Muscle fatigue and practice regiment (self learner)

Edited: February 14, 2018, 12:41 PM · Hello and thank you in advance for any advice or tips. I'm a slightly advanced self learner, obsessed with technique and correct foundations so I can maximize my ability to perform and don't develop issues later.

I recently practiced for 6 hours, my longest session to date as I'm just now comfortable focusing on playing than just technique. By the end, I had feeling of tension in my collar bone. I scheduled a 30 minute session with a tutor and he quickly spotted that I was holding the instrument too far out.
With the hold correction, I haven't had any more problems with my collar bone. However, I've had a tense spot in the mid back of my bow arm and feel a sort of "exhaustion" in my whole torso and shoulders when practicing, as well as scattered focus even in short sessions. I recognize this as a form of muscle fatigue.

My question is, what exercises or stretches can I do to help? Is there a specific regiment I can follow to gradually build up endurance?
I have looked up many resources on my journey but I am sure there are thousands more. Respect and Bless

Replies (29)

February 13, 2018, 4:50 PM · Are you able to get lessons? If not, that's okay. In your particular case, it would be helpful to post a picture/video so we v.commers can give you more relevant info. Also, have you tried stretching out your tired muscles? It can help relieve the fatigue/pain if it lasts a while, though this is not a long-term solution. I also advise looking at yourself in a mirror to see yourself at all angles so you can make more accurate observations. Also, try to be relaxed. Take lots of breaks, not only for your physical health, but for mental health as well.
February 13, 2018, 5:00 PM · Ella, the video is a great idea. I will work on that tonight. I am a perfectionist so it will take a few recordings. The tutor also pointed out that I'm pressing to hard on the strings so I'm working at relaxing my left hand. I come from 12 years of playing guitar so there are adjustments.

As for the lessons, I can't fit them into my regular budget so I'm doing the best I can with online resources. Thank you.

February 13, 2018, 7:44 PM · Please pardon intonation flaws. It's a work in progress. My own critique, I know I have practically no flexibility in my bow wrist which I'm working on with various practices on youtube I've found, including the colle, strengthening and stretching. It's really so much to take in, I know you can't learn it all in one go. Sometimes you have to sacrifice attention on one aspect to hone in on another. I am trying to balance everything overall do as not to become stagnant or bored. Thank you

February 13, 2018, 8:13 PM · Great work for a self-learner. Your intonation is next to perfect with only minor issues. Make sure both notes match exactly for octaves. You're getting a full sound from your violin. However, I think it sounds surfacy sometimes, especially in the middle of the stroke. Try to keep your arm relaxed and at an angle so that energy can flow as smoothly as possible. Also make sure your bow hold is correct. Also pay attention to where the bow's on the string (it should be closish to the bridge, though being close to the fingerboard is good for quiet passages). Also make sure you're using all the hairs.
February 13, 2018, 8:18 PM · Yes, I have been practicing even pressure throughout the bow but it gets tricky in the middle and I still get a bounce when pushing up on E. My bow hold usually starts out correct but my ring finger works its way off the frog as I lose track of it and I don't think I fully grasp the relation of the first finger so I have been experimenting with it. Again, work on progress.
For some reason I got the impression you keep the bow angled and that means using only the hairs on the side of that angle but I will switch it up and see what happens.

Thank you very much. :)

February 13, 2018, 8:23 PM · Check the balance of your bow. If you hold it in the air horizontally, does the bow tip one way or the other. A balanced bow should feel natural when you hold it horizontally in a straight line. Make sure you're using enough rosin. Also, are you able to look into a low-cost violin class or the like, or online Skype lessons or video exchanges? I don't mean to force you into lessons, but it would really be beneficial if at all possible. I understand that difficult life situations prevent lesson opportunities, but I'm just throwing alternates out there besides one-on-one private in-person instruction, just in case you don't know.
Edited: February 13, 2018, 8:53 PM · I actually just replaced the rosin that came with my Cremona SV500 for a much better quality rosin. The bow I have is what came with the violin, which suffices for now. I have felt other bows that feel more comfortable and I plan to get one later down the road. As far as alternates to one on one instruction, I will look it up and see if there is anything in my area as well as into the Skype alternative. No worries, I also feel I would accel much faster under guidance.
Edited: February 13, 2018, 11:51 PM · Thinking about how the body is used in playing the violin and how awkward the violin playing position is, I would say its a miracle if an adult learner didnt have physical problems when playing for hours and hours. I would say playing for many hours is very hard on the body and not a good thing to do. I dont know how long you have played the violin, but to not get physical ailments from playing the time of practise should extend gradually. 6 hours sounds simple madness on your level. And if you really really want to play so long, you really really need a teacher and still it is not wise.

When people start young they gradually develop the muscle strenght to be able to play for many hours a day, when thay get older. And still many get physical ailments and some have to stop playing because ot them. There is no easy way out of this. To try to cut through the years and quite suddenly start playing so long seems simply madness to my eyes. There are so many partts of the body that can be damaged doing this. And without a teacher, it just doesnt sound good. Its like taking a rreally bad physical repetite job where there is no thought to the processes of body mechanics. Sometimes people are forced in these very compromised jobs but to do the same freewillingly I just dont get it.

February 14, 2018, 2:52 AM · Very good playing and you have a great sound. Just keep practicing as you presently are. You have a great tutor. Welcome to Violinist .com Gabriel.
February 14, 2018, 4:29 AM · Thank you, Maria. I am aware of the difficulties and the mechanics of a child learner versus an adult. I do not seek to perform miracles or defy madness. That is why I ask for advice and recommendations.

Thank you, Jeff. My most notable tutors from Youtube are Heather broadbent, Master Violin Class and the Online Piano and Violin Tutor. They are all very good resources. Naturally, one must also possess an even head about approaching these things. My family couldn't afford a violin when I was young so I started learning guitar but my teacher was a neighbor and not an official coach so my journey was rushed and had many holes. I don't wish to do that with the violin as, one it is my soul instrument and two, the special challenges it presents, some of which Maria covered in her tangent.

Edited: February 14, 2018, 4:39 AM · I'm currently a little obsessed with Ilya Grubert's performance of Weiniawski's Variations on an original theme. I have been watching Gruberts other performances and his bow hand, it doesn't look like he uses a traditional bow hold but I admire and am a little in awe of how relaxed his hand is. My wrist turns out at the bottom of the bow as a natural consequence of not having fundamental mastery of the mechanics yet. I am also open to links of masters that I can observe their techniques. I found a great one of a Menuhin and Oistrakh as well, it's awesome to see two talented players side by side.
February 14, 2018, 8:21 AM · Hi Gabriel, I agree that the basic movement looks pretty good. Solid straight bow movement and a nice full sound. The connections between the different phases of the movement are also nice. To make things even smoother maybe you could give the following exercise a try:

Without the violin lift your right arm to about the level of the start of a down-bow (or a bit higher). Relax the arm and let it fall. Repeat and let it fall a bit slower, as it where guiding the falling with your muscles. Try different speeds. Observe the nice feeling of heaviness in the arm. Now do the same thing with actual down-bows, perceiving each down-bow as a gently guided fall. Upper three strings work best for me. If it helps you can tilt the violin a bit more towards the ground. Experiment with different speeds and contact points. Then try to copy the same feel for up-bows imagining them as some kind of 'falling upwards'.
The idea is to use gravity as much as possible and to let things happen rather than to make things happen.
Hope this makes sense.

February 14, 2018, 8:44 AM · Hi Blake,
I noticed something that I see in many students, and it hints at tension:

I saw that you are moving your mouth constantly, and often this can mean tension in the jaw and other areas. Your playing of the scale is pretty good, but what I'm not seeing is real relaxation, as if you were trying very hard for this video. There's a certain lack of flexibility in your right hand--the fingers should flex slightly at the bow changes. If you are, maybe try exaggerating it for practice?

Few students realize facial/jaw tension, and this can lead to TMJ. It also speaks to other underlying tension.

Edited: February 14, 2018, 10:28 AM · Thank you Stefan, it makes perfect sense. In the sense of the bow arm, it had not occured to me to simply "use" more gravity though it is certainly a common sense concept. It sounds like it will help with tightness and lighten the load of my shoulder.

Scott, I have noticed my jaw moving alot.I will backtrack for a while and focus on not allowing tension in my body rather than playing. This should allow my other muscles that may have become fatigued to recover as well. Thank you, invaluable insight.

I also found this article:!po=16.6667
Making me more aware of the dangers and the need to warm up but these observations are exremely helpful.

February 14, 2018, 10:59 AM · I believe the jaw movement was to compensate for the pressure I was putting on the fretboard. I was holding the violin without bow just focusing on relaxing and I brought my hand around to the fretboard with the same idea but when I checked what my body was doing, my jaw had swung out like an automated response. Going to practice fingering the board with no bow for a bit and stick with Stefan's excercises. Sincerest gratitude.
Edited: February 14, 2018, 11:08 AM · Gabriel Blake said: "I'm currently a little obsessed with Ilya Grubert's performance of Weiniawski's Variations on an original theme."

Ah, I had not come accross that violinist. Apparently he was a Kogan student. As a lover of the older styles of playing, I appreaciate Mr. Grubert. He has some of that tradition in both hands.

I watched your own playing too. Nicely done (not that I am qualified to judge). Of course, the scales going down are harder... Just joking! I was impressed.

As for relaxation, it comes with time. Whilst my technique is not great, my whole approach to holding the violin and bow is far more relaxed and enjoyable than it was years (decades) ago. For a relaxed approach to holding the instrument watch videos of Nathan Milstein, and keep your neck and chin and both hands as free as he does if you can! Because he had such a natural way with him, he was able to keep playing a lot until he was over 80.

February 14, 2018, 11:58 AM · Thank you, John. I do have ambitions/mental daydreams of training or at least being privy to observations and listening to certain circles of violin players as I progress. I do want to become involved in a musical scene. My progression back down from first position scales is pretty solid but third position is a whole other story at this juncture that I wouldn't torture anyone through just yet. Like Hansel and Gretel trying to get out of the woods.

The first thing I am impressed by with Milstein is the freedom of his head. I will have to re evaluate my idea of the jaws relation to the violin. I thought it was more or less fixed as the primary "support", though I know you are not meant to clamp but allow the violin to rest there. I had observed some freedom in Menuhin's head movement and assumed it was a place I would get to but in light of needing more focus on relaxing and form overall, I will be experimenting and watching more of what Milstein is doing.

Milstein is very enjoyable to watch, thank you for that suggestion. :)

February 14, 2018, 12:03 PM · Have you experimented with various chin rests and shoulder rests. Having one that fits your physique will aid your posture, though a perfect Cr-Sr setup won't solve all posture problems.
Edited: February 14, 2018, 12:35 PM · Ella, I haven't been able to experiment with them yet. I invested in a chinrest that has less of a bump but it still puts pressure at certain points of my jaw but that could be due to using my jaw too much: one, to compensate finger pressure and two, to support the violin. My shoulder rest is a fom, which is comfortable enough but does leave a mark after about 20 minutes. I am also going to take your suggestion of taking rests by using a timer. I should call around and see if there is a shop that has a variety of chin and shoulder rests that would let me experiment. Sam Ash is usually pretty good about that. They let me play on a $1200 violin, which was fun. I have thought the Flesch chinrest looks like it may be more comfortable and freeing.
February 14, 2018, 12:33 PM · You're probably feeling exhaustion in certain muscles because you're playing 6 hours a day sometimes.

Otherwise, your form looks pretty good for a self taught person.

You also may benefit from learning to rest the weight of your arm into the string as a way of both getting enough pressure and simultaneously reducing the workload of your bow arm. Think of the weight of your elbow pulling downward, through the whole bow stroke.

Edited: February 14, 2018, 12:51 PM · Words can hinder as much as help, but... several years ago a few then regular posters here learned a Milstein-inspired setup from Lisa Marsnik (who was once a regular here). She had been in his masterclass. Whatever view you may take of those debates, and not everyone saw eye to eye with her, she taught me a huge amount. Those archived threads, such as 'Just how did Milstein support the violin?' ( remain interesting, a thread where Emily also acknowledges learning this stuff from Lisa. EDIT - I see Lisa did not post in that thread, her own fascinating posts are from 2006 and earlier, though there are some excellent players contributing there, such as Oliver Steiner who like Lisa has mix of violin knowledge from both the New York approach (Galamian, Delay) and from Milstein.
Edited: February 14, 2018, 1:25 PM · Erik, that is good common sense, isn't it? :)
Understand that as I was focusing on correct principles, I was *only practicing first position scales so the day in question, I was like a loosed rubber band picking out little etudes, snippets of classical songs and three octave scales (which too me feels like a graduation). I overdid it, for sure. I am glad I posted though, having an interactive experience has humbled me, given me key insights and new things to observe and learn from. Thank you for the advice.

John, that is a long thread but I am enjoying the debates. Looks like it can be exciting around here sometimes. Milstein's technique is a goal to work towards. Shoot for the moon, land in the stars.

February 14, 2018, 2:50 PM · What ever happened to CLAYTON HASLOP?
His bio is still here among the biographies.

Haslop studied with Milstein for 3 years (and with other well-known pedagogues) and was a very strong admirer and advocate of Milstein's technique and musicianship. Haslop was a very well-known violin soloist and ensemble player in the LA area for some years-concertmaster of the orchestra for the Academy Awards a few years ago as well as for a significant number of top movie orchestras.

Haslop issued a number of instructional DVD courses ranging from Kreutzer to Paganini, but I can't find them for sale any longer. The last of his courses I recall was his "No B.S. Guide to Violin Technique with Clayton Haslop."

Edited: February 15, 2018, 2:09 AM · Clayton Haslop? His site is 'under maintenance.' Google shows me he is still on Facebook, and that he recently bought a Benning violin (he blogged here in 2009 about his 1782 Storioni); Benning's site offers a bio suggesting a lot of Mr Haslop's work is playing on motion pictures. Maybe he is one of those has enough to do in work and life, and who got tired of spending too much time online! Some of those with the most contribute online have contributed it, and moved on--the archives contain a lot of interesting posts by high level violinists.
Edited: February 15, 2018, 3:23 AM · On the topic of tension, I've found the series of articles from The Strad by Dr. Tomas Cotik to be helpful. These are based on the Alexander Technique but are specifically designed for violin. The articles present a series of simple activities designed to encourage freedom of movement with the instrument. I have printouts of these articles posted in my practice room, and I sometimes refer to the pictures during my warm-up.

And on the topic of famous violinists from the archive, Ilya Gringolts was once a frequent poster. The 3 S&P that he recorded are fabulous, and I wish he would record the rest.

February 15, 2018, 1:48 PM · Andrew, I found a few starter videos from Clayton Haslop. When it comes to a Youtube education, I think the more teachers you find the better because there are always many aspects to cover about any one topic. Clayton is very articulate when he discusses the topics. Thank you.

Jason, that is an invaluable guide and exactly what I need right now. It's funny you sent me that link and then Ilya Gringolts. I was just debating today, using the mirror and feeling my body out, the position of my elbow and deciding what angle is going to be most ergonomic for the use of my left hand and even bow angles. Ilya seems to roll his elbow quite far in, which tells me he must be naturally flexible and loose in his shoulders. Mine are naturally tense and I would certainly pull something in that position. I have really enjoyed watching the different players and their vastly different techniques. He plays beautifully, instant fan. I genuinely enjoy listening to him though it's painful to watch him. Thank you for both of those additions.

I've also considered incorporating some yoga for loosening my shoulders. I stretched out really good last night before bed and the tenseness in my mid back turned into tingling. I take it as a good sign and I know it will clear up if I don't push. A lesson well learned.

Edited: February 15, 2018, 3:57 PM · Gabriel, I'm glad you found the resources useful. Here are two others I've found helpful:

1) The first is a rather long video by a violist about bow arm mechanics. It has lots of simple exercises. One that I have found useful is drawing a straight, whole bow on an open string holding the bow with just the thumb and middle finger. This almost forces you to have good bow arm mechanics because the other fingers of the right hand aren't there to compensate.

2) The second resource is a guided progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercise. PMR involves tensing a group of muscles, holding the tension, and then relaxing the muscles as you breathe out. One of the best ways to learn to relax your muscles is to tense them first.


February 15, 2018, 4:16 PM · "When it comes to a Youtube education, I think the more teachers you find the better because there are always many aspects to cover about any one topic."

Or the more confusing? Thought-provoking point: there is a recording of a lecture by the only violinist AFAIK who took several years of private (rather than class) lessons with Heifetz, the most tecnically accomplished violinist of the last (or probably any) century. The student says, 'In all the years I studied with Heifetz, he only once said something techincal to me: he said, "You sure hold your bow differently than I do, but you seem to do all right with it".'

February 15, 2018, 6:45 PM · Jason, the first link you sent is actually one of my main go-to at the moment while tackling my bowing technique. That's one of the more valuable videos I've found. I have done a form of meditation, or quiet reflection, but guided meditation seems like a great idea to do along with the pre-practice stretching to set the mood of the practice.

John, I think Heifetz would throw me out by my ear if I were to hold the bow like 2 yr old with a chicken leg. :)
Basic Observations of an amateur online learner:
A one-on-one instructor would be, ideally, considered the authority source for a student but no online tutor can be considered wholly authoritative due to the absence of interaction in which to address and accommodate each individuals struggles and learning styles. Online instructors, while perhaps skilled and brimming with experience, are covering things that are most pertinent in their mind within a certain, often short time frame and based on observations they've had throughout their (long or short) career and that work as a general formula but I can't interact, ask questions or address specific problems. It's then up to my diligence to either figure out the specific problem I'm having, which I may not have the vocabulary to do, or listen to four or five, maybe even ten to fifteen more tutors before my particular challenge is mentioned. Along the way, I also learn all the variety of styles, techniques and approaches, different bow holds, which I get to test and see which work best for me, etc.

Or I could be your new resident gadfly. :P

In one ear and out the other until something that works for me sticks. Online learning requires a level of fluidity and discerning but I think the most important things come down to diligence, intelligent application, resourcefulness and practice. Above that, observe those you wish to emulate. I do like the quote though, and the thought that goes behind it. I also appreciate the art of individual styles in violin.

FYI: each new suggestion goes into my Pandora station dedicated to violin soloists.

Thank you and Respect.

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