Teacher says I move counterproductively

September 1, 2016 at 02:41 PM · Hello,

My teacher has mentioned a couple times in the last 5 months that my movements are kind of awkward when I play. She says it is almost dizzying and doesn't flow with the music. However, she said she has a hard time explaining the issue or how I am supposed to move.

I don't actually move too much. It's maybe a repetitive sway, and maybe that is the issue. It doesn't really move along with anything. It's all subconscious so it makes it even harder to correct. And when I stand really still, I feel lifeless.

Anyone know what can be done to move organically and in a way that won't make the people watching me sick?

Replies (33)

September 1, 2016 at 04:27 PM · Why don't you post your video on YouTube and share the link? Nobody here has watched your playing.

September 1, 2016 at 06:53 PM · If you're just playing for your own enjoyment, and don't rely on income from the entertainment industry, it really doesn't matter.

Should it matter to YOU, or to an audience, you can try some things like practicing in front of a mirror, or reviewing videos of your playing, and experiment with what increases the drama.

September 1, 2016 at 07:05 PM · Music is perceived by ears, not eyes.

If you record yourself and do not hear the impact of your movements on music, intonation, rhythm, melody line, phrase and expression.... it is your observer's problem, not yours.

However, if your movement does affect your music, you need to work with your teacher, probably back to the basics.

Some of repetitive body movements have their origin in early learning/conditioning, such as counting out loud (often by your teacher) and then internalizing tempo. Difficult, but no impossible to un-learn. The origin might be elsewhere, but in any case one can work on them.

By the way, some of the greatest artists move... and they move a lot while performing. Between a lot of movement and zero movement, I would always opt for former.

September 1, 2016 at 07:45 PM · Corey, if your teacher says you move "counterproductively" does she mean that some movements you make are opposing or nullifying tone-making movements elsewhere? If so, then as Rocky says it may be time to go back to basics for a while (no harm in that - there are many experienced players who have felt the need for a bit of re-assessment at some stage in their careers).

September 1, 2016 at 07:57 PM · I'm still in the basics, Trevor. haha.

Thanks everyone, maybe I will post a video, but it might be hard as I will be subconscious of the moving. I will see if I have any videos currently that work.

Anyway, I think the only reason she points it out is because it affects my playing, I think she said my rhythm mainly. It's such a odd and abstract thing to see/notice and I'm such a beginner that I don't know what it's actually affecting.

In the end, I really don't move much. A lot of soloist make ME dizzy (Joshua Bell...).

Both your comments David and Rocky, make me feel slightly less awkward about it.

September 2, 2016 at 07:54 PM · Maybe counterproductively isn't the right word. I kind of just sway in the same way over and over. It's sort of bothering me now that I look at it... :(

Here is a video. Ignore the sound, I wanted to upload it without sound. haha Nervous to let people hear me play.


September 2, 2016 at 08:15 PM · "If you're just playing for your own enjoyment, and don't rely on income from the entertainment industry, it really doesn't matter."

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with that at all. "Counterproductive" could very likely be the right word.

Nobody is saying you should play stiffly, like a robot. But extraneous movement is one of those things that you might not notice that you're overdoing, unless you're in the habit of doing a lot of practicing in front of a mirror or videotaping yourself.

I have (and my daughter has) had several lessons in which our teacher (the same person) has commented on extraneous movement as getting in the way of our playing.

I'll give you a very specific example. Just the other day my daughter was having a lesson on the Bruch concerto and her teacher noticed her elbow was swinging a lot under her violin whilst changing between chords at bar 35 of the first movement (see link below for immediate access to the score). It's something I didn't notice either while watching her practice it. As soon as she stopped doing that there was a small but noticeable improvement.


Often student / amateur violinists will dip the scrolls of their violins down at moments of musical tension or climax. My teacher taught me that this is when it is most needed to keep your scroll high and steady so that your bow is not chasing a moving target and you can benefit from the stability and intrinsic power of a good setup. There's also just the problem of wasting energy on movement that you don't need. Every time my teacher calls me out on such a thing I seem to see improvement. It's definitely NOT just a cosmetic thing, as least not for me.

You might say, "oh, when I watch so-and-so, he moves around a lot." Yes -- when he is playing the lyrical part of the piece (the part that is trivially easy for him), then he can allow himself to be a showboat. But when the going gets rough, he will return to a very organized physical setup and limit his shenanigans to facial expressions.

September 2, 2016 at 09:01 PM · Ouch! I think this is a very myopic view of the total picture.

There's an old cliche in the entertainment business, that a lot comes down to who ya know, and who ya blow. Some of us are trying to improve on that, and I've dedicated a good part of my life to that.

September 2, 2016 at 09:27 PM · Yeah, you're sort of swaying in the breeze, so to speak.

You are making your violin a moving target for the bow. And you are rocking while actually holding your body somewhat stiffly. The motion is allowing you to tell yourself that you're not holding yourself rigidly, while in actuality you are; you're just pivoting like a wooden doll would rock.

What you need to do is to relax, and keep yourself balanced and centered.

September 2, 2016 at 09:44 PM · Thank you, Lydia. I will definitely try focusing on it.

September 2, 2016 at 09:44 PM · These double posts are annoying. Time for a site overhaul.

September 2, 2016 at 10:02 PM · Corey,

In my opinion, you move along with the music. You also stop moving at the end of the phrase and re-start when the next phrase starts.


September 2, 2016 at 10:05 PM · Have you watched and practiced emulating a good number of Elvis videos? That's how you'll get "your moves". The babes will go wild.

September 3, 2016 at 01:00 AM · Lindsey Stirling caught a lot of flak for her gyrations. She told them all to get stuffed and went on to fame and fortune.


September 3, 2016 at 04:38 AM · As far as anyone can tell, Stirling gave up long ago on improving as a violinist. Thats not to say it was a bad decision.

Sorry for misunderstanding, I thought the OP was asking a legitimate, serious question.

September 3, 2016 at 05:58 AM · That may be.

Yet she has gone on to much greater fame than 98% of all violinists out there today.

September 3, 2016 at 02:28 PM · Cory,

It seems to me you are turning your body toward the direction of your bow. I guess that is what your teacher meant by "counterproductive".

September 3, 2016 at 02:33 PM · Lindsey Sterling has been a commercial success in spite of mediocre violin performance because she has other talents that more than make up for the deficiency. In that sense her example seems irrelevant in this discussion.

September 3, 2016 at 02:52 PM · This discussion is about how the original poster moves while playing.

Lindsey Sterling is the epitome of moving while playing.

So, it seemed relevant to the discussion.

September 3, 2016 at 03:05 PM · OP was wondering what the teacher's comment meant. It is a commonly accepted wisdom that an awkward movement hinders the development of good violin technique.

Perhaps Linsey might play better if she doesn't move so much. It is a good visual for the general audience though.

September 3, 2016 at 05:51 PM · In my opinion, Lindsey Sterling is not a violinist. She is a pop musician badly playing the fiddle to promote her disposable Muzak. How she prances about on the stage is irrelevant to serious musicians, and those who study the violin.

I notice that some violinists move to try to express emotion. This often does not come across to the listener. I made my students stand still (mostly) and listen to their sound and think about what they are trying to express.

The other reason is often a displacement activity. Students move when the music gets technically difficult. Moving at this time is totally counterproductive.

Cheers Carlo

September 3, 2016 at 08:10 PM · Lindsey Sterling's dancing is inherent to what she's doing.

There are certainly a lot of soloists who move a great deal as well, but most of them do so in a way that does not compromise sound -- they are good enough to compensate and/or they do not use counterproductive motions.

September 3, 2016 at 11:44 PM · Violinists only move counterproductively in either the northern hemisphere or in areas of low pressure. Beethoven wrote a musical salute to the phenomena called Coriolanus.

Naturally, they move productively in the Southern Hemisphere and in high pressure systems.

So next time you feel your violin playing is "circling the drain," be sure to check and see which direction...

Don't ask me what happens on the equator-- I guess violinists just stand really still there.

September 3, 2016 at 11:50 PM · @Scott. Having lived 16 years in London, and now in NZ, I can say that water circling the drain in different directions depending on location is a myth. I would say it has more to do with the set up of your plumbing.

As to violinists, I dare not comment.

Cheers Carlo

September 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM · I've watched my violin career spiral down the drain in both directions simultaneously!

If only I had started 40 years earlier....

September 4, 2016 at 12:02 AM · @carlo actually it does flow in different directions! Search the coriolis effect it's quite interesting

September 4, 2016 at 05:06 AM · I know the theory, I just have never witnessed it myself. Maybe I'm using the wrong kind of water ;-)

Cheers Carlo

September 4, 2016 at 06:35 AM · Maybe we should install a device on Corey to make him move the correct, American way.

September 4, 2016 at 08:26 AM · I can see why your teacher said "dizzying". Your movements don't bear any relationship to your music - you change direction on your sway irregularly - and yes it was making me feel a bit dizzy. So I would look to fix that.

(Musical performance isn't in fact only about sound, any more than performing Shakespeare is only about words.)

PS. also your video shows nice strong tone and good use of the whole bow, better than one often sees with beginners. :)

September 4, 2016 at 10:21 AM · hi Corey, just watched your video, your movement in that piece seems unproblematic to me, as someone else said, you move with the music which is a good thing, but it is true that once you keep progressing and start playing more fast tempos you can't keep on doing that, anyway, don't worry too much about it and keep up the violin spirit!!

September 4, 2016 at 11:44 AM · Hi,

To the OP (if you are still reading...):

I looked at your video; thanks for posting it.

The problem is not that you are "moving" musically speaking, but that your basic setup and playing movements have a few imbalances that make things look less than efficient.

First off, your left shoulder is raised up (it should be down) and you are bowing from the shoulder instead of leading with the forearm (or playing from the elbow, whichever is easier for your mind to understand). Also, even if you do move, your centre of balance should remain vertical. At this point, you are leaning from one side to the other, instead of balancing and keeping your balance vertical. Though the video doesn't show it, as a result of the raised shoulder, you are probably leaning backwards with your weight on your heels, leading to locked knees. The best way to remedy this is to remember that to have flexible or bending knees and solid posture, the weight needs to be on the ball of the feet (a trick from dancers and that we used in martial arts).

So, addressing these things should hopefully help to make you more balanced and make your movements seem more productive or more natural.

I may have a chance to see your video again later, but quickly, these are the things that are noticeable and that will hopefully help you.

Cheers and best of luck!

September 4, 2016 at 12:53 PM · Just watched the video. I feel the swaying is spontaneous, and not necessarily "counterproductive", depending on the speed and length of the bow-stroke.

Imagine a poplar tree, swaying in the wind: some branches will follow the swaying of the trunk, slightly late; other shorter branches will quiver faster, agitated directly by local turbulence.

Long notes with whole bows can derive their energy from a whole-body swing, initiated in a flow of energy from the feet upwards. But the body can start its return motion before the end of the stroke, and in short notes, the swaying will actually be in the opposite direction to the bow stroke, and usually be limited to the head, or maybe the trunk, over a stable base. Whole-body swings in short notes will indeed be "counter-productive", since they will be too heavy, and stiffen our playing.

It is worth spending a few minutes of our practice time "re-discovering" these sensations, so that they don't distract us as we play. For example, In a forearm stroke, to avoid bowing in an arc, the upper arm must participate to some degree in a dynamic way. (I am not disagreeing with Lydia or Christian, rather hunting for the more hidden sources of our movements so that they will help rather than hinder.)

September 4, 2016 at 04:30 PM · Thanks everyone for taking the time to help! I appreciate it all.

Christian Lesniak - I prefer to move the Canadian way, thank you. haha.

Chris Keating - Thanks for the input. I will try to work on it. Also, your positive comment put a huge smile on my face.

Christian Vachon - Thanks so much for the input! I didn't know I was raising my shoulder, or leading with my right shoulder. I wonder why my teacher hasn't pointed that out? I usually assume, as I am a beginner, that she doesn't want to overwhelm me? I will look at all this info the next time I practice.

Adrian Heath - I REALLY like your analogy.

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