Violinist Ergonomic Safety

Edited: December 3, 2019, 6:09 PM · My new teacher really cares about violinist ergonomic. He revises all my ways of holding a violin, fingering and bowings. He analyzes every angle of my fingering and arms, to make sure no muscle strain. He makes sure I wont suffer muscle problem in the future like many violinists experience. He reminds me of Ergonomic professionals instead of a violin teacher.

Meaning that, I have to restart from the very beginning again : Twinkle2 Little Star, and Suzuki 1 book, with correct position, while I am actually in Suzuki 4, now.

It brings me down, changing habit is more difficult than exercising a new piece. But since I am a Health, Safety & Environment (HSE) professional myself, I understand and support his approach.

Twenty years ago, I rarely saw a violin teacher emphasizes ergonomic safety from the very beginning for beginners. Is this a new material in teaching violin?

Replies (14)

November 17, 2019, 8:14 PM · Probably you have some significant posture and hand-positions problems. Maybe you are hunching your shoulders or stuff like that. I don't know. Try giving it a few weeks and pay attention to the "ergonomics" and maybe you'll be back with the Seitz Concerto soon enough.

I've had some injuries from failing to pay proper attention to ergonomics. Mostly neck, shoulder problems, forearms being tight from overdoing it at times. Cost me a pretty penny for physical therapy.

November 17, 2019, 8:39 PM · I would advise you to be patient and stick with it if you like the teacher. Its probably frustrating but you'll work back up to your prior level and be much better off learning this way. I don't think the emphasis on ergonomics is that common and I think you're lucky to find such a teacher.
November 17, 2019, 10:22 PM · An emphasis on proper physical set-up is at the core of the approach of every good teacher. You can't build a solid house without a good foundation.
Edited: November 18, 2019, 10:22 AM · Yes, I think I am lucky to have him as my teacher. He didn't mention a word "Ergonomics" at all-I don't think he even has ever heard the word -but what he did is actually what Ergononomics professionals do in HSE field : analyzing the right angles of repetitive movements at work to prevent muscle injury. He even analyzes how my short pinky reaches the tone. He tried various angles of my violin position, my thumbnail and elbow to find the right angles where I can press fingers 1,2,3,4 in G string at the same time without having to flex my pinky much. When I finally found the right angle and feel comfortable, I didn't say anything but he just knew and exclaimed, "That's it! You are comfortable with this position. Remember this and practice it in front of a mirror."

He told me that a wrong position will hinder my technique development. And if I still push it, I will just injure myself at the end. He graduated from a music university and he is an orchestra musician, he knows many violinists suffer from muscle problem. Teaching is not his main job, he only has very few students. His other student is also in Suzuki 4 but he also reconstruct his student position and basic technique. Since he is already comfortable with the new position, he develops very fast now.

November 18, 2019, 10:11 AM · I find it really normal for new teachers to change the playing style of a new student, once taught by another person. Stick with it, your teacher is doing this for your benefit! I know it can be frustrating going back to basics, but if you are familiar with the pieces of the Suzuki books (if you have reviewed them occasionally etc), there is no reason why you won’t catch back up once your teacher is happy with your playing and positioning. I think its excellent that your teacher is taking such time to go over this detail, preventing injury and making sure you can enjoy playing for as long as possible!
November 18, 2019, 10:12 AM · My Suzuki trained teacher took exactly the same approach. Going back to the very beginning like that will soon bring good dividends and enable progress that would otherwise be increasingly difficult to attain. Go for it!
November 27, 2019, 12:11 PM · I finished my university violin training in Oregon 2 years ago and there was huge emphasis on ergonomic training. My teacher also made me restart with book 1 Suzuki and redid all my technique. I came to him with severe tendonitis and technical issues from high school. I am endlessly grateful for this... my advice is to slow down and stick with it and you will find a lot of freedom and comfort later :)
November 28, 2019, 4:59 AM · And be wary if your teacher and/or your school don't give a darn about injury, they just want you to play,play,play,dammit!

A young friend of mine, a fine cellist when she was in high school, playing in the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, went to a university where neither her teacher nor the string department cared about ergonomic safety while playing, they just wanted notes/notes/notes! She ended up with serious playing-related injuries to the point that she could no longer play and had to pay for lots of medical treatment just so she could use her arm again. Needless to say, she no longer plays cello at all and has entered an entirely different field of work and whenever anybody mentions that school I tell them to consider applying elsewhere. It was a horrible situation and she should have refused, but when a person is on scholarship and needs to keep on the good side of her teacher and the conductors in the department she felt she had to say "yes" and play through the pain.

Never play through the pain! If it hurts, stop and figure out why. And if a person's current teacher can't or won't help figure it out, it's time to find a teacher who cares about the student more.

November 28, 2019, 6:54 AM · And then there is that thoroughly misleading and ridiculous mantra "No Pain No Gain" that worms its way into our brains, probably having a subconscious adverse influence.
November 28, 2019, 3:20 PM · My only comment is to monitor the time spent on ergonomics. There was a teacher I trialed who spent the majority of 2 lessons time on the shoulder rest. You can overdo anything if you set your mind to it
November 30, 2019, 7:09 PM · I am glad that now we have internet and that we can share through online discussion. As I think deeper, the reason why I gave up violin 20 yrs ago was because wrong position issues that made me difficult to develop my technique. It was like that years ago : play, play, play, just sacrifice yourself. It was frustating.
November 30, 2019, 8:41 PM · This is quite great. I had a few lessons again earlier this year after a very long time and my teacher noticed right away that I am bowing incorrectly (partly it's not enough movement in the wrist, partly not-straight bowing). And I am certain that it is not that my technique has slacked off since the years I was playing in school; I honestly think I have always played like this and no one has ever noticed/corrected it before... not even private teachers. I'm blown away.

But, of course, after almost 30 years, it's also very difficult to break myself of this way of moving my arm/wrist. I wish I'd had to put this work in decades ago. So I am definitely applauding your teacher!

Edited: December 3, 2019, 6:23 PM · @david Bailey

Your comment "never play through the pain" rings on my mind. Since I am a restarter, I felt wrist strain during fingering. I thought it was normal for a restarter, but as I recalled your comment and did self assessment, actually it was a wrong wrist angle. So for these two days my focus is to find comfortable wrist angle and yes, I did it! I made it to play Wohlfahrt etude with comfotable wrist yesterday. But my fingers still felt a bit strain, I'll work on it today. My focus these couple of weeks will be noticing any pain because of a wrong position and correcting it. I'll finish a piece of Wohlfahrtt etude in 1st and 3rd position without any pain to check if I have made it.

@ KT

I just noticed a week ago that not-straight bowing actually creates a slight pain in a wrist and arm strain. Stright bowing requires a relaxed wrist, probably that is why even an old-time teacher emphasizes it.

December 4, 2019, 9:42 PM · Oddly enough, I've never had any tension or pain anywhere in my bowing arm. The incorrect movement does, however, mean I have been bowing crookedly all my life. I had no idea; from my angle it looked fine and I can't tell unless looking in a mirror from a certain angle (not something I was ever in the habit of doing). No one else ever mentioned it except my mom.

I actually just ordered one of those "Bow Force" things from Shar, just to give it a whirl. :)

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