low, then for a tight passage you'll instinctively hunch to get closer to it, but if it's higher up (but still below shoulder height), you'll naturally straighten up to avoid having to lift your arm so much.

At the same time, try moving your snare drum height. This is very much down to personal preference, but you might find that a change makes it harder to lapse into the old slouching behaviour. Just make sure you're sitting upright when you set and try out the height!


Since you already know the postural change you want to bring about, and the difficulty is in breaking your old habit, I can also recommend a technique from other fields, which should work whatever instrument you're playing.

There's a device variously known as a "mindfulness bell" or "experience sampler". It's a keyring-sized gizmo or smartphone app, which you keep in a pocket, and it bleeps or vibrates at random intervals (say, two or three times an hour). Buddhists use it all day as an occasional reminder to be mindful and aware; it's also used in scientific experiments in real-world settings to prompt the subject to note down some item of interest at random points during the day, such as what they're doing or their mental state.

You could use it while playing as a reminder to focus on your posture. I wouldn't try it while performing, but during a long solo or group practice, it shouldn't disrupt your concentration too much. You might also find you keep it for other parts of your day where you might lapse into old habits.

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Have you considered purchasing a "posture correction support brace"? I bought it a few months ago, and it has helped me quite a bit in developing a feel for sitting/standing straight without slouching as my posture had been bad for many years until then. There are other products available on Amazon if you search for "back support" or "lumbar support" but I can recommend this one since I've used it.

EDIT:

I'm adding some more information about the specific product I mentioned above (posture correction support brace). There are different companies manufacturing this product and it can be purchased online. Here's an example of one available on Amazon.

The posture correction brace is designed to help pull back rounded shoulders and promote good posture. It can be adjusted for comfort and firmness by altering the length of the arm loops, and the Velcro attachment point of the waist strap. The shoulder straps provide a snug, comfortable fit while helping hold shoulders in a neutral position. The brace features two flexible plastic inserts in the back section to provide firm yet comfortable support. Made of breathable fabric for comfort, it can be worn next to the skin and is inconspicuous under most clothing. It is suitable for men and women.

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Please edit a description of the product you're linking into your answer. –  Bradd Szonye Jun 13 at 18:56

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