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Mendy Smith

Week 2 Without a You-Know-What

May 19, 2013 at 11:50 PM

I'm on my second week without a You-Know-What. Collarbones were made for holding the viola. The biggest thing I have to watch out for is not raising my shoulder and going into "clamp the darned thing between my jaw & shoulder" mode. I probably used to do this all the time with a You-Know-What, but without one it is much more noticeable when I do that dreaded act.

I have discovered that the thumb is a movable object. Sometimes it is high, sometimes it is low, sometimes behind the first finger and sometimes between the 1st and 2nd finger. But by all means it shouldn't stay completely stationary. A stationary thumb tends to lead to tension.

My bowing straightened itself out over the past week. I now have that nice squared stance that has eluded me for years. I also discovered that I can reach the very tip of the bow without having to do odd right-arm stretches.

But best of all is that my vibrato is starting to finally loosen up and has become less spastic and more continuous. Now if I can break through this muscular speed limit before tensing up, I'll be golden.

From Manuel Tabora
Posted on May 20, 2013 at 6:18 PM
Hi Mendy,
Good luck on your journey! Be patient, persistent, and in tune with your body, and I'm sure you'll do wonderfully. I have made the switch myself (also on viola) and now I've been playing this way for over a year. It can be done.
This guy, Alex Marcus, made a six-video series about the topic of restless playing, and I generally find him very insightful. If you haven't found him yet, you may want to check him out:
From Sue Porter
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 1:30 AM
Yay for you! But please explain--"squared stance"--do you mean the 90 degree right elbow bend w/ your bow parallel to the bridge?

Thanks. I'm so excited for you. Never know what a little house remodeling can do. . . .

From Roger St-Pierre
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 2:15 AM
Good for you. I tried, to no avail with nearly 4" distance between my collar bone and chin, I just could never find a position that allows my left hand to play freely while not lifting my shoulder and bending my neck uncomfortably. I always have to support the instrument with my left hand. Perhaps it's the way it is, and I just don't get it, but it certainly isn't easy.
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 3:07 AM
The most important beneficiary of going restless, of course, will be your immortal soul.
From Christina C.
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 2:53 PM
thanks, Mendy... I feel like your comments about the thumb were especially for me! I've been doing a lot of playing (& even performing) without the SR lately and I think pretty soon I might be able to make a go of it full-time.... too chicken to try it for my upcoming symphony concert, though. Maybe next season!
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 6:15 PM
When I first tried a viola, it was set up with a shoulder rest that was just too high (it had been set up by someone who's 6'8" tall). So I took it off and played without a rest for six months. But when playing fast passages the instrument would start sliding around on my shoulder. It's even worse in a tuxedo jacket, which makes concerts amusing to watch, but not much fun to play. And I have yet to become comfortable with vibrato on either violin or viola. So I finally broke down and got a shoulder rest - a good old Kun like I use on my violin - and cranked it down as low as it would go. Now at least I can shift without looking comical.

Maybe some day I'll try again, but for now I'm a happy backslider (figuratively but no longer literally).

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