Tight jaw muscles

July 14, 2023, 1:57 PM · Hi,
After around an hour of continuous practice, I have experienced tightness in my jaw muscles and noticed that I have been biting down very hard. What can I change to avoid this?

Replies (9)

July 14, 2023, 2:50 PM · Relax your jaw muscles?

Not trying to be facetious. The first step to resolving tension is awareness. Stop every five or ten minutes and let your tongue drop (many people unconsciously press their tongues against the front of their mouths behind their front teeth). Let your jaw drop. Roll your shoulders. Etc.

I suspect you are playing with a lot of excess tension elsewhere in your body as well. Try practicing with left-hand whistles (barely touching strings, sounds awful) and then add *just* enough weight to your left hand fingers to make the notes clear.

Good luck!

July 14, 2023, 2:51 PM · Practice with your mouth slightly open. This will make you aware of when the musical impulses are going to your mouth rather than your fingers.
July 14, 2023, 4:59 PM · Alexander Technique helped me immensely with jaw problems that were exacerbated by poor violin technique, but probably had more to do with stress and other factors. I actually had a mouth guard made and managed to chew through it in about a year. I haven't had any jaw issues in years now.

I recommend AT.

July 14, 2023, 11:31 PM · You might be clamping down too much with your chin, or you might have a chin rest or shoulder rest setup that’s too high and is causing you to strain against the instrument. If you have a teacher, ask for an assessment of your playing position. If you don’t, you can try mental or physical exercises to make your body more relaxed as you play, or you can simply try changing hardware to see if there’s something that gives you a better fit.
July 15, 2023, 6:13 AM · All good advice here to practice relaxation techniques. I know an orchestral violinist who cracked a tooth from this kind of tension.
July 15, 2023, 11:33 AM · Has your teacher evaluated your tension? Is there be a component related to using 'the wrong' shoulder rest or chin?

There are mouth guards for your front teeth. It is uncomfortable to clench the front teeth together, and thus the guards make you aware of grinding/biting.

July 15, 2023, 3:31 PM · I was going to give the same advice that Bruce did. (Note that you can still keep your lips closed, lol)
Edited: July 15, 2023, 9:24 PM · All good suggestions. There's just no getting around applying some of your bandwidth to the issue until you can resolve it. Right now it's your jaw and that's bad enough. Next it'll be your neck and then you're done for.
July 16, 2023, 7:09 PM · When I set out as a very late starter on violin, I asked a friend who has become a pedagogue at a famous conservatoire what was the single most important guidance he could offer a beginner.

Without hesitation, he said to focus on learning to play with relaxation and flexibility. In his experience, far too many of the brilliant young violinists he was working with had a level of tension that was blighting their artistic potential and increasing their risk of injury.

So when I'm practising I have a simple routine. First I focus on learning to play the phrase I am studying, concentrating on the sound and technique. Then I focus on playing it with a relaxed left hand. Then with a relaxed right hand. Then with a relaxed tongue, jaw, neck, shoulders and diaphragm.

It's vanishingly unlikely that your jaw will be your only source of tension. Everything is interconnected, so you need to aim for whole-body fluidity.

I continue to cycle my attention around those four elements throughout my practice.

I only consider the passage learned if I can play it with a sense of ease.

Much, much easier said than done of course, but at least I'm making gradual progress...

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