The frusturations of being tall

April 10, 2006 at 11:10 PM · Hey everyone,

My names David, and I started playing violin not to long ago. A lot of my time is spent practicing, but after about an hour I have to quit because of pain in my lower back, and sometimes neck. I have a Wolf Forte-Secondo should rest and put a handkerchief on the chinrest to keep it from sliding. I am unreasonably tall (6'6) and have a long neck. I had my shoulder rest real low at first and would try to play with it, but too much pressure had to be applied to keep it up which caused my teeth to grit. So I decided to raise it, and everything was working until after about an hour I would get sharp pains in my lower back. I have gotten my music stand to go up high enough from putting it on top of tall furniture, but it still seems that my back bothers me. I make sure to keep it straight when I play, and stand up. I do catch myself standing akwardly, and not putting my weight on the left foot. Could this be a problem? Please help, because I would like to practice at least 2 1/2 hours a day without having to stop because of pain.

Replies (18)

April 11, 2006 at 12:15 AM · Welcome to the club, my friend. I don't know how old you are, but lower back pains with people younger than I are usually caused by weak abdominal muscles and/or bad posture.

April 11, 2006 at 12:31 AM · There have been other tall players that were great despite being very tall (Szigeti, Erick Friedman, etc). You have to try to find a teacher that can work on tension with you, and find the right position of the instrument for you.

April 11, 2006 at 12:35 AM · Tried practicing sitting down? I'm 6'5" and don't have any problems...are you tense? Are you holding your instrument correctly? There's a lot to take into consideration

April 11, 2006 at 12:57 AM · Thank you all for the quick responses. Yeah, my abdominals probably aren't the strongest things in the world, and I try to watch my posture. As for knowing others who were quite tall, and did well is very encouraging, and I haven't tried sitting down because my teacher likes me to play standing up. I will try some of these suggestions, and see how things go. Thanks a lot.

Dave

April 11, 2006 at 01:33 AM · Lots of times when people are first starting, they have a hard time getting comfortable with holding the instrument correctly. It's harder than it looks! If a person tries to practice a lot when first beginning, they can develop detrimental habits quickly. You could consider backing off a bit or practicing is short segments of time with very careful attention directed towards holding the instrument correctly, bow correctly etc..

Have you talked with your teacher about this? He/she might be able to detect places of tension.

April 11, 2006 at 02:32 AM · Greetings,

I would hazard a guess that your problem is broader than playing the violin. People genuinly don`t like to stand out from others to a great extent so once one becomes a little different the body begins doing things to compensate or even cover up the percieved differneceand this can lead to real difficulties. For example, my Alexander Teacher told me of a women who came to him with appalling health difficulties because she had large breasts and spent much of her time trying to contract herself inwards, as it were. (An Alexander teacher makes a student aware of what they are doing and what it feels like to use the body well instead but does not deal with any underlying psycholgical cause or problems)

I have also come across a long time resident Japan of your height who had taught himself to stoop so badly without realizing it he had almost crippled himself in the process.

I strongly recommend you find yourself an Alexander of Feldenkreis teacher or perhaps even Reiki. Strengthening the abdominals is nice but probably not adressing the issues. Walking up mountians is a pleasna tway to do this.

In the meantime, aside form the excellent suggesiton of doing at least half your practice sitting down you could try the following simple exercise before you begin practicing.

Place the top of one hand gently on your head and the reverse of the other on your sacrum (tailbone, end of spine). Just stand and feel how this helps your body to lengthen and reconnect. Use your mind to try and become more consious of the space above your head. It is quite likely that as a psycholocal response to being so tall you have spent a lifetime or so thinking down and ignoring all the space above you. When one does this the upward energy of the body becomes crusehed and we develop all sorts of physicla problems and asches /pains as time goes by. There is pre to the world than what is in front of us and down.

Cheers,

Buri

April 11, 2006 at 08:56 PM · Hi David,

Being unsually small (just under 5 feet tall) I've never had the trouble you've had, but hopefully I can help anyway. It's very important that your spine remain straight, no matter your height. That not only means no stooping the upper part of your back, it also means that your neck needs to remain straight. The mistake that I have frequently observed is reaching forward with the head, causing the neck to slant forward. Make sure that your neck remains aligned with your spine. Don't try to reach forward for the chinrest with your chin. Merely turn your head slightly. Also, in regards to standing straighter, I often tell my students to imagine a string attached to their chest is pulling them up. This causes the shoulders to move back a bit and opens up the chest giving much better posture. It looks and feels much better.

-Laura

April 11, 2006 at 10:57 PM · Greetings,

while not disagreeing with what Laura is getting at (its all perfectly sensible) I would like to respectfully comment on some aspects that might take a little expansion. Laura said:

>The mistake that I have frequently observed is reaching forward with the head, causing the neck to slant forward.

Yes, sort of. However, what is actually occuring is the head collapsing backward on the rockers whre the spine meets the skull. This is the phenomenon thta the Alexander Technique addressess and is now so prevalent it is vurtually impossbile to see any person anywhere not doing it during the course of daily actions such as standing and sitting. Violin playing seriosuly exacerbates the problem.

>Make sure that your neck remains aligned with your spine.

This is the part of the message that demonstartes how a slight misconception of body structure can lead to problems. The spine runs direclty through the cente rof the neck and body (like the trunk of a tree) thus the neck cannot be out of alignment with the spine. What is actually happening is that the spine itself is twisted and distorted at the top (and everywhere else as a result) becuas e the relationship between the head, neck and back is out of whack.

The correct position of the head and concomitant relaxing of the neck muscles will automatically bring things into alignment. But, by focusing on trying to `change the position ` of the neck one actually strats to use the muscles at the back of the neck to an excessive degree to move the head around. This is extremely detrimental. The naturla movement of the head is a response to a mental impulse that focuses on the top of of the spine. To locate the spot try putting your forefingers in the osft holes directly behind and elow the ears. Imagine you inserted a pencil in both holes and pushe dthem through your head. The point where they meet is the rockers where the realignment of head by wishing things forward and up needs ot taked place.

To help with the side to side movement it helps to pay attention to the -eyes- leading. If you wnat to turn your head to the right the left eye leads and vice versa.

Cheers,

Buri

April 12, 2006 at 12:04 AM · My problem is having long arms. It's not fun.... and I feel like I look funny.

April 12, 2006 at 01:10 AM · I'm 6'4. I generally put my stand on a table so music is at eve level. That, for me, is the biggest issue. One shouldn't hunch over.

April 12, 2006 at 01:43 AM · but after about an hour

I hope that's not a solid hour?

April 12, 2006 at 12:03 PM · Hi,

a few thoughts on the matter (6'4"):

  • Sitting is harder on the back than standing - a good compromise might be a very high chair that helps you to take same weight of your legs while still keeping an almost upright position
  • if you're of the long-legged variety - like me - sitting on a "normal" chair will be quite uncomfortable; just looking at the very tall first concert master of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra while he's sitting on what looks - in relation to his height - a kindergarten chair makes my knees hurt
  • if practising makes your body tense, throw in relaxation breaks - put the instrument away, yawn, stretch or lie down (Menuhin emphasizes that very much in his guidebook)
  • the post about the music stand is very important! I've got a military one from Koenig & Meyer
  • lower back pain is very often fought by training the abdominal muscles and those of the back itself. However, this leaves out the muscles stabilizing the spinal column and give and even greater instability. Try to research for the "Joint Stability Research Group University of Queensland, Australia"

Enjoy your practice time, don't make it a form of self torture!

Bye, Juergen

April 13, 2006 at 02:13 AM · Greetings,

Juergen is making some very importnat points. A crucial aspect of sitting down is having the hip joints higher than the knees. If they are level or the reverse you are in for a barrle of trouble. It is often helpful to place a block of wood under the back legs of the chair. I carry them to cocnerts since Japanese concert Halls tend to have chairs where the sseat actuall slopes backwards, lowering your er, arse towards the floor and raising your knees to your chin. I have yet to find out why...

Cheers,

Buri

April 13, 2006 at 05:16 AM · What happens when your hip joints are lower than your knees? Have you been to a doctor about it?

April 13, 2006 at 05:17 AM · Greetings,

yes, but his head was up his butt so he couldn@t pinpoint the problem,

Cheers,

Buri

April 13, 2006 at 07:01 PM · Hey,

First of all.. wow.. I didn't imagine that I would be getting this much feed back. As for my routines I have read over everything people wrote. I am actually gonna get someone to take a picture of me playing and add a link so it will facilitate locating the problem. I practiced again today, and the pain started up so I quit. I have been working on my abdominals which are extremely weak. I did lift weights a bit, but crunches were always very difficult for me. By the way Buri I haven't ever heard of an Alexander doctor, but I'll check into it. Also addressing the comment about sitting is that I've never played a long time sitting down. As someone mentioned before I have long arms like them, and I find myself hitting my knee, and another thing about my long arms is it makes keeping the bow straight much harder. Despite all these difficulties I am not discouraged in the least, but for the sake of the pleasure of playing I must fix it. I believe another person said something about a solid hour... yes I do play a solid hour. To explain more in-depth about my pain it seems like when I stand that I am forcing my back too much to be straight. It's an odd feeling that after a while starts bothering me then if I continue (which I stopped) gets intense. The suspect of this problem in my opinion would seem to be the abs, neck position, and shoulder rest. I swear that thing causes a lot of trouble because no height ever feels right. A large amount of weight must be distributed on the chinrest to keep it up, and the problem becomes harder to deal with since I am now playing by transitioning between 1st and 5th position. As for talking with my teacher I have. He has played for 60+ years, and I want to point something out. On Sundays I have the delight of going to lessons at his house where he has a music stand already set up on a chair. I'll go and play, and I don't know what it is... the height of the stand or my concentration, but I will play for that entire hour and have no problems. Only occasionally does my back start to hurt when taking lessons at his house. Maybe it could be the music stand too because I have a hard time with my stands, and getting it at the right level. I don't know where exactly the bottom of the stand should be at my eye level? Or should the top of my music be at eye level. Another thing (sorry about the random jumping around, but I am anxious to get rid of this problem) dealing with my neck is I feel I must push my chin down on the rest... should the rest be high enough to hold it there without any pressure or must there be room for lightly laying my head on it? Well that's all I can think of... I will try to post the link of the picture I take to help make some sense of my stance and all. Really appreciate everything everyone!

Thanks,

the gianormous Dave :-)

April 13, 2006 at 11:11 PM · Greetings,

>By the way Buri I haven't ever heard of an Alexander doctor, but I'll check into it.

Not a doctor. Do a google search for Alexander Technique.

>Also addressing the comment about sitting is that I've never played a long time sitting down. As someone mentioned before I have long arms like them, and I find myself hitting my knee,

Oldest advice in the world : keep your legs together ;)

>and another thing about my long arms is it makes keeping the bow straight much harder.

That does not necessarily follow! One problem you may have is not actually holding the violin up enough. In order for the strings to be parallel with the floor the violin has to slope down from the scroll.That is a lot higher than most beginners keep the instrument!

Practice long slow bows watching the rectangle shape created by the bow stick and the three strings you are -not- playing on. The shape must stay the same.

Also, rest the tip of the bow on the string (any) and the screw on a music stand. Now move your hand from one end of the bow to the other keeping an approximate bow hold. Because the stick is stationary your arm will be forced to move correctly.

>. I believe another person said something about a solid hour... yes I do play a solid hour.

Betterr to work in shorter units with stretching. It also helps with concentration.

>To explain more in-depth about my pain it seems like when I stand that I am forcing my back too much to be straight.

Exactly. The instruction to `stand up straight` you probably heard umpteen times from your parents especially because you are tall is the worst thing you can do.It makes you use the wrong kind of muscle (tissue) and you end up slouching worse after a while. That is an issue Alexander technique addresses by reeducating the body to use muscles as you did as a young child.

>The suspect of this problem in my opinion would seem to be the abs, neck position, and shoulder rest.

Not exactly. Its position of head, neck back. Once that is okay you need to keep in mind the golden rule of set up: the instrument -must- be adapted to the palyer. The player never adapts to the instrument (assuming they are using the body well). Even thinking about this heuristic may be of some help to you.

>I swear that thing causes a lot of trouble because no height ever feels right. A large amount of weight must be distributed on the chinrest to keep it up,

No, no,nononnonononono.

You are doing something wrong. The head is =real- heavy dude. One only used a small fraction of its weight dropped lightly on the chin rest. That is sufficient. Any more is death. You need to practice with your head completely off the instrument and chinrest to find out what is going on.

Hope this helps.

Buri

April 14, 2006 at 09:17 AM · I have a related question: I have a very long neck and have been using the 'comford' tall shoulder rest with mixed results. It is perfectly high enough for me to not hunch up the shoulder and thus it eases tension and my back no longer hurts when I play HOWEVER, it is not adjustable in any way and therefore my violin is held at a slightly skewed angle, tipped inwards/sideways. I can play just fine like this but it is not what a set up should ideally look like.

Has anyone found a shoulder rest that fills the gap of a tall neck and keeps the violin in a good position at the same time?

(I simply cannot play without a shoulder rest without hunching up the shoulder 6 inches it seems or else not having any contact with the head and thus making shifting, vibrato...everything impossible.)

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe