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Mendy Smith

A Well-Balanced Viola

March 4, 2012 at 2:49 AM

It was back sometime in 2007-ish during quartet practice when my bow went flying across the room due to a shooting pain that started from my shoulder and traveled down to my fingertips like an electric shock. Since then, I've been struggling to play without pain, and it got worse over time. There were pieces that I simply could no longer play because it hurt to do so.

A year ago I decided enough was enough and took break from most of my musical commitments to put all my effort to address this problem. Over the last week, I've been able to play Paganini's Moto Perpetuo at around mm 155 without pain. (Before anyone gets all impressed with my virtuosity, that would be each 16th note played triplet at mm 155). When I did it, I nearly squealed like a girl in pure glee. For the first time in 5 years, it did not hurt to play very fast bows without debilitating pain.

It took completely re-working my posture and 'hold' of my instrument and bow, hyper-awareness of each and every bit of tension, and going "commando" (no SR) for some of my practice time every day to get to this point. Without starting a SR debate, it was the no SR practice time that was the touch-stone in pain-free playing. I still play with a SR, but the little bit of time I spend each day without one forces me to put all of my focus on developing the ideal balance of instrument, body and bow... without tension.

There is still much work to be done before I can consider this problem resolved. First and foremost is repeating this trick while playing sitting down.


From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on March 4, 2012 at 4:45 AM
Mendy, are you doing this on your own, or with an AT teacher? Just curious--my son recently discovered AT as a possible treatment for wrist tendonitis (he's a guitarist) and I found his teacher's website quite useful: amiraalvarez.com
From Mendy Smith
Posted on March 4, 2012 at 4:49 AM
I'm doing this with a teacher, but she is not specifically an "AT" teacher.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on March 4, 2012 at 4:50 AM
Yeah, I guess a lot of it is common sense, although it's not something people normally think of on their own. Best wishes!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 4, 2012 at 5:40 PM
This goes to something I've long-suspected, through the many shoulder rest wars...There is a balance between resting the fiddle on the shoulder, supporting it in the cradle of the hand, and gently using the weight of the head (without clamping). I feel it is well-described in our little V.com FAQ, written by Michael Schallock.

A lot of people really get the wrong idea, when being taught, that the whole thing has to be held up by the head. Or in the other direction, they hold it completely with their hand, creating a bad situation of left-hand collapse and tension.

Going without a shoulder rest can help get that balance back, if it has gotten too far in the direction of clamping with the head. But it's not necessary to completely ditch the shoulder rest forever in order to play in a balanced way.

From marjory lange
Posted on March 4, 2012 at 8:53 PM
Mendy, you might really do well with Alexander Technique--it addresses your whole 'use' rather than just viola/in playing. It's saving my whole physical life in a way I would never have believed based on what people say.

I'm glad you are in balance!

From Corwin Slack
Posted on March 4, 2012 at 9:54 PM
The issue isn't SR or no SR, it is understanding what the function of the left hand is in supporting the violin. Decisions about SR follow from that understanding. Those who eschew the SR but lift their shoulder may not be any better off. Clearly no one plays the modern repertory with the fiddle entirely supported by the left hand (air fiddle), except in comedy acts.

I argue that we really ought to quit talking SR or no SR and start talking about the support function of the left hand. It is a more fruitful conversation.

From Christina C.
Posted on March 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM
that's wonderful Mendy, I hope you're on your way to a full recovery & pain-free playing.

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