You may well be tempted to skip past this section and get straight down to the business of holding and playing your cello. After all, everyone knows how to sit don’t they? It’s one of the very first things we learn to do with our bodies, which means that we’ve had plenty of practice! But we’ve had just as much time to apply all the bad physical habits we pick up along the way, such as slouching, arching the back and forgetting our centre of gravity. Even those whose activities include the likes of martial arts or ballet – both of which focus heavily on posture and balance – can easily forget all of those valuable lessons when sitting in class or at a computer. So it is certainly worth following guidelines and actively observing our seated posture before picking up the cello.
First, we should discuss the height of your chair. A chair that is either too high or too low can cause a great deal of tension throughout the body which will only increase when you attempt to hold and play your cello. The ideal height enables an angle slightly larger than 90 degrees between the abdomen and thigh. The seat of your chair should be flat and firm. Some cellists prefer a seat with a slight forward incline (with the front of the seat lower than the back). This type of seat is also endorsed by many physiotherapists and practitioners of Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method because it encourages the upper body to lean forward towards the cello. However it takes getting used to and is not a recommendation I would make for beginners. To be avoided at all costs is the bucket seat, commonly found in schools and public halls and enemy number one of the human posture. Likewise any seat with a backward incline or excessively soft cushion should not be used. For anyone 5 foot or taller, an adjustable piano or keyboard bench is ideal. For those shorter than this, a child’s chair with a flat seat will do, so long as the angle between the abdomen and thigh is correct.
Balance is crucial. Many of my students look baffled when I tell them this – how difficult can it be to balance on a chair? Well, not at all difficult, but unfortunately it’s just as easy to sit with poor balance and unless we can tell the difference, we’re more inclined towards the latter. To begin with, it is best to sit towards the front of the seat, and to sit on the bones of your buttocks. Feet should always be flat on the floor, and should always be in a position that allows you to stand up without having to move them. Considering that you’ll need space between your knees for the cello to rest comfortably, you’ll need to place your feet a small distance apart from each other. Turning them outwards will allow your knees to fall further apart from each other than your feet, which in turn creates plenty of surface area from above the knees down to the calves for the cello to rest against. A good cello posture always implies motion, as if you were about to get up from your chair and walk in fluid motions. To enhance this it helps to incline your upper body slightly forward from your hips. Feel your weight going straight into your seat through the bones in your buttocks and don’t try to hold your upper body in any particular position. Swing your arms backwards and forwards to ensure that they move freely and easily. Now test the mobility in your hips by turning your entire upper body to the left then to the right. If you’re feeling the urge to do the Time Warp, leave the room and take a cold shower.
Finally, your neck should be tension-free and your head should be on top of your body, not in front of it. Remember this when you have your cello in hand and feel tempted to peer at your bow or left hand. It is easy to forget just how heavy the head is. When it’s hanging in front of the body it will create unwanted tension in the neck and back. A well aligned body, with the head balanced at the top of the spinal cord, allowance for the natural curvature of the spine and no “blockage” in any of the joints will feel light and will perform inordinately better than a misaligned body.
© D C Cello Studio