Violinist's health documentary project

August 7, 2018, 8:47 PM · 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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOJy0R0t0kU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1aSJ4Jsnt0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVFAQ4JJrJ8

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 ..

Replies (54)

August 7, 2018, 9:28 PM · 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.

Of course you wouldn't be alone since there are plenty of similar videos and books that show ways to reduce stress on the body while playing and how to make playing easier.

Some people are 95% training and 5% doing while there are others who are the opposite like me who enjoys instruction but find I learn best in mainly doing. I find it difficult to sit for a long time watching a training video. To your advantage there are likely just as many others the opposite of me.

As you have noted, there are different ways players play. This will lead the potential player to a kind of pick and choose approach. IOW, this player does it this way and that player does it that way....so which is the best way? Which is the right way? Unless you show the pros and cons of each approach and why some choose to do it one way or the other.Maybe show the most accepted way as the main way.

The violin goes back hundreds of years. Through all of that time techniques have been refined and there is usually a "best" way that had been decided long ago. I admit to being a bit of a contrarian sometimes. I also accept that there are good, better and best ways to do something.There's always the odd man out who can do it another way. This still doesn't mean it was the best way.

Health ties into mental and spiritual well being. There are many medical and holistic ways to relax and find a center to build healthy technique on. It's tough to play a violin when uptight unless you can somehow bury that through performance.JMHO, YMMV.

Edited: August 7, 2018, 9:49 PM · 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.

You'd be surprised how many professional violinists are not aware of different schools of thinking. One professional violinist was surprised when I saw that her thumb was more under the neck (like Anne-Sophie Mutter) than most people. I made that observation, and she couldn't imagine how it was possible to have the thumb further up!

Another violinist who graduated from a renowned school had never heard of the so-called "Auer/old-Russian bow grip". Within that school of bow grip, apparently, there's less emphasis on the tiny muscles of the fingers, but people will tell those who use this grip to train those tiny muscles which then defeats the purpose of the bow grip

Some professional violinists have no idea that the violin could be supported with the left hand (No-SR school) and firmly believe it should be only supported by the chin. etc.. etc...

So i thought it would be great to document the techniques of a lot of different players to see what they do in common, and what changes.

BTW this would not be a video on teaching how to play with less tension but about showing how many of the greats do it themselves

EDIT: The purpose of such a project is :

-to show professional violinists/teachers that there are different schools of technique. Often in classical violin pedagogy, teachers only know what they've been taught from their teacher, and they repeat the cycle. For example, the shoulder rest is now here to stay. I'm not making the argument that shoulder rest is better or worse, but I think most people would agree that nowadays, a significant majority of teachers will ask that their students put a shoulder rest. It makes sense because they wouldn't even know how to teach to play without a shoulder rest

-to show beginners that there are so many approaches out there, and if a teacher is insisting on something and after a year or two it somehow still isn't working, maybe the teacher is not familiar with your particular case. For instance, let's say you have to climb a wall that's 10 feet tall, but you are 4'9 and your teacher is 6'5. Your teacher tells you to just grab the ledge without jumping like he does, but you being so sure cannot do it. The way for you to do it would be to get a bit of distance from the wall and run and jump. To give a direct example on violin, I know a conservatory student who had health problems because his previous teacher insisted that he adopt a very specific posture. A posture that is fairly common and works well for the teacher, but definitely didn't work for the student, because he was a bit smaller. This almost led to injury, until he got another teacher who understood the student's physiology and told him to move his thumb more under the neck and elbow more forward. And voilà!

August 7, 2018, 9:58 PM · I applaud your iniciative and I think it is useful, necessary and it may very well become a reference for teachers and students.

As you are seeing, teaching systems are experiences are somehow compartimentalized. Professional sport trainers are constantly investigating techniques to improve performance and limit the health risks. It is logical and natural to have similar scientific research for violin.

My suggestion would be regarding to the "form" of the study. I think it is worth to make it as scientifically as possible. To have the input of of a doctor analyzing any part of the different techniques. To examine habits statistically. In short, aim to make a study that would be able to stand a peer-review criticism.
If you are able to dedicate the time and effort to do that, I think your study may very well become a reference book for teachers and academies, as much as Simon Fischer books, or Carl Flesch's.

August 7, 2018, 9:58 PM · BTW, here are some of my favorite threads on this site (off the top of my head)

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/15509/

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/29039/

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/15191/

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/22614/

there are many others , of course.

Edited: August 7, 2018, 10:05 PM · Hi Carlos

thanks for your feedback as well. I 'll obviously try to do this as objective and scientifically as possible, but I just want to be clear that when I interview an artist, I will not be asking them what THEY think the student should be doing but rather their process and how they do what they do. I'll have an assistant or two with me who are professional violinists and who are fairly knowledgeable to help me with this task.

So if we are only talking about what the artists are doing and not what they think others should be doing, it should keep things objective enough in that sense. The goal is to ask quite a large sample of accomplished soloists / orchestra players / pedagogues.

I'm also thinking of asking only violinists above a certain age, for the simple reason that most health problems seem to happen much later in life. If someone is say 40 years and can still play freely without any problems, they've probably figured it out. I know people who had to go see specialists past a certain age as violin was causing them serious health problems.

PS: I'm not releasing a book but a video series. Therefore I will get camera angles and different clear shots and demonstrations

August 7, 2018, 10:15 PM · 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?
August 8, 2018, 7:00 AM · 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.

Anyway - great initiative. Good luck with it.

August 8, 2018, 9:46 AM · 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.

Very excited about this and looking forward to the completion of your project!

August 8, 2018, 10:05 AM · Thanks for the comments thus far.

I’m still working out logistics and structure in my mind and with the help of some friends. I welcome suggestions as well.

First of all:

Who to approach? The truth is I can really just approach any high level player, but the world being the way it is, I need some form of star power. I definitely want to get in touch with Anne-Sophie Mutter because her way or playing without SR is a bit different from others (and quite different from those who teach to play with).

There are three main categories of players I’d like to talk to: international soloists, orchestra musicians , and renowned pedagogues (juilliard, peabody, colburn, etc...)

Any names people would recommend? I do have a small list already. Please tell me their names, and why you think they’d be good. Like I said, I m leaning towards asking violinists above a certain age. For those who missed what I wrote above, I feel that past a certain age, if you’re still able to play without any pain issues, then you’ve probably really figured it out (at least for yourself). I ‘d say violinists 35ish and above. Of course, I’m happy to make exceptions if people feel I should really talk to someone.

Also, if anyone knows of any teachers who specifically specializes in violinist health, I would certainly love to interview them too. It would bw a 4th category I guess. I do already have one or two in mind.

Then, what kind of questions to ask them? Or if they are not good at explaining things, what should I get them to demosntrate, and how should I film it (which camera angles)?

As I said, I plan on having a knowledgeable violinist as assistant to travel with me in these projects.

Also, this is less health oriented, but I’m also interested in how people feel about certain principles of bowing. As I mentioned above, there are different bow grips in use, and different violinists have different ideas of how bowing mechanism should work. I’d like to explore that too. For instance the Grupmans in the Netherlands are hardcore defenders of the Russian bow grip.

Edited: August 8, 2018, 12:50 PM · 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.

Edit to say: if you're interested in longevity in playing, Auer's pupils could do all sorts of pyrotechnics even later in life, particularly Milstein. Elisabeth Matesky probably knows more than anyone alive about the Auer school of playing, having studied with at least two of his pupils (Heifetz and Lasserson) and she frequents this site from time to time. If you reach out to her, she could probably tell you a thing or two!

Edited: August 8, 2018, 3:22 PM · Thanks Jack!

EDIT: looked her up. Was not familiar with the name but then saw the video of her with Heifetz and realized I had watched this video many times! Does she still play?

August 8, 2018, 9:34 PM · 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:
Mimi Zweig: well-known violin/viola teacher
Lynne Denig: a Paul Rolland teacher and chin rest fitter (check out chinrests.com to find out more about her chinrest fitting work)
violinistinbalance.nl and the rest of the Violinist In Balance team: excellent resource on chin and shoulder rest setup and playing health
performance Medicine Associations
Kayleigh Miller (look up the Musicians' Collective Blog): she knows a lot about playing health and is an anatomy nerd
Some well-known viola teachers who have a fair bit of input on playing health and technique: Heidi Castleman, Carol Rodland, Jeffrey Irvine, and more.
August 8, 2018, 9:47 PM · Thanks Ella! I know some of those names and they were on my list already. I'll check the others.

I'm mapping out the logistics in my head at the moment. I travel regularly to Europe , Asia and the USA, so I'll try to get a pretty good sample of musicians.

Keep the names coming !

Here's the good news, my business runs on a streaming website, therefore even when I release the series, I can always add more interviews (free updates).

I hope to start this project sooner than later. Since I'm in Montreal, I'll already get in touch with members of the MSO.

Edited: August 9, 2018, 7:50 AM · 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.

This survey was published in the March, 2009 issue of Medical Problems of Performing Artists. Granted, this is just one study, but other similar surveys have shown that significant numbers of high school and college/postgraduate students are dealing with pain issues.

August 9, 2018, 10:37 AM · Sounds like a good research project.
Edited: August 10, 2018, 12:51 AM · 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."
http://pronetoviolins.blogspot.com/2015/03/pamela-frank.html?m=1

Why there are not more researches about this available to the musicians in general and violinists/violists is puzzling.

It's a good idea to interview world's top violin teachers, jurors of major international violin competitions and soloists. I believe this is an issue touches every player's heart and you probably will need little persuasion to get them talk about it when you approach them.

August 9, 2018, 2:45 PM · Thanks for the comments thus far, it's been helpful!

@Yixi, you have a good point and one that has been bugging me as well. The idea that talking about pain could be difficult for some people to admit. For this reason, I don't want to approach anyone by directly talking about pain or injury, and I want to focus more on what they do to play comfortably. It's also why I want to mainly focus on violinists past a certain age who are in a situation where they're always playing (orchestra , solo career, etc..). These are usually likely people who have figured out what works for them.

I've said it before above, but I'll say it again. I don't want this video series to be about what others should do but what the high level players themselves do.

The other challenge then is to figure out who truly plays with minimal tension. Basically someone who can play many hours every day without experiencing problems.

I know some major players who are hiding their pain/discomfort for fear of losing jobs, and they continue to play at a really high level.

I suppose I just need to hope and pray that people are as honest as they can be with me.

In your list of people who have had some sort of injury. In the case of Maxim Vengerov, didn't he say that the injury came from spots and not from violin? Do you think he could be hiding something? we may never know ! Like I said, it's only until recently that violinists started really talking about health issues. It seems like in the past, to admit pain was to admit weakness and therefore it might cost you a job.

Anyway, I m slowly compiling my list of people I want to interview, but please keep the names coming even if they're already on my list. I can travel almost anywhere. In fact, I'll be in Cleveland next week but probably not a good idea to talk to the fellow who was accused of sexual harrasment!

I'll start with local players from the Montreal Symphony Ochestra maybe.

Anyway, another thing that I need to work out is what kind of questions to ask them, and what to ask them to demonstrate.

Like I said, I'm only an amateur violinist but I've been playing music for a long time and it's my full time job. One of my reasons of studying the violin is so that I can experience what many people experience and so I can do a better job askign certain questions.

Part of the preparation for this project involved going to see many local teachers. Many of them people with graduate degree. The amount of dogmatic thinging in their pedagogy was rather shocking to me. Practically each had their idea of what was the right way to do things, and pretty much said the others were wrong. I'm sure that everything they say works 100% for them, but what if it doesn't work for rthe student? I said it above, two high level players who played without SR said it was perfectly OK to raise the shoulder to hold the violin. I suppose they're lucky to not have any injuries (or maybe they hide it).

Most others have said that it's ridiculous, and it's better to learn to balance it and to rest it on the collarbone.

Then I went to see teachers who played with SR, and there were other issues. Some teachers insisted that the thumb extend way past the neck, others said to have the thumb lower, etc... These seem like small details, but it can impact students in very serious ways, if they force themselves to look like their teachers but their body doesn't really feel comfortable.

A good analogy would be if a 4'11 person and a 6'4 person both had to reach something that's say 10 feet high. The 6'4 person could probably just raise their arm to grab it, or at the most stand on their toes. The 4'11 would have to jump or use some sort of stepping tool to reach it. But instead of telling them to do that, we tell them to do what the tall person did.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions about questions I should ask every player to demonstrate, let me know. For instance, scales, arpeggios? particular excerpts from pieces? specific techniques spiccato, vibrato, shifting?

One teacher I went to see insists that when not doing vibrato, there should always be dual contact with index and thumb up to third position and when in third position there should be triple contact with the palm resting against the body. He was pretty strict about doing this almost all the time with very few exceptions. So he gave the example of for instance a 3 octave G major arpeggio, where we shift from 6th (or is it 5th??) back to 3rd, we have to shift to the 3 point contact position.

I mentioned this to another teacher who said it was a ridiculous idea to insist that there be 3 point contact in 3rd position at almost all times especially in the midsts of playing a 3 octave arpeggio. He then demonstrated to me what he did when he shifted from 6th to 3rd. When he reached 3rd position the only contact was the thumb and the palm against the body, the index was free (sometimes it would lighlly feather the neck but it was pretty much free).

These are but some examples I've seen. Actually there's a recent thread about the index finger that was interesting, and people posted a video of Hadelich who for many passages only has the contact point with the thumb and the index is clearly not touching the neck:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9p0pgZ8na0&t=1115s


Anyway, enough for now.. thanks!
D

August 9, 2018, 4:20 PM · 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.

Personally I think you could learn a lot from successful teachers, especially the non dogmatic kind. What sort of thing works for people of such and such an anatomy? Who should consider a shoulder rest and who should at least try to play without?

It would probably be a good idea to encourage students to mention discomfort while playing--with as specific observations as possible of which moves or exercises exactly cause the discomfort-- to their teachers before the discomfort develops into a full scale injury. Encouraging people to do so could well be included in your videos.

August 9, 2018, 9:40 PM · 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.
Edited: August 10, 2018, 1:08 AM · 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.

Also, it's fine to focus on healthy playing, but that doesn't mean a healthy player has never experienced pain or injury in the past. I would think it's those who successfully recovered from injury would have the most valuable insight on injury prevention.

One more thing, tension-free playing may also be a questionable assumption in its relation to injury. Like an athlete, a violinist stays healthy not by avoiding tension or stress but by carefully putting oneself under various stress and tension gradually over a long period of time with mindfillness and proper rests. So you may want to frame your questions along the lines of injury prevention, how to keep fit, smatt recovery strategies, etc.

August 10, 2018, 10:01 AM · 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.

I don't think that's necessarily a problem, but based on my research it seems to have created a world where people who use SR are completely unaware that there's another technique out there. The number of SR users who have told me that you should always be able to support the violin with only the head and to support the instrument with the left hand is wrong (!!!).

So by interviewing a large sample of musicians, I am hoping to restore a bit of balance into the history and technical evolution of violin pedagogy.

Also, I want to avoid the words pain and injury as much as possible when working with artists for reasons mentioned earlier.

Really, all I want to do is document how they approach various techniques by filming them demonstrating these techniques. If they're able to explain what they're doing , then I'm all for it, but with video and also slow down technology, I can better analyze what's going on as well.

For instance, I can ask every violinist to do the same thing, cycle through 3/4 octave scales, arpeggios, etc... Ask them to do vibrato .

By filming them at multiple angles , we'll get to see how they do what they do, and then we'll see "oh this person's thumb extends way past the neck, oh this person 's supporting the neck with the thumb below it, etc..."

Anyway, thanks for the extra names, I'll add to my list. Logistics is gonna be a nightmare, but I'm really looking forward to doing this! Again please keep names coming out even suggestions about what to ask them to demonstrate/talk about, keeping in mind everythging i've written above.

August 10, 2018, 10:24 AM · PS: I'm also going to try to talk to baroque violinists. Luckily in Montreal , there are two major schools with a Baroque program.

But if anyone has any names from anywhere in the world to share, please let me know

August 10, 2018, 10:34 AM · 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.

As far as I'm concerned the debate between non-SR and SR advocates is like those between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, chocolate and vanilla ice cream - until you find the common ground debate is futile. In this case the common ground is what enables one to play better.

August 10, 2018, 10:39 AM · I think you may have already reached the conclusion of your research:

"The amount of dogmatic thinking in their pedagogy was rather shocking to me."

It would be nice if you could publish something that would allow people to open their minds to new concepts, or try something that they have not before. But, the violin world is ~400 years old and steeped in TRADITION.

August 10, 2018, 10:41 AM · 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:

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=983

August 10, 2018, 10:55 AM · Hi Andrew

Your concerns are definitely legitimate, and I too do not like when people ramble too much without really demonstrating. I saw an entire series of lessons on how to play without SR , i think it was an hour long workshop, and not ONCE did the teacher even demonstrate anything on the violin!!! Absolutely ridiculous.

This is why I've been studying the violin for the past 2 years or so, so I can ask better questions and help guide the process.

I should tell you guys about myself, I'm a professional guitarist and without trying to appear to cocky, I'm fairly well known in my field. I also teach a lot and have done workshops around the world. I have a program where people from around the world come to stay with me and learn from me, and it's been non-stop since I started the program. I don't take beginners, only intermediate / advanced students. Many have them are professional musicians already. With this program, I can only accept no more than 2 students at a time, so my teaching studio is extremely limited. I've learned a lot about teaching and the psychology of teaching through my almost 20 years of teaching in various situations.

So I've been studying the violin for the past 2 years, practicing 2-5 hours a day

Here's a video of me from last year, when I had been practicing for maybe 8 months or so:

https://www.facebook.com/denis.chang/videos/vb.1062759642/10212268648245690/?type=3


Here's roughly a year:

https://www.facebook.com/denis.chang/videos/vb.1062759642/10213090995683862/?type=3

Here's roughly a year and a half:

https://www.facebook.com/denis.chang/videos/vb.1062759642/10213980154752283/?type=3

Here's almost 2 years:

https://www.facebook.com/denis.chang/videos/vb.1062759642/10215059845263871/?type=3

Here's me improvising last month :

https://www.facebook.com/denis.chang/videos/vb.1062759642/10215387591337318/?type=3

Anyway, the goal of me learning violin is just that I've always loved ithe instrument, and it's a hobby for me, but beyond that it's also research for this project that has been on my mind for quite a long time. You may notice that I play without SR. Again it's not because I think it's better, but it's for the sake of research, so that I understand what's going on. I've been to see many teachers, and will continue to see many teachers not for myself but for the purpose of research.

So all this to say that, when I go interview violinists, I think I'll be prepared to ask decent questions or to at least make useful observations based on all the contradictory statements that various teachers have made. Furthermore, I'll often be traveling with an accomplished violinist to help me as well through this whole process..

PS: I'm very well aware of my flaws in playing the violin. It's easier said than done to correct all of them! But I'm working on it!


August 10, 2018, 11:09 AM · Craig: yes , I ve already realized that there's a high level of dogmatic thinking but that is not the conclusion of my research.

As I said, the goal is to present in one package all these different ways of thinking, and then people will see how even today there's still lots of difference in opinions on how the violin should be played. Of course, there is no doubt that for every violinist that says their way is the right way, that it clearly works for them, but will it work for others?

I want people to see that it's OK to look for a second opinion, and to find the teacher that either understands your needs or whose philosophies work with you.

Edited: August 10, 2018, 2:07 PM · Hi Denis,

I watched this the other day and found quite interesting: http://stringpedagogy.com/members/volumes/articles/rest_no_more.htm
he also comes across as a sweet natured approachable person.

A lot of the information I recall having read elsewhere, picked up elsewhere, but what is most interesting is his demonstration of 'zipping up' the gap between thumb and index finger. The only other time Ive head of that was with Peter here in Montreal, if I recall correctly, in one of my lessons with him. This interests me because i get sometimes too much tension there.

also I would question the idea of dogma a bit more. my previous teacher had a certain way of playing formed as a consequence of a chain of décisions made in terms of playing. instead of bowing parallel to the bridge, he kept a slight angle to the strings (this idea is also to be found in galamian's book). in order to keep the bow on the contact point, he directed the bow slightly towards him, allowed the bow to 'round off' at the tip, played higher up on the bow, used less pronation and index finger pressure, etc etc.

this is different to the idea of keeping the bow parallel to the bridge. more so to the idea that the bow should descibe an arc with its center towards the bridge...both require much more elbow action (elbow moving forward on lower half of a down bow and reverse on an up). this will in turn favour more pronation and index finger pressure.

what i mean to say is that successful players, create their own 'ecosystem' of technique that works for them. sometimes they find their way through tradition, sometimes through pyshical intuition and sometimes through their own analysis.

i think once one introduces the idea that a certain technique could be carried out in a different way, being that it would disrupt this ecosystem they have in place, it does not come across as lightly as it would for someone learning how to play.

of course, I am not saying that by definition these all systems theplayers have are necessarily perfect and sometimes people do not sabotage themselves by making wrong choices or inculcating bad habits. i al also not saying that all methods of playing are equally efficient and/or problematic. i think a scientific mindset and setting would do us great favours by examining the commonly held beliefs, debunking myths and revealing what works best for our bodies, generally and individually.
anyway, just some thoughts from a beginner adult student without much violin playing experience :)

August 10, 2018, 2:57 PM · @Tammuz, thanks for that video series link! Good stuff
Edited: August 10, 2018, 3:30 PM · 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!
August 10, 2018, 3:25 PM · I missed that in your earlier post, Dennis.

Here's another take on things:

August 10, 2018, 6:01 PM · 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) :)

i personally found it insightful and concise, not verbose or long winded; the idea was to convey basic ideas/Tools which we use as a base throughout whatever pièces we use. also i think it was more of a presentation of these ideas rather than a workshop per se. is it enough? of course not. personally i would like him to have explained why he adopted that left hand violin hold, how he came about to adopt it. it is quite unique, i think, closing that gap.

the issue of lowering your head while elongating the spine- inkeeping with the alexander technique- for downshifts is also interesting, although by no means his own 'discovery'. still, it drives that idea in. the notion of opening the mouth is a bit bizarre though (yes i also watched the whole series).

you're not content with the presentation rather than the ideas...perhaps you could invite him to expound on his ideas and showcase them in context.

in terms of body mapping, as per Craig's video, Jeniffer Johnson who is canadian and has a book out on the topic, might also be someone to look into.

V.com recommendations: one violinist member who has demonstrated a lot of interest in relating anatomy to violin playing is Jeewon Kim, i dont know the person but their posts are thorough and interesting. Christian Vachon in Ottawa is always kind to us here in offering his advice and has expertise in the topic. In terms of Alexander technique and violin playing, also close to home, check out Noémi Racine Gaudreault(http://www.noemiracine.com/indexalexander.html). I also do no know her but when I had some issues with my neck, I was looking for alexander technique people around here and I came across her site. Perhaps this could be fruitful.

August 11, 2018, 11:55 PM · 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.


At any rate , the fellow here says some interesting things . He comes off as being aggressive and angry, but if you can get past that, there are interesting view points:

https://youtu.be/ZMVJoO3AyTU

The only bit where I might disagree with him is having to tilt the violin at different angles to accomodate the bow strokes on different strings. Maybe certain violinists do that (again, the art of playing without SR is that there’s absolutely no one set method), but I would not say it’s one of the universal rules

August 12, 2018, 5:14 AM · ... something Nate will like... (21:17)
August 12, 2018, 8:31 AM · hi Denis,
The only thing I would say about the Jonathan Swartz presentation is that it just provided a few key postures to play around with in ones own playing and that may or may not work. it is what it is, not more or less :)

in terms of micro adjustments, I think one really needs interaction with a teacher over the span of a much longer time and ones own observations of how your body works. no hour long workshop or YouTube video is going to achieve that.

i watched the video, there are some interesting (verbose) points and many more expletives :) . i am no expert, but i think perhaps some people might object to the angled position of his head on the chin rest. simon fischer talks about this, that you should turn your head then drop it on the chin rest rather than pose it diagonally as he does. and in the Swartz workshop, he talks about lowering the chin onto the chinrest while elongating the spine...this concurs with simon fischer (who also has an alexander technique influenced background). i think tips like these give us directives we could immediately use in playing.i also think the idea of tilting the violin for the purpose of maintaining finger spacing is odd and would be problematic.
i think the most interesting point he makes (and is about violin pedagogy rather than violin technique) is about adult learning and about how many teachers are not actually able to make the implicit explicit. I would disaggree however with the idea that some teachers are categorically able to and others not. one teacher might be better able to explain one technique than another, whilst the latter might be better at breaking down yet another technique. but yes, some are more equal than others, so to speak

August 12, 2018, 10:26 AM · 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.

Anyway about the tilt, he was suggesting that for string crossings , we tilt the violin. I don’t know anyone who does that for string crossings, but for tilting the violin as a main position, you will notice that different players tilt the instrument in different ways. Each angle that one adopts leads to a different approach for both left and right hands:

Look at Anne-Sophie Mutter whose violin is more tilted than Jascha’s although it can be hard to see due to the inconsistent camera angles , which is why when I do this project, I want to get consistent camera angles

https://youtu.be/gz9m06HHBcE

https://youtu.be/kFaq9kTlcaY

In the Yehudi Meuhin instructional video, he also seems to suggest that the violin not be supported with the left hand thumb, but that’s what Mutter seems to be doing. Aaron Rosand has also explained that there are different ways to support the violin . It reinforces again what I said above, everyone believes their way is the right way. So very few teachers are neutral and have done the research to properly understand how technique can change from person to person. This is a skill that requires not only research but years of experience working with many violinists. Which is why I believe that a lot of young violinists (recent graduates) are not experienced enough to help in this department. Younger teachers can certainly teach how they do things and it would work well for people whose bodies are adapted to the teacher’s way of playing.

Edited: August 12, 2018, 5:01 PM · 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.
Edited: August 12, 2018, 6:24 PM · Yikes!! Didn't see that video. It's too bad because he had some good arguments in the violin video.

At any rate, while the discussion thus far was interesting, I am still interested in input from professional violinists/teachers here about what to ask violinists to demosntrate, or who to ask. I've got a nice list now . Lots of Americans and Europeans.

Edited: August 13, 2018, 4:22 AM · I have the first four volumes of Samuel Applebaum's The Way They Play.
Each of these great violinists, violists and 'cellists has a very personal list of priorities. But it's Mr.Applebaum who is the renowned teacher, who can pull these threads together for our benefit.

Even at my more modest level, I find that we teach the least well those aspects which we find easy, be it through natural facility or early training. And many of us have even an unconscious "do as I say, not as I do" policy.

So Denis, good luck, I mean good fortune with your enterprise!

August 13, 2018, 7:25 AM · 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.

But try to discuss hair-cell damage to a violinist, and the conversation veers quickly to the high Parisian rents, or the price of lobsters..

Snapshot:
A rock musician complaining about new decibel restrictions, "But if I turn down the volume, there's nothing left!"
No comment.

My viola teacher in England said that as a musician she could claim osteopath's fees against income tax..

August 13, 2018, 9:28 AM · 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.

August 13, 2018, 1:39 PM · @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.

https://bit.ly/2vI0IIT

August 14, 2018, 3:57 AM · 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.

So the question is, are you interested in the most injury-free way of playing fiddle? Although relaxation of anything which interferes with control is essential for good playing, and may be generally conducive to heathly playing, the underlying premise of the third paragraph of the opening post, that relaxed and injury-free are the same, is not always true.

August 14, 2018, 7:50 AM · 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.

Like any information resource, the watcher would select the most pertinent info.Not all information would be helpful. Physiology should determine much of the approach if this is what potentially stands in the way of being our best. I would hope teachers would be mindful of this fact.

There's the best way or ways to do it and then the adjustments based on health and physiology.


Edited: August 14, 2018, 10:10 AM · Thanks Jack!

For the other comments, yes I fully realize that injury free and minimal tension is not the same. I even talk about it in one of the comments, which is why I don’t want to focus too much on the terms “pain-free” or “injury”.

In my research, looking at violinists who say they’ve suffered injuries. A number of them have said that it wasn’t because of violin playing... but I wonder.... Probably best not to go down that road.

If you read any of the further comments I’ve made, I’ve then said that the main focus is to show that there is no one fixed way of playing the violin which surprisingly is still a foreign concept to many violin teachers. I’ve now interviewed clsoe to a dozen young teachers in preparation for interviewing the top tier players. The amount of dogmatism is rather surprising where teachers insist that the thumb be in X position, violin at Y angle, etc...

So by interviewing a wide variety of players, vieweers can realize there are many ways to play violin at a high level.. Maybe some better than others, but the series will never ever tell you which one is the best one because there is no such thing.

I will even try to interview players who are in the 50s and who say it’s OK to raise the shoulder... they somehow still manage to play but most people will probably agree that it’s a risky way to play

PS: thanks for the comments thus far, but I’m hoping for more input from advanced and/or professional players

August 14, 2018, 1:16 PM · 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.

You might also want to get in touch with Nathan Cole. He used to use a shoulder rest, but has recently ditched it.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend looking up Kato Havas and her New Approach to Violin and Viola Playing. She's probably dead now, as she was born in 1920. Her New Approach utilizes concepts foreign to most violin and viola teachers. In addition, she makes a huge effort to link technique to playing health. To learn about her approach in depth, you might want to order her books and watch some of the videos on her approach on YouTube. I also recommend interviewing someone who is an expert in the approach, such as Monica Cuneo. I can't think of any other experts off the top of my head.

August 14, 2018, 2:00 PM · 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.

My opinion: better technique lowers the risk of overuse injuries but some people are naturally at far more risk no matter how they play because of anatomical variations.

August 14, 2018, 4:05 PM · 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
Edited: August 14, 2018, 6:54 PM · 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.

For me personally, I have never had any playing-related injuries, though I have had mild cramps from bad technique and stupid mistakes. The good news is that I play totally pain free now and I strive for it to be that way for the rest of my playing life.

August 14, 2018, 10:36 PM · Hi Mary Ellen

What you wrote makes sense and it is also something I have thought of as well. Some people are jsut lucky and others are not. Guitar is my main instrument, and I’ve never ever had any problems . I can play for hours every day without a problem, and then I know some people who seemingly have good technique but who end up getting tendonitis or something like that.

Likewise, in interviewing a number of violinists so far, I ‘ve mentioned that I’ve encountered violinists who played without SR who said it was ok to raise the shoulder. They say it’s OK but do they actually really do it? Hard to say without observring them more, but if they do, and they’re still playing, then I suppose they’re the lucky ones. One of them in his in his 50s as well.

It’s like people who smoke their entire lives and live a long life and die of natural causes, and others who are health nuts but who get lung cancer.

Therefore as I ‘ve mentioned quite a few times in the above comments, I will try to steer clear from directly talking about things like playing without pain but focus more on the difference in technique of various players. Again I think this is very relevant when you see how dogmatic certain teachers can be. Already in the last few days, there hafve been posts here about left hand thumb and left hand positioning as a result of new teachers contradicting the old one. In having interviewed a number of youjng teachers recently, I have encountered this as well.


August 14, 2018, 11:29 PM · 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.
August 14, 2018, 11:34 PM · 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.

Whether or not one finds a SR useful and/or necessary is also a function of individual anatomy.

August 14, 2018, 11:47 PM · 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!

https://youtu.be/8xfrV-xw380

Mary Ellen: Yes if you read what I wrote multiple times above, I will definitely not make this about SR vs no SR, but I do have to get a big enougf sample of violinist from both camps to show all the various possibilities in posture. Like I said, I’ve read so many articles and watched so many videos (bought some too from Mimi Zweig) on playing without SR. Many people are saying / doing different things, which to me indicates that in some ways playing without SR cannot be taught, every has to discover what works for them based on their arm length, finger length, flexibility, shoulder size, neck , collarbone, body fat/flesh, etc... We can clearly already see four different approaches if we compare Itzhak Perlman, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Ida Haendel, and Jascha Heifetz, just to name these four.

August 15, 2018, 12:27 PM · 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.

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

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