Essential tremor

July 25, 2019, 4:53 AM · Short question: Is it possible to overcome essential tremor in right hand so that the bow does not shake/bounce?

Background: After 3 years of learning I have realized that it is probably not technical issue but physical problem (I was sooo frustrated before because I though that I am somehow very unfit for violin since I cannot master it). My neurologist and general doctor both have confirmed that I have light essential tremor. It also runs in my family.
After a lot of practice I have managed to keep my up-bow still (both fast and slow - of course sometimes it still shakes a bit). But I still have issues with down bow, especially fast down bows. Slow are OK because I feel like I have more control over the bow and I can compensate somehow the shaking.
The thing is that when I put bow on strings and I do not move my hand in any way, I am calm etc. it slightly shakes because of my tremor. :( The most difficult is upper part of the bow in the place where the bow is most elastic/bouncy.
My neurologist has even prescribed my a small dosage (10 mg) of Propranolol but I have not tried it yet. She said that normally they don't prescribe it for people with my level of tremors but since I play violin she makes an exception. I don't know if I should take it because I don't want to mess with my health.

Replies (10)

July 25, 2019, 5:11 AM · Paulina I think you can still play the violin well, except perhaps for very soft pianissimo passages. Indeed, on the contrary, the problem with most beginners (you already play for 3 years but as an adult starter that is still somewhat a beginner) is that they do not bow with enough speed and associated pressure. So, I think you are fine, just use your bow well so that that very slight tremble is easily overruled. All the best!
July 25, 2019, 5:44 AM · Jean, thank you for encouragement :)
I just have never seen an other adult with this problem after so much time. I compare my progress to ppl on youtube.
July 25, 2019, 6:19 AM · Paulina, there have been a few discussions on the same subject. Please use search engine to find more. Here is one:
Edited: July 25, 2019, 8:24 AM · If your doctor has prescribed propranolol, they've made an educated decision that it will be worth any potential risks (which are practically non-existent if you use it properly.) I can't talk about tremors but highly recommend it for nervous shaking so it may be worth a try.
July 25, 2019, 8:51 AM · A small amount of beta blocker (such as Propranolol) is often used to prevent shaking due to excess adrenaline for auditions and even for performance. A much smaller dose is effectively prescribed for essential tremor.

I have used beta blockers for both problems, for solo performance since 1977 and for essential tremor (even in rehearsal) for the past 4 years. My need for help in performance first showed up unexpectedly and embarassingly in performance in 1951 - and left me with 26 years of discomfort before discovering a medical cure.

When I complained to my doctor earlier this year that even 5 mg left me very tired about 6 hours after taking that dose, he suggested I cut it in half (2.5 mg) and I find that just as effective for essential tremor.

You might also be able to help steady your bow by placing your thumb under the frog instead of on the stick or in the "frog hole."

July 25, 2019, 9:04 AM · Rocky, I have read the mentioned threads before but there is no one solution for this problem so I though it won't be so harmful to create a new post. My apologies :)

Gemma, thank you - one more vote for trying medication.

Andrew - thank you for sharing your personal experience and long-term usage. Maybe I cut my pill also if for you very small dosages work. :) I am sorry to hear that you had to deal with this problem for such a long time without solution.

July 25, 2019, 9:29 AM · Paulina, my experience is similar to Andrew's - I also waited far too long before getting help. I suggest you try following your doctor's advice. Just see what happens! It won't hurt you - except you might feel a little sick and/or tired after it wears off. If that happens you can always reduce the dose. Make sure you have plenty of water and some snacks around; that will help.

I have also heard of steroids and biometric feedback being used to treat tremors. I don't have any personal experience with those methods, but you could ask your doctor about them.

July 25, 2019, 12:23 PM · If you are taking any medications (or supplements) it is possible one or more of them is responsible for the tremor. My tremor has been a lifelong thing but never bothered my bow arm until 4 years ago. I was also on a medication that lowered my blood pressure in addition a different reason I was taking it. My Dr. took me off that and put me on another med and the amount of tremor dropped to about 25% by the next day - still a bit much for bowing but better for penmanship, etc. Strangely I had been on that offending medication for 25 years on varying dosages and the bowing problem only started after my previous Dr. had reduced my dosage by half. Weird!

The stage-fright shakes are a totally different mental problem and I know of people who after finding that beta blockers solved their performance anxiety never needed the meds again. Unfortunately I am not one of those people.

July 25, 2019, 3:43 PM · Get your bow examined. Some bows bounce more due to poor design. Notwithstanding your condition, a great bow helps a lot.
August 12, 2019, 6:53 AM · hello Paulina,

Caffeine (in coffee/tea etc.) can also make it worse; i know that from personal experience.
In fact, no teacher or anyone else, ever told be that caffeine can provoke or worsen(bow) shakes/trembling, until I discovered the relation myself be coincidence at the age of 25. It would have been nice to know that a bit earlier.
Anyway, it's worth trying to test the effect and difference.
Good luck!

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