Do the Twist

Today I’m in pain, and it’s because yesterday I was having so much fun playing music. No, playing the piano doesn’t hurt. Neither does playing the cello (though I’ve been having a little problem with one finger, thanks for asking). What’s painful is using my computer music workstation.

Doing this type of work involves four separate components — the QWERTY keyboard and mouse (which we’ll count as one component, since they sit side by side), the computer screen, a pair of large stereo speakers (again, one component), and a five-octave music keyboard. The difficulty is, it doesn’t seem to be possible to get all four of those components into an ergonomically healthy physical arrangement.

The computer screen and QWERTY/mouse are in a good arrangement, considered by themselves. The table is the right height, as is the screen. But the music keyboard is off to the right, at a right angle to the computer table. In order to work with a music program, I find myself sitting in a twisted way, with my left hand near the mouse (yes, I’m left-handed) and my right on the music keyboard. This twists my right shoulder back at a fairly sharp angle. And while I’m editing on-screen, which I do a lot, I’m hearing the left speaker channel, essentially in mono, with my right ear.

I can roll backward and turn so that I’m facing the music keyboard and have the speakers directly in front of me in a good listening position, but then I can’t see the computer screen without twisting my head to the left, and I can’t reach the mouse at all.

I’ve seen charming (and expensive) pieces of studio furniture that are intended to address this type of problem. I used to have one in my office at Keyboard, in fact. This design puts the QWERTY keyboard and mouse on a little pull-out tray under the music keyboard, and the computer screen behind the music keyboard, between the speakers.

Swell idea, but in my experience it never quite worked. The pull-out tray is so low your knees bump into it, while the music keyboard is perched so high that it’s not at a good playing height. Plus, if the tray is pulled out (which it needs to be in order for you to use the QWERTY keyboard or mouse), the music keyboard is too far away to reach comfortably. And if your eyes aren’t good (mine aren’t), the computer screen will be so far away that you’ll constantly be leaning forward to see it.

Playing music should be comfortable. You want to be concentrating on the music, not constantly rubbing your shoulder. This is another one of those darn conundrums. I have no answers, I’m just grumbling.

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1 Response to Do the Twist

  1. Again, I’m so glad I found your blog.

    Anyway, I’ve got a M-Audio KeyStudio 49i placed behind my computer keyboard, just in front of my 23″ Apple screen. It works pretty well. I have been thinking about pianos… piano keyboards are naturally placed quite low, much lower than the height of a common table. I wonder if you couldn’t place the keyboard underneath the table, like… just above your knees when sitting down. That’d be pretty comfortable given you could get a stand for it which wouldn’t be standing in the way.

    Writing this, I realize english is hard at times… when you’re dead tired like I am right now… and when you’re not a native english speaker (I’m in Sweden)… but I hope you understood… 😉

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