playing while sitting down? (I'm in a wheelchair)

May 13, 2007 at 06:46 PM · I haven't started playing yet, and have just been doing research into how to go about starting, when something sort of came to mind. I've noticed that a lot (most?) of people play violin while standing up, and do a lot of bobbing and weaving. Being in a wheelchair and all (my upper body strength is fine), I can only play sitting down, so I'm curious if this affects/limits your playing in any way. It's one of the reasons I didn't continue with piano, since you need to do pedal work at some point in time (that, and I just bored of it as a child... string instruments always caught my interest more).

Replies (20)

May 13, 2007 at 07:05 PM · Well, the very famous violinist Itzhak Perlman had polio as a child, and is obliged to play sitting down. That should tell you something!

One thing you might want to think about - is it possible to have a wheelchair where the arms come down? Those might get in the way of your bowing arm, if they are too high. Otherwise, go for it!

May 13, 2007 at 09:21 PM · Ah I actually use sports wheelchairs, so I don't have arms on mine. But mm, I guess that pretty much answers it, thanks =P

Though, I'm curious as to whether or not the swaying movements are meant to aid the playing, or are they sort of just to be showy? Like in piano sometimes how you play w/ flourish.

May 13, 2007 at 09:44 PM · Generally speaking, the swaying movements are showy.

May 13, 2007 at 11:24 PM · Greetings,

Charlie is right, but there is swaying and there is swaying. For example, if you watch a DVD of Oistrakh you can see the most perfect utilization of energy through the whole body strating from the ground up and going in a spiral through the hips and upper body and vice versa. Its just beautiful. A greta many players are blocked to some degree in the hips and have little awarness of the role of whole body in vilin playing. So much so that Flesch devoted a lengthy passgae to this problem in his classic book on violin playing and described an exercise invilving hip ovement to cure it. Menuhin also undertsood this pruinciple veyr well and discusse sit in his books. Watch him playing the Chaccone at the end of tha DVD `Master of the vIolin` You can see hiom utilizing the whole body beautifully.

How does this work for someone ina wheelchair? I have no idea. Perlman is a classic model but his situation is a little differnet from yoiurs. Can you leanr to play the violin superbly? Yes, probably. Adaptability, intelligence and perhaps an Alender Teacher can take you a long way. Just a word of cuation, you mention having good upper body strength. Thats nice but don`t fall into the trap of using strehgth to play the violin. It is about balance, intelligence and the smallest amopunt of necessary strength. Mostly having the spine in the most efficacious position re the head and vice versa. Hence my referenc eto Alexander Technique. Incidentally, Oistrakh preached this message when people asked him about his remarkable stamina.



May 14, 2007 at 01:21 AM · Ah, my comment about upper body strength was just that I had full use of arms. Though, you raised the matter of balance, and I wonder how much that would affect me. My balance is pretty good as long as my body stays within a certain range... although I'm sure it's probably similar with most able-bodied people.

About the Alexander Technique though... I guess I haven't researched enough about things, but why do you suggest that one? And actually, I don't really know about the different techniques at all.

May 14, 2007 at 04:33 AM · Greetings,

Alexander Technique is a long established approach to the body which centers on one primary cocnept which is central to all human action (which means both mental and physical).This central cocnept is called primary control and is the maximally efficent relationship between head neck and back at a given moment for a given activity. All other systems of the body are secondary.

In your case I think it might be very helpful. Do a search on this site and on the web for more information.

Incidentally there is a great violnist and teacher on this site who also is in a similar situation.



May 14, 2007 at 02:51 PM · Hi Johnny,

I've been playing in a wheelchair for about 35 years now. I was in a car accident when I was 11, about 4 years before I started playing the violin. I have no idea what it feels like to play standing up. Just like most anything else you learn to adapt and make whatever adjustments are necessary. For the longest time I used one of those heavy Everest & Jennings chairs with the armrests. It caused my right shoulder to raise slightly to clear the bow arm, causing some tension in the arm. It's much easier to play in the sports chairs they have these days. If your stomach muscles are strong and you have good upper body strength and mobility you should be able to play well.

Best wishes,

joey corpus

May 14, 2007 at 03:13 PM · The most famous violin player and the most famous violin teacher are both in wheelchairs. You got nothing to worry about. In fact it's looking like an advantage.

May 14, 2007 at 03:43 PM · When sitting it is important for the person to have good posture, since sitting can impede on the way you handle the violin. The orchestra wedges that you put on the chair is great for posture and your health. You can find them on Shar's website, among others.

May 14, 2007 at 08:33 PM · I appreciate all the feedback everyone. I noticed that no one actually mentioned the name of the violin teacher in a wheelchair... should I assume they were referring to you Joey?

May 14, 2007 at 10:45 PM · Greetings,

yes. I just left it up to him to respond if he so wished.



May 14, 2007 at 11:43 PM · I can vouch for Jim and Buri -- he IS the best teacher in the world!

May 15, 2007 at 12:07 AM · 99.99999% of all orchestral, opera, recording, and chamber violinists sit.

May 15, 2007 at 02:09 AM · Ah, yeah I didn't think of the orchestra bit until a little while ago. Well, I'm convinced, thanks folks =)

May 15, 2007 at 04:36 AM · There's a teacher at my college who totally advises leaning against the back of a chair while playing in orchestra. As long as it's for support and not for slouching, it's actually good for your back (and I guess great for violists, since the instruments are a bit heftier).

Seriously, from your torso up should be about the same whether your standing or's all very similar support.

As for swaying... don't think you HAVE to move to the music...all those "showy" things really depend. If you don't sway, don't worry. Just ask yourself, "are the motions I am (or am not) making while I play aid in my playing the violin?"

Moving may help one stay relaxed and deliver the music and involve their body in their phrasing/musical expressions.

For others, it may make it impossible to shift or vibrate with any consistency.

And then those who stand still may have complete control and not be thrown off by motions and changing angles of the bow+violin,

but then someone might be rigid as anything and stiff and it will create tension.

I've heard of a person becoming an amazingly accomplished violinist who only had one arm (they worked with a special attachment). Go for it. you can accomplish whatever you set out to do! Sitting in a wheelchair will not hold you back :)

May 15, 2007 at 06:54 AM · Greetings,

>There's a teacher at my college who totally advises leaning against the back of a chair while playing in orchestra. As long as it's for support and not for slouching, it's actually good for your back

Good that you mentioned about not slouching. Just my opinion but I find the idea ofd using a chair to support the back make s very litlte sens sense. Either you are using your `being` muscles correctly (the ones that hold us up, do our breathing and so on) or one is not. If one is no support is necessary. The hwole notion of support by anything other than the body (which is suspended rather than supported)is also somewhat odd. What is being supproted? If such support is necessary then ther eis an imbalancxe somewhere that is destabilizng the body in the lonfg run. I am afraid if you are using the chair for support then that creates a situation where one is thinking in terms of remaining in one position which the body is not designed to do.



May 16, 2007 at 10:51 PM · Jim, Buri, and Alice,

Thank you, but you are much too kind!


The only playing issue that someone in a wheelchair has to overcome is learning how to avoid hitting the right leg with the bow without having to hold the instrument to the left more than is necessary. (Someone who is not disabled can position themselves in the chair so that they can bow freely.) Otherwise, everything else is pretty much the same. None of my violin teachers had any experience teaching someone in a chair. They taught me the way they taught all their other students.

One of the inconveniences of playing in a wheelchair is having to sit in the inside stand in orchestra, unless you sit in the front or in the back. Even then, it's quite a production and is somewhat comical! People have to move stands and chairs aside, etc. (I found this out in college.) The people in charge of seating will quickly realize the error of their ways. :) From the inside it's also quite difficult and awkward to reach over and turn pages. Your stand partner will quickly realize that it's much better if he/she does it for you.

For someone in a wheelchair attending a concert is easy, but getting onto the stage of a performing venue can sometimes be a problem. Our school orchestra had to play in Carnegie Hall many years ago and the easiest way to get me onstage was for 4 people to lift me from the orchestra section. (Much easier than it sounds.)

May 16, 2007 at 11:04 AM · I imagine you are creating your music from silence just as we are, and it is the responsibility of every musician, bound by chair or planted on two feet, to find the channels to make it so.

May 17, 2007 at 12:23 AM · Last November I went to a bar I was going to at the time and while I was kiling time to get below .08 so I could leave, I went out on the deck and there was a guy out there in a wheelchair. We talked for awhile. He was in his early twenties I'd guess. Thinking about it later, I realized I'd trade places with him. I'm middle-aged, and if I could just be 21 again but in a wheelchair, I'd jump in. Everyone would, I think. My 20s weren't very spectacular. In fact you could say they were pedestrian... There's a moral or two there that can be dug out.

May 17, 2007 at 12:27 AM · haha, I hadn't even thought of playing in an orchestra Joey. The truth is that I actually want to play electric violin (so not quite a classical orchestra type of instrument I suppose), but from my other thread on the site, most people seem to be suggesting that I should start with acoustic.

I wonder if I should ask here, or create a new thread... but does anyone have any recommendations for teachers (and normal rates I should expect) in the Bay area? Preferably the South Bay, and something affordable and appropriate for a complete beginner.

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