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Mendy Smith

A Month Without a You-Know-What

June 2, 2013 at 2:01 AM

I'm a month into the ditching my You-Know-What, and I'm the most comfortable I've ever been playing viola. I was never certain I could actually do it, but I was driven to give it a go to see if it would alleviate the tension I've experienced for decades.

It took a few weeks for my bowing to straighten itself out and get my left thumb strong and flexible enough to do its job in helping support the instrument. I had to learn how to shift all over again, and spent many hours getting my intonation back to where it was before ditching the You-Know-What.

After a month of work, my playing is back to where it was before I ditched the rest but without the tension. I have a new freedom in my left hand which is finally getting my vibrato on the path it should be. I also broke through a shifting 'barrier' and can now shift very comfortably all the way to the end of the fingerboard and back down again without getting my left hand stuck on the upper bouts even on the Cing!

This is an exciting time for me musically. I'm hoping that other walls I've run into (musically speaking) will start to break down now that many of the technical & mechanical barriers have gone away. Only time will tell.

(Full disclosure: I haven't gone completely "commando". I am using a small red sponge on the left for slip resistance and an Artino pad with an added red sponge on top for a little cushion, a bit of support, and slip-resistance, but no rigid rest.)

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on June 3, 2013 at 3:04 AM
"A you know what"? I'm reminded of the following bit of dialog from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" getting some info from frightful Tim-the-enchanter:

ARTHUR: Fine, um, I don't want to waste anymore of your time, but, uh
I don't suppose you could, uh, tell us where we might find a, um,
find a, uh, a, um, a uh--
TIM: A what...?
ARTHUR: A g--, a g--
ARTHUR: Yes, I think so.
KNIGHTS: Yes, that's it. Yes.
KNIGHTS: Oh, thank you, splendid, fine.
[boom pweeng boom boom]
ARTHUR: Look, you're a busy man, uh--
TIM: Yes, I can help you find the Holy Grail.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM
It's interesting what you say about the left thumb, and about why you tried this experiment. It's great to hear that you're back to your former playing level after only a month. It sounds like the experiment is really working. Congrats!

I have an old injury on my left thumb--surgery, and it's even slightly shorter than my right thumb--and I don't really want to depend on it for anything, so your blog is actually making me feel better about my sticking with the shoulder rest.

A lot of people here on this site write about playing with "tension," and about this being bad. I used to have some obvious tension in my neck and shoulder when I was clamping down too hard with my chin, but I've learned to relax that (and the shoulder rest actually *helps* me to do that relaxation process, and makes it easier to do), so now I'm no longer sure I understand what people mean when they say "play with tension." Or how getting rid of a shoulder rest would help that.

If I were to ditch my shoulder rest, all that neck and shoulder tension that I got rid of years ago would come immediately back, in spades. Where was the tension that ditching the shoulder rest is helping you get rid of?

From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 4, 2013 at 12:04 AM

The tension seemed to migrate from one area to another depending on the day: chin, neck, shoulders, fingers, etc. The first day I took the SR off, I noticed that the instrument sat noticeably lower and that my arms didn't have to reach as high to reach the strings. Additionally, I had a greater ease of movement without the SR digging into my chest, esp. when I was shifting.

For me it is more about the size of my instrument, and the size of me. A SR on its absolute lowest setting was still too high. A couple of sponges gave me the support I needed.

Having said that, when I pulled the violin out the other day, I used a SR with it, but it is tiny compared to my viola.

From John Cadd
Posted on June 4, 2013 at 9:43 AM
Mendy is it permissable to ask what you usually wear when you play? Do you rely on the blouse material to help with the violin interface. That`s a good word for a difficult subject .What is your interface situation Mendy? Frictionwise .
Late edit Today I discovered something very interesting that would help you with your project. More progress tommorrow .
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 5, 2013 at 4:14 AM
John, typically shorts and a t-shirt. Sometimes a tank in the summer. It is Houston after all. I don't rely of my clothing as an interface, but I do prefer wearing something .... :)
From John Cadd
Posted on June 5, 2013 at 9:38 AM
Mendy would you consider a lightweight cotton shirt/blouse style with some more shape at the shoulder / neck area ? Just enough to help with the pulling and pushing that violins impose . T-shirts undermine the idea of stability as they have so little structure and move around too easily. Put it this way ; is a T shirt more important than your playing ? Which would you sacrifice first ? Do you rely on the ambient temperature or on air conditioning while playing? Your answer shows the difficulty in asking women about clothes they wear.
This reminds me of an article I read last week about the dangers of removing a clock spring. I have to be very cautious . Here`s a good topic to get our teeth into; Why do teachers Allow players to ever wear T-Shirts? It`s time to ask the hard questions .
The picture in the corner of my screen shows Itzak wearing a black shirt with the top button done up .I want you to think about that .
In fact I was wrong ,the button is undone , but would that become a major objection if it made a difference to your playing?
Think about that too .
Imagine I am seeing you in a queue at the airport check-in with a counter just high enough to see your shoulders.Like the opposite of Ann -Sophie Mutter .I would have to avert my eyes if she turned up at the airport .
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 6, 2013 at 2:43 AM
John, Most of my musical activities happen immediately after work. Adding a wardrobe change to the mix really isn't feasible unless it is into concert black on concert nights. My concert black is well suited for good instrument to shoulder skin contact. AC is crucial down here in Houston in the summer if I don't want my varnish to melt (or me).

The little sponges I use make me a very happy viola (not violin) camper, no matter what I happen to be wearing (or not).


From John Cadd
Posted on June 6, 2013 at 2:29 PM
Instrument to shoulder skin contact. Is that all it takes ? What does the sponge do then ? One raving lunatic once told me sponge would damage the varnish . Maybe he`s been locked away by now .
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 8, 2013 at 1:22 AM
The sponge mimics the friction provided by bare skin... no slipping around. (that really was a G-rated comment btw).

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