I have talked to about 20 students and a few teachers in the last few years about a very specific problem, with no luck or useful advice. But I would like to try again to see if anyone on violinist.com has this problem, before I go to a dentist or another physical therapist. Thanks for any thoughts you have!
Because of gravity when resting my jaw on the chinrest or any other surface, the weight of my head pushes my jaws together and therefore my teeth. To prevent this, I push down onto the chinrest with my throat/mouth muscles (flex) and push up with my tongue onto the roof of my mouth to fill the space. All these muscles get strained, and in the last year it turned into TMJ tension. The lasting alignment of my jaws is as if they are compressed by resting on the chinrest: lower jaw pulled to the left overall, plus tilted so that the back left of the lower jaw is elevated and the front left of the lower jaw is down. I'm constantly aware of how much I'm pushing buffer I'm creating with the muscles and whether my lower jaw is getting pushed to the right side (from the tilt of the violin). My question is, are you able to rest your jaw passively while you play without your teeth touching? Or do you observe yourself doing something with your jaw to prevent this?
I have tried all chinrests and shoulder rests (or none) including my own designs. Of course it's worse when I'm playing a section of a piece that is beyond where my hand can quite hold up the violin without considerable head pressure.
This sounds to me like squeezing. When you hold a violin, you do put pressure on the chinrest with your chin, but it should come from the natural weight of your head and not chin squeezing or clamping. Avoid chin and neck tension. Make sure the weight of the violin rests on the chest/collarbone region and not the shoulder itself. Avoid placing the whole chin on the chin rest. You only need the left side of your chin (or just the chin bone if yours portrudes) to sit on the chin rest. Don't overturn your head.
Or if you can't fix it any other way, you could try a style of playing in which you don't (mostly) hold the instrument up with your head at all, but with your left hand (generally used without a shoulder rest).
Apart from the advice above, what is the problem with the head weight transmitting via the teeth? Are they poorly aligned (very common..)?
Don't open and close your mouth when playing, unless you have to talk or sing. It causes chin tension. The left upper arm supports the violin slightly, but overall, you must be secure and free.
50 years ago I found the perfect chinrest shape for MY jaw (it is not a popular shape "Original Stuber" (made in Germany - the ones they sell now - made in Asia - do not work at all for me - but custom made in UK does). Ten years after that I started to need something softer on top of the the chinrests - I started with chamois - now I use a thicker pad that protects my jaw on the chinrest and underneath the violin - on my collarbone - they also shield your neck from the chinrest hardware.
Like other suggested, it sounds like an improper SR/CR setup. You shouldn't have to use downward pressure to hold your instrument. Holding your head straight is all that should be needed. How far back do you have your SR set?
Whaat Francis said, but also, chiro/alexander/alignment work could help a lot! I can relate to what you're saying and those things have helped me rethink and relax my jaw position a lot. It takes time and relearning though.
You're squeezing too much all the time.
I suggest removing the chinrest and playing without it as an exercise of learning to play with little or no pressure from the head. It's doable, as seen for example in the following video:
Thanks for all of your replies. So it sounds like your teeth are touching when you play. If they are touching, what prevents them from getting pushed together too much or being ground together? This would be helpful to know. As I said, the weight of my head pushes my jaws and teeth together (from gravity alone, even when I hold the violin entirely with my hand or when I rest my head on another surface like a table).
Your teeth are pretty durable. Having them touch shouldn't be an issue. It certainly hasn't been an issue for me or anyone else that I know.
Violin's weight is about 400 grams.
Part of the problem could be the choice of chinrest. I ask new students, "Is that the original chinrest that came with your violin?". Almost always they answer "Yes". I say "then it is probably not the best one for you". The makers prefer the Guarnari model because it puts the clamps on a safer spot, the end-block. But when given a comparison choice, only a minority will choose that chinrest. Even with 1st tier soloists I see some of them not using the Guarneri chin-rest as designed, they have their chin partly over the tailpiece and half of the cup sticking out in the air. Some Violists and early music specialists use the Flesch model, centered over the tailpiece. The majority use some version of the in-between design, partly over the tailpiece, like the Teka. Those have a ridge that catches the inside edge of the jaw-bone, and the violin just hangs there, without any extra force from the neck muscles. The Ohrenform model is gaining in popularity. My personal favorite is the Hollywood, which might be the same as what I got from the Hans Weisshaar shop in LA. One of Paul Roland's books has a valuable discussion on this topic. The horizontal angle of the violin is also part of the decision.
Hi Joel, I have tried many shapes of chinrests and shoulder rests and am making my own chinrest.
It could also be just tension when you are playing. If so, focus on relaxing. This would also greatly improve your playing if that's the case. Teeth grinding is often linked to tension; I greatly doubt it's the weight of your head, unless you are so relaxed that it's a total dead weight, which would be really exceptional.
Thanks, everyone. Maybe someone reading this thread will find it useful. While it's hard to imagine that the violin should not cause a problem, I think that the cause must have been something else.
If you can try a Bon Musica SR, that might help. It really helped me. I don't recall doing it when I was a kid, but when I returned to playing, I found myself clamping down too much to hold the violin in place. A standard SR helped a bit, but the Bon Musica really did it for me, because it is infinitely adjustable. Some people hate them, but for those for whom they work, they can make all the difference.
I too use a Teka-style chinrest.
What part of your jaw is resting in the chin rest? The closer to your chin the point of contact is, the bigger stress it puts on the TMJ joint. You can demonstrate this by pushing up under your chin and then try pushing up directly under the hinge of your jaw. You should notice a big difference in the stress you feel on your jaw and TMJ joint.
The only way to prevent TMJ is to ditch the shoulder rest, in my opinion. You can relax all you want and try many shoulder rests, but in the end you will squeeze your jaw when doing difficult passages (reaction of stress). Many great violinists play without one. Your left hand will be able to adjust the violin on the fly, putting less stress to the jaw.
To take up Christopher's point, with my adapted Teka, the point of my chin is over the tailpiece, and the left side of my jaw hooks gently over the lip of the CR. No crunching or squeezing.
I second Kathryn's suggestion to find an Alexander technique teacher or someone trained in a similar way such as body mapping. It's very possible to play quite well without teeth clenching (or even touching) including when using a shoulder rest. The muscles that close your jaw are not the same ones that should be helping your head in proper place on the violin. However from personal experience it takes time and probably good coaching to unlearn habits that cause extra tension even if your chin/shoulder rest setup is just fine. In my experience most physical therapists are great at improving muscle strength/conditioning, improving mobility and function but don't deal much with the issues that it sounds like you are facing.
I don't know if any of us are seeing the replies on this thread, because I don't think there is a way to be notified.
I'm not quite sure whether this is a violin problem or whether you have some kind of physical abnormality in your jaw that is making things worse.
Come to think of it, I see many folks moving their jaws to one side to grab their CR, probably without realising. This must affect teeth alignment.
Many have pointed out that with chinrests like the guarneri, eventually the chin is put on top of the tailpiece, and with central ones is difficult to place the jaw.
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