Essential Tremor

October 27, 2021, 10:21 AM · Hello! I've been diagnosed with essential tremor by my neurologist. I've been in denial for a couple of years since it began, blaming it on anything I could (age, lack of practice, exhaustion, stress, etc.) It hasn't kept me from playing or teaching, but it is annoying and embarrassing at times. And warming up every day is excruciatingly difficult, as I try to steady my bow hand. Once I'm fully warned up, I am better able to draw a nice, steady bow. My teacher once told me that right hand tremor ended Eugene Ysaye's performing career, so I suspect I'm not alone. Though I have not gone back to my neurologist yet to receive treatment (most likely a beta-blocker like Inderal) for this condition, I'd like to know if any of you who are experiencing essential tremor might share any helpful and encouraging insights. Thank you!

Replies (12)

Edited: October 31, 2021, 10:49 PM · Using a beta blocker for essential tremor helps me. I've gotten it down to a very low dose - as low as 2.5 mg by cutting the pills. I started with Inderal 44 years ago, and now have a Rx for Propranolol.

Also - caffeine can make it worse - be careful of your morning coffee!

My main problem occurs when my thumb and index finger get too close together - about the diameter of a violin or viola bow. Cello bow is often OK!

Some days I can get by after a fashion without the pills. I always start practice wirh a very slow 3-octave scale from frog to tip for each note up to about 10 seconds each. If that fails I hold the bow with my thumb under the frog - that always helps. I can always move my thumb from the stick to (under) the frog while playing if I have to. Most things I play can be bowed either way.

If you suffer from "shaky bow syndrome" due to "performance anxiety" (excess adrenaline) the same beta blacker dosage is the "real deal."

October 27, 2021, 1:04 PM · Alexander, I cannot help you, but you have my sympathy.
October 28, 2021, 10:45 AM · Beta blockers work well. I can practice fine with my tremor but performance can make me shake a lot. Propranolol works very well to still the hands but it tends to blunt the fire in one's playing.

A nice beer or a shot also does wonders to calm the shakes but is obviously not something you want to do all the time!

Edited: October 28, 2021, 11:17 AM · Paul,
In my opinion (and experience) you can retain the "fire" in your performance playing even under beta-blocker control if you have planned it all out ahead of time and stick to the plan. (Technique - dynamics and phrasing!) In fact, the beta blocker gives you a better chance of remembering how it is you want to do it "in the heat of battle."
October 28, 2021, 11:48 AM · Yeah, the "fire" is not something that you can plan out, it's the rush you get from live performance that can't be faked. If I have to remember how I'm supposed to be doing it, I'm not actually doing it.
October 28, 2021, 12:28 PM · I’m so sorry, Alexander. Mine developed fairly early, and I ended up switching careers. Can’t do micro dissections if the hands won’t cooperate.
Edited: October 29, 2021, 12:43 AM · This may offer some advice
I haven't watched it for a few years, so it may be here or it may be somewhere else where I saw the explanation that anything in contact with the back of his hand took the tremor away, so I'm not suggesting you wear full gloves to play the violin!
Edited: October 29, 2021, 10:36 AM · You're getting great advice and sympathy in this discussion thread.

It's a long shot, but there are two treatment methods that may (or may not) be worth trying - clinical hypnosis and acupuncture.

But if you're going to try either one, make sure it's with an M.D. who specializes in that modality.

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is made up of physicians, psychologists, and dentists who use this modality.

As I said, it's probably a long shot, but I think it could well be worth checking out.


October 29, 2021, 10:51 AM · I have one adult student, at the beginner's level, with essential tremor. I don't have any breakthroughs or miracle cures to report. We were able to make very modest improvements by: using the Suzuki/ancient style of bow hold with the thumb completely under the frog. Mark O'Connor also plays that way. 2) Not try to play soft. 3) "Russian" bow hold is working a little better than the F.--B. 4) using a tip-heavy Viola bow (!).
October 31, 2021, 2:52 PM · Many thanks to all who replied. I truly appreciate everyone's kindness in sharing your ideas and insights!
October 31, 2021, 6:27 PM · Sue - another micro-dissector here, just wondered which field you were in. I did basic neuroscience - and am very lucky that tremor has yet to find me.

Great use for beta-blockers Alexander, I guess you are at least lucky that such a treatment with so few side-effects exists - it might even help your performances. Best of luck!

Edited: November 14, 2021, 2:22 PM · In addition all this knowledgeable advice, may I humbly suggest the bowing chapters from Menuhin's Six Lessons. He overcame his increasingly awkward bowing, if not completely, at least to a remarkable degree.

He seems to have transformed something resembling an "intention" tremor into a continuous wave motion. If instead of desperately trying to draw a "dead straight" bow stroke, we can think of it as a very flat curve or ondulation..

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