David Brothers, assistant professor interior design at NJIT’s (New Jersey Institute of Technology), School of Art + Design, has created a chair to reduce the back pain of musicians who play for long hours.
“It’s well established among musicians that a good understanding of proper posture and breathing improve sound quality and are directly linked to instrument control and mastery,” he said. “What is less understood is the influence of chair design on the ability to achieve these goals.”
Brothers added the office furniture industry has developed countless chairs for medical professionals, but little attention has been paid to professional musicians.
“There are equally significant questions to address for the health and performance of people whose ‘office’ happens to be practice rooms and performance halls and whose sitting requirements, are as physically demanding as the contemporary knowledge worker.”
One proposed chair solution designed by Brothers can be ‘tuned’ to the individual preferences and body characteristics of each musician to best support their instrument type and playing style.
It features a seat that can be tilted forward to reduce the strain of the backward pelvic rotation, as well as adjustable seat height and backrests for proper lumbar support.
Brothers based his design on 18 months of research, including interviews and surveys with professional musicians and observational studies of orchestra and ensemble groups. The study concentrated on the ergonomic issues of sitting for musicians playing strings, brass and woodwind instruments.
“As a furniture designer, I found it odd that performers from all three of those orchestral sections sat in identical chairs when what they are doing seems so fundamentally different,” he said.
“The study addresses the question of whether the physical requirements of playing an instrument could lead to a unique chair design. I see this research as the beginning of a long-term effort to design, fabricate and test a series of chairs with working musicians.”
Brothers was also interested in addressing the aesthetics of the chairs, although he didn’t find a lot of support in that area.
“Only a tiny percentage of musicians indicated that they cared about what their chairs looked like,” he said. “As a designer who cares about my visual environment I found this surprising. Musicians buy the best instruments they can afford, wear nicely tailored, formal attire, and play in elegant venues that have been specifically designed to enhance the acoustics of the music. The only other visual variable is the chair they sit in and it is given little to no thought.”
He said he conceived the chair as an extension of the instrument itself, as important as a chin rest or bow resin is for the violinist.
Brothers presented a paper on his research, “The Seated Musician: Furniture Design and its Effect on Performance and Health” at the 10th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Arts & Humanities in January, and a poster, “Musician Chairs: An Ergonomic Design Perspective for Improved Health & Performance,” last month, at the Society for the Arts in Healthcare Annual Conference in Detroit.
He was also named a finalist in the International 2012 SparkAwards programme celebrating design excellence and innovation for his chair design.