Violinist's health documentary project
Hello! I thought I'd quickly introduce myself. I am just an amateur violinist but a professional musician. One of my main jobs actually is to produce lessons for professional musicians (mostly jazz).
Anyway, I'm writing here because I have always loved the violin and have always been quite obsessed with it. I have lots of high level violinist friends in all genres and I always enjoy hearing them talk about their instrument.
I'm also intrigued by the issue of violinist's health and learning to play as tension free as possible. I read just about every discussion there is here, and elsewhere. It's really fascinating, and seems that the debate still goes on and everyone has a different idea of what it is to play pain free.
I was wondering what violinists would think of a project where I travel the world to interview some of the world's best players and pedagogues to hear their thoughts on posture / technique etc.
I would basically have two camps : players with shoulder rest, and without shoulder rest, and ask them questions relating to technique and playing pain free.
For instance, in the non shoulder rest camp, there are those who say, it's OK to raise the shoulder and you get used to the pain (yes I know, many people iwll think this is ridiculous). Most of them will say that it rests on the collarbone, etc... but then some will say that it should rest within the V shape crook of your thumb and index, some will say it's ok to rest on the thumb (seems like Anne-Sophie mutter does this)
Then , in the shoulder rest camp, there are those who say that the violin should be 100% supported by the shoulder rest so the left hand is 100% free, and that the left hand should never support the instrument, which thus calls for a completely different technique. Even within the shoulder rest camp, people have different ideas of what is right (at least for them),
Anyway , things like this. I thought it'd be nice to interview as many renowned high level players/pedagogues as possible and present this project to the violinist community
Is this something that could interest violinists? Of course, I would be sellign these videos as it would cost quite a bit to produce something like this, but I've already been thinking about it for the past 2 years, and I am actually able to make it happen. I'm not in it for the money, but if I can make my money back or even maybe do some sort of crowdfunding, I m sure it could be very insightful to hear what different players have to say!
Here are some of the video lessons I ahve produced in the past:
thanks for reading! And if you have comments , suggestions (people I should interview) I welcome them. I m thinking of making this project a reality within the next 2 years ..
This is just one opinion among many. I doubt the professionally trained violinists would have as much of an interest since they most likely have already learned the proper ways to make playing easier on the body. This means the video would be pointed at those who don't know these kinds of things.
Thanks for your feedback! I actually asked some of my private circle who are made of conservatory students and professional musicians. They were all quite excited about such a project.
I applaud your iniciative and I think it is useful, necessary and it may very well become a reference for teachers and students.
BTW, here are some of my favorite threads on this site (off the top of my head)
This is a really interesting project and I think it will benefit lots of people. I think it is also worth noting that technique varies among violinists, not just because of what the teacher has taught, but also because of differences in physical build. In addition, the decision to use or not to use a shoulder rest is also partially physical build dependent. I'm curious about what category to put sponge/pad/cloth users under. Are they in the soulder-restless camp or the shoulder-rest camp?
This is a really interesting project. I think musculoskeletal health is something that that is worth putting higher on violinists' agendas. I think that the UK conservatoires and Musicians Union are funding research into musicians' health, but I'm not sure if that covers the sort of thing you are researching. I know that the RCM are doing vocal health checks with singers as part of their training;maybe they are doing similar with strings but idk. By the by I disagree (respectfully, of course!) that pros wouldn't be interested. Elizabeth Walfisch and David Juritz have both had time out with injuries - rsi and bursitis respectively. Articles about those two violinists' injuries pop out early in a Google search.
I think this would be very interesting to learn about. Please do so! Some people may already know all there is about the violinist's health, but there are always a new crop of violin students who need to learn this. Also, playing violin is always evolving so some new information may emerge from this or seeing things in a different way.
Thanks for the comments thus far.
In terms of names I guess you have nothing to lose by approaching people - the worst that can happen is they say no, don't reply or are rude in saying no. Maxim Vengerov took a big career break because of a shoulder injury and he's a big a name as there is. David Juritz is a London convertmaster/leader who has had time out. From memory the centre for performance science at the Royal College of Music/Imperial College has a surgeon affiliated to some of their projects (you'll find him on their website). Quite a few physiotherapists profess to have an interest in string playing, including one ex-professional player who retrained as a physio. The name escapes me, but Google is a wonderful thing. Maybe they are some places to start.
Denis, if I'm not mistaken, she still plays. I haven't researched much, but I think you really should reach out to her. It might also be worth asking some viola players, especially about health and setup, since viola players have similar issues too. Some other people who might be worth noting:
Thanks Ella! I know some of those names and they were on my list already. I'll check the others.
Denis, Pain issues are quite common among younger players. Dr. Alice Brandfonbrener, co-founder of the Performing Arts Medicine Assn., conducted a study that should be of interest to you. She surveyed freshman music majors at Northwestern University over a four-year period. Dr. Brandfonbrener discovered that 86% of the incoming string majors (this included cello and bass players in addition to violinists and violists) had a history of pain problems related to their playing.
Sounds like a good research project.
Hi Denis, I think you are onto something very important in the world of string players/athletes. To injury ourself due to over use or faulty techniques probably happened to most of us at one point or the other, as they say it comes with the territory, -- while not ok, it's a calculated risk we take and usually be managed in many cases. But one who is injured to the point of unable to play is something else. It's an alarming fact that Pamela Frank, and other greats such as "Rodolphe Kreutzer, Jascha Heifetz, Bronislaw Huberman, Fritz Kreisler, Erick Friedman, Maxim Vengerov, Emanuel Vardi, Kyung Wha Chung, Hilary Hahn, and Jacques Thibaud, each of whom had their career interrupted by hand or arm injuries."
Thanks for the comments thus far, it's been helpful!
This is a great idea. I would hope that it can contribute to reducing the amount of dogmatism (you mentioned it) in the area of violin teaching.
How about meeting up with Dylana Jensen? She's totally aware of the playing-in-pain problem, is an anti-SR person, and has some interesting views.
Personally, I think the SR issue is a red herring.I don't think the evidence is there to show a causation between its use and injury or lack thereof. You'll also have disproportionaly high interviewees who are the the SR users. Just look around world's top soloists and chamber players (you can find them in competitions and solo performances live or on the internet), you'll see the vast majority of them are SR users.
As Yixi said, I do not want this to be about non-shoulder rest vs shoulder rest although personally for me, historically, it's extremely fascinating how almost over night the entire violin world went from no SR to SR.
PS: I'm also going to try to talk to baroque violinists. Luckily in Montreal , there are two major schools with a Baroque program.
I hope the product of this project will include a well-edited written document in addition to any video because so many videos are largely a waste of time to watch because of the excess verbosity of so many subjects.
I think you may have already reached the conclusion of your research:
And, as it may inform you about the dynamics of SR use and it's possible impact on head/neck health, please also see my unscientific thread on the subject here:
Craig: yes , I ve already realized that there's a high level of dogmatic thinking but that is not the conclusion of my research.
@Tammuz, thanks for that video series link! Good stuff
I saw the entire video series, and I refered to it earlier. Lots of talking but unfortunately no real demosntration of actual playing. Of course, he’s a fantastic player if you watch other videos of him. But talking about playing without SR without actually talking about what happens in an actual playing context by not playing seems rather bizarre to me. Most of the problems of playing withour SR happen when you actually play and do certain passages/techniques/ etc... Oh well!
I missed that in your earlier post, Dennis.
you refered to an hour long workshop but you didnt specify which, so I wouldnthave know whether that was the one (although a part of me suspected) :)
Like I said, he’s a fantastic violinist, but it seemed just so strange to talk about something without actually demonstrating with real life situations. Because in theory, it’s extremely easy to play without SR. Support with collabone, chin and left hand, and there we go. And then he goes into a lot more theories, but when you actually put it into practice, you realize so many things go wrong and it’s all about micro adjustments beyond his ideas. It’s been a while since I watched the video, so I’ll have to check it again, but actual playing situations with actual musical examples will yield different sets of problems. It is further complicated by the uniqueness of each human body : different arm length, different hand size, different finger length and size, different neck length, amount of fat in the chin, etc... All these contribute to so many variations in playing without SR.
... something Nate will like... (21:17)
Yes the video above comes across rather angry but I suppose that’s just his style, if you check out the rest of his youtube channel there’s nothing else on violin and it’s a lot of similar rants on other topics. He’s certainly an intelligent person though.
Ill check the links of Mutter, Denis. Just to say that I watched one of that person's other videos where he calls a woman (advocating for socialism) a b*****. The guy is clearly a mysogynist and not just an angry beaver.
Yikes!! Didn't see that video. It's too bad because he had some good arguments in the violin video.
I have the first four volumes of Samuel Applebaum's The Way They Play.
As I reached 50 yo, I found my usual musical bookshop carrying plies of new books on musicians' ailments, both auditory and skeletal. I think the owners and their customer base were also about my age, and I'm glad to see this awakening awareness of the dangers of our beloved life's work.
Yes it’s great that people are starting to feel OK talking about health issues now, and it’s too bad that there’s not much litterature from the past about violinists’ experience with pain.
@Dennis, Ulla Benz teaches violin at Birmingham Conservatoire and is also a medical doctor. Not many people manage that double! Link to her conservatoire page below.
There is a problem in the concept. More relaxed and more injury-free are not necessarily the same. More relaxed in the sense of free of tension which interferes with muscle control makes for better playing, and we have tesimonies that Heifetz was a master of that. Nevertheless he suffered from a shoulder problem, perhaps owing to the fact that his bow technique whilst perfectly controlled, did involve legitimate physical stress on the shoulder, just as many sport people at the highest level accept stresses which damage the body.
I agree John and I think it needs to be said that while injury can be reduced pain in the body is a fact of life in older players no matter how they play. Likelihood of Injury is more prevalent in the older player. Some methods may need to be adjusted to the condition.
I think that it is important to keep in mind that many violinists suffer from non-playing-related ailments, so if a violinist does play in pain, I think it's important to know whether the pain is due to playing or due to some other condition. I'm not saying that you need to ask these sorts of questions, but I'm just putting it out there as something to keep in your mind.
I haven't said anything because I have been extraordinarily fortunate never to have had a playing injury, and I am 57 (started playing the violin at age 5). One of my colleagues plays extremely well, no less correctly than I do, and has had numerous problems with overuse injuries throughout the years, with treatment up to and including surgery. The difference between us is not in how we play; it is in our individual anatomies. I am built on a larger scale.
no idea if he'd be interested or not, but mark steinberg might be an interesting person to get in touch with - he plays at an extremely high level with a very unusual violin hold
I totally agree with Mary Ellen. Both of my current private music teachers have never had overuse injuries. Both are totally aware of the problem and take all necessary steps to ensure that their students play with ease and comfort. Better technique not only reduces the chances of overuse injuries, but also allows you to play more beautifully with less effort. I think that genetics influences chances of injury more than anatomy does, since there are minor technique adjustments that can be made to accommodate different anatomies, such as the angle of the violin and exact left hand position. One of my teachers even described a student who had playing-related pain but was playing with 100% correct technique. She went through physiotherapy and maybe a host of other therapies, and the doctors said that she might be of the variety whose muscles naturally tense up from hard work.
Hi Mary Ellen
I think it is also important to consider how often one raises the left shoulder when playing. If you only raise it once in a blue moon (that's what Nathan Cole claims in his post about ditching the shoulder rest), there's virtually no harm no matter what your physical and genetic makeup is. If you raise it often or constantly, some people run into problems and some don't.
I use a SR; my colleague who has had problems with overuse injuries does not, but their problems have nothing to do with the shoulder (which they don't raise). Carpal tunnel and tendinitis.
Ella: definitely agree, and yes I had Nathan Cole on my list already. However, there’s a youtube video where one fellow is teaching to play with a bit of a raised shsoulder, and someone pointed it out in the comments. If I recall he doesn’t outright say to raise the shoulder, but we can clearly see that he does, and it becomes even clearer when he demonstrates not supporting the instrument with the left hand!
Denis C.: If you can get Nigel Kennedy to participate, that will be wonderful. From his Youtube videos, looks like he raises his shoulder and tilts his head a lot.