Orchestra issues

September 25, 2021, 11:55 AM · Hi all,
So in my communuty orchestra I am in the viola section. We are playing Schubert 9, Beethoven Corialane Overture, some stuff from West Side Story and a piece by one of our members.
As many of you know, a lot of viola parts are 16th notes a lot of the time (this is especially true in the Beethoven).
My question is: my arm gets fatigued while doing the run of 16ths. Anyone have suggestions on how to counteract that? I have a lesson with my teacher soon, so if its not fixed by then I will ask her. But I didn't want to take up unneccesary lesson time.


Replies (14)

September 25, 2021, 1:05 PM · If this is muscle fatigue, continuing practicing these runs repeatedly will fix it. It's the same as any endurance training.
September 25, 2021, 1:55 PM · Avoid tension in your posture, both general body posture and specific things such as holding the violin and bow, which includes the whole arm from the neck to the hand. Tension in these areas will tire out muscles more than anything.
September 25, 2021, 2:08 PM · That actually would be an excellent use of lesson time to learn how to play quickly. Definitely ask your teacher.

You are probably getting tight when you speed up rather than staying relaxed.

September 25, 2021, 2:25 PM · If something is tense or fatiguing, then a bunch of repetition is likely to only cause injury. Before getting to the repetition component, you need to consciously build relaxation in by figuring out what the least amount of muscle, force and energy can be used to get you where you want. Only then should you introduce repetition in order to more thoroughly embed that relaxation, and only cautiously.
September 25, 2021, 2:37 PM · ?Wrist!
September 25, 2021, 3:26 PM · That's right, relax first and then let it fly.
September 25, 2021, 3:55 PM · Playing lots of fast notes without tension can be as much about mentality as technique. If you try to think about every single note, you will almost certainly get tense. If you think about notes in groups, and practice so that your hands move automatically within each group of notes, you have a much better chance of staying relaxed.
September 25, 2021, 5:42 PM · Make sure you aren’t hunching your right shoulder.
September 25, 2021, 6:50 PM · You could play every other note as an 8th. :-)
Edited: September 26, 2021, 8:21 AM · You could ease into it by playing the beats, then the 8ths, etc.
Edited: September 25, 2021, 9:54 PM · When you are sitting in an orchestra it's almost guaranteed that your playing posture is not ideal. That can cause all kinds of weird stresses that could lead to fatigue. Do you bring your own bespoke chair or do you use whatever crappy chair is provided? The community orchestra in which I play viola has two choices of chair -- crappy and awful -- so I am compelled to bring my own, and the principal cellist does too. The question is, do you have the same fatigue issues when you are practicing your parts at home? Or have you not had the opportunity to attempt this control experiment? :)

Depending on the tempo, repeated sets of notes can be played down-down-down-down, up-up-up-up also. I find this pattern less tiring. But you don't get to decide unless you're the principal.

Edited: September 26, 2021, 1:15 PM · Paul has highlighted an important issue. It is given to very few of us to be soloists performing standing up before an audience; the vast majority will be playing seated in orchestras or other ensembles. It would make sense to raise this issue with a teacher and to do a significant proportion of one's home practice seated (as I do), bearing in mind any advice the teacher may have given.

I have noticed that Baroque ensembles frequently play standing - the sound is always better. In Bristol, England, we have a professional string ensemble where they perform standing. I have in mind one of their concerts, a 2-hour affair, where they played standing in a semi-circle on the platform. No conductor, just a concertmaster at the end of the line where he could see everyone and everyone could see him. The icing on the cake in this concert was that it was performed entirely from memory.

September 26, 2021, 8:29 AM · Following up on what Paul said: Experienced cellists carry their own wedge-shaped cushions to customize their seats. I've been doing that for decades - and I also carry a cushion when I play violin or viola.

Another thing to watch out for - as we age our long bones (ams and legs) tend to retain their size but our spines get shorter. This has happened to me so that over the past 25 years I have lost 4 inches in height. The result, for my playing while seated is that my right hand tends to hit my right thigh when bowing the E string at the bow tip. A (cellist-friendly) wedge-cushion raises me enough to solve this problem without twisting my upper body.

Edited: September 28, 2021, 10:52 AM · The only time I ever injured myself from playing was doing the Viola part in an opera with very busy, continuous background material. Lack of rests is the culprit.
Thoughts: Take advantage of every rest, no matter how short. For long rests let your left arm hang down at your side.
Playing soft, pp, is more strenuous than playing moderately loud, mp--mf.
Off the string is more tiring than on the string. That puts a lot of extra work on the right fourth finger.
When you need to play louder start with extra bow speed, before adding arm weight/force.
For tremolo sections take all the weight off of the right third and fourth fingers; use wrist and finger motions instead of arm motion.
Don't kill yourself by trying to play too loud. When Tchaikovsky writes fff, that is for the brass section. You can't beat them for volume.

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