Throughout my career as a concert cellist, teacher and Feldenkrais practitioner, chairs have been a preoccupation. Musicians may have slightly varying requirements of a chair but we probably have the following needs in common.
Ideally, all four chair legs should be easily adjustable to ensure that the player has their pelvis level with or slightly higher than their knees, and that the seat can be horizontal or tipped forward as preferred. It is of prime importance that the player’s pelvis has the best chance of establishing a comfortable position so that his/her spine finds a balanced support which can be sustained over relatively long periods, allowing breathing to function optimally and shoulders and arms to move freely.
There should be no arm rests. It can be helpful for the chair back to be narrow and short, so as not to interfere with the player’s arm movements, and relatively close to the front of the seat for those players who prefer to have their back supported from behind rather than free-standing. A minimal level of cushioning is desirable, affording a combination of firm support for the skeleton and sufficient softness to make sitting in one position for long periods more tolerable to the sit bones.
From a Feldenkrais point of view we are looking for a chair which offers the optimum balanced support for the skeleton, allowing muscles to produce movement with a minimum of effort in such a way as to reduce strain and risk of injury. I would recommend sitting on the forward edge of the chair so that support is taken by the feet and the sit bones. Sitting back with thighs resting on the chair, although possibly feeling comfortable, reduces the mobility available to the pelvis and spine. A spine which is in a dynamic equilibrium in relation to the chair is crucial to optimal breathing and to supporting the shoulder girdle. Attached to the skeleton only at the top of the breast bone, by cartilage, the shoulder girdle has the potential for extraordinary freedom but also a vulnerability to being poorly supported. Optimal use of our arms and hands in any activity, including music-making, is helped or hindered by the manner in which the shoulder girdle is supported by the spine.
For a sensory experience of these relationships, try Yeu-Meng Chan’s relaxing yet powerful short Awareness Through Movement lesson Reaching with a Soft Hand.