Hi, I am 17 years old and I have played the violin for about 18 months, I've only been having lessons for about a year and so I am a beginer. However, I have done a few solo performances on the violin. I really enjoy perfoming and have done so with piano, singing, drama and dance for many years. I have not had any lack of perfoming experience!!!! I do get quite nervous but usually this doesn't really affect my perfomance badly.
But....when I play the violin I start to shake. I am not afraid and I'm not insecure and I am well prepared and confidant but as soon as I get onto the stage, even if I am feeling compleately calm and confident my bowing arm starts to shake. And the problem is that when it shakes a little bit at the frog, it shakes alot at the tip!!!! I know lots of people say that the audience can't hear it when the bow shakes, but I am exteame - people deffinatly notice, it is quite obvious!!! This doesn't only happen infront of huge crowds on a big stage either - I shake even playing infront of my family and really close friends, even if I am not nervous.
I have found that if I practice infront of freinds and family alot just before a performance then it helps but only that once. Next time I have to do it all over again. This is causing me to not want to play infront of people and I'm sure it just makes me more worried when I think about it but I just can't help it.
Does anyone have any idears on how to control my shaking? I just want to be able to share my music with other people and to enjoy doing it without being worried about ruining it with my shaking bow!!!
I have been playing now for 3 years and I have this same problem and I can offer you this. I played a simple holiday tune in my company's talent show and I was very nervous and had such a case of the shakes it sounded like really bad tremolo! I did it because I wanted to force myself to confront this anxiety. It isn't stage fright so much as an adrenaline rush causing the shaking.
The following day I played at a charity event with a small ensemble playing holiday tunes. We played the same set of 15 or so songs several times through as people came and went. We were not the show but rather just background music. In the middle of our second set our leader asked me if I wanted to play a solo. I said no but indicated I would anyways. I played better than I expected without shaking. Later in the evening I played a couple duets and another solo and had no nerves.
The next day I had another gig playing at a hospice with a smaller collection of the same folks. I didn't solo but I also didn't get the shakes.
I have played in a new horizons group for a couple years. I think I have been in 4 or 5 performances. Finally this last time I didn't get the shakes for our concert.
Keep doing it and eventually you will not get so worked up over it...
I agree with Trevor's and John's recommendations. I would like to add three others that I've mentioned in previous threads.
Don't over-tighten your bow hairs. I tighten mine enough to take up the slack but no more than maybe a notch beyond this point. Over-taut bow hairs can cause -- or worsen -- unwanted bounce; and they can reduce your feeling of elasticity and increase the risk of hard landings.
A good way to burn off adrenaline at the beginning is to open with repertoire that has a powerful, aggressive entry. Think, for instance, of the way the solo violin enters in the finale of the Tchaikovsky VC, right after the opening orchestral tutti, with the big sul G tones and rapid-attack chords.
I'm not saying that you should play this particular repertoire -- at least not now, since you've told us you've been playing only 18 months. But this passage illustrates what I'm driving at. Then, once you've simmered down, you can do some lyrical stuff -- the kind of material that would more likely betray a case of nerves if you hadn't burnt off the excess adrenaline.
This was part of my reasoning in replying to Lisa's thread on recital pieces.
Be sure to have a genuine dress rehearsal -- wear the same kind of outfit that you'll be wearing in performance; and try to run through the routine in the same room where you'll be performing later for an actual audience.
Two other things that might or might not work. One is to practice with a practice mute. If you don't make the string speak perfectly, it will be really obvious. When I do that, I end up relaxing my thumb and otherwise training myself to do things that that I ought to have been doing anyway.
Another idea is to not be so fussy about making the bow 100% parallel to the bridge-- especially at the tip. That can produce a lot of complicated hand motion down there, hurting sound and in turn raising tension levels. A bad feedback loop. So if you find yourself worrying about bouncing bow, allow your hand to curve somewhat on a radius when you're at the tip. Zukerman does that, I've noticed. He doesn't quite make a "J" with his hand, but he's definitely not pushing the frog away from his body. It's more like swinging your arm from the shoulder. You're more likely to get the best-sounding angle of bow on string, and just the fact that you've acknowledged the problem and have taken experimental steps to deal with it should bring your concentration back to where it ought to be.
This is very common. A few things to look at in your technique:
Hi, this goes better with years and gained experience but I have found that much of it has to do with the sudden lost of bow technique in public. In addition to ALWAYS play for family and friends before an event (because we as amateurs don,t perform daily like soloists... we forget how to deal with adrenaline since we do not often have performing opportunities) I try to remember these while performing
- bow direction
- contact point with the string and bow
-smooth and flexible bow hand (not a tigh grip)
- pressure and also feel the gravity with your bow elbow. If we are tense and stressed, we play tense and with a higher eldow than usual... We can totally lose control and have tremors
- imagine that my harm is very very heavy... (helps to not over lift the bow elbow and maintain a good action of the gravity on the bowing)
Just my two cents. These tricks don't perform miracles or make you more talented but I still play way better wit them than without them...
I agree with nate!
In addition your shaking may be due to tension in the arm. If you are tense anywhere in your bow arm or hand the bow will shake. Couple points:
- make sure you are not raising the shoulder.
- be sure that you are balancing the bow between the thumb and middle finger and that the fingers cling firmly to the stick and the hold is not flimsy.
- make sure you are on the correct arm level for the string on which you are playing.
- Do not isolate the wrist and fingers from the arm. Even when using the writs and fingers make sure that they work with the arm in one unit.
- When drawing the bow you must feel the stroke from the fingertips. (thats where the impulse of the stroke comes from)
My bow arm used to shake but these things corrected it at once. If a bow arm shakes there is something fundamentally wrong. Also if your tense in the left hand, the right hand will be affected in a bad way.
As noted, this is very common, and there have already been a number of fine tips. Here's one from the great Aaron Rosand: move the bow a little faster. Also, don't forget to breathe.
I have found that gently pressing upward with a relaxed thumb helps a lot.
Might be worth a try.
As an MD, I'm going to take this from a different angle, since I think many great technical tips have already been given. Tremors are very common in situations like this, and there are effective medications, although I don't think you need to go that way. One of the most effective inhibitors of tremors is alcohol. Just a little - not enough to make you even slightly tipsy!! Maybe something in the range of 1/8 glass of wine, or even less. Add to that some carbohydrate, like an apple or banana, take a deep breath, and you'll be good to go.
Oh, another tip I came across somewhere long ago: try moving the elbow a bit a couple of times, as though you were doing string-crossing, but more subtly. This may short-circuit the tremor.
just want to drop in a note, agree with alice's observation, that this sounds more like a case of performance jitters than tech bow problems (although it is safe to assume better bowing tech is to be desired). the op's concern reads to me as, i am ok until i go onto stage, even when i don't think i am nervous.
what you feel may not be real. as much as we think we are relaxed in some circumstances, we may not be completely relaxed, which is enough for some people to experience the tremors.
suggestion: accept that there is some level of underlying anxiety of going on stage when you are not heifetz ready. continue to perform in public with less expectation of outcome and more expectation that you want to enjoy yourself in the process.
your priority is to enjoy yourself. second priority is to enjoy yourself. third priority is to enjoy yourself.
violin playing is a very narcissistic endeavor. dig into it!
the moment you get into thinking of pleasing others, you set invisible targets to chase. futile.
"… there are effective medications, although I don't think you need to go that way."
Agreed. Unless you have a condition that makes a drug medically necessary, stay off.
"One of the most effective inhibitors of tremors is alcohol … [m]aybe something in the range of 1/8 glass of wine, or even less."
I wouldn't encourage this route, either. I've already related my childhood experience with alcohol and some further thoughts on the matter in the boozing on the bow strings thread.
There are well-documented cases on library shelves and the Net of alcoholics who began their plunge into the abyss even younger than the OP's age of 17 -- with just that first little sip. Addicts often report uncontrollable tremors -- a classic withdrawal symptom -- when trying to get off the booze and go sober. I wouldn't wish that kind of misery on anyone -- and definitely not on a performing artist. The "cure" of alcohol is worse than the "disease" of nerves.
I do not agree with the alcohol suggestion either. My best teacher and I discussed nerves and beta blockers once, she was for them in extreme circumstances, and we both agreed that even the smallest amount of alcohol can have a bad effect on intonation and control. I do agree with the previous post of the dangers of the use of alcohol, at any age, to help combat "nerves" as it could get out of control when used for that purpose.
my bowing has gotten better recently so i can say a little something about my experience.
i go agree with nate on the "swan syndrome" and with auster on the secure contact of the fingers with the bow. i think that part of the problem is that the tremor is first initiated with an inconsistent contact of bow with string, this is where the wrist's position functions as an 'intelligent' adaptive weight at the end of the stick. if you remove it altogether, in that swan posture, and yet still keep the bow on the string expecting to play further, it will go bouncy bouncy ... this also disallows a smooth transition into the next bow which inherits the instability.
also, i think you should observe yourself attentively during practice time. i have my suspicion that, every now and then, smaller tremors do occur and that you might be, in a way, accepting them matter-of-factly. during the perfromances, however, although you might not suffer from outright 'stage fright', you get naturally unnerved and this will amplify the small tremors. perhaps you can first try feeling your wrist's role in long slow bows on open strings, tip to frog. then move to slow scales so that you have to factor in the left hand. then move to a musical piece with all its distractions. repeatedly, this will imprint itself mentally and you'll just have to recall this before and during the performance until it becomes part of your playing.
This is kind of funny, since I personally never drink (not even 1/8 of a wine glass), but I thought it would be informative to state that alcohol is an effective, clinically proven, non-prescription inhibitor of essential tremors ("performance jitters"). Knowledge is power! What people do with it is of course a personal choice. I am certainly not recommending alcoholism to anyone.
Another thing I forgot to mention (which will certainly be a lot less controversial) is to refrain from having any caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, etc). Caffeine strongly increases essential tremors. It also has a long half-life, which means that a bit of the caffeine from your morning cup of coffee is still circulating in the afternoon, so you have to keep away from it a good 8-10 hours before playing to get a full caffeine-free performance effect.
While I fundamentally disagree with alcohol as a solution, I can attest that it has worked for me. Of course, not enough to impair the senses, but about 1/2 bottle of beer or a few sips of wine is all it takes to ease the nerves. In my case, the benefits outweigh the detrimental effects. Since I am not prone to addiction and live an exceedingly healthy lifestyle, the odds of acohol addiction are ZERO in my case so I personally think it is OK. Obviously, it is not a good idea for anyone who may be prone to addiction.
Any one of these solutions so far sound like it might possibly be helpful, depending upon the specific reason for the trembling bow in any given situation. But it seems to me that the bottom-line problem here is one of control over the bow, no matter what the specific cause. So let's do a little diagnostic "thought experiment."
--- Let's say you take a nip of alcohol, or one of the suggested medications, or do a little yoga, or do something psychologically that changes your attitudes and anticipatory anxiety, and that gives you the control over the bow. Then, in that case, your problem was indeed not in the mechanics.
--- However, if you are successful in gaining control over your anxiety, worry, or other feelings of dis-ease, and it does not solve the control-over-the-bow problem, then perhaps the problem is indeed mechanical, and any one of the aforementioned techniques might very well solve the problem.
It also seems to me that it might make sense to try everything that has been suggested. In addition, one can practice with a stiff wrist alternating with a relaxed wrist, and so forth; try it all. Drop what doesn't work, and stick with what does - sort of trial and error.
I hope that helps.
Alice, and Smiley, unless you are Henryk Szeryng ,who had superhuman skills (legend has it he had a drink or two before concerts), I would not recommend alcohol. :) For one thing, it can dehydrate you just as much as coffee and other soft drinks with caffeine, plus it will get in the way of your fine motor skills required to play the violin well and under pressure.
I agree completely with you about not having coffee before a concert. I learned the hard way on stage that coffee gave me the unintended downbow staccato/richochet/one dimensional vibrato.
plus it will get in the way of your fine motor skills required to play the violin well and under pressure.
@Nate, Yes it might, but the question is, what impairs your ability more, a little bit of alcohol, or uncontrollable shaking in your hands. I know I'm not going to win this argument because I am in the minority and there are strong feelings on the opposing side, but I am just pointing out that it HAS worked for me in the past. It might not work for others, but I think it is a bit presumptuous to assume what will or will not work for someone else. We all have to find solutions to our own problems. Some like shoulder rests, some don't. Some practice in the morning, some do better in the evening -- different strokes for different folks.
Good point Pierre. No alcohol for you Katisha, until you are "legal."
' but I am just pointing out that it HAS worked for me in the past. but I think it is a bit presumptuous to assume what will or will not work for someone else. We all have to find solutions to our own problems. Some like shoulder rests, some don't. Some practice in the morning, some do better in the evening -- different strokes for different folks.'
How has drinking before a performance worked? I'm curious to hear. I brought up, Henryk Szerying earlier because despite his pre-concert drinking, he would’ve still played well without drinking. Some say they do normal things such as driving a car or tying their shoe laces perfectly fine while intoxicated, but can one really be a good judge of his/her cognitive functions while impaired?
Ok, this is not meant as an insult, but very often if you are not breathing (as obvious as it may seem!) your bow can bounce. I know it seems kind of silly, but I have caught myself not breathing during a performance, as well as my students. If you just relax and breathe, it should stop bouncing. Just try to relax and have fun! : )
Hand tremors aren't necessarily set off by fear. The real culprit is the body's reaction to adrenaline, which is produced in response to many things, including the "good" kind of excitement about playing. Beta blockers, and I think probably the amount of alcohol Alice and Smiley are talking about, do nothing to change your "attitude or anticipatory anxiety." They block the body's receptors for adrenaline, keeping it from raising your heart rate, making your hands shake, causing you to sweat excessively, etc.
Sometimes these symptoms, and the corresponding excess of adrenaline, stems from being inadequately prepared. Sometimes it's more a function of how you are wired. Personally, an unprecedented case of severely shaking hands during a performance a couple of years ago turned out to be a symptom of a significant medical problem that was diagnosed a few months later.
A problem with the bow shakes that is new or suddenly worse might warrant a visit to the doctor. It just might stem from something other than faulty technique, poor preparation, or an unhelpful attitude.
no alcohol!! thats like taking drugs instead of dealing with reality! Its a bad quick fix shortcut that will do you no good...unless you szernyg! :)
Very well put, Ausar. I think it is important to separate fact from opinion.
Physical impairment begins with the first drink causing increased confidence/socialibility, inhibited judgement, impaired fine-muscle coordination, dehydration, and delayed reaction among other effects at varying levels. :)
Wow!!! Thanks to everyone for all the great tips, I will deffinatly try out some of them. And just for the sake of it - I can't even stand the smell of alchohol let alone drink it :) Also...does anyone do busking, is this a good way to practice perfoming and perhaps get over the adrenaline thing? Are there any important rules I should know about? Thanks so much again :)
Katisha -- Google "busking tips" and "busking laws." Definitely look for as many opportunities as possible to play for others.
The nearest thing to busking that I do is playing in the garage when it's warm enough, which is at least half the year here. The neighbors and passers-by say they like it. One evening, summer 1998, the grown son of one of my neighbors, back home visiting his folks, knocked on my front door and introduced himself to me. He told me he was a pianist and invited me to play some pieces with him. What caught his ear was my review of a Mazas etude I had played in my student days. He hadn't heard it before; he described it as "very pretty."
So keep sharing -- you never know what doors it could open.
Yes, busking is an excellent way to get rid of the shakes. Last year I spent about an hour a day playing in the lobby of my Florida condo in the days leading up to Christmas. The residents loved it. The first two days, I had a bit of nerves, but by the 3rd day, I was not nervous in the least. I was 100% confortable, as if playing by myself in the basement. And Nate will be happy to hear, I did it without a single drop of alcohol. :-)
BTW, Christmas music is really easy, so that is a great opportunity to get out and play for *people. There are a number of books containing Christmas tunes. There are ones for violin solo, violin duet, violin and piano, etc.
!!! I had not registered the part of being 17 years old. Obviously, do not do anything illegal!!
i just want to repeat this earlier piece of advice from al ku, who is clearly some kind of zen monk (respect) ...
"accept that there is some level of underlying anxiety of going on stage when you are not heifetz ready. continue to perform in public with less expectation of outcome and more expectation that you want to enjoy yourself in the process.
your priority is to enjoy yourself. second priority is to enjoy yourself. third priority is to enjoy yourself.
the moment you get into thinking of pleasing others, you set invisible targets to chase. futile."
I can't stress how important I think this advice is, all the more so because it's not about technical considerations or "more things to worry about" when you get the shakes.
I just want to tell you about my experience whick is a bit like yours ....
I've been playing professionally for a long time now, and big stages and large audiences generally don't bother me. I feel that achieving a state of relaxation and being into the music myself is the most important thing I can give to an audience, and when I'm playing concerts I try to walk onstage in a peaceful state of mind. A big part of this is, as Al says, not having too many expectations. I've gradually come to realize that if you want to give something to the audience, it's essential to play within your limits. If you're stressing about something, the audience will feel it immediately. Much more important to play an easier piece with heart than a tricky piece in a state of tension.
BUT I recently got a bad case of the shakes - a friend asked me to play at a little fund-raiser for her music school. It was in our local village hall on a rainy night, only about 30 people came, and about 10 of them were my family. Both my brothers turned up, my parents, my wife, her brother etc etc. I was a wreck! For some reason I was desperate to please them (they don't often hear me play) and I fell apart. I couldn't play the easiest pieces. I was grabbing onto the bow as if I was hanging by one hand at the top of a cliff, and my left-hand fingers just went on holiday.
This destroyed my confidence for a few days - how could I lose everything so easily. How could I play to 3000 people without fear and not to 30? Surely I needed to practice for another 5 years and re-learn my entire technique? But I came to understand that it's as Al says - excessive expectations, too much need to please etc etc will ruin a performance every time ....
So relax, enjoy yourself, go busking, play a lot in front of anyone who will listen.
Your bow is shaking because you're too nervous, so be less nervous. If you want to be less nervous, you have to lower your expectations a bit and get used to the surroundings. That's it .....
Another great technique I picked up from a fellow musician (apart from the also excellent advice of starting a performance with a great big racket that doesn't need to much poise or control) is to talk to someone in the audience before you go on stage. Not always practical but a great ice-breaker ... even making eye contact with the audience can help a lot. It helps to stop you from watching yourself performing, which is a form of "living in bad faith".
But it's a couple of months since your first post - how's it coming along?
I've seen a lot of players with nervous bow arms go down the alcohol route and it never works, and only in the end makes things worse.
Usually these problems are caused by faulty bowing technique and lack of confidence in your bowing and playing abilities. Getting the technique right and then building confidence will be the answer.
But do try and play to people and also in frequent in public performances as this will also offer you ways of approching the probelm and sorting it out successfully.
Alcohol or medications are not appropriate for the student/beginner. The best solution is more performance experience, beginning with non-threatening situations. That is why so many undergrads and graduate students play for friends, at retirement homes and in master classes prior to a big recital.
Alcohol has been said to affect memory, and is addictive (I doubt that dehydration would be an issue for the small amount of alcohol that it would take to calm nerves, by the way). That leaves only beta blockers, which in the small doses required, 20 mg or so, have few side effects (they do, however, have side effects if taken on a regular basis).
Beta blockers should only be taken by those who:
-have gone through professional training and still suffer from nerve problems
-have some professional or other high-pressure performance, such as a job audition, where they may have no choice if they wish to succeed.
Although it would be preferable to solve nerve problems without medication, it may simply be a necessity for professionals, especially as nerves come and go.
I've used beta blockers for public performance since I first learned about them back in 1977. I started with the standard 20 mg dose at least 40 minutes before performance but reduced the dosage over the years and now find that 5 mg is just as effective. Of course by this time it may all be in my head - (well, let's face it, it is anyway), but I'm reluctant to try a "show" without it. I only use it for solo or other one-on-a-part public performances I am sensitive to BB side-effects and will have some troubles if I have performances on consecutive days
I too was first affected by the "bow-arm shakes" of stage fright when I was 17, as Katisha is. I had been playing the violin for 13 years and had been doing a lot of public performance for the previous 3 years, or so (even with the filled HS auditorium, of 1,200 seats) - and had been "solid as a rock." The performance which lead to the shakes was the "lowest risk one" up to that time - just some Old English ditties for my high school English class - what a shock it was to me. I had no idea what was going on. I had no sense of nervousness. What followed were 25 "bad years" before I was introduced to stories about Inderal at the 1977 San Diego Chamber Music Workshop. After that and a prescription from my doctor everything changed.
Yes, isn't it funny how even low-risk situations can sometimes bring out nerves? They can be very unpredictable.
I definitely say NO TO ALCOHOL! the best solution I can suggest is preparation of muscle before real performance...
First, by playing simple scale or open strings using one note full bow about 40 seconds or 1 minute.
Second, the bow must be in tilted position using two or three hairs of the bow only. third, while drawing the bow try to inhale and exhale in a natural way just like the bow up & down breathing process.
Finally, I found it very relaxing and nerve shaking problems are gone afterwards, then YOU ARE READY FOR the concert stage,etc..! God bless! :)
I have found that it helps some, if you press slightly upward with
the thumb. Also, go easy with the coffee before a performance.
Just fyi, very old thread.
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December 30, 2010 at 05:43 PM ·
Basically, I think you should discuss this in depth with your teacher, but here are one or two ideas which may help.
If there is stiffness in the bowing arm/hand/wrist when you start a note that stiffness will cause the bow to shake and that shake will propagate along the length of the bow. This is even more likely to happen if the bow is moving as it comes down onto the string to start the note (the "airplane landing syndrome", as I've heard it called). To counteract this, place the bow stationary on the string, relax the entire bowing arm from the shoulder to the fingers, trying to feel as if it is a very flexible thick rope just hanging from the shoulder (this may need a re-assessment of bow hold and posture). Let the bow dig very slightly into the string – "engaging" it – and then start the bow moving, always keeping the bowing arm relaxed as at the start. Practice this with long slow bows; relaxation, bow stationary on the string and engaging it, are the key points. Get into the habit of starting a phrase with the bow stationary on the string for a tiny fraction of a second (which is virtually unobservable).
When you get all this together, bow shake will be a thing of the past.