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Clayton Haslop

To Stretch, or Not to Stretch

November 21, 2009 at 3:37 PM

For many years I had the privilege of working with a very, very fine Los Angeles violinist by the name of Arnold Belnick.  He was a ‘first call’ violinist and concertmaster in the studios for well over 4 decades.

He also made some terrific recordings, which may yet be available; his Prokofiev Sonatas recording is absolutely top-drawer.

Over the years we had many an interesting conversation about violin playing.  And many of his views surprised me in both their boldness and unorthodoxy.

For instance, on the subject of posture Mr. Belnick was adamant in NOT trying to counter the structural changes in the body arising from the very unnatural position we take to play.

This means if one shoulder is a little higher than the other, your back a little more rounded than the norm, not to worry.  In making a decision to be a violinist, he felt, one accepts certain consequences; a slightly asymmetrical skeletal arrangement being number one. 

It was his contention, therefore, that many violinists actually bring discomfort and pain on themselves by resisting these changes; that all the stretching and yoga violinists do just set the stage for internal conflict; i.e. pain.

And I will say, in support of this view, that in all the years I played with Arnold, some 25 at least, I never heard him complain of any ‘violin pain’ whatsoever.

So, is this the council I keep?

Well, no, not exactly.  And I must say that vanity plays a part in this.  I want to stay straight and upright as long as I possibly can.

I also believe, however, that certain body types are naturally more suited to violin playing than others, and that this is where you will find the greatest indicator of pain, all other things being equal.

Barrel-chested folks with relatively short arms and necks have, in my opinion, a distinct advantage over more rangy types.  Not only are the bodily adjustments greater for these types, the stresses placed on muscles and tendons are greater due to arm and neck length – not to mention that the core muscles will have less volume and therefore less ability to provide leverage.

All this being said, I think you, as a unique individual, must find what works best for you; stretching, or no stretching; staying straight and level, or listing slightly like a sailboat on a close reach. 

One thing that is certain, however.  Efficient, relaxed playing fundamentals are an imperative, and Arnold had THOSE in spades.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

P.S.  Since I’ve mentioned stretching, there’s one thing I should say about it.  EASY does it.  Pushing beyond what the body can tolerate in a stretch will lead to trouble in a hurry.  You don’t need or even want the flexibility of a rhythmic gymnast to play the violin.

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