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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Have you ever had to re-work your technique to prevent injury?

May 9, 2010 at 3:39 AM

It's not unusual for us violinists to get a crick in our necks, but I was pretty alarmed when the LA Times reported that the brilliant new LA Phil conductor Gustavo Dudamel "heard a loud pop and lost sensation on one side" when he "lunged energetically" conducting the last movement of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the LA Phil and cellist Alisa Weilerstein Thursday night.

Fortunately, he was back the next day, and in good form.

Dudamel is a very energetic, physical conductor. The first time I saw him conduct, I was madly in love with everything -- his spectacular ability to communicate, the music that resulted, the mad curls...

But I confess that I also leaned over to Robert and said, "I'm worried about all that tension."

Don't think I'm insulting this gifted conductor; I'm not. I'm just a violin teacher, and when I see tension, I get worried and start making prescriptions: Change your technique. Do yoga. Time for Alexander...

It is so easy to injure oneself as a violinist, as a conductor, as a musician. You can get by with a lot of tension in your playing when you are young, but once you hit about 30, you get efficient or you get injured. And in the final analysis, you don't need to lose any of your powers to communicate, to express, to make music, in order to zone in on those trigger points and unclench those muscles that never needed to be clenched in the first place.

Have I ever had to re-work my own technique to prevent injury? Many times, starting with my first day of college. Mostly it's my shoulders -- they brace for the weight of the world instead of for the weight of a fiddle (maybe one pound?). Also, I went through a pretty long period of neck-pain analysis, therapy and prevention when I was playing a regular orchestra gig in my 20s.

Have you ever had to re-work your technique to prevent injury on the violin, other instrument, or conducting? Let us know in the poll and then tell us your story.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 9, 2010 at 11:39 AM

 I had back and neck pain in my late teens/early 20's.  Then I quit playing for several years.  When I started again in my late 20's I got a new shoulder rest and saw an Alexander Technique teacher.  That seems to have gotten rid of the pain for good, because 15 years later it still (mostly) hasn't come back, except for a  brief period when I was trying to play a 16-inch viola.  I switched to a 15.5-inch viola, which was noticeably lighter, and that seemed to take care of it.  

I also had something I thought was tendonitis for about a month, but that turned out to be related to riding my bike and putting too much weight on my arms, not playing my instrument.

I sometimes read the testimonials here about playing without a shoulder rest, and am a little tempted to try it.  But since I seem to have managed to stumble into something that works and keeps the pain away, I am leery of changing anything.  It seems to me if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 9, 2010 at 12:51 PM

It seems that this is a constant in our universe (The cosmology of the Violin/Viola Player).  I believe that we all do and have done it. Throughout our life of playing pains and tension comes upon us and we have to make changes, some rather significant and others that we don't give it much of a thought just made a slight readjustment and we'll never call it to mind again.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 9, 2010 at 2:19 PM

I just have two words to say about this: Russian technique/teaching (or any teaching that fits YOU.)!  This made the trick for me who had so many tendonidus in about every joint related to violin before.  And I also did self research. Thanks to this website, I had the idea to try rest vs restless to choose the one that fits me best!  Really may it be the teaching, AT, yoga etc anything that works worths it! 

Interesting blog!


From Bev Saunders
Posted on May 9, 2010 at 4:22 PM

For years when I played my left hand/wrist was almost constantly in pain.  The doctors said it was mild tendonitis and tried various treatments that worked to some extent.  I began to think of my pain as normal and viewed it almost like a badge of honor of being a violinist.

When I began to study with my current teacher he zeroed in on the fact that my finger pressure was way to strong and he began working with me to fix it.  I never mentioned to him about the pain but within a few months on consistently playing with lighter finger pressure my pain went away and the only time it returns is if I start gripping to much again.  So now if my wrist starts to hurt it's a reminder to lighten everything up.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 10, 2010 at 5:41 AM

I've wondered whether any other violinist has had the violin-related medical problem that I did.  It happened several days after I had a long practice session in hopes of making up for my lack of recent practice.  A few days afterwards, I developed numbness and tingling in the tip of the first finger of my left hand.  I couldn't use that finger, sometimes that hand, for weeks.  The medical diagnosis was contusion (bruise, swelling) of a digital nerve which is very superficial, where the finger in question contacts the neck of the violin.  For a long time, I wrapped that area of my finger in a strip of soft, stretchy cloth whenever I played.  Gradually, I weaned myself off of my homemade prosthesis and learned to be aware of the feeling of my first finger pressing against the neck of my violin.  Now if I feel pressure there, I adjust the position of my finger, and if that doesn't help completely, I stop playing.   

From David Rose
Posted on May 10, 2010 at 11:33 AM

Hi Pauline,

Same thing happened to me in 3rd year University.  My 1st finger was sensitive all the time - and took 3 to 4 months to heal.  Hand specialists and western type medicine did not help me at all (my hand specialist's name was Dr. Groper, of all names!). 

I know that it was from pressing too hard.  In a strange way, this injury was a great gift.  I had to leave the practice room, and reassess what I was doing.  During that time, I remember getting to know all the old great recordings, and reading books about playing.  When I returned to the viola after it healed, it was some of the best playing I've done.

That injury taught me so much, and has made me a better teacher - and ultimately helped me to believe that injuries aren't necessarily all bad.


From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on May 10, 2010 at 10:15 PM

About five years ago I developed tendonitis in my left index finger, culminating with a cyst on the tendon in the palm of my hand.  I had the cyst drained.  About the same time I started playing viola seriously, and have had no more trouble with it.  It will flare a little if I'm playing lots of violin, but even a bit of viola fixes it.  Don't know if it's the wider neck, the different elbow angle, the finger spacing, or all three.  I'm the only person I know who cured a repetitive motion injury by starting viola!

From Cynthia Faisst
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Violinist and conductors alike we are a bit vulnerable to  shoulder impingement.   The body prevents you from doing serious damage by freezing up your entire arm and shoulder from the neck down.  Lunging with our bodies while lifting our elbows away from our bodies out to the sides and flapping elbows like a bird  will get us in trouble every time.  Sometimes just swinging the elbow back and up the wrong way will do it.   If we are in the habit of both conducting and playing a bow, double the trouble.   We make terrible condors.

When in Japan with Dr. Suzuki I learned to keep my bow arm elbow swinging across the front of my body in a diagonal motion as I was rolling my bow up  to the G string.  Its something similar to bringing the bottom of the ladder closer to the building as you lift the other end higher against the building where your hand is attached to the bow.  I also began standing more upright with my violin and keeping the chin closer over my collar bone.  Elbow should hang between the shoulder and bow like a jump rope.  This really freed my elbows to work more like pendulums hanging from my shoulders.   String crossing suddenly became much more efficient.   I found it easier to get power and speed for lifting my bow hand by keeping my elbow positioned more closely under my bow hand.

Occasionally I forget when I am working with a student who is usually shorter.   With the temptation to reach out and correct their position it is very easy to extend my own elbow out from the side while lifting something   that was heavier than I thought it was.   Occasionally, I strain myself showing a student what not to do.

I also learned to lead up with my hands and flow down leading with my elbow.

When carrying any kind of weight hands were meant to work together in front of the body.

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