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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


How do you move your body when you play?

Technique and Practicing: Just wondering if you move when you play?

From Patty Wiegelman
Posted January 7, 2012 at 03:11 AM

I recently did a christmas duet with my teacher and uploaded it onto you tube. After watching the video like 100 times (not too proud of myself) I noticed that I am standing there totally still (staring at my fingers, which I know I am not supposed to do, but in my defense, it was my first "public appearance" and I wanted my part to be perfect) Anyway, I noticed that my teacher was sort of swaying and moving back and forth a little bit. I tried last night during my practice to move a little...any suggestions on how you are supposed to move or is it something you do without thinking? My next lesson isn't until Monday. Thank you!

From tammuz kolenyo
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 05:25 AM
thats an interesting and helpful topic. different violionists move their bodies to different degrees but i think (solely as an adult student and after reading and watching players) that there is - aside from the overt arm movements) there is a difference between subtle movements in different areas and between different joints of the body that are evidence of non-stiffness to allow fluid and healthy playing and other movements that might be seen as more expressive. i imagine that in many cases the expressive might be more pronounced instances of the necessary and at other times might not be linked to the necessary movements at all.

for instance, there is some youtube clip of menuhin praising a student for having good general free body movement but then notes out that her upper left body and immobile shoulder, as with many violinists, was being treated as one piece. he then proceeds to how she holds the violin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PgcauhsQsM&feature=related

From Peter Charles
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Free movement in moderation can free up the tensions people may get in performance situations. If you are feeling nervous or tense I always say use more bow, and be free from the hips, and move with the music. Just don't think like a conductor and overdo it! (Do conductor's think?)
From Stephen Swatman
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Earlier this week, when I was at an introduction with my violin teacher-to-hopefully-be, there were a bunch of string instrument magazines. I quickly glanced through one of them but one article really caught my eye, about moving while playing.

I don't remember the entire article, but it came down to prime instincts. Standing still is a state of awareness, moving slightly is a state of safety and moving a lot is a state of aggressiveness. While standing still, one is too aware of their surroundings and not fully immersed in their playing.

I don't remember what they said about the other stances, but I'm pretty sure that moving a little, keeping both feet on the ground came out on top.

Of course, this is probably quite subjective and I'm unsure how much of it is true, but I thought I'd share. It's from magazine ARCO. Article "Beide Benen" by Wieke Karsten.

From Terry Hsu
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 03:33 PM
A little bit of movement by one's body in the opposite direction of the bow direction generally makes sense. A little bit of movement of one's head in the opposite direction of a string crossing also generally makes sense.

I've seen some masterclasses on Brahms sonatas where on long bows this motion is actually encouraged. But it is always quite subtle.

While there are violinists that do make exaggerated movements, I have yet to see one actually encourage their students to have exaggerated movements. Those violinists with exaggerated movements usually say that their teachers all tried to get them to stop but they just couldn't. The fact that they played great was despite their exaggerated movements, not because of them. And I've asked a few (who will go nameless).

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Let your body move if it has to to make better music. If doesn't help, don't. That said, all things being more or less equal, which one is more fun to play/watch?

From steven su
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 09:27 PM
when i practice, I have the tendency to walk around but I don't have any exaggerated upper body movements. When I perform, I am like you stand still and stare at my fingerboard. I only have minimum movement to keep me awake. I don't believe in showmanship. I believe music speaks for itself not to say it' wrong to swing around. You are fine just the way you are
From elise stanley
Posted on January 7, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I don't move - but my neighbours have been known to..

babum.

Actually, I find that when I play with someone else, in particular doing an accompanied solo I get into the music and start to wend with the waves!

From Katisha Lindee
Posted on January 8, 2012 at 06:40 AM
This is a controversial topic I think. I tend to move a lot when I play - often too much and it is something I have to be aware of and work on because it actually hinders my playing. In my opinion then you should do whatever suits you because no matter what you do there will be someone who doesn't agree - you can't please everyone. However, keep in mind that if your movement (or lack of movement) is making you play badly then it needs to change. I think that a general rule to use is that too much movement (really excessive) is often distracting to your audience and also can make you look like a writhing snake or something equally as unwanted, I agree with an earlier poster that music does speak for itself but too little movement (in my opinion) is very frustrating for an audience to watch because you can often come across like you are made of wood and are not feeling the music at all (even though you might be). I would strive to find a happy medium, move a little but don't make your movements distracting but whatever you do - don't try and force the movements because that will just make you look silly, if you move it has to be natural. Hope this helps - it ended up being a bit of a jumbled mess but I hope you can get something useful out of it :)
From elise stanley
Posted on January 8, 2012 at 07:51 AM
I believe some small groups - trios or quartets - move together as a means of synchronizing their playing. I seem to remember seeing an entire string orchestra do this once. Wish I could remeber the you tube. It was both 'moving' and a bit nauseating!
From Lila Hodgson
Posted on January 8, 2012 at 08:15 AM
Once I've learnt the piece (prefer not to play with the music where possible) I wander off. If I'm really getting into it I might even attempt to start to enter the hallway. My teacher and I would both like this to stop.
From elise stanley
Posted on January 8, 2012 at 09:41 AM
Lila - that sounds almost like sleep walking! Interesting - but you better fix it, you don't want to wander off the stage during your concerto performance at Carnagie hall!
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on January 8, 2012 at 11:12 AM
There have been one or two occasions when I've been listening to someone playing and have felt the urge to move my body well out of earshot.
From Lila Hodgson
Posted on January 8, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Trevor- was it mine? :-)

Elise- it is really annoying! I don't know what my subconscious hopes to achieve. Better forget Carnegie Hall and stick to orchestral playing, eh wot. At least I can tie myself to the chair.

From Skylar Nguyen
Posted on January 19, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I was noted to swayed back and forth according tempo and note, even if I was completely unaware of it. My teacher said that swaying restricted my bow movement but I don't see it.
From Amrita S.
Posted on January 22, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Move with the musical lines, but keep your general frame solid, I think. I once I was playing a Bach Sonata and my feet were unbalanced so when I gesticulated I almost fell over sideways...my teacher and I stopped that bad habit pretty quickly. But that's not to say a robotic player is too much better; one such doesn't inspire the audience very much at all, which should be the goal of the performance.
From tammuz kolenyo
Posted on January 22, 2012 at 05:24 AM
actually, the youtube robot playing violin does move/sway (albeit robotically) its body and its head (first towards the 'audience' then towards the violin). for a robot, its quite subtly expressive.
From Frieda Francis
Posted on January 22, 2012 at 04:56 PM
From Patty Wiegelman
Posted on January 23, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Thank you for all your great input!
I asked my teacher, she said that it is hard to get into the Music at Suzuki 1 (Minuet 1) but once I get into more beautiful pieces, your body will naturally move with the music...
From elise stanley
Posted on January 23, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Its fun to compare the stars for how they use their bodies during playing on you tube. Bell and Vengerov are very mobile whereas Hahn is less so. What I'm not sure about is whether body movement is in any way related to expressivness....
From Ausar Amon
Posted on January 23, 2012 at 09:01 PM
dont, otherwise you might fall over
From james holmes
Posted on May 27, 2012 at 10:36 AM
This reminds me of a lesson I had with one of my teachers. She was a college student trying to get into a music arts school. She played the viola for her piece and performed it for me. Mind you that she was no more than 105lbs (I hope she is not reading this) with a small frame. Just the size of the viola made her look smaller.
Before I even could glance up at her--the sound came out and her body was forcefully swaying and in sync with the Baroque style of the piece. It looked like she could just fall over. When she finished I just gasped-the music was not only fantastic but I think her movements drew me in further--almost connecting me to her on how she interpreting the music.
I tend to move myself. I think mentally for me it is helping me keep in rhythm and helps in dynamics. I am working on moving less since I look funny.
From jean dubuisson
Posted on May 27, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I balance a bit on my legs but otherwise try to focus my energy on the violin. David Oistrakh has said "the sound is made in the legs and the stomach" (or something of that sort). In his masterclasses Heifetz makes clear it is OK to balance a bit on the legs, but bending through the knees is a definitive no-no. Last year I heard a performance of the Danel String Quartet and their first violinist is really jumping up and down on his chair. It seems as if he as a wasp in his shirt or something.
From Carlo Ballara
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Moving when you play is ok but make sure you are not moving to express something in the music at the expense of your sound. Too much movement is also distracting and akin to showmanship.

Cheers Carlo

From Paul Deck
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Yixi, thanks for sharing those youtubes of the Haydn. For me, I think the SLSQ goes a little too far. I realize it's probably not their second violinist's *intention* to physically rise out of his chair (0:09, 0:16, for example) and I don't think the first violinist's *intention* is to look like he's doing the two-step while playing, but I'm sure they're seen their own videos and are comfortable in their own skins. And why not? They sound fantastic. I would gladly see them if they visited my area. But I might close my eyes.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 05:21 PM
LOL. Paul, I have a sense that chamber musicians move more than soloists and a lot of really good musicians move like This out of music necessity, to them anyway. I talked to some and have got the sense that if they could stop the movements and still play with the same amount of energy and musiciality, they would.

I'm sure some use body movement as a visual effect but a lot othrrs are not always intentional. My teacher pointed out some of my expressions during a that I totally unaware of.

From Paul Deck
Posted on May 29, 2012 at 04:23 AM
I think one needs to videotape one's practicing from time to time. It's more telling than a mirror.

As I was writing my previous post, somehow I got the lyrics to Madonna's song "Vogue" in my head.

"Oooh, you've got to
Let your body move to the music
Oooh, you've got to just
Let your body go with the flow
Oooh, you've got to
Vogue"

From Laurel Thomsen
Posted on May 30, 2012 at 06:15 AM
Many types of movement can end up altering the relationship and angle of bow to instrument, affecting tone especially, so adding it to your playing can be tricky. Despite the less engaged and flowing look of your playing, better to be still and focus on good tone then move a lot and not sound good (then again, I suppose it could distract your audience to the point they wouldn't notice any squeaks, but better not count on it ;-). There are certain movements that can benefit your playing. Pedagogue Paul Rolland discussed swaying left to right, either in the direction of the moving bow or in opposition to it. The former helps you get every last millimeter of bow length (great if you're about to run out) while the latter helps increase bow speed without having to move the arm quite as fast (great for crescendos and needing to quickly get to certain places in the bow). Here, the scroll moves right to left and violin stays roughly the same distance from the floor the whole time. Sometimes I'll also slightly rotate the violin side to side to tighten up the range in which my right arm needs to move in order to change strings and also to help find levels where I can maximize natural arm weight through the bow. The most non useful motion I've seen is dipping the instrument up and down, usually an unconscious motion for counting time. Bouncing violin seems to just translate to bouncing bow, the unfavorable kind!
From Jessica Carter
Posted on May 31, 2012 at 02:31 AM
This is a great topic and I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone's input. I have to admit it always bothered me when musicians showed no movement or emotion in their playing. Mainly because I tend to move a lot. But after having given private lessons to beginners for the past couple of year, movement isn't something a beginner should be focusing on. In my experience, it causes distraction for them trying to move to the music like other musicians who happen to be more skilled. Movement shouldn't be forced either, because the more you force yourself to move, the more you take away from the actual music. I wouldn't worry about it to much. At this point, accuracy and effectiveness is far more important than any visual performance. When the time comes, the movement will fall into place.
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 31, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Movement is overrated I think. We enjoy recordings, yes?
From Aubrey Holmes
Posted on June 3, 2012 at 01:22 AM
I'd say a fair compromise would be somewhere between Heifetz and Bell. Preferably more towards Heifetz.