Acts and Conferences

Influence of position and movement on our body’s function

Fermo, Auditorium of the Conservatoire, 14 April 2003

An important premise to what follows here is that what I am going to explain is intended to stimulate your reflection and further research. It is not aimed at undertaking an autonomous work on your body. The guidance of an experienced person is always important, such as a specialized physician that may support you while undertaking a changing process. I was invited by Maestro Alfredo Trebbi, a great double bass player and brilliant person, to talk about the “Influence of position and movement on our body’s functions” because I have been studying this issue about our daily life for a long time. My research was boosted by both some physical problems that emerged during my childhood and by some actual difficulties, relative to the positions assumed during the years of study of my instrument: the guitar.

The attention to the position, the balance of the muscles and the daily practice of physical activity are at the basis of keeping our body and mind in good conditions, particularly when they are asked to do demanding performances, like in the case of a musician. The study of the double bass, like other instruments, requires positions and movements that can be a matter of study and reflection for a good care of our body. This is the reason for the seminars organized in this Conservatoire and this short speech. One of the main ideas, at the basis of an understanding of the problems caused by an incorrect position, is the concept of “alignment”. The body alignment is a synonym of health and is one of the objectives of yoga practice. Unfortunately, when observing the greatest part of the western sedentary life, we realize that “something” shifted from its original “line”, that is to say, from its naturally correct position: the spine. The problem is obvious, for example, when we observe a double bass player, with one shoulder higher than the other.

Why was the natural alignment lost? How do we determine this lack of balance? In order to understand this aspect, we have to carefully study the human body. Standing in front of a mirror and tracing a vertical line dividing our body into two, we will obtain two symmetrically equivalent parts. Unfortunately, this natural symmetry is altered during our life due to the unhealthy habits that we impose on our body. Some of them are strictly linked to the study of the instrument, because the type of activity required forces us to use the two parts of the body in a different way. It is generally said that the work of the two parts is not symmetrical. It often happens that one part is constantly more turned than the other, or that one part is too rigid while the other lacks tone. All this can lead to a permanent lack of balance of the spine’s position and, consequently, to problems and pain at all levels. Through the study of the human skeleton, we understand the structure of the spine. Its natural form includes some physiological curves (two of lordosis and two of kyphosis type) which are easily noticeable. The vertebrae forming the spine itself keep their form and distance one from the other correctly when the spine maintains its natural curves. The growth or loss of these curves causes pain in the spine, because the inter-vertebral disks protecting it from wear and tear and the compression of the vertebrae may suffer thrusts and position changes, hence diminishing their proactive function. Some deformations may also cause pain, when causing a compression of the nerve roots, starting from the vertebrae.

This observation makes us reflect when we take on incorrect positions especially for a long time. We also noticed how muscle activity, during the shortening phase, tends to move the points to which it is attached, closer. Another aspect is that the working power of a muscle must keep in mind its stretch, as work is produced during the shortening phase. If we did not stretch the muscle and try to make it constantly work, it would contract and loose elasticity and the possibility to work. In fact, it would not be allowed to stretch and shorten and consequently could not produce its regular work. Moreover, it could lead to an inflammation of the tendons placed on articulated segments, due to a lower elasticity than the muscle. This makes us realize that every position, even if correct, should never be kept for a long time. The role that a muscle could play during its action (being the muscle agonist or antagonist, synergic, fixed) gives us the possibility to recover and re-balance a working activity that forcedly unbalanced by unavoidable specific needs. The detailed study of these ideas leads us to consider three points linked to double bass training, as follows.
During your rehearsal and public performances, as far as possible, avoid assuming positions that can create problems for our body, also seriously review those aspects which are already strong on your teaching method. Think about using or building accessories (i.e. supports, guides, etc…) aimed at increasing the balance of the muscles. During training, also include exercises to rebalance and stretch the muscle or other techniques (i.e. Alexander, anti-gymnastic, yoga, etc…) to limit unavoidable unbalanced situations.
As for point 1), we observe that:

  • the body weight more often rests on one leg and foot instead of being balanced on both legs;
  • the shoulder and relative arm are at the same height;
  • the neck and head are constantly rotating only on one side;
  • the fixatives of the two shoulder blades work differently according to the different functions of the arms during the executive act and under the influences of a low balance on one part of the trapezius and dorsi muscles;
  • the instrument is often supported more on one side;
  • when the performance requires it, the trunk itself tends to always rotate in the same direction.
Point 2 will be widely explained in another paragraph (during Marco Forti’s talk on dynamic support).
As for point 3, there are still some considerations to be done. There are techniques, like the Alexander technique, which are very interesting and offer a very involving approach. One must constantly live according to the point of view and principles expressed by the inventor. Every action follows a vector, the work is essential and the balance is maximum. Nevertheless, it also requires that the relationship with the instrument follows this guideline, including the study of movements, the direction of the body areas, the relationship with the bow, the movement of the fingers, the mental vision of the music, etc…
Other techniques are more aimed at working on the body or specific areas in a less interesting and regular way. Through physical exercises, we work on single muscles or, more often, on muscular chains that are unbalanced by the study and position. This helps to return elasticity and muscular tone to the different groups, in order to balance what was altered by the study and position. Some suggestions, in this sense, will be followed with the constant guidance of an expert and under the control of a physician and should take into consideration many variables in approach by each single performer and the psycho-physical characteristics of each one.
Here are some examples:
  • reset flexibility, tone and balance to the body areas, like neck and trunk, that generally experience frequent rotations;
  • rebalance the stretch and tone of the square muscle of the loins that, due to the different inclination on one side of the spine, may need it;
  • work in stretching and toning the muscles that stabilize the pelvis. In fact, supporting the instrument may cause a lack of balance altering the lumbar lordosis;
  • also the stretching muscles of the trunk and pelvis should be stretched and toned after long periods standing;
  • other muscles on which to concentrate on are the femur quadriceps providing strength to the legs and whose stretch supports the pelvis and does not bring it to any retroversion;
  • work on the muscle of the shoulder articulation (rear, front, lateral and scapular) due to the different physical activity of the arms.
These are some examples to reflect on during re-balance training.

Pietro Antiniori


Our thanks go to the "Progetto Billè" association, the "G. B. Pergolesi" Conservatoire of Fermo and its director, Silvia Santarelli, to Maestro Alfredo Trebbi and Carifermo for their kindness and concession of material.