Violin, disability and limitations.

November 28, 2018, 1:45 PM · Hello

I suffer from a myopathy, which is muscle disorder. I am in a wheelchair, and my muscles aren't that great (they aren't terrible neither!). Besides that, i got myself a lot of tendon contractures. And that's the main issue. I can't open my hand to the end. My fingers are curved a little, and im not able to straighten the arm (it's about 150 degree angle when i try to).

I had always loved music, and i've played keyboard/piano for as long as i can remember. Recently i decided that i want to play another instruments as well. I went to the shop and bought myself a brand new violin, which might have been a little ill-conceived when i think about that. But here i am, with my 4/4 violin, and problem arises. I can't twist my wrist enough to reach all the strings. I need to really stretch out and twist my spine arround to hit that G string with my pinky comfortably, and i dont think that's good.

I really want to play the violin, and i thought that you might give me some ideas, tips, exercises to help me with that issue. Is holding my violin like a cello the only way?

Ps. I'll probably get a teacher soon so they can evaluate my condition, but i thought asking here first would be a good start. And i also have an appointment with my orthopaedist at the beginning of the next year, so i will ask him about that too.

Replies (9)

November 28, 2018, 2:05 PM · Some will be brutally realistic telling you it is not possible. The others overly optimistic telling you that you can do whatever you want if you put enough efforts. I will just support you in your idea to find a teacher. If qualified and also experienced in working with adults, that person will be in the best position to provide assessment and guidance.
November 28, 2018, 2:26 PM · If your main issue is your disability to twist your arm enough, this can be helped by turning the instrument more laterally that the scroll points more towards the shoulder. You will eventually need a different type of chin rest. Have fun, even if you have to do things differently than others.
A teacher will be needed anyway.
November 28, 2018, 3:31 PM · I took my violin and experimented with different positions once again. The one that seemed to work is to rotate a violin to the front, and like Nuuska suggested to the side a little. I can almost comfortably hit all the strings with all my fingers (a little discomfort is a result of my small fingers i guess). It also somehow fixes my problem with thumb contacture, and i dont squeeze the neck anymore. There will be a little problem with a bow holding (because of my arm contacture), but i think it's easier to fix. It sure looks unusual but i dont think i will play it publicly in the near future anyway. To play Violin like this i would indeed need another chin rest and maybe a longer shoulder rest.

I'll search for a teacher as fast as i can then.

November 28, 2018, 4:14 PM · Gray,

Consider that changing strings isn't in the wrist motion, it is changing the angle of your forearm by moving your elbow forward or backwards to place the fingers above the appropriate string. Keep the line of the ulna and the metacarpals straight. If you observe professional you will note the slight shift of the elbow on string changes. Chances are that they don't even realize that they do it.

Twisting your wrist changes the position of your fingers relative to the fingerboard and nut. Moving the elbow maintains the plane and position.

November 28, 2018, 4:37 PM · Welcome Gray Ray,

If you have the desire to learn to play a violin I think you can do quite well with the proper teacher. Holding the violin and bowing is hard for a lot of beginners I think because they tend to tense up their muscles which is quite the opposite of completely relaxing while playing. Hopefully what seems awkward to you at the present becomes more natural with practice and as time goes by your muscles might stretch and strengthen a bit as you progress with your studies. If you have the time I think easing into many 10 or 15 minute practice bouts throughout the day might work well for you. I would like to hear more from you in the future as to how you are doing!

November 28, 2018, 4:50 PM · I don't know about what you can or can't do, but violin is one of the less ergonomically friendly instruments you could choose, even without a disability. It's always interesting to see what truly motivated people can achieve, but based on just the ergonomics, violin would be among the last instruments I would think to recommend. I don't know if your breathing is significantly affected, but you might look into a wind instrument as well. I always dug oboe myself.
Edited: November 28, 2018, 5:23 PM · There are many cultures in which the violin is played in a cello-like position. This is much more ergonomic than classical violin posture. Professional cellists can actually play the violin in this position, and quite well.

My older granddaughter is living on the island of Crete right now and has a neighbor who plays traditional (folk music of eastern Cretan mountains) violin in this way. I believe there is a youtube video of her neighbor. If I can find it, I'll post the link.

Here it is:

My granddaughter, a published author, studied classical and Celtic violin and voice and has been singing with her neighbors since she moved there in September to research her next novel. She left her violins at home in California - at least I hope it is still HOME.

November 28, 2018, 6:47 PM · That's actually a good point. It reminded me of this:

She makes it work for her and is able to draw a straight bow this way and make a good sound.

Django Reinhardt did some pretty amazing things with just two fingers. Constraints can push art in some really interesting directions.

Edited: December 2, 2018, 12:17 PM · Cello position is definitely an option to explore - years ago in India I spent some time with a Carnatic violinist who played cello-style with a dazzling technique.

Other professional Carnatic players do the opposite, with the scroll resting on their lap and the tail resting on their chest.

So there's no reason to restrict yourself to the conventional classical position - you may well be able to find a creative solution to your limitations provided you have the drive to experiment.

Alternatively, depending on your condition, you may find that you can gradually ease into the conventional position. When I started, an old injury restricted my ability to rotate my left forearm enough to achieve a good frame on the G string. After a practice session my forearm was so stiff I would literally have to use my right hand to rotate it back to normal! But after a year or two that eased off, and now I can reach the G relatively normally.

If funds allow, a teacher would obviously be highly desirable. But you'll need to find someone with an open mind and a good understanding of technique - many lower level teachers just parrot whatever they were taught without much ability to analyse and problem-solve. Not everyone is as capable as the thoughtful teachers who hang out here. So don't sign up till you've had a trial lesson and a chance to evaluate their ability to help you.

Anyway - good luck to you - it sounds like an exciting project! Do please keep us in touch with how it goes for you...

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