Mandolin back pain is unfortunately a reality for many of us (me included). Everybody can hold a mandolin, right? Well yes, but as a matter of fact if you decide to play the mandolin, there is good chance that you spent a good amount of time holding it, so what happens if you are not doing it right?

  1. You may end up with stiff muscles
  2. Your back may hurt
  3. You may find it difficult to play
  4. The quality of sound may not be optimum

As this is very important, I feel I have to repeat it. The position of your hands and fingers, but also arms and body on the mandolin affect how easy or difficult you find playing the mandolin and also the quality of sound produced. This is an important enough reason to spent some time now to ensure there are no problems in the future.

If you reject that advise, as time passes you will find it ever more difficult to change your stance and holding position just like it is difficult to change an old bad habit.

So lets start correctly from the beginning!

Mandolin back pain avoidance tips

How to hold the mandolin while siting

There are two distinct mandolin holding styles to use while sitting to avoid mandolin back pain. Selection depends on the type of the mandolin you use, i.e. styles tend to differ between European bowl-back and American flat-back mandolins.

I recommend you study both styles to understand the reasons they are adopted by mandolinists but make sure you apply the one that matches your mandolin.

Your target should always be to achieve a comfortable position, that allows you to play with relaxed hands, arms and wrists but at the same time with your body well positioned to avoid fatigue that leads to mandolin back pain.

The mandolin should be held steady in your lap by placing it on your thighs. To protect your back, you should sit upright with your back supported by the chair.

Bowl-back mandolin siting stance

Bowl-back mandolins are smaller or more accurately their body is less wide than the body of their flat-back counterparts, therefore there is a need to elevate the mandolin to achieve a more manageable position and to avoid bending and eventually suffering from mandolin back pain.

Typically, mandolinists using bowl-back mandolins achieve that by sitting with one leg crossed over the other. There is no recommendation really on which leg to cross, the result is the same. That said, you will notice that most mandolinists prefer to put their right foot on top of the left foot.

Alternatively, a foot stool such as the one used by classical guitarists can be used to elevate the mandolin to a better position.

Flat-back mandolin siting stance

As the body of flat-back mandolins is wider than the body of bowl-back mandolins there is less need for elevation, thus the mandolinists sit with the mandolin just resting over their thighs to ensure a steady position while playing.

It is typical to lean slightly forward to get a more comfortable position.

Mandolin back pain - how to sit

Chair selection

Selecting a proper chair is important to ensure a proper stance is achieved and that mandolin back pain is reduced. The best selection is a straight-back chair with no arms.

  • Chair arms should be avoided as they tend to alter the position of your hands or in some cases you will end up siting at the edge of the chair base in order to maintain a proper stance and free your arms
  • A chair with straight back ensures that your spine enjoys support while playing. Make sure to sit with your back touching the chair’s back for support.
  • The height of the chair must also be noted in order to take actions necessary to elevate the mandolin if needed, as described before.

If you reached this far, it means you are interested too to achieve the best stance when playing the mandolin and at the same time protect your back and your spine. It is time to take action, and implement what you have read!

Cheers, and all the best to you!

Photo credit: Hamilton de Holanda

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