Shifting and Tension

Edited: June 11, 2019, 8:31 AM · Any tips on how to avoid tension when playing in 3rd position? My teacher and I both noted last night that this leads to a lot of tension in both shoulders. Probably to be expected as it's something quite new, just trying to figure out how not to do that...

Replies (11)

Edited: June 11, 2019, 10:04 AM · Without violin, raise both shoulders up to your ears as far as you can. Then allow them to drop. Try and keep the 'dropped' feeling. https://archive.org/details/apf6961.0001.001.umich.edu/page/4 pg 65. The girl on pg 63 is Myra Hess.
June 11, 2019, 10:09 AM · I can understand why shifting could cause tension, it's the old "Gerald Ford" problem of walking and chewing gum at the same time, but why should playing in 3rd position once you are there cause tension?

If it really does then play something simple in 3rd position like "Mary had a little lamb", play some scales all in 3rd position. Repeat until it just becomes normal.

If it is the shifting then, again, play something simple like a one octave, one string scale, up and down, over and over until it becomes easy.

Edited: June 11, 2019, 10:22 AM · Playing 2 octave D and C scales are fine. No tension, ease of movement, etc.

My teacher introduced 3rd position in the context of Bachs Marche, a piece I know well, as well as in an intro to one of Teleman's pieces I've just started working on (just the intro, the rest is currently beyond me). Apparently my shoulders reach for my ears as soon as I hit those sections. I can play these same sections in 3rd position pizzicato fine, but it changes as soon as my bow enters the scene.

I've noted this before when I've learned a new technique via scales and then work to incorporate that new thing into actual music. Scales are easy :) This may well be the whole chewing gum and walking thing!

June 11, 2019, 10:49 AM · Are you holding the scroll end of the violin "up" enough? I've noticed that I tend to get tense with big shifts when I left the scroll drop, because then the shoulder/chin are forced into more "action" than would otherwise be necessary if the scroll were held up a bit higher.

Might be worth it to practice these shifts without the bow being involved for a while, with your right arm dropped to the side, or at least holding the bow if not using it. If need be, you can do the old hold the scroll gently against the wall (with a pillow or towel for cushioning!) and practice your shifts that way. Frankly though, I've never been able to bridge the support of the wall with the support of my hand issue so I avoid exercises like this, but it works for some otherwise I assume it would not be talked about as much. When comfortable enough, incorporate the use of the bow. I've done this when my brain cannot handle processing anything else - and it does help.

If there are a lot of string crossings and other complicated bowings, it would be best to get used to these sans shifts/positional changes from your most comfy first - practice open strings, in lower positions, etc.

Will be interested to see what others have to say. I struggle with shifts to fifth position and above - am getting better although it has taken a lot of time.

June 11, 2019, 11:04 AM · I can play both sections fine pizzicato, interesting comment about my scroll, will look at that. I also tend to have more tension at my lesson anyway, but for this I don't think it any better at home. Thanks, and I look forward to other comments on this.

I am trying to practice as smart as I can. Some things just require the woodshed approach, and this may be one of them.

June 11, 2019, 11:31 AM · The other day, my teacher pointed out that I was raising my right shoulder while shifting up an octave from fourth finger b flat on the e string to the fourth finger b flat in eighth position. Unconscious idea that to play higher you have to lift your body higher.

You probably don't lift your shoulder while playing pizzicato because you are able to focus carefully on the shift since you don't need to think about bowing.

June 11, 2019, 12:18 PM · Tension while shifting is a common problem. When we first learn shifting it is on the same finger, which tends to dig into the fingerboard. Changing fingers while shifting, learned next, is usually better because we naturally release the left hand when we switch fingers. Also, when you can arrange it, shifting up on an up-bow, shift down on a down-bow, works slightly better than the opposite motions, because the motions of the two arms complement each other, while the opposite motions throw you off-balance. Press down on the chin-rest while shifting, then release when you are in the next position. The left shoulder stays down while shifting.
Edited: June 11, 2019, 1:24 PM · You're just tensing up because you're doing something new -- something that is supposed to be hard because people talk about it a lot. Well it's not that hard, you can do it just fine.

When you get to the shift, stop playing, shift, and start playing again. (Literally create a gap of a second or so in the music during which you do the shift.) When you get to third position, did your shoulders suddenly go up? If so, put them back down before you start playing again. Repeat. When you have got to the point where your shoulders do not hunch during your shift you can gradually decrease the duration of the gap.

June 11, 2019, 1:33 PM · Very helpful ideas, thank you! Hadn't thought about giving myself a gap of time, will try that tonight. Because I tense up so much my bowing also goes downhill fast, especially with string crossings.

Somehow I thought the sliding harmonic (just one note at this point) would be more difficult over this - especially since my 2 octave scales came easily, but not the case!

June 11, 2019, 4:14 PM · Do your chinrest and support underneath the violin feel secure? If not, that could be a source of tension.
June 11, 2019, 7:01 PM · They do Bart, but my chin rest has fallen apart several times (Wittier Zuerich) so if it happens again it will be replaced.

Tonight I focused on keeping both my shoulders neutral, and the shifted section on both pieces felt much better. I still need work on my intonation for those sections, but I no longer felt like I was fighting myself or the violin. I appreciate all of the comments and will use them as a future reference. Things will only get more challenging from here :-) Nice to finally be expanding out of 1st position though, regardless of challenges. I love learning new things!


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