Practicing Without Getting Tired

June 27, 2004 at 08:56 PM · Hello, I'd like to know how long a violinist should be able to practice without getting tired. I'd love to be able to pick up my violin and play for an hour or two straight, but usually my left hand or shoulder gets tired before then.

Replies (48)

June 27, 2004 at 09:04 PM · Are you using a shoulder rest? That can be one reason that you get tired according to Zukerman. He calls them "crutches" and for a good reason. Another is if you are not playing on flat hairs.

June 27, 2004 at 09:25 PM · there's most likely tension. if you spend enough time practicing utter relaxation while you play and deep breathing also you wont get nearly as tired.

June 27, 2004 at 10:40 PM · Mmm i used to have that problem. Except for me i got used to the shoulder thing because i was weight lifting XD eventually it took hours and hours for it to hurt but that's not a good idea. Too fix it relax your shoulder. I like to lay on the ground and stretch out all my limbs before practicing. IT tends to make me relax maybe it'll work for you. As for your left hand, it's obvious your vibrato is probably wrong. I had the same problem too. My arm vibrato had no backwards motion only fowards motion. So the finger would only go foward back to normal and foward. Do vibrato exercises, when i do scales 45 minutes of my scales are vibrato exercises. Make sure the finger goes backwards and fowards, and don't tense the thumb. I think a person should be able to play 12 hours or even more and the only reason to stop would be getting tired. Good luck i'm sure you'll overcome this.

June 27, 2004 at 11:27 PM · Thanks for the advice guys.

Graham, you say a person should be able to play 12 hours straight. I should have made my question more clear. Do you mean a practice session with rests included should be able to last 12 hours, or do you mean that a violinist should be able to pick up his instrument and play for 12 hours straight without putting it down?

June 27, 2004 at 11:43 PM · i would get hungry

June 27, 2004 at 11:49 PM · LOL! Very true Owen, yah you'll get hungry. My practice session now in summer is wake up at 2-3. Eat my brunch and practice till 6ish. Than i have dinner and practice more till like 8-9. Sometimes i'll take a bathroom break or i'll go get some water and check up on this site. I think it's possible to go up to 5 hours without any breaks, because i've done that before but i'm not sure about 12 hours. I don't think 12 hours is very healthy either.

June 27, 2004 at 11:57 PM · Graham, I hope you mean two PM, otherwise you're waking up before the Dalai Lama.

June 27, 2004 at 11:54 PM · Greetings,

Oistrakh understood the significance of this point and taught it to his students. Lakatos also comments on this in his Strad interview a few months back.But neither really articulated the reasons behind it. Genuis does not always have to...

It is a question of using the bodies bone structure as the perfect archetecture and then finsihing off the job by using being muscles fortheir role in effortless support of the body and doing muscles for their intended purpose which is to perform acitons like @play the violin.`

I suggest you buy a copy of a small book by Jeremy Chance , th etitle of which includes Alexander tehcnique - so a quick search on will prodce it with no problems. It is veyr cheap and Chance is simply one of the bets Alexander teachers in the world right now. It provides simple exercises which help you explore using the body at maximum efficiency,



June 28, 2004 at 02:48 AM · Well, if you do find a way of practicing without getting tired. Either you don't engange your mental capacity while you practice, or you don't nessarily hold the violin at all?

Regardless, if you do chance uppon practicing with utterly no mental or physical fatigue, then everyone would be glad to learn how to.

June 28, 2004 at 03:00 AM · Greetings,

No Sum. It is all to od with the spine which cannot function as ntende dunless the head is correctly situated. Buy the book!



and your hip joints...

June 28, 2004 at 03:00 AM · Greetings,

Sum on a typical Saturday I do the following:

Am Four-five hours practice.

Lunchtime: teach one hour.

2-5 Coach childrens orchstra. Lots of heavy playing and demonstrating.

5-6 Chamber music.

6.30-10 Semi professional orchestral playing or coaching.

Am I tired physically? Since taking Alexander lessons, no!



June 28, 2004 at 03:18 AM · I will buy that book.

It sounds, like the tome of greater understanding of the body.


Thank you very much for the feedback.

June 28, 2004 at 03:42 AM · Are you fairly new to playing the violin, because nearly all of my beginners complain at least initially of achey arms just holding the violin for ten minutes. However, your achey left hand does sound to be the result of tension - are you gripping with your left thumb? For me, it mostly depends on what I'm playing: if you're working on something like Bach's E Prelude, you may find you get tired quickly, as opposed to something less... relentless;)

June 28, 2004 at 03:49 AM · By the way, I'm not really convinced by the idea that if you get tired holding your arms in the air for five hours a day, you have some kind of tension/relaxation problem. Let's be sensible here.

June 28, 2004 at 03:57 AM · all they are saying is there is a way in which you DONT get tired.

June 28, 2004 at 04:09 AM · You didn't. You said 'there's most likely tension'.

June 28, 2004 at 04:44 AM · I can only engage my mind for 50 minutes at a time. Then I need a smoke break. Which includes looking at I go back to practicing with renewed zeal and vigor. Sometimes it is in 20 minute increments throughout the day of intense work and focus. Adding up to about four hours. During the school year I have a schedule more like Buri's....but for now, I'm content to practice my, let's average and take "I hate my vioin" days into count, 3 hour days. Don't ban me from the all day playing club!!!!

June 28, 2004 at 04:47 AM · Greetings,

Sue, Owen seems to be feeling grumpy today. Perhaps the other six dwarves have gone away again...

The point is not that one holds the arms in the air for five hours but you learn when to put the violin down, take breaks, stretch and so on. How to put the violin back up correctly. How to put the violin bow on the string keeping it vertical until the last possible moment to reduce stress on the little finger side of the right hand and so on,

Five hours without prunes?



June 28, 2004 at 06:06 AM · If you were to hold your arms in the air for 5 hours without doing anything it would be very tiring (albeit impossible)but the mere fact of the continuously changing positions that we use when we play ensures that the muscles don't lock.Also there are many little natural breaks when we play or practice which give a refreshing respite.

June 28, 2004 at 06:29 AM · Thanks Sue, yes, when I noticed that sometimes I would keep my fingers tensed hard on the string, or my thumb pushed against the side of the neck. I'll loosen up.

During a two hour practice session, I'll practice an etude for 20 minutes, rest 10 minutes, practice 40 minutes, rest ten minutes, practice 30 minutes, and rest 10 minutes.

How long should a good violinist be able to practice between the rests that he takes?

June 28, 2004 at 06:44 AM · Zukerman talks about practicing 50 minute hours and taking ten minute breaks. I think this is a very helpful strategy

June 28, 2004 at 06:46 AM · Greetings,

I agree with Nate although I think fifty minutes is the maximum. Zuckerman can focus at that level, I suspect most people max out closer to thirty minutes.



Incidentally if you are just starting to play the most fundamental break is after the first ten minutes because the lubrication fluid is burned up at this point and you need to get it back into your hands an dfingers.

It is a good rule of thumb to consider stoppg and giving your hands a good shake every ten minutes.

Notice how player sliek Gitlis actually shake their hands in the rest on the cocnert platform. tehy have no ascruples about doing this,



June 28, 2004 at 08:39 AM · Buri, is that Chance book the Thorsons First Directions The Alexander Technique book? or is it something else?

June 28, 2004 at 10:58 AM · Greetings,

sorry, I didn"t realize there was another.

The book is Thorsons- Principles of the Alexander Technique.

ISBN 0-7225-3705-0



June 28, 2004 at 03:27 PM · I'm a very relaxed player all around, but to keep sain I tend to do the Zuckerman thing...the 50 minute hour. Usually the first 20-30 minutes is concentrated on technique or studies, then I'll put my violin down for 2 minutes and stretch out my hands just to releive any tension I might have had from practicing double stops or awkward, high positioned stuff. Then I'll plough trough on repertoire for 30 minutes or so. I try to space my practicing as much as possible, but I am able to play a very long time with minimal breaks and not get tired. Buri's suggestions on looking into the Alexander technique are good ones. It's helped tons of people who have had problems and is just a really great thing, it also really helps with your mental set-up and approach to playing as well as just your physical set-up. I haven't delved into it to deeply yet, but my sister who plays piano has been taught at college by an Alexander teacher, and it's amazing what it's done for. I want to read more about it. Buri, I'm marking that book down!

June 28, 2004 at 04:45 PM · Incidently, my mum happened to throw me a book.


William s. Leigh


It contains a wealth of information from three great physical healers. (Ida Rolf among them)

I recommend it to those who find fatigue etched into practice time.

Injuries caused overtime take similar amounts of time to overcome.

The fruits are very rewarding i must say.

June 28, 2004 at 05:38 PM · right i believe tension is what makes somebody tired. If you are extremely relaxed and are constantly changing the muscles you use to keep your arms aloft, and in addition use the smallest amount of possible energy by maximizing body efficiency there is no reason you should get physically tired after 5 hours, mentally is a different story.

June 28, 2004 at 08:23 PM · Buri, that book isn't in stock anymore on

but would the other book that's listed on there work since it's a 2001 edition as opposed to the 1999 edition of the principles?

June 28, 2004 at 11:52 PM · Greetings,

almost certainly,



June 29, 2004 at 02:07 AM · lift weights anf get'll never get tired :p

June 29, 2004 at 07:52 PM · i know you you're joking, but on the contrary you'll get more tired, "weight muscles" are stronger and tend to be more powerufl for short bursts of energy but in the end you dont build stamina. So in effect you are being forced to move MORE muscle for each movement and you will likely get tired faster.

June 29, 2004 at 08:32 PM · owen, tell it to vengerov :)

June 29, 2004 at 09:39 PM · if he would listen to me i would. I'd also tell him not to try and kill his violin when he plays tzigane. THen i'd compliment him on his ysaye

June 29, 2004 at 10:12 PM · Well I have a pretty high metabolism and I get tired quickly even when not playing violin. I take mini breaks to divvy up practicing--though I try to finish something that I'm already into--and either make a cup of tea or do yoga or, if I absolutely must, eat an apple or Odwalla bar, etc.(Incidentally, an Odwalla bar saved my life at a concert for which I was very tired...they do wonders.) Or if it happens to be a nighttime practice, I sometimes step outside for a smoke and to look at the stars, or peruse the brilliant posts on this lovely board.

Mind you I think I could greatly improve my endurance if I quit smoking totally and was in Bowflex shape...but for now I like my teas and yoga and stargazing. It helps me digest what I've been working on.


June 29, 2004 at 10:19 PM · I find that vibrato can tire me out after a while. I can increase practice time by playing without vibrato. This also helps intonation, tone quality, and phrasing. Intonation is clearer, tone quality has to be genuine (not just a carpet of vibrato over everything and it sounds fine), and phrasing has to be genuine too (vibrato doesn't equate with musicality). So I play as if I were a clarinet, senza vibrato but as beautifully phrased as possible. It all takes less energy without vibrato. Then I practice vibrato separately to make sure I have a full spectrum of vibratos I can use. I seem to remember Aaron Rosand recommending this in order to increase practice time without fatigue.

Let me know what you think,


June 29, 2004 at 11:42 PM · Greetings,

Christopher I agree. I often refer to Desmond Bradley arguing that the ebst practice is done without vibrato (i thinkk he was excluding performanc epractice) because the tension of performance would increase it too much. By etxension I think it would be logical to argue that saving that use of nervous energy would save on fatigue,



June 30, 2004 at 12:06 AM · Regarding vibrato, lately I've been saving it for playing at the end of practice, although I am doing vibrato exercises alongside other technique.

Lately I've noticed that during playing it's not as controlled as it used to be, probably because I am relearning 4th finger vibrato and still in the 'it feels odd' phase--my whole left hand approach has changed.

Anyway, should I practice playing with vibrato more? Scales with vibrato, in addition to without? All of a sudden I feel very aware of it and the awareness is throwing me off, not to mention the fact that in my studies I am thinking about not using tension to achieve I am not getting the same sound that I was accustomed to (which was good, but inconsistent between the fingers, and which took too much energy I think). Any ideas?

June 30, 2004 at 01:11 AM · Greetings,

`thinking about not using tension to achive it,`

Don`t think of a blue cat. Don`t think of the blue cat in front of a white cottage....



Why don`t you decide not to do any vibrato for a while and frustrate yourslef trying to get the maximu expressivness from the bow.

After a week or so, try keeping the bowing boring an dmathematical and doing all the expresisvenes s with the width and spped of the vibrato. Then put the package bakc together as you would normally.

Also , in the vibrato stage kee\p in ind that it is sometimes better to use a focus on width to change bibrato spepd rather than glaring at your fingers and shouting `faster, faster...`

June 30, 2004 at 02:23 PM · Hi. I'm 16 and i've been playing the violin for about ten years now. In september i'm auditioning for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. I really want to go for it - i'll be too old next year. Anyway, what am i getting at? Recently my teacher is helping me to improve my posture due to aching of the left shoulder, and he told me i tense up too much. Furthermore, i have changed my practice regime to two or three shorter periods a day. I find i can concentrate more and its helping my posture, as i find when playing for long periods of time i begin to tense up more. it isn't always a great idea to practice for an hour-hour & a half - I've surprised myself by how well i'm playing!

June 30, 2004 at 02:29 PM · Hm, blue cat in front of a white cottage...have you been dabbling in Lewis Carroll's medicine cabinet?

I have been focusing on width as opposed to speed; my frustration is that my left hand's orientation to the neck has shifted of late, and I am not entirely acclimated to it yet. Also I do spend a lot of time on playing expressively with only the bow--I do this more than ever--but for some reason the whole package feels foreign when I put vibrato back in.

I'm just in an awkward stage. I demonstrated something for my students the other day and it sounded pretty damn good and felt easy--I surprised even myself. So I think my frustration occurs when I am trying to control it and make it "perfect."

In any case, the point was that vibrato does make me tired, long story short.

June 30, 2004 at 04:01 PM · Just a couple of random thoughts............ First, Dorothy Delay recommended that her students practice 5 hours a day and to take a 10 minute break in-between each hour. Second, my teacher has requested that I try to get used to a new shoulder rest. I have previously used a Kun and am now switching to Poehland. I can hear a difference in my tone quality and in my vibrato so I really want to make this work. I do end up getting tired more quickly and I am pretty sure the cause is tension due to the difference in secure positioning between the 2 types of shoulder rests. What has helped me improve is to incorporate some strengthening exercises for my shoulder every day. Before and during each practice session I stop and stretch for a minute or so. Since I have used the new rest for less than 2 weeks, I feel confidant that I will be able to adjust eventually. This morning's practice session was my best so far in terms of feeling comfortable with the shoulder. Others have made good points on the vibrato issue. Good Luck, Ardene

July 1, 2004 at 01:07 AM · Greetings,

Kismet,the point about the blue cat is that you cannot think about not using tension to get rid of tension. The mind cannot create negatives . It can only create a positive and put a big red line through it, but since you have already created what you don`t want it is too late.

Nor can you replace one habit with anothe habit directly because the new one will still be base d on the old one. That is why players proudly talk about a problem they -had- and then they say I changed it to this and it works fine- except when I am tired or alittle understress when the other one comes back ...mumble mumble fart!

Children do not do this. If they are doing one thing one way and they decide to change they simply abandon the faulty concept lock stock and barrel.

Tranalated into adult terms that means getting rid of the wish to vibrate which is actually the trigger for your original vibrato problem. One way to do that is to pick up the violin with the intention of playing an expressive passage and then suddenly stopping and putting the violin down so that the wish and repsonse has been short circuited. Another way is to stop your vibrato completely and then after a while replac eit with somehting different- perhaps a vibrating back muscle.

I was hoping you would figure this out from the blue cat but I have erred. She ha s never been the same since the non-existent blue mouse died,



July 1, 2004 at 02:26 PM · Buri, my soul's been on sabbatical for the past couple weeks...not half as sharp as I used to be. (Though I did get what you were hinting at and was trying to be funny...) Point taken, though do you think it's impossible to "rewire" or retrain muscular or neurological or psychological memory when it comes to vibrato? My vibrato was more intuitive before than it is now. Maybe it's just a matter of time.

July 1, 2004 at 03:31 PM · it most certainly is, when i was fourteen or so i made the transition from a fast narrow vibrato (laser gun vibrato) to a much wider calmer vibrato although i dont necessarily limit myself to either anymore. Its not as hard as it seems, although its probably easier at 14 than 26

July 2, 2004 at 06:59 AM · Greetings,

Kismet. Yes you can. It is simply (?) a case of doing something different with a diffirent stimulus. You might find anothe r look at the Inner Game of Tennis helpful.

I was , i now realize, programmed to play with a fast narrow vibrato by my revered first teacher. I remember to this day the lesson in which he said, as an off the cuff remark, you will always have a fast nervous vibrato. As teachers we really need to avoid making the remarks at all cost. Anyway, over the last few years I have worked on all the relevant exercises, and things improved but I think I was ignoring the kind of stuff i wa s talking about above. We stay in a rut thinking `how can I improve this ? What exercises? ` which translates as how can I stick more habits on top of soemthing that is already too cluttered, too much. But then I was just watching a video of Gitlis who has an outrageous approach where he goes from white sound to big then suddenly a note seems importnat to him and his hand just explodes in withd and speed. It`s fantastic to watch. And from watching that I just thought , instead of worrying about the technnique all the time why don`t I just explode my hand on the big notes like Gitlis does? So I did. And i can. It shocked the hell out of me,



July 2, 2004 at 11:03 AM · Very inspirational Buri, as always. I agree about watching how we speak to our students...their seat is one of absolute vulnerability--that is if they really view themselves as students. I like to try and be intuitive with each one.

July 2, 2004 at 12:21 PM · On the subject of retraining or altering techniques it would be interesting to delve into the research done by the the Institute for Human Development in Philadephia who developed a system for training or retraining brain damaged children (and adults) by means of patterning.In fact when we practice we are infact patterning our brain and I often feel that if some neurologist were to seriously study are own forms of patterning and print the results of this research our work could be greatly facilitated.However we all blunder on but at least with great enthusiasm.

July 21, 2004 at 03:15 AM · Wow, Graham- you sleep in till 2 or 3 in the summer? That makes me feel so much better- I'm always SO mad at myself when I "sleep in-" till 8 or so AM- and don't get up and practice! Whatever. Max, my biggest problem is having trouble standing up for so long, so I usually take a 15 min. break every hour and sit down. Maybe the best thing to do is stop for a couple seconds every hour and re-motivate yourself and then keep going, because by the end of a couple hours anyone would get tired and tend to not practice as well. And yes, make sure you're relaxed.

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