A Razor's Edge
Holding vs Moving
A Razor's Edge-
What is it, and how does it define our issues as violin and viola players?
And how can we find this razor's edge, use it to work for us and not have to fight our bodies?
All musical instruments have to be supported by physical means; being held by the player or resting on the floor.
In addition, the player must move parts of their body in order to play their instrument.
So, we have a holding and moving construction and both must happen simultaneously.
Or, if we wish, a co-existence of stability and mobility.
For most instruments, those two functions are separate; some, such as piano and tympani, gain stability by resting on the floor; others, such as trumpet and oboe, are held in the player's hands, and still others, such as 'cello, use a combination of floor and body to provide support.
In these cases, the stability components are separated from the mobility components- the pianist's and tympanist's bodies are free to move, the wind and brass player's diaphragms, mouths, and fingers are unimpeded and the cellists have wonderful freedom in their upper bodies.
In other words, the holding and moving (or stability and mobility) are done by different body parts.
Violin and viola are, to me, absolutely unique instruments, in that their holding and moving requirements are performed by the same body structures.
We provide a shelf on the shoulders to balance them on, and then we use those same shoulders to move the arms to play.
Arm motion originates not where the arms come out of the torso, but deep in the bones of the shoulder girdle and with the muscles in the back and shoulders, so we must have freedom of motion with these- just the same body parts that we use to hold the instrument.
And here is a major issue for us- the same parts have to hold and move at the same time.
When faced with this dual-use conundrum, many players sacrifice freedom of motion for the surety that comes from grasping tightly onto the instrument. I'll ask clients and students: what is the basic skill involved in violin playing? Usually the answers are along the lines of: straight bow, straight left hand, etc. I differ with them, stating that the basic skill in playing is to not drop the instrument. For the violin, this is actually very true- many players struggle to hold the instrument, and have little resources available for anything else.
Finding the correct body point for accommodating the instrument's weight involves a deep understanding of how the body works, and locating the exact point where motion and security can both occur.
There exists a fine line between allowing for both of these and sacrificing one for the other- it is, indeed- a Razor's Edge.
How do we find this zone, this area in which both stability and mobility can co-exist?
It is indeed there, and it is possible to find it. Ease and comfort, and naturalness of playing, is truly attainable for most anyone.
But- it involves the courage to re-examine what we do on the instrument, and to truly understand how the instrument can interface with our body.
I would love to discuss these issues with you, and am happy to do phone, email, and videochat support. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call at 615.516.0316.
I do look forward to helping you and offer my best wishes for your playing comfort.
A Most Natural Instrument
Violins and violas-
Yes, we've heard what's been said. And we've felt it for ourselves. Tightness, tingling, numbness, outright pain, resulting in inhibited ability and finally physical (and even emotional) damage.
Our desire to make these beautiful sounds is so great, but the effort comes at such cost, that many violinists despair of ever gaining real ease on their instruments. Every day I am met with players who face disappointment in their playing, and are uncomfortable and damaged to the point of abandoning their dream of playing their beloved instruments.
So we have heard- "The violin (and viola) are unnatural instruments to play, and are necessarily accompanied by pain and difficulties".
But are they- really?
Are we destined to be relegated to a lifetime of injury, of fighting our own bodies to coax sounds out of our violins?
I am confident that the answer is a resounding NO.
I am of the opinion that these instruments are extremely natural (and by extension, easy) to play, that there are absolutely no motions required that violate principles of body mechanics, and that ease, excellence, and joy of playing can be attained by the vast majority of players.
BUT- the path to violin ease is fraught with difficulties, and forces us to re-examine many closely-held ideas, including those involving holding the violin, and the equipment used to do so.
Every day I help players understand these issues and guide them, not necessarily to the correct answers, but discover the proper questions involving the delicate integration of the instrument and the body.
I would be thrilled to discuss issues these with you. If you wish, visit me at: email@example.com, or call at 615.516.0316 for a free video chat consultation.
With all my best wishes for your playing-
Randall Willis Olson