My back hurts

January 25, 2013 at 04:54 PM · Hello!

I have been playing now for just over a month, and i practice around 2-5 hours a day depending on if its one of my days off work or not. On an off day i could play as much as 8-10 hours but my body forces me to stop sooner then that.

My biggest issue is in the shoulder of my bow arm, not the actual shoulder but buried beneath the edge of my shoulder blade, in the upper right back area. I started noticing it slightly, but now every time i hit about the 30 minutes to an hour mark i start feeling it, and during the 1-2 hour time interval it forces me to take breaks every 5-10 minutes of playing. My left arm gets sore but that's not an odd pain for me, im holding it suspended in the air for long periods of time which requires the muscle, and its very similar to excersise pains.

I want to know if this is normal for a new beginner forcing decent practice schedule such as myself, or if this is an indication that i'm too tense in my arm..or perhaps bad posture? Ive tried to eliminate those as possibilities by playing in front of a mirror, but if they are happening i need to identify them before i damage something or form hard-to-break habits. The one thing which I am hoping not to hear is to stop playing so much, I really don't want to play any less than I am now, and I am hoping that there is some sort of excersise i can do to strengthen my right shoulder and back muscle specific to violin playing. Perhaps some pre-performance excersices that are commonplace in the violin community im not privvy to yet?

Replies (20)

January 25, 2013 at 05:32 PM · Without seeing you play I can't answer any questions re; your posture. Could really be anything, though I suspect you're asking an awful lot of your body at this point in time. If your posture is kosher and you don't have any unnecessary tension my best suggestion would be to take some longish breaks and do some stretching (like 10 or 15 min) before going back at it. I've also found that any exercises that strengthen the 'core' muscles like abs (opposing muscles in general) are handy to help balance the body out.

If you've got a friend or a massager or something, have a go at those muscles and try to break up the knots that are most likely there. In a pinch you could use a tennis ball in a long sock or lay over one on the floor and use your body weight to work the knots out. Seriously, it helps.

I do know what and where the kind of pain you're talking about is. I remember it from back in the day when my arms/back were capable of registering pain. :)

January 25, 2013 at 05:35 PM · Pauline has an awesome post re; stretching here:

January 25, 2013 at 05:42 PM · Aaron, You don't say anything about what music you are playing or whether you have a teacher with whom you might have discussed this.

I can guarantee you that if you don't have a teacher, then you are certainly doing something wrong - that's just the way it is with these bowed instruments. And if you don't have a teacher, what are you working on that many daily hours?


January 25, 2013 at 05:43 PM · If could be position related, or it could be lack of muscle tone in the back. Or it could be an injury. This isn't really a good place to diagnose stuff like that. Ask your teacher, or a physical therapist or other qualified professional. Not us.

BTW, looking in a mirror isn't going to help you, because you are inexperienced and don't know what you are looking for. Seek professional help.

January 25, 2013 at 08:28 PM · Good point i never explained what i was doing. I do not have a teacher but im trying very hard to get along without one as correctly as possible untill i can afford one.

As far as what i'm doing for all that time, I come from classical piano so i'm up to speed on theory. I'm getting familiar with all of the scales, playing them repeatedly in 2 octaves (or as far as i can go) up and down, I spend about 40 minutes going through all the major/minor scales i can get to in first position in short legato, long legato w/ vibrato, staccato, and what i like to call double staccato :) The rest of my time Ive been going through the Suzuki books 1/2 as well as Sitt's book of Etudes and Wolfheart's is coming up next. When i look in the mirror I watch for a straight back (standing up straight), left elbow in the proper position, left wrist in the proper position and proper left hand placement with the thumb and index finger, correct right elbow position and arm rotation for my bow arm given the bow grip im using, and a decent positioned violin in relation to the floor, i like to keep the violin body at almost parallel to the floor and my eyes looking right down the D string.

And I may have come off wrong, I wasnt hoping for a back pain diagnoses :) I was just expecting other beginners to have learned some stretching techniques to try and loosen up the body before playing that they wouldn't mind sharing and perhaps others have had the same right upper back pain and could tell me how they handled it. The movements required to play are foreign to my body so the pain I'm having is surely to be expected, its nothing that's not going away after a rest. I like the tennis ball idea i did something similar with a back massage thingy but it ran out of batteries.

January 25, 2013 at 08:43 PM · I honestly think you are practicing way too long for a beginner just over a month into learning, at that stage I used to practice probably no more than half hour and it used to be three 10 minutes slots.

that together with suboptimal posture/technique can be a killer

January 25, 2013 at 08:47 PM ·

January 25, 2013 at 08:56 PM · Eugenia your absolutely right about the pictures being misleading. Even knowing and completely accepting that fact, trying to group mass amounts of pictures and videos together and sift through them and pick out the good info from the bad, you still end up interpreting things wrong. Angles create optical illusions, professionals have learned the rules well enough to break them at the exact minute the picture is taken before rebounding back to standard practice, etc. Even the best intentioned beginner such as myself with an absolute goal to not develop bad habits will not achieve perfection without a lot of luck and a lot of relearning.

I've been trying to get around to getting a basic lesson, just to ensure i havent learned anything wrong. I guess I will just need to develop a sense of patience until i can get around to it. It sounds so easy but finding the time and $ to do it is really tough!! Im going to take your advice on the practice 45, 15 break too. Maybe Ill throw in some yoga or something. I hear that's good for the body :)

January 25, 2013 at 08:56 PM · I think this may help you out a bit - Don't forget to stretch. Just like any sport you can't jump in from nothing to 8 hours a day. Build your stamina:)

Happy Practicing!

Heather Broadbent

For more free violinist tips please subscribe to my newsletter at

and/or to my youtube channel

January 25, 2013 at 09:05 PM · Perfect, perfect!

Thank you heather, totally going to start using these. Very helpful vid

January 25, 2013 at 09:19 PM ·

January 25, 2013 at 11:54 PM · Hello Aaron,

I would recommend at least 10 minutes of break per hour. For a beginner, the more breaks you take, the better you can take time to recharge your body and mind. Since you are a pianist and you understand theory, articulation, dynamics, etc, then maybe you should consider Alexander Technique lessons. It will help you to understand the way you use your body, identify unnecessary tension, and help you play for longer.



January 26, 2013 at 12:06 AM · I haven't read all the answers but to me the answer to the question why you experience pain is simple: You are not trained and perform a practice routine wich is even tiring for well trained violinists. After 8 hours... you expect to feel nothing? As a beginner? ;) I am not kidding you because I like that you seem quite motivated and I believe that you can learn a lot without a teacher. Actually sometimes no teacher is better than a bad teacher. But follow basic practice principles. You have to let your body adept slowly and in small amounts to the new movements. While I am not a big fan of stretching arms and neck muscles I like very much to stretch my back and sides and also even legs, wich is not unimportant for a good balanced stand!

I personally think that you should not practice staccato at your stage, you probably do it "wrong" anyways. Try to learn a good detaché stroke in every part of the bow, tip/middle/frog. From there you can learn nearly all the other strokes... later, be patient!

Basic good practice time management has been mentioned above I think. Better practice twice 45 minutes a day very (!) concentrated than 8 hours with no plan. Devide your time, set goals, use breaks to think about what you could do better. Stay moving! Don't freeze in one position too long, better take the violin down from time to time and look out of the window and walk around the room. Even more often than once an hour. You are simply not trained yet! People who practice 4-6 hours a day regularly tend to play since at least approximately 8 years.

January 26, 2013 at 06:22 AM · I may have been dealing with the exact same thing recently. I realized that in trying to get weight in my right elbow for a decent tone, I was actually pushing my entire shoulder down (and possibly in). I figured out that I could let my entire shoulder relax and have the weight be entirely in my arm with my elbow hanging. The key is to not push or pull the shoulder one way or the other and to let the joints keep a natural space. That may be easier said than done, but it worked for me pretty quickly once I had an understanding of my habit.

BTW, I tried a bunch of stretching and foam rolling, and would even roll the knots out on a lacrosse ball, but it wasn't until I pinpointed my habit and stopped doing it that the knots and tightness went away. Ongoing Alexander Technique lessons were very helpful. Though popping those knots on the lacrosse ball was pretty nice.

It seems that if you are looking for some recovery technique, you are going about it backwards. Don't treat the symptoms when you can avoid the disease in the first place. And 8 hours of practice with no teacher is going to do wonders to ingrain poor habits for 99.9% of violinists.

January 26, 2013 at 07:39 AM · If you're a good classical pianist then you probably realize, like me, that chances are you'll get a whole mass of conflicting ideas out in the teaching world. Where is my teacher? I wish I knew.

January 26, 2013 at 09:41 AM · I would expect any beginnner practising 5 or 8 hours a day to experience a lot of pain. I would be surprised if they did not !

When you play the violin you adopt a VERY unatural position and it takes a while for the body to become accustomed to it even if you are doing everything correctly (most beginners do not).

I would think that 90 minutes a day broken into two 45 minute sessions is plenty for somebody who is just beginning the violin. If you can do that without pain or discomfort then you could think about adding more.

What is the rush ?

January 27, 2013 at 03:25 PM · I'd say that's definitely too much for a beginner to be practising, you need to build it up gradually or you'll do some real damage - 45 mins a day for a week (which is plenty for a beginner) then maybe 1 hour after a few weeks, then 1 hr 15 etc.

January 27, 2013 at 05:42 PM ·

January 27, 2013 at 08:51 PM · Starting to play the violin (or returning to it after a long break) is like starting an exercise routine. You run a high likelihood of injury if you overdo it. And the process of building muscles, especially the large muscles, will cause some degree of pain. You want to make sure that your body has the time it needs to build up those muscles, just like you would if you were starting a sport.

Also, I have noticed that when I start to tire, I start to misuse my other muscles -- I'll compensate for what's tired by using some muscle that's not as tired, but that also means that I'm doing something wrong, and I should stop (since I certainly don't want to practice the incorrect movement). Also, it becomes harder to tell what's fatigue and what's pain caused by tension. So practicing when your body is already tired, especially if you're in pain, is a bad idea.

But try taking a break every five minutes -- just 30 seconds or a minute, to fully relax -- in addition to the longer breaks.

January 27, 2013 at 09:35 PM · If no one has already mentioned it, maybe try exploring some Alexander Technique.

However, the real red flag in your post is the excessive practice sessions (especially for a beginner). Even masters students are not recommended to physically practice more than 4 hours per day (according to Perlman, Kopek, etc.). Their practice day continues through listening and score/part study (and rehearsals and performances).

Believe me, I understand you wanting to gain strides with the instrument quickly (I too am a bit of a bounder), but after 4+ years I have learned how to practice (and am still learning as my skills increase). This is a critical part of learning how to play the violin. You just can't rush it.

I agree with the others - think like an athlete beginning training. I would practice 45 minutes, then rest 15. Maybe 1-2 hours like this per day at your level would give you the best results.


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