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Erick Busato

The importance of overall relaxation for violin playing

May 11, 2009 at 1:23 PM

Last week's thursday i had a class with my violin teacher. He explained me some very important issues i must increase in my violin playing. Those are the overall relaxation of the body, releasing all the tensions that affects one's playing.

Every tension spot might mean that are posture problems that MUST be solved. Even more: it affects the playing, turning a 'must-be-smooth' passage into something harsh. I'll mention some efects i had felt someday. Some are already solved, others are being corrected every day. All i am about to say - write ;) - are my thoughts on the matter, meaning that i could be imprecise or maybe even incorrect. Suggestions are very welcome!!

The tension spots has its origin in a bad posture, which starts in the spine and is transferred to everywhere in the body. If we don't acquire a correct posture in the spine (which means an erect posture, feets shoulder-length appart (for those who are in an standing position) and comfortable feet position while sitting in an adequate chair), it all starts to tension. That is: or neck becomes stiff, we might raise our shoulder for playing, tension our pulse and fingers. It is a succession of tensions that happens.

(One could ask: "What is an erect spine posture?". To visualize an erect spine posture, imagine a line which starts in the base of the spine and goes straight up. Now adjust yourself to that straight line. Comments on this subject?)

All the tension spots need attention by all violin players. Only by releasing all the tensions it is possible to produce the most smooth sound.

Suppose we clear all tensions in the spine. In this way some of the tensions go away because our shoulders, arms and neck goes to a more natural position. Nevertheless, there could still be still some tensions to be treated.

If your neck is tensioned, then you could start feeling some stiffness and even pain (maybe even violin hickeys?). Neck tension is eventually accompanied by left shoulder elevation/tension. We must be very focused on releasing the shoulder/neck tension, making relaxation natural for us. (When we hold the violin in playing position our body may "think" that it must be tensioned to hold the violing in that position, which is not true at all, because the violin is being supported by  2 points: the collarbone and the left hand (thumb and base of first finger) and does not need any tension from neck and shoulder to be firm, just some slight pressure from the chin for stability. (It may be supported by a shoulder rest/pad but there are controversies on this, and lots of discussions on the matter).

Left hand's fingers must TOUCH the string in a smooth way. There should not be a hard pressure from the fingers on the string when that is not needed, and our bow arm and shoulder must be very relaxed as well (maybe some very slow and smooth string crossing exercises can release the tensions?)

A fully relaxed body (no sleeping in here!) prevents problems that could happend over a long time (years maybe) of violin practicing, like arthritis, and other stuff, and helps to achieve a more smooth vibrato (some comments here?)

I think i might be forgetting something very important and I know maybe i am saying all this just to myself (because i need these advices). So, feel free to add your comments or advices, because this is a really important thing for everyone to be aware of.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 11, 2009 at 5:32 PM

So true! We aways hear about the legendary left shoulder of violinists ( that is about the hardest place to learn to untense) but the rest is important too!  I think there is not one muscle that must be tense. It's like learning to force without actually not forcing at all!  Everyone should read this blog!


From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on May 11, 2009 at 7:42 PM

To visualize an erect spine posture, imagine a line which starts in the base of the spine and goes straight up. Now adjust yourself to that straight line. Comments on this subject?

This is not quite accurate as the spine is not a striahgt line - nor do I think it's even possible for it ever to be in a straight line. This picture displays what an erect spine looks like:

I find a good test that you can do during any time of the day (in a waiting room, in an elevator, etc.) is to stand with your back against a wall. IF you are properly standing up "straight" , your heels, butt (coccyx/sacral area), shoulder blades, and back of your skull will be gently meeting the wall. Pay extra awareness to how lightly the head should balance on top of the spine when you stand correctly. When people think of standing up "straight" I often see them puffing their chests out, or dipping/raising their chins which creates tension in an attempt to straighten out the spine, which of course, won't be possible for very long.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 11, 2009 at 7:59 PM


you are very muchalong the right lines overall but Chris has already noted one problem with the cocnept of straight spine.  I would respectfully like to go further andsuggest that although if the spine is not functioning optimally then the whole system is screwed ;)    the actual origin of the spine problem is what is sitting on top of it whihc is this rather heavy objetc called the head.

At the top of the spine are two indentations and the head has small protusions that slot into these two depressions.  As a result the head can rock back and forth.  The abiltiy to contorl the angleof the ehad is contained within the very extensive msucle system around the neck face etc.  All connected.  Now the spineis a very flexible spring thtawill serve its purpose well (a nartuaral compresison and decompresison continuously occuring) if the relationship between the head neck and back is optimal,  whatever psotion you are in at a given moment.  Unfortunately,  becuase of a variety of factors including too much chais too early in life,  lack of exercises,  losss of body awareness,  job at computer,  blah blah most people have lost theri natural csense of this relationship centered around the psotion of the head and relaxation of the neck.  The head is either collapsed dorward with resulting collapse in chest,  compresison of ribs ,  lungs or the reverse in which it collapses back which compresses the top of the spine causing the whole spine to cease to function as it is supposed to.

I have tested this problem hundreds of times with students with the most terrible use of the head /neck back relationship (all of them).  I place my hand sgently on the back of the neck and ask them to keep their head up.  In fact what they do is standard- they drop the head down and back because they confuse lifting the eye sochets up at an angle with -good posture-.The down and back drop effectivels squashes the spine and some noted physiscians have suggested this is a major cause of a huge variety of diseases. It certainly obviates a large part of quality oflife.

This is whyAlexander Technqiue is now considered mainstream body work and almost all major music institutes have Aexander classes avaible (usually not that good either;))

I strongly reocmmend you explore Alexander Technique and buy some books on the subjec. take some lessons (at least ten) if you can). Ot is the investmentof a lifetime.

A good palce to strat this research is the Barbara Conable website.



From Erick Busato
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 1:54 PM

Thank you for your responses and comments! I have found a book by F. M. Alexander entitled "Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual". I'll start reading it asap... Hope it helps... (I'm sure i will not find Alexander Technique lessons in my city (Campinas/Brazil), but i'll look for it).

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 13, 2009 at 1:22 AM

mmm, Brazil could be a problem.  `ll take a look around for you.  In the meantime I really ecommend the Conable web site.

From Michael Snow
Posted on May 13, 2009 at 6:44 PM

I can attest to the effectiveness of Alexander Technique, if you have a good teacher. My posture was awful, and I was developing some nasty upper back problems from practicing. Nine months of intensive Alexander Technique training changed me for life! My first Alexander teacher had congenital left shoulder problems, and after being at New England Conservatory for a year or so was in so much pain she thought she would have to abandon her career (this was long before Alexander Technique was part of the curriculum). She discovered this technique, went to a good teacher, and has been an active violinist ever since.

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