You could rosin, polish, and tune like a pro. You could store your violin in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. You could insure it and handle it with cotton gloves and STILL be neglecting your instrument.
Your OTHER instrument. The one that holds the violin and without which the violin is just a pretty piece of wood.
How to Avoid Violin-Related Pain
This post is not about the mental anguish you might feel while trying to master the Tchaik concerto. But if you’re in physical pain as you practice, I know this post can help.
If you feel pain while practicing, chances are good that it’s a position and/or posture problem, most of which are easily corrected. It’s all about loving on your instrument as much as or more than you love on your violin. Here are a few simple tips, followed by a couple of in-depth suggestions from an expert.
- Drink enough water! Keeping yourself lubed can cut down on pain in your left hand. Surprising, isn’t it? Think about it: all of those intricate finger movements are made possible by tendons in your hand and wrist. Tendons move inside of protective sheaths, like a copper wire inside of insulation. (Ok, it’s an imperfect metaphor.) Imagine sprinkling sand inside the sheath! Ouch, right? That’s what you’re doing if you don’t drink enough water. Your tendons need moisture to work smoothly, so drink plenty of water before your practice session and you’ll be ready.
- Relax! Sometimes I watch my students play for a while and then ask them, touching their shoulder or arm or hand “After you practice, does it hurt right here?” They’re always amazed that I know. How do I know? Because I can see the tension in their bodies just by watching!
Yes, you have to have some muscle flexion for proper instrument and bow position, but when muscles tighten and stay tight, and they fight against the task at hand, it’s very obvious to teachers and your body will soon punish you for being so uptight. I know that relaxing is easier said than done, so it’s important for you to ask your teacher to help you pinpoint the tense areas and turn them to butter.
- Ease up on the repetition. Yes, you can repeat too much. Violinists are prone to injuries in their hands and fingers in part because they perform the same movements over and over again. Of course, repetition is necessary to learn to play, so you need to find a balance. Where is that elusive balance? Your body knows! Listen to your body and when it tells you, through fatigue or pain to do something else, do something else!
In-Depth Advice from an Expert
For more advanced tips and solutions to more advanced pain, we turn to Diana Rumrill, a violinist and physical therapist with a private practice in D.C. exclusively for musicians. Here’s more information from Diana.
In March she gave an interview at Violinist.com in which she discussed the issue of violin-related pain and injury. The whole interview is a must read, but here are some highlights that I wholly endorse as a teacher:
Laurie: What specific techniques can help a violinist avoid specific kinds of injuries?
Diana: Learning to have a feeling of freedom throughout the whole body as you play will help with a multitude of issues. This is a middle ground between floppiness (slump-type posture) and bracing and stiffening the body (military-type posture) in which you feel free to move in any direction while retaining a sense of security.
Also, be open-minded as to what equipment might help you best. You might be surprised at the freedom a different type of shoulder rest or a middle mounted chin rest may afford if you have always stuck with the same setup. Consult your teacher or a performing arts medicine specialist on available options.
Ask a group of serious violinists about shoulder rests and you’re sure to spark a passionate discussion. I once saw Zukerman in a master class take a student’s shoulder rest and throw it out into the audience saying she didn’t need it. Here’s where the open mindedness comes in. No matter what the experts say, if a rest (or other equipment) frees you from pain, or frees you from constriction, what else matters?
Laurie: What is the best kind of general exercise for a violinist? Are there exercises (outside of playing) that can actually worsen the risk of injury for a violinist?
Diana: Many musicians mistakenly think that because they move their hands and fingers a great deal, that area is what needs strengthening. Actually, the opposite is true!
Musicians need strengthening of the large, torso-supporting muscles of the abdomen, back, shoulders, and hips in order to take the strain off of these small muscles. The wrists and fingers get overworked with the instrument and almost never need additional strengthening work with violinists. Yoga and Pilates classes are good choices. Better yet, if you are unsure where to begin, have a physical therapist work with you to develop a fitness program for you for home or the gym.
Isn’t that amazing?? And such common sense. Duh! We work our hands all the time…why do we think we need more of that? No, you need to strengthen and loosen the large muscles so that they can do their thing and allow the small ones in your hands and arms to do their thing.
There’s so much more great stuff in the interview, so please show Violinist.com and Diana some love and check out the links above.