Great posture is the second step in warming up. There are three important reasons to make sure your students do this correctly:
- Breathing – things move better with excellent posture. Bad posture limits motion and hurts breathing. As we’ll discuss next, breathing critically impacts all aspects of playing.
- Appearance – Most people can’t hear the things trained musicians hear, but everyone can tell if the band looks good. If your audience is impressed with how the band looks, they will assume the band sounds equally good. Good posture is attractive – the next time someone catches your eye, the odds are is because that person has great posture!
- The way you hold your body influences your brain. Stand up at attention and pay attention to how sharp your mind is and how aware you are of what’s going on around you. Now, slouch and notice the decrease in both areas. I’m sure many of you have heard of psychosomatic illness, where a person thinks they’re ill and the body exhibits signs of the illness. Somatopsychic is the mirror image, the body influencing the mind.
What part of the body plays the instrument? The mind…because it controls the rest of the body. If your mind is in a slump because of poor posture, you will not play well. And the reverse is true – great posture puts your mind on high alert and you will play your best.
People tend to make posture complex — put your shoulders back, tuck your hips under, etc., etc. Right…you’re going to be thinking about while playing difficult music and intricate marching moves…right. There’s a simpler way: stand or sit as tall as possible. Everything will happen (shoulders, hips, etc.), but it doesn’t require any thought. When you can choose between a simple way of doing things or a complex way, choose simple! It leaves more of your brainpower to focus on sounding great and expressing music.
Arnold Jacobs said that the best posture for breathing is standing and the worst posture is laying on your back because your body motion is reduced. Sitting is in between, but if you are “standing” from the hips up while you’re seated, it will greatly reduce the loss of body motion.
So, stand or sit tall while you’re playing. If you want to slouch while you’re counting measures of rest, it’s ok, but NOT while you’re playing! When you’re seated, many people advocate keeping your back away from the chair. I think it’s ok for your back to touch the chair, but you need to be holding yourself up, not the chair. Your knees need to be lower than your hips, and your feet can be crossed, but only if this doesn’t detract from your concentration.
FYI, big band lead trumpeters often say to stand with the feet apart, as if you were lifting weights. I’m sure there is some truth to that, but the feet do not need to be too far apart.
One word of caution – on bigger instruments (i.e., horns and low brass), be sure to have correct posture and bring the horn to you. Too often, students move to meet the instrument and it introduces tension in their body and reduces their breath capacity.
As a teacher and as a performer, require your students and yourself to always have great posture. You cannot teach good posture to students and assume that they will do this from that point forward; you have to constantly watch and insist they do things correctly. In time, it will become a habit and they will start correcting each other.
As one of my teachers (Joe Christensen) told me, playing an instrument is a privilege, not a right. If students don’t do what you want, do not let them play. Pretty soon they’ll realize they have to do what you want to be able to play.
Maintain your standards at all times!