Building Endurance for Recital

March 2, 2005 at 05:43 PM · Hi all,

I'm have a big recital program: 2 mvmts of Bach G Minor, the Tartini Devil's Trill, the Franck, and Ravel Tzigane. All pieces are coming under control technically. My problem: stamina. They are all monster pieces with monster endings, and I am getting pooped. I'm never tense or in pain; I just get that slightly glazed feeling where you think, "Ok, let's get this over with." The fingers also turn to motley mush after awhile.

I'm beginning to think of violin playing as a very athletic undertaking. What is most important? Cardio? Upper-body strength? Should I cross-train? Run? Hang upside down from a bar? I want to begin the last piece on the program, the Ravel, as energetically as I begin the first one. Another obvious suggestion is to conserve energy, but HOW can I conserve it without sacrificing intensity? These pieces are all so marvelous, I don't want to hold back a bit.

Replies (18)

March 2, 2005 at 06:13 PM · Well, the main issues of stamina I've had for violin playing is playing for various sorts of dancing. And that is mainly a matter of being able to play for hours at a time, not so much technical stress.

I've always done some form of exercise, usually running, but I've noticed a *huge* difference in my stamina overall and my ability to play the violin in particular, since I started doing weight training as well as the running and yoga.

In particular, doing full back squats (where you have the large barbell, put some weights on it, and lift it on your shoulders, squatting up and down, but don't use that description to try one, please!) has improved my posture and ability to stand for long periods of time. I've also found that doing some of the grip strength exercises (like the farmer lift) has really helped with both left and right hand violin skills.

I suspect that any general overall fitness exercises will help you gain stamina, but I've found that the weight training does the most for me in the least amount of time. (I lift for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week).

I was very surprised at how much difference I noticed in daily activities, and violin playing, in so short a time. I saw some results in about a month of working as seriously on my exercise as I do on my violin playing and other things I value.

I've been doing the weight training as part of my routine for almost 2 years. The old cliche, 'your body is part of the instrument' does seem to be true. I'm getting closer to getting mine in tune, and everything sounds better. :)

Hope that is of some help,


March 2, 2005 at 07:36 PM · Hi,

Do you use a shoulder rest? That could be the source of your energy loss. The amount of power and facility gained without a rest is infinite in my opinion. Also check to make sure you are not lifting your shoulder and pressing it against the instrument. That is another energy drainer if that is done. Also try breaking your repertoire into thirds and go through a certain portion over a three day period. The repertoire should stay pretty fresh if you go through this cycle.

March 2, 2005 at 08:06 PM · Nate,

Remember that not everyone can go without a shoulder rest or some sort of device to fill the space between the jaw the the collarbone/shoulder.

I would never advise someone to lose the shoulder rest before I saw their body type.

Your other suggestions are great!



March 2, 2005 at 08:38 PM · Well, as far as that goes, heretic that I am, I don't use either a chin rest or a shoulder rest. It's just me and the violin.

My decision to dispense with both was a comfort issue, as I found (and find) it uncomfortable to painful to use the rests, and reached my conclusions about the rests long before there were any issues of stamina. My current coach/teacher was slightly nonplussed by my no rests stance, but since my playing issues are more bowing/right hand ones, he shrugs it off as one of my eccentricities. So I wouldn't say that my use/disuse of rests helped or hindered my stamina, for what that's worth.


March 2, 2005 at 09:04 PM · Nate, I have to disagree with you. :)

I use a shoulder rest and can play nonstop for hours without getting tired.

If you're getting tired, it's probably a sign of tension.

March 2, 2005 at 09:28 PM · Hi,

I agree with Amy. The shoulder rest thing is a personal choice/issue. However, tension or setup problems is usually why people experience pain or tiredness.


March 3, 2005 at 12:45 AM · Greetings,

i agree with the comments about the value of weight training but don`t forget that there are thre ecomponents of exercise : cardio, resistance and flexibility. You should be doing all three.

However, these are concerned with doing whereas the great curse of violin playing (and other musicla insturments) is to learn the art of non-doing so taht your system integrates into a smooth , flowing mechanism responding to the msuic flowing through you. In such a state you can play and practice with ease and joy.

Right now you are surely playign really well but not realizing any of your potentila becuas eof the misuse of your spine which is central to efifcient body use.

I therefor estrongly reocmmend you take a creash course in Alexander Technique as quickly as possible. in about ten lessons you shoudl have a fairly depe sens eof the differnece between your current condition and what I am describing.



Ps you can read an article I wrote about At at :

PPS If you want to be ready for the recital, build up to playing the program through at least twice without stopping;)

March 3, 2005 at 02:15 PM · When I was preparing the Bach Chaconne for a recital a few years back, my teacher had me play through the piece (at home of course) three times a day for two weeks. This works for a number of reasons. One, playing through the piece so many times lets your brain condense the score. When you have to perform the piece, one time through is a breeze. Two, it forces you to relax because playing through the Chaconne three times takes 45 minutes of non-stop violin playing. It amazing how much extraneous motion is being used even when you think you are relaxed. If your hand feels tired or cramped, you are tense, most likely in the upper back region.

March 3, 2005 at 06:40 PM · Mr. Buri (I don't feel I know you well enough to just call you by your first name :) ), I agree with you, if I was not clear, I'm sorry. I have a full fitness plan, the weight training is only part of it. I do a variety of things for cardio, and I do yoga for flexibility. From my understanding, the Alexander method is very similar to some forms of yoga, and sounds quite intriguing.

Anyhow, here's another suggestion that I think has been missed here. What does the original poster's teacher recommend? From some of the other suggestions it looks like different teachers have different solutions to your difficulty. Your coach/teacher should have some ideas for you to try, and like always, since they can see what parts of your body you are tensing, they can help you more than people who only see you on email. :)


March 3, 2005 at 11:46 PM · Dear Sherry,

thanks for your kind words. I am glad you are intrigued by Alexander Technique! However, it is not like yoga at all!

In essence it is recapturing the fundamental human condition so thta all other actvities are done with maximum efifciency. So, if you studied Alexander then your yoga would improve dramatically, as would golf, weight training and violin playing or just your helath in general.

One big difference is that yoga pays attention to breathing. Alexander took precisly the opposite tack. He argues that if the head neck and back are fucntioning in perfect harmony then breahting is the most natural human action there is and will take place. Although it wa snearly a century ago now, many of Alexander ideas on breahting which went against standard thinking (eample- emphesema patinets should streng5then the diaphragm by working on the in breath-wrong!)are noe now being confimred in mainstream medical research.

I hope you can go out and get lessons (expensive;) but in the meantime yo might take a look at the web site I recommended or do a Google for Conable Alexander Technique.

Best of luck,


PS I am a Buri ;)

March 4, 2005 at 12:37 AM · I had to find out what "a buri" was. Apparently you are a tall and useful palm tree and a great source of fiber, Buri. ;-)

March 4, 2005 at 12:43 AM · Exactly.

March 4, 2005 at 06:55 AM · It looks like buri can help me with my constipation. :P

March 7, 2005 at 03:04 PM · Thanks for the comments!

My teacher also suggests building to the point where I can play the recital straight through two or three times. I just ran most of the program yesterday (Bach, Franck, and Ravel) and though I was gasping a little by the end of the Ravel, I made it.

I also had a unique opportunity earlier this week. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg gave a recital in town, and she and her accompanist gave a master class here at the university the next morning. I didn't get a chance to play for her but I did pop the recital-endurance question. Their suggestions:

1. Be able to play straight through 2-3 times

2. Be able to survive playing each piece a little too fast

3. Practice under hostile conditions (heat turned up, heat turned down, killer shoes, uncomfortable clothes, sticky hands, etc.)

By the way, if you've never seen her in action, Nadja is highly entertaining. She skips and frisks like a little puppy. A little bulldog. She even has a rather low, barking voice. I really enjoyed her.

My next question is this: what about mental endurance? What do you do to keep the enthusiasm from flagging? I'm already learning that, contrary to what I said in my first post, I WILL have to conserve my juice and regard pieces as elements of the whole recital rather than chances to grandstand. Maybe I should think of myself as playing an 8-movement concerto...


March 7, 2005 at 03:43 PM · I completely agree with what NSS said. She's absolutely right on the money.

As for myself, I've always found the mental aspect the most difficult. To enable myself to stay focused musically, I try to do run through the program three times in a row, without stopping, every day for about a week prior to the Event so as to build up mental and physical stamina. Plus, getting myself to sort of take notes as I'm playing (e.g. "must remember to not rush that bar in the next run-through" or "must remember to accent THAT note" etc.) allows me to stay concentrated as various hurdles appear on the musical horizon. The thing that I've found gets my mind unfocused and has me just playing on autopilot is conceiving of the piece - whatever the piece might be - as this big, shapeless mass. The thing that eliminates nerves, keeps me focused and keeps my energy high is a simultaneous understanding of the piece as a whole but the experience of it as section by section, event by event.

Don't try to think ahead whole pages, certainly, but a few measures ahead of where you are currently might be helpful. And do eat the right sort of foods for your body. The right sort of foods are those that allow a slow, steady flow of energy timed to coincide with the start of the concert. For me, these benefits can only be found in carbs. For my mom, it's always a bit of very rare steak (protein in massive doses). What will do it for you? Experiment. If nothing else, your palate will thank you, even if your gym looks at you askance.

My pianist, incidentally, can eat the sort of things rabbits generally live on (are you listening, Buri?) and still be bouncing up onto the stage. Owen, remember the Santa Rosa recital? Because of Michael's vegetarianism, and the constraints of timing and so forth, my pre-concert meal was some sort of tofu-spinach dealie. It was lovely, but hardly energy food. As a result, I was actually physically tired by mid recital, something that has never happened before. Michael, on the other hand, was totally bouncy all the way through - with tempi to match, the evil, evil Yogic wonder that he is! Even for the Malibu recital that Laurie came to (Brahms #3, Prokofiev #2, Paganini Le Streghe, Sarasate Zigeunerweisen, Saint-Saens Intro & Rondo, Ravel Tzigane, Kreisler Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta) I was a bit tired. California doesn't believe in heavy carbs before lunchtime, and for the food to do me any good, I have to have pasta about three to four hours prior to playing. The best I could do for that afternoon Malibu thing was a canoli with my morning espresso. Tasty. But not helpful.

March 7, 2005 at 04:07 PM · Hi,

Everyone has given such good advice, but here is one tidbit that I think is important for endurance. Be well rested and don't over practice the day of a recital. Lack of rest and over practice are killers! As for other things, just be in the moment, and don't think about endurance. Just playing is best. Thinking too much just drains you. In terms of the mental aspect that is good. But then again, I am ill-placed to speak. I experience the opposite which is that I gain energy as I go, but then again, I am just plain weird.


P.S. I would caution against eating too much before you play... however, eating is important for energy, but over-eating drains energy and makes one lethargic.

March 7, 2005 at 04:48 PM · Playing long orchestral programs pretty often has really helped with my endurance levels. For solo recitals I agree with Christian that eating too much and too close before a performance is not a positive thing (not for me anyways). I try to drink lots of water and keep hydrated, but not eat too much. And yes, as soon as you start to think about the endurance aspect during a performance, your endurance levels drop.

Overall I've been pretty lucky. I don't easily get tired in long solo recitals/performances. The hardest part is the staying focused mentally, not the physical playing but due to a lot of really focused practicing that I do and mental practicing I don't get mentally tired that quickly either.

March 8, 2005 at 06:01 AM · Greetings,

as teh above point out, it depends what fuel you are sticking in the engine. Emil mentions carbs, but keep in mind that what you want for slow energy release is complex/starchy carbs. In a nutshell, avoid processed /white food. Emil`s mum is taking the massive dose of protein because that is what you nee d to get the brain ticking over at top speed.

I would also reocmmend eating six small meals a day instead of thre ebiggish ones. You can subsitute a protein drink for two of them to icnrease convenience.

One thing I have never heard mentioned on this list whenever a discussion like this crops up is the kind of protein energy bars used by bodybuilders. this suprises me becuase there is some seruious research behind this kind of stuff, its damn conveninet to carry around and it does all the kind of jobs being addressed here.

Personally I would recommend the Met-Rex bars or Myoplex. I am not sponsored or endorsing these companies or products in anyway of course.



PS My rabbits used to eat pianists for breakfast before it soft pedalled its way to a better world

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