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The Weekend Vote

V.com weekend vote: Does your violin playing cause you pain?

June 10, 2012 at 5:52 AM

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the violin can be a pain in the neck!

Rather, it can cause a pain in the neck, or the upper back, or the arm, or the wrist, or the lower back, or maybe in your right big toe.

The fact is, it's one awkward instrument to play. For me, I tend to get quite the tight upper back, and I think my family members are getting mighty sick of my requests (demands?) for them to dig their elbows into my back to relieve the pain!

How about you? Does your fiddle playing cause you pain of any kind? And how do you alleviate or prevent it?


From Bart Meijer
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 5:58 AM
I missed an option: "Yes, but I'm not going to admit it."
My right arm sometimes hurts from playing too much tremolo. And my left arm from maintaining the supination.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 5:53 AM
The correct posture for holding the violin is almost guaranteed to give you muscle cramps unless you're very careful. I have chronic neck and shoulder pain from playing the violin. I alleviate and sometimes eliminate the pain by doing stretches, especially after playing. I posted a blog with demos of the exercises which help me on Sept. 15, 2009 (http://www.violinist.com/blog/paulinefiddle/20099/10489/). I hope these exercises will help other violinists, too.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 6:05 AM
My right arm/shoulder and neck have been bothering me for some months now and my doctor is making me undergo some more x-rays. The Chiropractor I have been seeing the last a little while who specializes in musician/sports injuries told me that my problem is only minor "fatigue" or some kind of tendinitis of the shoulder and this happens to people who are working on difficult (such as a big concerto) pieces. He also told me that my little problem is nothing compares to the pros that he works on each week, as he goes to orchestra and gives on-cite regular treatments to professional musicians, especially when there are operas or big concerts coming up. I feel quite annoyed by the discomfort and can't imagine what would be like for the professional musicians to play under a much greater pain and with much longer hours than I am going through. But maybe we are better at getting used to the injuries and pains when time goes on?

One thing my chiropractor recommends musicians to do after practice is not to rest but do some cardiovascular work to keep the blood flowing so the fatigued muscles can recover. Not sure if this really works.

From Virginia Weekes
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 6:12 AM
Unless there is an underlying injury or one is playing in an orchestra where the chairs and sight-lines are inadequate, there should never be any pain playing the violin. If there is it tends to indicate that one is using the body incorrectly - no unnatural positions or movements are necessary. My teacher always used to say that if you play in an unnatural way it is like a successful operation but the patient is dead! It never ceases to amaze me how many players, including professionals, do not understand the basics of how their muscles work - and complain for instance of sore backs or shoulders or necks whilst still making basic mistakes; raising their left arm to the violin and then rotating it, for instance! Such basic mistakes are compounded by teachers who start with the first three LH fingers and introduce the fourth last...
From Virginia Weekes
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 6:27 AM
@ Pauline: the 'correct posture' for playing the violin is one which ensures that no cramps or tightness can occur! It is absolutely essential that chin-rests, shoulder-rests etc. are made to fit the player, not vice versa, and 'correct posture' is not 'one-size fits all'. What is correct for one player may look entirely different on another, and will depend on the length of neck, arms, fingers, width of shoulders etc. ad infintum. That is why it is so important to spend a great deal of time with individual beginners getting the 'comfort' right - because any unnatural postures and positions picked up simply copying others at that stage invariably come back to haunt the student later.

From Christian Vachon
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 10:14 AM
"The correct posture for holding the violin is almost guaranteed to give you muscle cramps unless you're very careful. "

I agree with Virginia, it is the exact opposite! I don't get pains from playing the violin, at least not anymore because of correct posture, movements, and equipment. I get tired if I play a lot, but that is normal with any physical activity. I did however in the past have pains and it took a long time to understand how things work in nature in order to fix things and get rid of them permanently.

There is no reason why violin should be painful to play, but many things that are taught (and continue to be taught) are not natural, go against the geometry of a body, natural movements and the laws of physics and as a result of working against nature rather than with it, pain occurs. I learned more about how to play, balance and move correctly from Martial Arts than anything else, and it made me wonder why such simple principles are not taught with the violin. Even posture and setup can be easily done for anyone by following a half-dozen key reference points or so.

I was quite sad to see that the number of people who experience pain is so high. It really doesn't have to be...

Cheers!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 11:13 AM
I used to have much pain and tendonidus... until I learned a few things different and made myself my custom pad instead of a shoulder rest. I will shop a new chin rest this summer.

It's mostly fatigue because I can't play that often during shcool year.

What I have most often now is some sort of finger pain when I have to stretch to much my "too little hand" on the fingerboad. Unless I switch to a 3/4, this will stay. But it's not always there fourtunately.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 12:14 PM
I voted no, because I know what causes me pain, and for the most part, I know how to prevent it in myself. The worst thing for me is sitting on bad chairs, followed by using the wrong shoulder rest and clamping down too hard with my chin. Both of these are further exacerbated by playing too long in one stretch. But if I'm standing, or sitting in a good flat chair, get a break every 45 minutes or so, and am using my current set-up while remembering to lift my chin off the rest periodically, I'm basically a happy camper.
From Victor Lam
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 12:38 PM
My heart hurts. Does it count?
From Simon Streuff
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 1:19 PM
It doesn't hurt when I play right and have my body in shape. Mostly when it hurts its more a fault of too less or too much sports, stress and/or bad posture.
When I am relaxed and fit, I can practice 4+ hours a day and feeling totally fine after that.
Not sitting too much on the computer helps ;)
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 2:45 PM
I have pain mostly in my right shoulder -- the results of a horseback riding accident many years ago (landed on my shoulder), followed by several work-related mini-injuries over the years since then. Once in a while I push it too much -- for the most part, I know when to say, "That's enough for today."
From Emma Brown
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 3:21 PM
My back and shoulders often hurt after long orchestra rehearsals that sometimes require sitting with less-than-perfect posture due to space issues. I occasionally get some wrist pain when I play my viola for 6+ hours a day, which often happens at summer camps and festivals, but it's manageable and gets better with a little ice and rest.
From marjory lange
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 3:53 PM
I voted 'no,' because, after having had to deal with a shoulder problem (destroyed labrum, partly genetic, partly due to poor practice practices) I'm now essentially pain-free, even after long rehearsals on viola (violin was never *as* painful). Alexander Technique for overall usage and 3 months of physical therapy designed to compensate for the labrum have left me with less pain than I have had in decades. My set up is a bit strange (reversed Kun, and high, center-mounted cr) but my phys. ther. approves and my body (more importantly) celebrates.
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 5:08 PM
Over 2/3rds of respondents have voted 'yes'. I think this is a wake-up call that there is something fundamentally flawed with some teaching and other practices today.

I wonder if back in the 17th and 18th centuries these problems (of pain and discomfort) abounded. I don't suppose there is much historical record of it, but it occurs to me that in the absence of the artificial support aids that are so much in evidence today pupils must have been taught a good, natural posture, including the instrument and bow holds, right from the start (Leopold Mozart comes to mind), so as to avoid problems later on.

For example, the evidence of the music of the period is that players could obviously cope with shifts up and down the fingerboard without artificial aids, a skill that is not as common today as it should be, so they must have been doing things right.

I voted 'no'.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 7:11 PM
Trevor, that's true but there is also visual evidence that today's players (with artificial aids) come in all shapes and sizes compared to the more homogenius look of the older players.

Not saying they weren't exceptions in the old days (of course they were some), but it was mostly bulked up men with not much neck... or women like Neveu and Haendel with a medium size neck.

Also, the injured ones of these days, they were discarded and we never heard of them...
Well, my hypothesis : )

From John Cadd
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 7:52 PM
Why are we not fighting each other. More than 6 posts and no fight ? I`m waiting for the "Balance lightly on the shoulder and feel it all floating as you look along the string ( just like Heifetz did ) " . But ! In an orchestra you have to look at the music and the conductor as well , so you should all be going cross eyed too .
From marjory lange
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 8:06 PM
@Trevor, my studies in early literature/history (not specifically music, but still applies) have indicated that people more-or-less expected to hurt, to have their bodies betray them with pain. In every field, not just music, men's (gendered by reality) bodies displayed the signs of their work. Ploughing or violin, scholarship or carpentry, hands, posture, it all shows their lives in a way most of us avoid to a greater degree. You can see it in the pictures, and read it in the texts.
From Tyrone Wilkins
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 7:30 PM
My back hurts when I play sometimes,but that's only because I stopped doing sit ups and crunches 3 times a week.
From Simon Streuff
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 9:02 PM
I think when you practice regularly there should be no pain. Often players discover pain who don't practice every day but play rehearsals of many hours before an concert.
If you are accustomed to play a lot and in different positions (sitting and standing.. any other ideas?), you should have no pain.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 9:07 PM
Please note that I said, "The correct posture for holding the violin is almost guaranteed to give you muscle cramps unless you're very careful." I would like to emphasize "UNLESS..." Many people in this discussion have said that they WOULD experience pain EXCEPT THAT they know how to align their bodies and how to select and use appropriate shoulder rests and/or chinrests. I quite agree. Of course, pain and muscle fatigue can and should be avoided. I have found that what helps me the most is preventive and corrective stretching exercises.

Someone said that he learned a lot of helpful things from martial arts. I've learned a lot of helpful things from yoga, which has taught me principles of balance and deep muscle relaxation.

Incidentally, at least one chiropractor is making big bucks by helping professional musicians alleviate their pain. Does this mean that professional violinists are pain free?

From steven su
Posted on June 10, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I voted yes but only cause
1. I have pain when I am suffering from fatigue
2. I stopped playing the violin for 5 years and started doing sports so..I am not sure if it's sports injuries that cause the pain or the other

The only real pain is just my bow arm. I intend to press on my thumb a lot so it's kinda squishy after long hours of practice. my forearm gets tired too but my forearm doesn't get sore when I use my friend's bow so I just concluded that my cheap stiff bow is the cause.

and the obvious fact that my technique is by no means perfect

From Paul Deck
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 2:41 AM
Upper part of my left forearm and middle part of my left upper arm became sore after a week of working like hell to polish the Gigue from the D-Minor Partita for a recital performance. I'm taking it easy now and the pain seems to be subsiding. Lifting some weights has been helpful.
From David Rowland
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 2:41 AM
I stop practicing and rest. I try not to let it go too far. So far, so good.

I play for fun. I'm not about to let this become painful. That would take the fun out of it.

From Nathan Wong
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 4:57 AM
I said no, mainly because I probably haven't practiced long enough recently to experience said pain. HOWEVER, it's not supposed to hurt. If something is hurting, you're most likely doing something wrong, or the equipment you're using is not fitting correctly. For example, incorrectly adjusted shoulder rest, chin rest not fitting right. Most people are trying to clamp their head down onto their violins as opposed to letting it rest to counterbalance the violin allowing your hand to freely move about the violin. Or the violin could be too much in the middle and your head is too forward, giving you a constant stretch in your neck, which will result in back pain
From Matthew Dakoutros
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Mostly no. Sure, there was a 5 minute piece I was playing the other day, which I had orchestrated by the way (by Hatjidakis, originaly for music baarrel, bouzouki and piano. I orchesrated it for violins and piano) which is a pain to play, cause I put the violin to always play quick pizz, or tremolo. Stupid decision to make, but I wanted the timbres to sound as close to the original. So when I play things like that, or study for more than 4 hours, yes there is pain, otherwise no. However when I was a kid I was aching after 1 or 2 hous of study, so it may be something you can get used to.
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Wow what an eye opener. I had no idea so many people struggled with pain.

--Ann Marie

From Joel Arthur
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 4:42 PM
Are we talking about soreness or PAIN.
Soreness can be expected when any muscle is overused. However, "PAIN" is never a good thing.
Beginning adults will often experince pain when learning to hold the violin. I say adults because the muscles and the bones are formed and definitely not as pliable as when they were young kids. In any case, the violin IS a very awkward instrument to learn to play. Cello is much easier (till you get to thumb position) beause everything is going with gravity, but the violin (and the viola) is all twisted and in addition you have to support the instrument so gravity is working against you.
Getting back to "PAIN", this is a sign that something is not right. You should not be experiencing pain when you play or after you play. I can play for hours, and I never experience pain or discomfort. I have to use the words relax and tension but let's face it that's what the problem is. Somewhere you are creating tension by either tightening up your neck or back muscles or clenching with your chin (etc.) or possibly your chinrest is too high or (god forbid) your shoulder rest does not suit you (I hope this does not open up another shoulder rest discussion). If you are experiencing pain or bad discomfort when you play or afterwards this should be brought to the attention of your teacher. Pain is a signal from your body that something isn't right.
From jean dubuisson
Posted on June 11, 2012 at 8:30 PM
I experience pain when playing just in a shirt without a jacket, or even worse just playing in a t-shirt, when the metal clamp of the chin rest presses against my skin just above my collarbone. Even if I wear a shirt the pressure goes right through. Do other people have this problem too? It is easily solved though by using a piece of chamois leather over the chinrest.
Funny detail is that wearing a tie helps as well. You can even find video's of Milstein where he really is using his tie to help him keep his violin in place!
From Mark Roberts
Posted on June 14, 2012 at 2:39 PM
there was a similar vote in december 2010, problems: neck 23%, back 22%, none 21%, arm 18%, hand 16%.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 8:36 PM
I feel like my pain issues (chronic tightness in the right shoulder) are due to 35 years of uneven muscle development, which has caused my left shoulder to be far stronger than my right. When I am able to do yoga three times a week, it goes away completely. I think the yoga tends to even out my muscles. But these days, with the general madness of life, I'm lucky to get to yoga once a week. The teacher then wags his finger at me, tsk tsk tsk. Last time he joked, "I know, put the violin on your right shoulder, play that way for a while! Solved!"

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