Suffering, agony and modern violin technique

February 11, 2011 at 10:50 PM ·

OK, so I skipped ahead 200 years and decided to play some modern music for a change-- I didn't want my vibrato and conventional bow arm to fade into distant memory, and I got tired of explaining to friends what a "baroque" violinist is, and wanted to be prepared for "real" gigs, not just early music stuff. I found Prokoffiev solo violin sonata, some Fritz Kreisler, late 19th and 20th cent salon music, even some fun etudes.

The results: a sore left shoulder, a strange tingling sensation down my neck and right arm, a stiff lower back with some pain. This was a keen reminder why I took to baroque performance in the first place. I was in serious discomfort after an hour of practice. Must we really suffer for our art? Did Heifetz just grin and bear it? Was Milstein in twisted agony when he practiced? Was this the cause of Menuhin's difficulties later in his career?  It looks so easy when Oistrakh plays. Leonid Kogan practically looks like he's napping when playing Paganini!

I would love to be able to play modern repertoire without the suffering-- but is it possible? I cannot get the vibrato I want unless my chin is tightly clamped to the violin. I cannot downshift from higher positions unless the violin is held according to modern standards. OR... I can just relax and enjoy baroque and early music without the agony. I love playing early music, and don't miss the pain one bit, but there are times when I just want to live in the present (or at least the 20th century!)

Replies (44)

February 11, 2011 at 11:02 PM ·

Any bets on whether this turns into another SR debate?  I would respond, but I am going to refrain for fear of being persecuted.  I'll just say that I can sympathize with Evan's position.

February 11, 2011 at 11:38 PM ·

I believe that if you experiment enough by yourself, or have a good teacher to guide you, it is possible for a lot of people who play in pain to play without any pain. I have two chronic illnesses that cause a lot of pain, but with a lot of work, I'm playing with less and less. If I had a teacher, the process would go faster. I've made so much headway. I used to not be able to play the violin at all. Now I can.

Check out the Alexander Technique. Work on your mind-body connection. Always notice what position you're in, even away from the instrument. Take deep breaths. Make a practice of observing your own body - this muscle is tight, this one is loose, my head feels balanced on my spine, my head is hanging forward and pulling on my neck, etc., etc.

Don't play for an hour in a row, especially starting out! Multiple shorter sessions work so much better. Watch Oistrakh or something for a few minutes in between sessions, or sit down with the score and play in your head.

Don't just play for an hour and then at the end go "OMG I'm so sore, what happened?" Stop every two minutes and evaluate. Are your muscles tired? Which muscles? Where? Take note of them. Adjust your position. Experiment. Don't point your scroll to the music stand; it crunches your shoulders together. Make sure your music stand is high enough, but not too high. Loosen yourself. Feel gravity helping your bow arm. Be able to lift your chin up and wiggle it around a bit, like Oistrakh does. These are just vague generalized suggestions. Others will have more.

Experiment with your set up - shoulder rest, shoulder pad, chin rest (chin rest is important!), instrument, strings, rosin, bow, etc. All of these things contribute to ease of playing.

If you've experimented for a long while with these types of things and still have tension and pain, then it's time to get the advice of a good teacher. You might also want to check out Janet Horvath's book Playing Less Hurt. Check out this great blog entry at the Minnesota Orchestra.

Is it possible to play entirely without pain? I'm going to guess and say that for some people, it absolutely is. And maybe it would be for all people, if they knew what to do and worked at it.

Good luck.

February 13, 2011 at 07:29 AM ·

I feel it has a lot to do with the physiology of the hands and muscle structure.  I believe that some are gifted physically with little discomfort while playing difficult passages on the violin.  I find that everything is an uncomfortable stretch to keep it tonal.  

It’s all about the acrobatics of intonation, and who’s the best gymnast and what do all those acrobatics get you in your interpretation of the overall show (Ooohhh LOOK! Hilary just did a triple summer salt with a twist.. Oh my!).  However, I’m personally discovering that my knuckles crack when I try to lift anything heavier than a jar of pickles (or prunes) with my right hand.  So, take pity (prune pun here) on me world.   I’m looking for the next gig and I’m thinking its called … chemistry & mathematics.  WOOT!

Mike F.


February 13, 2011 at 01:43 PM ·

Emily Liz gave a VERY GOOD reply there!

to put it 'simply' there is NO SIMPLE answer!

each one of us is an individual and each one of us will require different answers.  The main theme will be that 'correct general posture is required most of the times' when playing the violin from all parts of your body especially from your spine, if you deviate from correct posture it must be only for the most minimal amount of time then you must go back to the correct balanced posture.  This is for most of us something which needs to be 're-learned' as we lost it from when we were young children (this is what the Alenxander Technique will teach you if you take lessons from an Alexander Technique taecher and if you do then do your best to take some from someone who specialises in musicians even better string players).

What Liz suggested: to watch Oystrak is very wise indeed as he's a very good example of Alexander's technique in action whilst playing violin, he has a well balanced spine with a well balanced head on top of it and yes, he 'wiggles' his chin/head whilst playing hence re-balancing himself as he plays :)

I have been going (and still am) through a very long journey of discovery for the past 2 years as I have been in pain/discomfort whilst playing, I have bought every crutch/rest and device on the market, I have tried any trick in the book to find a way to play totally pain/tension free, I have started alexander technique lessons last year in april and I am still in pain! But I am improving now!

One more thing: I ended up going to see an osteopath just 3 weeks ago as I had an excruciating pain in between my shoulder blades which started last september and the alexander techinque was NOT making it better AT ALL after four months, the osteopath discovered my spine was misaligned slightly to the left because of an accident I had 19 years ago, he has now almost re-aligned it back to normal, I have one or 2 more sessions to go, my back has almost fully recovered now! So that's what I mean that we are all 'individual', I never thought I had a problem from an accident 19 years ago as I played violin for 4 years with no pain in between my shoulder blades, why is the pain coming on after nearly 4 years? the osteopath said the slant to the left was very marginal so my body 'compensated' as much as it could (I had reduced mobiility in this part of the spine he said) until it could not 'compensate anymore' and it started 'complaining' hence the pain then started!!!

so there you are! each person is different!  so no one can say exactly what your solution is, it takes time and evaluation from yourself, your teachers and your health professionals, sometimes it can take be remedied very quickly and simply, sometimes it's a long expensive process full of frustration and tears (like in my case) but if you are determined often you can get to a solution so good luck  :)

February 13, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·

In addition to the physical aspect, is it possible you're over-playing to try to get a "modern" interpretation?

My teacher's advice to a student who was working on the first Shostakovich concerto was that it's a bad idea to practice it at full intensity most of the time.

February 13, 2011 at 09:21 PM ·

 I think it is possible to play all the modern repertoire without pain, but you must be very well informed about technique, and you must always be aware of what you are doing. I must admit that I sometimes experience discomfort when I play, but it is usually because I am overlooking some fundamental aspect of my technique.

The two biggest things that I struggle with the most are preparing every shift and anticipating every string crossing. The way I see it is you can't make the movements in 'real time' and expect the best results. You actually have to be ahead of the sound, anticipating and preparing every single thing that you do. And it takes a lot of smart practicing to be able to do it without thinking too much. I can't, I have to think about all of that stuff in order for it to happen.

If you don't prepare your shifts, your left arm might tense up because it knows that the hand is not going to land on the right spot. Same goes for string crossings and the bow arm. Plus, whatever tension is going on in one arm is likely to affect the other. For example, if your shift isn't properly prepared, you may inadvertently lose bow contact with the strings, because subconsciously you may not want what you're doing to be heard so well. 

These are issues that I am dealing with, I'm not necessarily saying that any of this is your problem, but it may be worth some thought.


February 13, 2011 at 09:48 PM ·

" if you don't prepare your shifts, your left arm might tense up because it knows that the hand is not going to land on the right spot. "  really?

i read in your bio that you have a good teacher who has a great teacher.  perhaps you need to discuss this line with your teacher--or spend some time watching kids playing on playground-- because it does not make sense at all.  in fact, i think you are on exactly the wrong road.  landing on the right spot, if done well and correctly, is a subconscious act.  it is done by feel.  no words can describe feel so don't try, don't bother.  perhaps the first 2-3 try are done by conscious effort, to check out the landmarks and get familiar with the neighborhood, but the next 98 times are done with your mind not interfering. evaluating potential positive or negative outcome is not even possible because you have already lost yourself to the act,,,you are on cloud 9.

so why do you practice 98 times?  to practice not to have your mind interfere with the circuitry already established and ready to fire.  your finger, your hand, your whatever knows perfectly well what to do.  just sit down and enjoy the show!  there is absolutely no need for you to run back and forth to the backstage.  your biggest enemy is your zeal.  stop saying, but wait, but wait, but wait....JUST DO IT.

words like,,,,prepare,,,tense up,,,arm knows hand not land on the right spot.....WAY TOO MUCH anticipation, thinking and analysis.   you want to be a violin player so PLAY!

you propose to be "ahead" of sound with your preparation, but that is precisely the reason you tense up because you can't possibly keep up. wanting to keep up and unable to keep up together creates the mental road block and physical tension. 


February 14, 2011 at 02:43 AM ·


By preparing the shifts, the main thing I mean is that one needs to make sure the left hand is completely relaxed while it is shifting. Of course it is done by feel, but you need to practice the shift a few times so that your fingers get used to the feel of the shift.

If you have not prepared your shift enough, and your hand is not completely relaxed while it shifts, this will make the shift not secure, which may in turn lead to more tension.

The bottom line is that it's impossible to convey my ideas about something as complex as playing the violin in just words. But you are right. All of these things are for the practice room only, once you are in performance you must "just do it."

February 14, 2011 at 02:46 AM ·

I should also add that some players are more intuitive than others. Personally I'm not the most intuitive, and so I have to sometimes do some analysis to figure out how to better approach a passage. In some instances, to "just do it" wouldn't quite do it for me. Everyone is different.

February 14, 2011 at 05:53 AM ·

 Baroque violin is the original violin. 

Stradivari et al. were smart cookies. They figured out how to build the best violins ever. They could have built something like a modern violin if they so wished. They chose not to. (It's not rocket science to add a few inches to the fingerboard to get some higher notes.  They didn't want them. Doesn't sound good, it's not comfortable for the body, and it's the height of bad engineering to design an instrument where you have to move one finger in order to play the next higher note in the scale. They saw the folly of this and declined.)

Bach vs. Prokofiev. No contest.

Stick with baroque. Baroque is best. Chin-off playing for the win.

February 14, 2011 at 05:58 AM ·


Jo,  I am always delighted when somebody thoughtfully and sensibly advises taking Alexander Lessons.  We are in complete agreement that it is more or less essential as part of the package of being a musician.

Nonetheless, I did feel somewhat in disagreement with one of the suggestions you made to the effect that it is better to go to an AT teacher who is experienced with musicians (violinsts?).  Actually it is one of the most significant tenets of AT that it is non-activity specific.  The etacher is looking at the way the body is being used within the context of an activity but that actvitiy is epiphenominal.  I think ther eis a good reason for this although this is purely speculation on my part.  I suspect an AT teacher who spends a great deal of time cocnetrating on specific areas may possibly lose sight of the big picture to some extent in some cases.  Incidentally,  Arnold Steinhardt makes a similar point in one of his books when he suggests it might be helpful for violnists to consult a `golf-pro.`

I have a great deal of experience being helped by AT teachers who are musicvians and those who are in completely unrelated fields. It has never been the case that the musician/musician specialist has been superiro. On the contrary the dance specialists have got to the heart of the issues in far more depth far more quickly in my peculiar case.  The best AT lessons I have ever had have been by soemone rightly regarded as one of the worlds leading experts in the filed `Jeremy Chance.` (Read his books if you possibly can)   He knew so little about violin playing he ended up calling my bow `that pool cue` thingy.]




February 14, 2011 at 07:01 AM ·

 Uh, to be concise, slow practice. I've been playing for four years and I no longer feel any real pain playing tenths or fingered octaves, nor playing in the most uncomfortable positions. The fact of the matter is that a lot of slow, repetitive, mindless work has to be done to neutralise the pain.

February 14, 2011 at 07:04 AM ·

 that's very interesting Buri, thank you, I'll take that on board as you are definitely more experienced in this than me, I've only been playing violin for 4 years and have only 'discovered' AT 10 months ago :)

thank you for adding your comments, much appreciated.

February 14, 2011 at 09:12 AM ·

Although I'm sorry to see that others have the same pain I have had, I also glad to find out I'm not alone. I'm not going to go into my long sob story. Seems to me that many people have made excellent points here! The general agreement is that it's a technique problem. I don't know if someone already mentioned it, but it can also be related to playing the wrong violin for you. At any rate, there is a solution: playing Baroque!

February 14, 2011 at 01:22 PM ·

 manuel, i agree with your subsequent explanation, but i feel that one often does not have the luxury of practice room practice and then performance practice.  having that distinction may not be helpful.

i think if you insist on "analysis", think backwards from the standpoint of performance practice and trace the steps backward and stick with them.  i think having the thought of practice room practice is not only redundant but confusing.  there should not be game B practice.  all practice should be A level.  practice should always be thought as performance,,,only one standard.  practice should always be as if heifetz is looking on.  after a while, the stress from the high standard will dissipate.

someone earlier mentioned slow practice.  i think that makes sense because slow practice should not lead to tension.  if there is tension with slow tension, well, it is not slow enough:)

the other thing is hurried practice, aka, trying to accomplish things that should be digested in 30 mins in 15 mins.  that will also lead to tension.  taking that into a bigger picture,,,trying to accomplish 5 yrs' work in 2-3.  since everyone with a violin is trying to do that,,,to outdo themselves, it is so essential to develop and nurture a taking-it-easy side in each person.  easy does it.  the less awareness the better.

try this: 

try walk across the room quickly holding a cup of water.  look ahead of where you want to go without looking at the cup in your hand at all.  very unlikely that you will spill the water.

then, try to match the speed of the previous walk with another attempt, except this time, keep a close look at the cup, trying to make sure you do not spill the water.  very likely your hand and arm will tense up and you will spill unless you slow down the walking.

my point, to a large extent, quickly get used to playing violin like the first walk.

February 14, 2011 at 03:09 PM ·

So, you're saying that a "practice mindset" versus a "performance mindset" is not helpful. I can see how that may be true. But then you do agree that slow practice is good. So, does this amount to a slow performance?

Again, some really gifted people can just go at it and perform at their best. Others of us need to break down what we are doing and approach it carefully and analytically. The original topic of this thread is that someone is having pain when they play the modern repertoire, so maybe a little deconstruction and analysis is in order for this person, because it's not good for anyone to play with pain.

February 14, 2011 at 03:18 PM ·

" I cannot get the vibrato I want unless my chin is tightly clamped to the violin."

You are better than I am at violin for sure, but this sounds all wrong!


I must also say that I am baffled. Baffled!  Why the heck can't you play modern if you can play baroque? Just play the damned thing however it feels comfortable!

February 14, 2011 at 03:34 PM ·

 Evan, it is absolutely possible to play the modern violin with far less tension and pain than you are describing.

However, early playing is fundamentally less muscular and less likely to incur contortion of the neck and shoulders. 

February 14, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

 manuel,,,yes, slow practice with performance in mind do not conflict each other.  EVERY so called talented player goes through that.  they don't talk about it (actually they do, but we don't listen) and when we see them perform they are more ready because of the slow practice.  i am trying to draw the distinction of slow practice that works and slow practice that does not work well.  slow practice that is liberating vs slow practicing that is complicating.

there is absolutely no way to tell evan what he should do instead because we don't know how his mind works when he plays, we don't know how he interacts with the instrument in a different setup.  we don't know how he sensed the first sign of discomfort.  we don't know if he sensed it what he would do.  we don't know anything except the outcome: the complain of pain.  we don't even have the luxury of a visual and we each imagine differently.   is it a horse or a zebra we are dealing with here?  we don't know.  to be perfectly honest, when someone tells me that he/she is playing slowly,,,really, i tend not to believe it.  why?  because it can be even slower:)

if today he starts walking on 5 inch high heel shoes,,,it is very likely he will react adversely physically.  BUT,  if he knows how or someone with experiences show him how to walk on high heels, the reaction will be different.   that is the missing link here.  

it is all about how one starts and in what direction is time zero to time one. 

ps.  i will ask evan this: take a passage that is considered tricky or stressful and play it at his current tempo.   note the level of discomfort.  repeat it at much slower tempo and note the level of discomfort.  compare the 2 and go from there.

February 14, 2011 at 10:17 PM ·


>The fact of the matter is that a lot of slow, repetitive, mindless work has to be done to neutralise the pain.

One of the most dangerous statements ever made on v.commie (with the possible exception of `listen to what Buri says...)

Firstly, practice should -never, never, never`  - be mindless. That is a garaunteed surefire way to eternal damnation.   Second,  if you are experiencing pain ,  -you are doing something wrong.- 


The `slow, mindless practice@  is simply a way of forcing the body to start ignoring the pain. In essence its saying `Right on old bean. You are not interested in my complaints and I`ve had enough anyway,`  and then those complaint channels to the brain effectively shut down.  Unfortunately,  the relentless damage to the system  continues unabated.

Sorry,  but either in jest,  or seriously,  this is not the way to even begin thinking about playing the violin.

Hope you find a happier road,


February 15, 2011 at 01:00 AM ·

The universal fix-it for tension is practising with the scroll against the wall or supported in some such fashion more solidly than even the most obnoxious clamp-like rest.  In fact this is how William Primrose advocates learning how to play the violin without a shoulder rest or pad. 

February 15, 2011 at 03:23 AM ·

although the wall has complained...

February 15, 2011 at 09:44 AM ·

Evan, all I can say seriously is that you have never learnt to play the violin properly, baroque or modern. You need to start from day one again. There should NEVER be any pain or tension. Look at Milstein or Oistrakh on youtube, you can't get more relaxed than that.

And the people that talk about shifts being made by the hand are barking up the wrong tree. The ear is the only thing involved in a shift. You should read what Mr Tree says, (pun intended), that very fine viola player, and read Mr Ricci too. They talk a lot of sense and they prove it by doing it. Ricci wasn't a bad player really and would have certainly got a job on the back desk of a community orchestra, and with hard work might have made it to the front. (wink)

Yes, I'm being sarcastic now. I'm sarcastic by nature, but I am too capeable of great love ... (Don't take me up on it though, I'm way past my sell by date ...)

February 15, 2011 at 02:41 PM ·

This is a large and important subject, and for now, i'll only deal with a couple of aspects of it. I think that a distinction can be drawn between misuse and overuse - though there is some grey area.

February 15, 2011 at 02:53 PM ·

This is a large and important subject, and for now, i'll only deal with a couple of aspects of it.

I think that a distinction can be drawn between misuse and overuse - though there is some grey area. Speaking of Ricci - he once said "if you want to get a violinist mad at you, make him play on the G string for 15 minutes." IOW, there are certain situations where there are physical challenges, no matter how proper your basic form and how relaxed you try to be.

The great violinist, Joseph Silverstein, a pretty loose goose himself in his effortless-seeming playing, and whose teachers included Dounis, told me that Dounis told him that relaxation  doesn't mean being like a flaccid wet noodle all the time. Dounis told him that there sometimes must be some tension - but that the tension is released.

If playing modern music causes someone more phyiscal discomfort than say playing unaccompanied Bach, then it probably started with psychological discomfort with the music, which led to physical tension

I would highly  recommend the book, Playing (less) Hurt - by Janet Horvath.

February 15, 2011 at 04:35 PM ·

@ Peter -

You said, "Look at Milstein or Oistrakh on youtube, you can't get more relaxed than that."

That's exactly what Evan said in his original post. "It looks so easy when Oistrakh plays. Leonid Kogan practically looks like he's napping when playing Paganini!"

So he's aware there's an alternative. :)

Also, another question for the community at large... When you have tension that is causing this much pain, does it really mean you need to start over? If so, how does one go about such a start-over? How do you wipe your brain clean? Maybe that is another topic.

February 15, 2011 at 08:07 PM ·

 thank you for the shoulder exercise John, I take it this is good to do regardless of one feeling tension or not? as I've been ok with no tension/pain lately (thank goodness at last!!!)

February 15, 2011 at 08:07 PM ·

Emily, it as very bad of me not to have noticed that it had already been said. I will do 20 Hail Maries and drink a bottle of scotch straight down as a punishment. ..

But yes, you are of course right, going back to square one is not wiping everything, and if you really do it, you can be back to pristine condition in a few weeks, at the most. (Even a few days ...)

February 15, 2011 at 11:32 PM ·

Going back to square one apparently means following the Soviet school where its advocates agree on nothing.   In fact, in Rosand's recent video on teaching, he advises choosing fingering based on experimentation because of anatomical differences.   He also states that new technical study must be executed very slowly at first and repeated extremely often before speeding it up to condition the muscle groups at work.  This is all simply common sense.  Don't need an instructor for that.  Yet Rosand goes on a Soviet School Superiority Trip during the inevitable comedy of Holding the Violin "Correctly", of course trashing SR's, and then immediately after we see that his students are using similiar ugly appendages (pads secured by rubber bands) on the back of their violins.   Lets be clear, the Soviet school can't even present a coherent strategy on how students with very different anatomy's should hold the violin.

Personally, I blame instructors for much of the "tension and pain problem".   They get the beginner student stuck in 1st position and focus on intonation.  The general immobility of the hand, wrist, and arm is compounded by incorrect conditioning of the fingers while the student fishes for notes as the instructor shouts "Sharp", "Flat", etc.   They end up with rigidity throughout their body so that they a) cannot get a good tone because their right hand cannot balance the bow properly and b) the left hand has developed muscles in searching for notes.    Frankly the Fischer DVD on tone production is an example of this "progress at warp speed" madness.  He reduces bowing to simple mechanics when in fact a good tone is only possible through a supple hand that can balance the bow correctly.  You need off-violin excersises (such as preperations for colle stroke which is considered advanced) to make it happen.

February 15, 2011 at 11:52 PM ·


I haven't seen what you have seen vis a vis intonation. Most of the beginner and "intermediate" child learners taking lessons I see can't play in tune to save their lives. And the teachers aint' too worried neither.

I'd say that the instructors who stress intonation are rare, and the students who naturally figure it out are also rare. Most of the kid world is Out-Of-Tune. Whether this has anything to do with shoulder rests, pain, clamping with the chin, is not clear to me. What is clear is that if something bother you, you need to fix it and there sure aren't any easy answers!  It seems like it is actually a lot easier to teach proper:

tennis racquet,


golf club,

baseball bat,

tiller extension,

kiteboard position,


placement than,how to hold a fiddle,how to hold a bow.

February 16, 2011 at 12:04 AM ·

 bill, i am not sure that most teachers don't care about intonation.  i think they do but  to a point, to the point where it is dependent on a student's effort level. i think some teachers may silently concede that there is no need to get too aggravated if the student  does not really put in the work. kinda sad but understandable.

then there are other reasons.  for instance, one time i was giving a ride to my kid's friend who plays violin with weekly lesson from the school.  from our conversation i realize that they meet 1-2 times per week and that is the only time the violin gets tuned,,,by the teacher.  no one at home knows how, not the kid, not the parents.  intonation is lost in the system.

February 16, 2011 at 12:34 AM ·

Haha that problem with tuning is sooo prevalent. It is a stupid, stupid problem but there it is!

The idea that the kids cannot tune their instruments is a major stupidness, Major But nobody seems to think so. Fine tuners make it possible 90% of the time but you have to care to be sure your student knows how to use them. Peg tuning is really difficult for almost all students until they make it to 7th grade. I was special and figured it out sooner (haha!).

Maybe kid violins aught to all have pegheads as a matter of course.

There is really a whole range of stuff that isn't taught that should be--but isn't because I suspect that it would tick off parents because it isn't "lessons.":

How to tune. How to re-string. How to take care of the bow. What to do about rosin and dust. How to deal with the weather. What the soundpost. is and why it is important. How to keep the bridge from falling over or warping. How to take the chinrest on and off. Etc Etc. I am sure we can come up with another 50 things. Even the whole "it hurts and what to do about it" falls into this category. And then you have teacher switching which is a reality. Each one has to come up to speed. This would take time away from lessons.  Lots of this stuff is easy enough to put in a book, but who reads them?

February 16, 2011 at 01:02 AM ·

 true, true.  

what is amazing is that every time i drop off my kid at school, it just seems that every other kid is carrying a violin!  well, at least i see the case! 

i don't know how they run the music program but it is too bad since intonation is so important in the beginning.  now imagine one or two geniuses learn to play with good intonation on poorly tuned violins! :)

perhaps another reason why many quit after a while.  simply not worth the effort.  hey, could you stop that, johnny,,,dad would scream from the living room.  

or may be we are asking too much,,,like asking emergency room docs to follow up the patients all the way through the hospital stay...  

February 16, 2011 at 05:21 AM ·

Frank - I have that Rosand DVD. More importantly, I studied with him personally, and know a lot about him. He is NOT a representative of the Soviet school. Rather he is is own synthesis of the older Auer approach and the Franco-Belgian school. He stresses that you should feel physically comfortable with the violin and bow at all times.

There is an important distinction between using a piece of foam or a sponge, and using the kind of shoulder rest that clamps the violin at the ribs, and locks the player into one position and angle. Though like Rosand, I'm an advocate of trying to play restless with the proper technique, I would not go so far as he has done and assert that no great player has used a rest. That's clearly not true. For my slightly modified take on Rosand's approach in this regard, anyone can visit my website,  and look for "writings" then "fundamentals"

OK - who was it who bet that this thread would turn into another SR debate? But was a pool taken on how soon? ;-)

February 16, 2011 at 12:54 PM ·

I am sorry for bringing this up, but I may have been a bit presumptuous in my first post.  Based on the symptoms reported by the OP, I ASSUMED he was using a shoulder rest.  But, that has not been established as fact.  If the OP DOES use a SR, then sorry again, but I believe he would likely benefit from learning to play without SR. Please accept my apologies for mentioning this.


February 16, 2011 at 02:19 PM ·

John - do you have photos of your new SR design? Speaking of period performance, certainly no one of Bach's time would have heard music on CD's nor have had computers to debate or propagate this issue eg here on, nor have been particularly concerned with how music from 200 years before their own time, had they any interest in trying it, would have excatly sounded. Their pitches were also quite variable - no fixed A=415, and their bows were in a constant flux before Tourte. Bach is as timeless and universal as Shakespeare. Period Bach, or Bach - period? I'lll take the latter, and meet him halfway.

February 17, 2011 at 04:30 PM ·

Wow-- thanks for all the suggestions. I studied Alexander Technique about 20 years ago-- an enlightening experience, although I admit there are times when I just didn't get it. In theory, it should have helped more than it did, but then again, I have always been a tight player, needing more than just a little loosening up. 

I stopped using a SR years ago after trying Baroque methods. I believe the baroque style of playing is incompatible with more modern music. Posture must be adjusted radically to accomodate higher position work and proper vibrato.

I've watched videos of the great masters on youtube and elsewhere-- they may in fact have a physiology and build that allows them to play so well. Broad shoulders, flexibility and strength and the highest level of neurological development --probably a combo of training, good ennvironment (healthy foods, clean air, etc)  and genetics. Much research is needed in this area- I believe we would find subtle neurological deterioration in our generation, as there seems to be a distinct lack of higher functioning. Despite the posts on, there simply are no more violinists like Heifetz, Elman, Oistrakh, Kreisler, Thibaud, Powell, Neveu, etc. There are plenty of good players around, but absolutely NO ONE can match the measurable precision and accuracy like the old masters. If they could, they would! Name a single living violinst who can control their vibrato on each and every note, apply it in different ways with varying speeds and intensity but always get the pitch of the exact note dead-on. Elman could-- it was expected of all great violinists. Nowadays, vibrato is used to cover up faulty intonation, and to make playing in tune easier. It's a constant wavering pitch of no real musical value any more. Even today's most famous classical violinists (I will not name names) cannot play a single phrase with the control and vibrato of the great masters. I say "cannot" for what musician in their right mind would voluintarily always select a broad, wide, unfocused vibrato over a controlled, precise one? Isn't it the job of a musician to convey the beauty and meaning of great music-- to control and shape the sound precisely and accurately?  Very intersting, todays opera singers also lack the precision and control, lack the precise vibrato, and do not sing as expressively and meaningfully as the great artists of a century ago (Caruso, Melba, Lemnitz, McCormack,  etc).

...but that's a different topic thread. Musicians must all strive for perfection, even if its unattainable. Pain and suffering may just be a side effect, and accepted as a sacrifice for our art. The great pianist Dinu Lipatti understood this all too well.

February 17, 2011 at 05:24 PM ·

 Woah woah WOAH woah woah.

First of all - "Pain and suffering may just be a side effect, and accepted as a sacrifice for our art."

No no no no no no! This is just not true. I have a horrible body for playing the violin: I'm really thin and small and bony, with three long fingers and then a very short fourth. And yet I can guarantee you that I'd be playing without pain or tension if I didn't have two chronic illnesses, and I haven't had a teacher for years and years! So if I can do it, then a lot of other people can do it. (I won't go so far as to say anyone can do it, but still.) I just feel so strongly about this subject. Even if you don't reply, I want other people reading this thread to know that pain and suffering should not be tolerated. It can lead to career-ending injuries from which you may never recover. And worst of all, those career-ending injuries are in many cases preventable. If you want to be the best violinist you can be, you have to do whatever it takes to play without pain. Period. Any violinist in agony is never going to achieve his or her full potential.

"There are plenty of good players around, but absolutely NO ONE can match the measurable precision and accuracy like the old masters."

I hear this claim floating around all the time and it annoys me. Give me specific repertoire, specific soloists, specific bar numbers. I'll give you something like Hilary Hahn doing the third movement of the Barber concerto - Ehnes in the fifth Paganini Caprice with the bowing that hardly anyone else does - (actually, Hahn or Ehnes in anything) - or, in a direct comparison of repertoire with an artist you named, Powell playing Fantasy on Dixie with Barton Pine playing the same. Maud Powell is one of my favorite violinists from any era, but so is Rachel Barton Pine, and I really can't say that Rachel Barton Pine's precision or accuracy suffers in comparison. Or, in another example, Marie Hall in the Elgar concerto (I've been lucky enough to hear it). It's an extraordinary performance, and she was one of the great technicians of the age. But her accuracy in this one-take performance setting can't approach Ehnes in a one-take setting for a live concert broadcast over the BBC, or (I'd imagine) Shaham, Kennedy, Hahn, etc. So let's hear some specific examples of old artists' measurable precision and accuracy where the young generation of players doesn't measure up. It might sound catty, but actually I'd seriously honestly love to hear them, and have this debate and discussion, because I think it's an important one to have.

If you say, in general I prefer the sound or aesthetic of players born before 1930, well, that's one thing, and I can see where you're coming from there. But if you start treating your preferences as irrefutable fact...and if you wipe out the accomplishments of an entire generation of players, then that's (in my opinion) intellectually lazy.

But this is veering dangerously off-topic, and I apologize if I sound confrontational. I just (obviously) can't let it go when I see modern players dissed in a vague nebulous kind of way. And I go a bit ballistic when people insist that you can't play the violin without pain. *twitch*

February 17, 2011 at 05:51 PM ·

 hehe,,,this is yet another illustration of what happens when someone poses a question of concern, disappears for a while,  does not provide any feedback to the on-going responses which morph into different directions and then makes a sudden landing. :)

i think the modern day violin playing pains the op more than his own physical issues.

February 18, 2011 at 03:38 AM ·

Regarding my comment "There are plenty of good players around, but absolutely NO ONE can match the measurable precision and accuracy like the old masters."

As an obessive record collector for over 30 years, I have had the pleasure of listening to many fine recordings by a tremendous number of artists. All my life, I have devoted my efforts to classical music (98% my collection), especially recordings of  violinists. Many of today's best violinists do not have the time to devote to listening to recordings, as the demands of a concert artist are overwhelming. I can honestly say if I had spent less time playing tens of thousands of records, and MORE time practicing, I may have accomplished far more in life!

But I got hooked. Not so much on my generation of violinists-- but those of the previous era. Once I heard the 78s (originals and re-issues) of the great masters, it all became evident why that generation held them in such high esteem. It also changed how I feel about music and how powerful a work of art can be.

I can appreciate how each of us may have our own opinions and preferences about favorite violinists and recordings-- I've certainly had my share of favorites! When you've heard a dozen interpretations of a favorite work and find one that you believe is the best, you take note.  When you've heard 50 different interpretations of that same work, then find one that completely and profoundly changes your life, you've reached a better understanding.

But music is not a horse race. Each musician shares his/'her interpretation--hopefully provides insight and meaning, adds expression to this most noble art. It would be unfair to openly critique todays violinists. I am neither a better performer than they, nor a professional music reviewer. I do believe I may be able to shed light on the "golden age" of violinists (and musicians in general).

Here is a recording of Milstein playing Paganini Caprice #5. PLEASE compare this to ANY other performance. His timing is precise, his intonation near flawless, tone immaculate, articulation is faultless, phrasing is profoundly meaningful:

Maybe, just maybe Michael Rabin's recording is in this league. Rabin may have been the last of his kind. I have not heard any other performance since then that can even come close to either of these. A youtube search, or Amazon search will bring up countless recordings, old and new for comparison.

For another example, here is Heifetz playing Bazzini:

His precision and accuracy is near flawless. Others have recorded this work, Perlman, Midori, etc. but for me, only Heifetz makes magic.

I'll try to keep it brief: the precision and accuracy is easily heard in the above sound clips.  I know of no living artist today can that reach or surpass these works. There are many fine recordings, many passable recordings, but only one Heifetz, only one Milstein. It's not just virtuoso technique either. Slow expressive playing was better generations ago. Google audio clips of Elman, Kreisler, Thibaud, Powell, Rae Eleanor Ball, and really listen to the legato. Their intonation is far more accurate, and the vibrato really adds meaning to each note, each phrase. This is very different from todays violinists.

As mentioned earlier, I believe there is something holding us back-- some reason why todays violinists can no longer reach this standard of excellence. It may be as radical as declining oxygen levels in our atmosphere, or food grown in pesticide ridden soil, or microwave or EMF radiation, but SOMETHING is keeping us from evolving to the next (previous?) level. 'Nuff said.

February 18, 2011 at 03:59 AM ·

Evan - wouldn't gainsay anything you wrote, but would like to add another example. Everyone, please treat yourself to Heifetz' recording of the Sinding Suite. The incredible speed, the lazer-like precision and edge, the blinding excitement, are almost beyond human. But add to that Heifetz' bringing out the haunting quality of that mvt. the harmony, the direction, the emotion - even at breakneck speed that is never rushed - and what you have is an Olympian god of the violin showing us mortals how it can be done!

February 18, 2011 at 08:22 PM ·

Yes -see my personal message to you.

March 3, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

 Check out this guy playing The Sinding...

......model of effortless ease

March 3, 2011 at 07:15 PM ·


I have been to a number of Kino recitals.  He is an absolutely awesome player.  highly individual as well.



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