Two questions to begin:
- Do you have good recorder playing posture?
- What do you think that might look like?
‘My posture is terrible!’
I ask my questions in that order because I strongly suspect that most players – if they ever think of their posture at all – would probably answer ‘no, my posture is terrible’. Our default opinion with regard to posture, whether holding a recorder or not, is that ours is almost certainly not very good. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I have lost count of the number of adults who still hear their parent’s voice in their head telling them to ‘stand up straight!’
And that’s assuming we’ve thought about our posture as we play at all. Especially if you’ve started playing at a young age, your first thought on picking up the instrument is likely to have been more on what sounds you could make, rather than how you’re going to get the recorder most efficiently to your mouth! But thinking about what you are doing with your body as you prepare to play becomes very important as you become more proficient. Thinking about your recorder playing posture will help you to play more difficult music because your technique will be better, and you’ll be able to play for longer.
As a result, many players have developed playing postures that aren’t as effective or efficient as we would like. In Spring 2017 The Recorder Magazine had this image as its front cover. I adore it for the accuracy of the artist’s portrayal of some of the more common types of error one sees in recorder playing posture.
In the back row, 2nd and 3rd from the left, one can see players holding the instrument too close to their chests, with their elbows close to their sides. The one on the left is compensating by flexing their wrists too much; the one on the right is arching their wrists. The player on the far right of the back row is arching their back; this will make it very difficult to breathe in effectively as their ribs won’t move as freely. In the front row, the girl on the left is bending herself down over her recorder, instead of lifting the recorder to her mouth. This will cause her to lose breath pressure, and she’ll probably play flat. The boy on the right looks like he is raising his shoulders up to his ears as he breathes in. As I wrote recently, this isn’t actually necessary for good breathing.
So what is good recorder playing posture?
Principle 1: bring the instrument to you, not the other way around.
Don’t be like the girl in the front row! You don’t need to do anything with your spine to lift a recorder; use your arms. Hold the recorder with your arms down at your sides. Now lift your arms, but think of moving them from your shoulders so that the recorder almost creates an arc in the air as it moves to your mouth.
Moving in this way helps you to maintain a relaxed torso, and that will help you to breathe more effectively. Arms are appendicular structures, and we can move them without having to involve our spine or torso much at all.
Principle 2: allow your elbows to leave your sides far enough that your wrists are reasonably straight.
Don’t be like the two players in the back row! It really helps your fingers to move more easily if your wrists are not overly flexed or extended, but instead are left straight and relaxed. To achieve this, when you raise your arms from your shoulder joints, your elbows will naturally come out to the sides a little.
I think often we worry about taking up too much space. But we aren’t on a crowded bus! Nor are we often likely to be squeezed into tiny orchestra pits. This means that, particularly as a soloist, it really pays to allow yourself to take up the space to which you are entitled.
Tips for working on your playing posture
- Spend a little bit of time every practice session working on how you raise the recorder to a playing position.
- Watch yourself in a mirror if you can.
- Try to move your arms while involving your head and torso as little as possible, using the two principles I’ve outlined.
- Practise this as a separate discipline to working on scales or pieces. This will make it easier to integrate into your playing, as you won’t be trying to concentrate on posture, music, fingerings etc all at once.
Give it a go, and let me know how you get on.
Image from cover of The Recorder Magazine, Spring 2017.