FOR CELLISTS: AMATEUR, ASPIRING ............... AND CURIOUS

The Chair

Straight lines and 90 degree angles are very impressive achievements from an engineering point of view ….. but are completely inappropriate (and even harmful) for the human body.  Some people say that the traditional chair – full of straight lines and 90º angles – is one of the worst inventions of the industrial revolution. So what then is a “bad” chair and what is so awful about them?

THE SEAT ANGLE:

On a normal chair, with the seat parallel to the floor, our thighs are at 90º  to our back. This is actually a very un-ergonomic posture as, along with other problems, it produces considerable strain on the lower back (lumbar vertebrae). Sitting with our thighs at a 120º angle to our back (sloping gently downwards) reduces this strain enormously. Unfortunately, on this “normal” 90º chair, the simplest way to allow the thighs to slope downwards is to sit near the edge of the chair. But many (most) chairs are not designed for this. Not only are the edges of many chairs not adapted for this posture (see below) but also some chairs will easily tip over forwards or slide backwards when we sit on their forward edge.

THE SEAT EDGE:

A straight, hard, seat edge can dig into our legs and cut off the blood circulation, especially if we sit “forwards” on the chair. While some seat edges are too “sharp”, others are too rounded (sloping) and slippery. A smiling edge (dipping down in the middle) is completely unnatural (the opposite would be better) and will be uncomfortable.

THE SEAT EDGE CORNERS:

We cellists have to sit with our legs spread apart. If the seat edge has 90 degree corners, those corners can dig into the underneath of our thighs, especially if we are sitting with our thighs sloping downwards.

THE SEAT HEIGHT:

Most chairs are too low, even for short cellists. They are designed so that we can sit at the back of the seat, use the backrest, and still have our feet flat on the floor. But if we want to sit on the edge of the seat, with our thighs sloping downwards, the chair needs to be higher.

THE BACKREST:

Muscles become strong when they are used. If we spend all day lying down then we will become so weak that standing and walking will eventually feel as exhausting as doing extreme sports. It’s the same with sitting. If we always use the back rest, we are basically lying down in the chair and it will become increasingly hard for us to sit without it. We will get more and more tired and weak. Eventually our back will get sore and we will be told to rest it more. NOOOOOO !!!!!

Using the backrest is like using a bed. It’s good for a rest. But would we really consider seriously the idea of working while lying down in our bed just because it’s more relaxing? Perhaps we could add a trick to our cello-circus repertoire: not just playing the cello while standing up, but also while lying down. Come on. We can rest when we’ve finished playing! After playing, we can go and lie down, or even better, go for a walk, a run, a swim, or climb a mountain.

Watching the cello section of a professional orchestra is  …… very interesting. There are usually at least a few cellists who are leaning back in their chairs. I don’t care how well they are playing: if they look half-asleep then doesn’t it make listening to a recording a more attractive option than going to watch a live concert?! Watching professional orchestras seems to show that, curiously, men-cellists seem to have a greater tendency than women-cellists to lean back in their chairs while playing. Hmmmmnnn …….. Certainly, the hardened (actually softened) pros should learn more from children and youth orchestras:  it is very rare to see enthusiastic players lounging in the backs of their seats, and there is no good reason why age should soften that enthusiasm. This enthusiasm is the essential source of a good posture: erect, active and engaged.

WHAT IS A “GOOD” CHAIR ?

For me, a good chair for working is a stool, with adjustable height, a rounded, slightly soft seat and with no backrest. Piano stools are a good second choice. Pianists can’t take their piano with them and must not only sit on the chair that is provided but also play on the piano that is provided. Fortunately for them, the standard piano chair (stool) is actually a very good chair. We cellists can play our own instrument, but we must sit on the seats that are provided which are often awful, which leads us to our next question …….

HOW CAN I IMPROVE AN AWFUL CHAIR ?

  • to change the seat angle (to allow the thighs to slope downwards gently), we can do two things:
    – raise the back of the chair by placing something under its the two back legs.
    – use a wedge-shaped cushion (higher at the back) on the seat.
  • to soften the hard edge of the seat: use a cushion (or wear a nappy/diaper!).
  • to raise the seat height, bring four wooden blocks or use a thicker, firm, flat cushion.

THE WORLD’S WORST CHAIR

There is a very common mass-produced plastic chair that has a seat that not only slopes backwards but also has a “smiling” curve (it is lower in the middle). If we sit on the front edge of this chair it tips over or we slide off it. But they stack brilliantly and are undoubtedly very cheap. An economist’s dream – but a musician’s (and ergonomist’s) nightmare!!

To prepare ourselves for playing on any and every type of chair, it’s a good idea to practice sometimes on different chairs rather than always using the same one.

THE WORLDS BEST CHAIR

A Stokke stool, adjustable in height, with a wide round dish-shaped base which allows us to rock and rotate in any direction while seated, thus freeing up the whole body is an expensive but extraordinary option. It would probably be better however with a simpler rounded seat rather than the sophisticated triangular one that seems to be standard…….