October 18, 2005 at 05:58 AM · I have an uptight right arm when I play the violin. Sometimes my teacher can get me to relax it, but I don't know how to judge whether or not I'm relaxing it when I'm on my own. I think not because my shoulder is raised. HELP!!!

Replies (16)

October 18, 2005 at 07:15 AM · I think when teachers say relax they really mean something else, otherwise you'd be flopping around, right? Videos would help. Especially the women in the Queen Elizabeth competiton if it's still up. The women because the sleeveless dresses make it easier to see.

October 18, 2005 at 12:59 PM · Following up on what Jim said, yeah, complete relaxation means you can't even hold the bow. The goal is to avoid unnecessary muscular tension. There's an old but excellent self-hypnotic technique called "progressive relaxation," which is safe and easy to do. There's also a relaxation technique called AT (Autogenic Training), which also works well. Look those things up. What you have to do is learn to pay careful attention to muscle groups and to develop techniques to relax specific muscle groups so that it becomes second nature. THEN, you can focus on making music.

October 18, 2005 at 01:35 PM · Hi,

Sydney, ask yourself why you are tense. The tension in your bow arm can come from anywhere - bad general playing posture, setup problems, tense thumb on either side, flawed bow hold, gripping the bow instead of allowing the string to do the work, trying too hard to be musical, etc..

The issues are multiple. The cause needs to be addressed. To be relaxed is impossible if the source of the problem is not dealt with.


October 18, 2005 at 03:04 PM · Tension can also come from bad bow control. Even if you have control now, fear that it will come back can cause tension. What you can do is muscle-memory your way into knowing where strings are (even if you already know, it's good to warm up with playing a few open strings and jumping around.)

after you've done this for a few minutes, concentrate on separate parts of your arm while continuing to play. When you think about those parts, try to relax them. Do this from your neck down towards your fingers.

This might not work for your situation, as you're pretty advanced (suzuki 9, right?) and have acquired a posture all your own.

Of course, don't relax too much, like it's been said in previous posts and also watch clips of others play (or even your teacher).

October 18, 2005 at 07:33 PM · Sander, yes, but assuming the problem really is one of relaxation, the problem I think is initially knowing what is "unnecessary." If the techniques you mention bypass that then it would be great.

October 18, 2005 at 07:07 PM · First try to be aware of the dead weight of your arm.Relax your arm completely in the palm of your left hand.Then take the weight away by slightly tensing your arm.This will make you aware of the muscles in your lower arm.Try dropping your arm again into the palm of your left hand and feel the sensation of your upper arm relaxing.You can arrange this dead weight in the same way holding your bow.Place your bow on the d or a string and arrange your bow hold then let your arm relax.The movement of pulling the bow comes from the muscles in the upper arm.Make sure that your hand is moving in front and not being pulled behind.Try tensing and relaxing to feel the difference.

October 18, 2005 at 10:24 PM · Good points, all.

October 18, 2005 at 10:55 PM · Christian, could you say more about what you mean by "gripping the bow instead of allowing the string to do the work"? I know that I need to hold the bow, I know that I need to feel the string through the bow, but could you say more?

October 19, 2005 at 04:32 AM · Hey everyone,

Thanks for all your suggestions. I have located one possible source for my tensness: Fear of messing up.

Could this be it?

October 19, 2005 at 08:19 AM · Hi Sydney,

Yes, I think that's likely to be the main reason. I remember being taught to "relax" the bow arm but that never made any sense to me coz then I'll drop the bow if I don't hold on to it! Then I realised that the key to a relaxed bow arm is likely to be the elbow..think of it as "dropping the elbow" towards the ground due to gravity, rather than concentration too much on the whole "relaxing the upper arm" idea. It works for me...

Good luck!

October 19, 2005 at 10:44 AM · Try to let your bow move as you wish, and let the hand and arm follow ;)

October 19, 2005 at 07:19 PM · Janet, you have good points over all, but I would like to think of pushing the bow by using the muscles at the backside of the shoulder, rather than using the upper arm. It's maybe just a personal, mental thing. If I think of using the upper arm, the shoulder has the tendency to fall frontwards and my whole set-up start to look like a banana, if you know what I mean (I look down to the ground.) If I think of using the muscles of the backside of the shoulder, I keep standing straight, shoulder down (relaxed is maybe not the right word, but there is in any case know unnecessary tension or painful position). I think you can compare it with swimming. You should feel the same muscles working.

October 20, 2005 at 07:33 AM · Sarah,if your setup has a tendancy to collapse dowmwards it could be that your general posture is leaning forwards.If before placing the instrument on your shoulders you check that they are both shoulders relaxed and that when you place the violin it is not dipping towards the ground the bow should also maintain a parallel level with the bridge without any problem. Law of gravity dictates that if the angle of the violin is either dipping to towards the ground or pointing upwards there are consequently going to be problems with the bowing.If you bring the shoulder muscles into play you will be pulling the bow around the corner which often happens when aiming to play right to the point.Most bows are too long for the average arm and it is better to stop a little short of the point.But always play right to the frog.Pulling the bow around the corner will mean that the next up bow stroke will arrive at an angle to the bridge and thus impede sound production.Having said that.No muscle group works in isolation so of course if you are moving your upper arem muscles you will feel some sympathetic movement in the muscles under the shoulder blade but I do think that the mental drive should come from the upper arm nuscles

October 20, 2005 at 08:10 PM · Okay, I think this is not really a good discussion. I was just analysing what's happening in my brains while playing and I was just telling about my own personal tendencies. It could be useful for some people, but I'm certainly not explaining a theory. It's my experience, nothing is scientifically prooved...

October 20, 2005 at 10:31 PM · Hi,

Sara, the work of the bow should be done by the bow, without us getting in the way. Starting from the string allows you to balance the bow on the string. The violin will do it's job if one let's it do it. By not gripping, I mean that once the bow is on the string, if 10 is the strongest you can hold, and 0 is not having your hand on it, then your hold should be around 3-3.5. Enough to balance it on the string and not let it fall on the ground, but loose enough that one pulling the bow can easily snatch it out of your hand, or very easily lift your fingers from it.


October 20, 2005 at 10:45 PM · just don't grip your bow, let it sit on the strings. plus, don't raise your shoulders. it's easy to relax! if u make it sound too complicated relaxation becomes such a difficult thing to do.

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