Specialised chairs for musicians

There is a popular myth about learning a musical instrument. It claims that only students who have practiced at least 10 000 hours by their 20th birthday have a chance to become a master of their art. This is the equivalent of 417 days spent practising 24 hours a day. Since instruments are only rarely played while walking, the 10 000 hours mean a lot of sitting down. It’s a good thing that there are specialised music chairs for this purpose. We have compiled an overview of the working conditions of musicians and the criteria that a musician’s chair should fulfil.

Music Means Sitting

10 000 hours is a huge amount of time. Sure, a day has 24 hours, so you could theoretically master a musical instrument in one year without sleep or breaks. However, most people need sleep, fresh air and food pretty regularly. Hence, we come to 666 days with 9 hours a day for eating and sleeping. Then again, anyone who has played an instrument before knows how challenging it is to play non-stop for any amount of time. Hence, an eight-hour day is already a challenging enough prospect for most musicians. Without weekends, the aspiring musician could master an instrument in 1250 days. That is more than three and a half years. If we were to include weekends but no holiday time, the full-time musician would need more than four years to master an instrument.

If these figures are making you dizzy, remember that Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and the Beatles must have achieved a five-digit number of hours spent playing music at the apex of their careers. People well acquainted with musicians’ biographies know that, particularly in the case of virtuosos, the first few chapters can be quite uneventful. Driven by a passion to pursue music, the protagonist turned rock guitarist, punk rock drummer or world-class pianist bunkers down in their basement and practices during every spare minute. Shortly after this episode, the story begins to develop. At this point, the musician knows that they have developed an intricate knowledge of their art and dares to take the first step towards musical fame.

However, it is not just the sheer amount of time that is essential success. Talent and luck is involved as well, and some musicians are particularly lucky to be able to pursue their dream uninterruptedly or with the encouragement of a teacher or fellow musician. Malcom Gladwell’s book, ‘Outliers’, is reason that the number 10 000 came up at all. The book refers to the studies of two American psychologists. In the 1990s, they established that 10 000 hours is the magic number. The 10 000 hours is the amount of time that one must apparently devote to a task to master it. However, this number does not take into account talent or physical advantages. The simplified algebraic equation of 10 000 hours, which suggests that anyone can master a specialty in that amount of time, has often been proven wrong.

For example, a US professor of psychology discovered that some musicians have mastered an instrument with less than 5000 hours on the clock. Others had worked far more than 10 000 hours and were still stuck at an intermediate level. The figures are sobering: people who have practiced for 10 000 hours will only have mastered an instrument in 12% of cases.

Practice Makes Perfect

Be that as it may, people who wish to master an art need to practise. According to the numbers at hand, the amount of time spent practising must be significant. This equates to far too many hours spent sitting down. Most people who practise an instrument must also do other things sitting down, such as going to school or work. Hence, it is important that the chair on which the musician practises may be adjusted to individual requirements.

As an aspiring professional bassoonist, Leonhard has between four and five hours of daily practice on his schedule—on average. If we factor in performances, recordings or travel with an orchestra, the number of hours often increases. During busy times, Leonhard often spends 10 to 12 hours in the studio or practice room. The student of the Academy for Music and Theatre in Munich spends most of this time sitting down. “At home, I use a normal desk chair to practice. We do use more specialised chairs for concerts”, reports the 24-year-old. ‘There are three important factors. First, the chair should be height adjustable. Secondly, it should have an adjustable backrest. Thirdly, the inclination of the seat should also be adjustable.”

Most office chairs are adjustable in terms of height and the inclination of both the seat and backrest. However, music stores also offer specialised musician’s chairs. The name “chair” is a slight misnomer. Specialised musician’s chairs are seating or standing aids with multiple foot pegs. Their seat has the shape of a saddle. They do not have a classic backrest, but rather a height-adjustable support for the lower back. Musicians, particularly those with posture problems and back pain, swear by these chairs.

A Saddle for the Guitarist, a High Chair for the Double Bass Player

Apart from specialised chairs for bassoonists, which have specialised foot pegs and offer a relatively high level of adjustability, there are also specialised chairs for conductors, guitarists and drummers. Speaking of drummers, there is hardly another instrument that is associated so readily with sitting down as the drum set. Whether they are part of a jazz band, rock group or traditional orchestra, drummers work up long hours of physical work. Depending on the type of music, this work borders on moderate exercise. Unlike chess, which is also classified as a sport that one plays sitting down, there is a definite level of physicality involved in drumming. A look at pictures of hard rock and heavy metal bands shows that the men and women on the drums develop impressive upper bodies after a few years. Jazz drumming is more about developing a classy grove, but this meticulous work is equally demanding for the body. This is especially because the drums, with few exceptions, are played sitting down.

As a member of a world famous percussion show, Jürgen is constantly moving around on stage. However, as a studio manager, producer, composer, teacher and member of various bands, he often spends a lot of time sitting down. It is almost obvious that he has already had problems associated with extended periods of sitting down and forced bad posture. His advice on the ins and outs of drumming should not be taken lightly. Jürgen recommends a suitable chair, an adjustable drum kit and good posture at the drum kit as the Holy Trinity in preventing back problems. Of course, he is also speaking as a drumming instructor when he states that good teachers should adjust the drum kit of their students and ensure that their students adopt good posture. This applies to all types of instrument, says the 46-year old.

Health Problems through Office Work, not through Music

„A basic rule is that the instrument and the chair have to be adjustable so as to ‘grow’ with the user. Particularly students between 10 and 14 years will grow a lot—and it is self-evident that a 10-year-old’s drum kit will be different to that of an adult.” According to Jürgen, the chair is often a matter of taste. “I am not a fan of drumming stools that are too comfortable, for example, models with backrests”, says the expert. “The drummer of a normal pop or rock band has to sit in a posture that encourages awareness and supports a long attention span. And that definitely does not mean an unnatural bend of the spine in the lower back region.”

The flow of energy goes through the back and that should not be compromised through a bend in the lower spine region. “You know this phenomenon from traffic on the street”, he says. “Even drivers with bad postures suddenly sit upright in an emergency. Drumming is similar: you are almost always on air and need to be 100% switched on.” Accordingly, he suggests chairs that support an upright posture. “They should be adjustable and swivel. Depending on your taste, they should have a rounded or saddle seat.”

The 46-year-old considers one thing particularly important: “The damage that I have done to my back did not come from drumming, but from the studio and office work I have done.” As a result, he bought an ergonomic office chair as soon as possible.

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