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Violin: The Musical Torture Device

My husband has always said that the violin is the most uncomfortable instrument in all of creation.  He hates the twist of the wrist and feels that it is some kind of musical torture.  I always found this mindset somewhat amusing, but after multiple injuries myself and witnessing injuries in even my students, I have become a believer in the unnatural posture of the violin and the viola.  It makes me wonder why there haven’t been more improvements to the instrument to make it better suited for our bodies.

Today in my workshop, we discussed self-care for the violinist and the violist and I was absolutely amazed at how much stress just playing violin/viola can cause on your rotator cuff, your wrist, fingers,  and so many other parts of your body, and not just with the left arm.  It brings to mind the issue of what we do on a daily basis and how we can work with students to play without tension.

The Paul Rolland philosophy is great for trying to get you to play with more free motion.  He does this in a variety of ways, but many of them include this idea of natural movement while they are playing.  In order to get the students to move in a more natural way, he has them do various movements such as “marshmallow knees” where the students soften their knees in order to eliminate tension and encourage the eventual swaying motion while students play.  I should mention that the students are encouraged to stand while playing and to learn everything at least at the beginning by rote so that they can focus on the physical aspects and be more free.

Through this workshop, I have learned that my bow style might be causing some pain to my shoulder.  Paul Rolland encourages something called the “flying pizzicato” in which you practice the motion for the bow while opening up your arm and being flexible.  This was incredibly helpful today to not only freeing up my own motions, but also to getting a better tone quality.  I was so shocked, though, that my arm felt weak when I practiced this way.  I clearly need more work!

Well, in our session this evening, a specialist came in to give us exercises to encourage better playing.  Here are a few important things I learned from this session:

  1. Stretching should be dynamic rather than static

  2. Instead of holding a stretch and standing still, the body should move during the stretches.  Slowly, but still movement.

  3. Breathe!  How often do you get to a tricky passage when you suddenly realize you haven’t been breathing?!  We’ve all been there right!  And I’m sure our students have too.  So, it is all the more important that we remind them to breathe even during stretching.

  4. If muscles or joints hurt, try tapping on them with the tips of your fingers, somewhat firmly.   See if that relieves  some of the tension.

  5. If nothing works, you should definitely find a physical therapist who specializes in musicians.

Well, I hope this post helped.  Just recapping what I have been learning 🙂

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