Another shoulder pain inquiry
I'm a super beginner self-learning the violin right now. I know that's not ideal, but I have a 12 month contract at a remote research station and no access to any violin instructors. For the record, I plan on taking lessons when my contract ends and I return to the states.
Anyway, I'm having some disconcerting left shoulder pain. I took a handful of lessons before I left, and I had the same issue then. I might be remembering this incorrectly, but I believe my instructor encouraged me to sort of rotate/swing my elbow outward (towards the front of my body) slightly in order to keep my wrist straight and keep my hand in the right position, particularly while playing the G and D strings. This is what causes the pain. I pointed the pain out to my instructor but I don't remember us coming up with a good solution. She may have suggested a different chin rest/shoulder rest set up.
I found a past thread describing a similar issue (http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/10689/a) and some users suggested keeping the violin more to the left. A youtube video suggested the opposite though (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cafkUEPy6M8)
I do notice that I get tense when I play and I'm doing my best to be conscious of that and repeatedly 'relax'. I'm sure tension is part of the problem. I also tend to slouch and tense my shoulders when not playing violin, so I imagine I do the same while playing. I think if I keep focusing on these things, it will help. But does anybody have any other tips?
I have some other aches and pains from playing, but they seem normal and either a result of weak muscles not accustomed to holding a violin, or slightly from improper posture which I hope to get out of once I get better (and once I can take some lessons). This pain from rotating my elbow however seems more like the type of pain that could lead to an injury if I keep going for too long.
Does anybody have any posture tips or things I should be aware of? Or good stretches to do? I know it's probably basically impossible to guess what is wrong with my playing without watching me, but any general options to explore would be appreciated.
For now I'm going to concentrate on keeping my shoulders back and down as much as possible while I play and see if that helps. It doesn't FEEL like I'm raising my shoulder or cranking my neck and chin downward too much, but I'm sure a trained eye would say that I am.
Pain is not so good and naturally shoukd be avoided as you are seeking to do. A few of my ideas for you Kate to help without a teacher are to try spending time practing in front of a mirror to see what you are doing different then your favorite soloist on stage in a YouTube video. Your body should be completely relaxed and this took me at least ten years to learn how to do. I think you might be trying to hold the violin up with tensed left shoulder rather than just let your shoulder hang relaxed with violin on your collarbone.
After many years of on and off pain, it disappeared when I got rid of the shoulder rest and learned to use my own body correctly in relation to violin support. I'd refer you to this violinist who has some informed opinions on the subject
Another useful route is to look at the Alexander Technique. Perhaps there is someone in your remote location who may know it; or failing that, a good book on the subject.
Trevor is spot on about the Alexander Technique. It comes as a revelation to find that while you are fretting about holding the violin correctly, you may not even be able to stand or walk correctly (with or without a violin!) At 3.58 this lady on TED talk invites you to do just that, simply stand up.
"a 12 month contract at a remote research station" sounds like a physiotherapist is also far away....
I believe the OP is making the best of her situation. Definitely look at yourself in a mirror. The position of the violin depends on your physical build. People with longer arms tend to hold the violin more to the left and vice versa. I'd experiment with the position a bit and see what's most comfortable. Tension is definitely a problem. A picture/video can help us forum members give you more relevant advice.
Hi Kate, I agree with Rocky that you need proper in-person assessment of your injury. I would suggest that you use this 12 month time to learn violin in a different way:
Thank you all!
Just one more thing to Kate: when your old teacher told you to "sort of rotate/swing my elbow outward (towards the front of my body)" (and I kind of had trouble interpreting this statement at first, but I think I've figured it out now), I think (s)he was telling you to tuck the elbow more underneath the violin (in other words, to the right or towards the front of the body). Tucking the elbow under the violin too much definitely causes shoulder pain and tension. The angle of your elbow needs to change slightly depending on what string you're playing on. On the E and A string, a neutral angle is good (as Christian said above), and on the G string, your elbow will have to move slightly further under the violin for maximum ease playing on that string (don't move it too far underneath, it'll hurt as I said above).
Take your violin out of its case, see how lovely it is; gently put it on your shoulder and under your chin, ignore all advice on twisting your arm, bending your wrist etc.,just find the place where there is no pain or discomfort, draw your bow over the strings, no pain, just pleasure in the sound. wheen you come home ther are many skilful teachers who understand such problems - till then play your fiddle! and enjoy yourself!
A few thoughts:
Yes, Ella, I think you understand what my teacher was trying to say. Unfortunately, that's the movement that causes the pain. When my elbow is straight down/under the violin, (for E and A) there's no pain, but if I move it more towards the right side of the violin (to play D and G), I start feeling pain. However, maybe I don't need to move it as far as I think.
Years ago, when I had something similar going on, I discovered that I'd developed a habit of leaning forward on my elbows, which was putting strain on my shoulders. When I stopped doing this, most of the pain I'd had was resolved. Do take a careful look at how you carry yourself in daily life. If you're using the "standard" Guarneri chinrest, swapping out to a different (higher) chinrest might also be helpful. I use a Gordon style these days, and I'd never go back.
Rocky and Yixi, above, are correct. I'll add my advice that if you are a beginner and feeling pain, you should stop playing until you can get in-person qualified coaching. If you continue, you are likely to cause continued or even further injury. You will also cement in place dozens of other bad habits that you will have to unlearn to get anywhere near good performance in the future.
I strongly believe Kate has it under control. In her shoes, I would not advise her to quit playing completely due to the difficulty of her situation. It sounds like she truly values the importance of a teacher and has waited a long time to learn. Plus, who knows what will happen to her in the future. I'm guessing that although she states that she could try to find a teacher after returning home from the research station, it sounds like it might not work 100%. If I am misinterpeting, please correct me. Ear training is a great use of time at the research station, though. However, I don't know if a piano is something she can access.
Jennifer, I TOTALLY have a bad habit of doing this. I've tried to stop since I saw your response. We'll see if it helps in the long term. I know it's not good for my posture anyway.
I can't give specific tips right now, but there are plenty of threads on this site and resources elsewhere on the internet on how to train your ear for violin and how to improve intonation. When you do get home from the station, it might be worth trying some of the more adjustable chin rest models like Wittner Augsberg and Kreddle (quite expensive).
Thanks again, Ella. You've been so helpful. I plan on trying some different chin rests or a more adjustable one when I get back. That was something my teacher suggested when I still had lessons, but I moved shortly after that so I never ended up getting a new one.
Yes, I think lots of listening to the materials you're learning can help with your ear-training.