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  • Writer's pictureNat

4. Wellbeing for Accordionists: How accordions affect your physiology

In this next blog, I’m going to look at physiology in a little more detail. I don’t have any medical training, but I have done a lot of research and I’d encourage you to use this as a springboard to do your own.

A Left Leaning Inclination

In my introductory blog, I suggested that it was useful to stop picturing the accordion as an instrument and instead imagine a collection of inanimate objects like bricks in a rucksack. Similarly, I think that the same kind of abstract thinking is of use here too.

To begin with, let's focus on the effect that the weight of the accordion has on our body. To simplify things, rather than imagine a three dimensional object, let’s analyse the situation in a single plane. As we need to reconfigure things to a 2d model, we need a shape to represent the player. Start by picturing Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Vitrivian Man'; in one of the poses, the arms stretch out horizontally forming a T shape. Imagine using that shape as a bizarre, ornamental clothes horse. Now to represent the weight of the accordion we will hang weights from it. 

Created with Bing AI Image Creator. This image is a recreation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. The man himself is wearing an Ancient Greek style toga with a cord around his waist. From his arms hang various clothes, turning him into a clothes horse as described. He has a white beard and long white hair.

There are three main downward forces, the two straps over the shoulders and the wrist strap that the left hand slots through. Picturing the peculiar Vitruvian clothes horse, hang heavy weights from the left wrist and left shoulder and a slightly smaller weight from the right shoulder. (If you’re wondering why the right shoulder strap should be a lighter weight, I cover this in my explanation of straps) Would the clothes horse fall over? Probably. But let's say that it's bolted to the floor, so it can't topple over, instead imagine it beginning to sag under the effects of those weights. At first, you might only see the left arm droop, but before long, the hips have swung out to the right and the torso is collapsing left towards the floor, the body making a large C shape (a mirrored C if you're imagining this from behind like me) All of this represents the strain that is occurring in our bodies. Anywhere that has been stretched in this image represents muscles that need to be held tight so that we don't collapse like this when we're playing.

All about that Bass, 'Bout that Bass, No Treble

All of the weight of the bass side of the accordion appears to pull down on the left arm alone, but if we go back to the image of our Vitruvian clothes horse we can examine this further. Let’s imagine that the clothes horse is made of two different materials, one is incredibly strong and sturdy like steel or titanium but the other is weaker and will sag over time like unbaked clay that’s been stored in a fridge; it has some rigidity to it but is ultimately much softer than metal. Let’s hang a weight to represent the bass side, but leave the clothes horse otherwise unencumbered. We’re going to run a series of mini thought experiments where we start with our T shape entirely made from clay and each time we reset back to the T shape, the strong steel spreads a little further down the left arm of the clothes horse. Starting with no steel at all, hang the weight from the wrist (Mulan style!) and watch the arm collapse, maybe you imagined the whole arm giving way or maybe just the wrist or forearm. I think it's clear at this stage that the entire left arm is under strain.

Reset! Now make the forearm steel, from the tips of the fingers up to the elbow.  This time the forearm definitely can’t give way so the entire arm has to sag. Rinse and repeat! Next, make the whole arm steel. Again the arm will droop hinging from the shoulder.

Created by Bing AI Image Creator. An image of a lightbulb, there is a typewriter in the background but you can see a mountain when you look into the lightbulb. There are bull dog clips and other miscelaneous devices on the wooden tabletop around the lightbulb.

What happens if we take this a step (or two…) further? If the shoulder is also steel, what happens now? Just like our original Vitruvian clothes horse, the upper half slumps down to the left like a wilting flower. Lastly, If the entire torso and arms are made from this rigid metal but the legs are cold clay and you hang a weight from the left wrist what happens now? The titanium torso tilts down towards the ground.

Extending the bellows exaggerates this effect
Created with Bing Image Generator. A large orange and green sphere is surrounded by smaller, coloured, marble-like balls and peculiar grey dials and devices. There are arrows and question marks and lots of indefinite sketch marks and occasional smears of colour.

When viewed through this prism it’s easier to see that while the weight may be felt most acutely in the triceps (arm) and deltoids (shoulder) the strain is spread across the muscles in the back, the hips and even the legs. In fact, the further the bellows are extended, the more extreme the effect becomes because the centre of gravity shifts even further from its neutral resting position. Keeping the bass side close to the body and changing direction often, only using a small portion of the bellows' range of motion will minimise this exaggeration.

More of the same...

Actually there's another really useful thought experiment to consider with the metal clay composite clothes horse that demonstrates exactly why thinking holistically about the physiology of the body is essential. Imagine the entire crossbeam of the T shape, from tips of the fingers on one hand to the tips of the fingers on the other running through the shoulder blades and upper back is steel. The lower back is clay and the hips and legs are steel. So there are three regions; strong rigid metal at the top and bottom separated by a semi-flexible clay connector that represents the lower back. This time when we add the weight on the left arm you can see that the left side of the torso will be compressed whilst the right side will be stretched. Again this simulates what our body is going through. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, your right waist muscles have to work really hard when you play to maintain an upright position.

Created by Bing Image creator. An image of a man with white hair, one side is in shadow whilst the other is dissolving as if being blown away. Behind him is a chalkboard with lots equations, mathematical diagrams and drawings of planets and statues. He is holding a picture frame with a silhouette standing in a corridor. The walls, floor and ceiling of the corridor all have indeterminable writing and lines pointing towards the vanishing point.


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