Tension is one of those things that everyone knows, on some level, is harmful. So why do we continue to tense up when playing the violin? Today. I'm going to share with you why tension is so detrimental to both our bodies and playing, and how we can overcome it - once and for all.
First, let's talk about why tension is harmful.
For many of us, it's a natural tendency to tense up when holding an unfamiliar object or performing a new task, and the violin is no exception. But holding onto tension for long periods of time can take a toll on the body, causing headaches, muscle fatigue, pain, and even physical asymmetry over time. Not only is tension harmful for the physical body, it can also largely affect your violin playing, and result in a harsh, scratchy tone.
Now, let's look at some things you can do to prevent and overcome tension.
To begin, let's take a look at the neck and shoulders. If you find that you tend to carry tension in your neck and shoulders (meaning those are the areas that are usually sore after a practice session), there are a couple of things you can do.
First, check your posture. Is your violin placed in the correct spot on your shoulder? Are you allowing the violin to droop down as you play? Are you lifting your shoulder to make your violin feel more secure? All of these things could be putting a strain on your muscles. Try making sure your violin is properly placed on your shoulder, your shoulder rest is adjusted to a comfortable height, and you are keeping your muscles relaxed.
Now, here's an exercise you can start doing today to help break the tension habit. Start by bringing your arms down to your side, then lift your shoulders up toward your ears with an inhale of your breath. Hold for a couple of seconds, then release with a big exhale, allowing your shoulder and neck muscles to fully relax. Now, maintaining that tension-free position, bring your violin to your shoulder, and continue on with your playing. This will retrain your muscles to assume their natural, relaxed position when you play.
Now, let's look at the hands and wrists. Your hands should not be tired from playing the violin. If this is the case, and you are consistently noticing tired and sore hands, there are a couple of things you can start doing to help.
Like we did before with the neck and shoulders, it's important to first check your posture and hand technique. Are you gripping the neck of the violin with your left hand, or bow with your right? Are you collapsing your wrist, or twisting it in an awkward way? Are you pressing too hard onto the strings when you play? All of these things could be contributing to the tiredness and soreness you are experiencing. So, it's important to make sure you have a proper bow hold and correct left hand technique before we can continue.
Another simple, yet effective exercise for kicking the tension is to periodically take your right hand and gently place it over your left hand fingers (while in playing position) to remind the hand to relax. The same applies to the opposite hand - take your left hand, and place it on top of your bow hand to remind your hand, fingers and wrist to soften as you continue with your practice session.
Now you have a better understanding of why tension is so harmful to your playing and body, and the steps you can take right now to overcome it for good!
For more on this topic, check out the video below! For some easy stretches you can incorporate into your routine to help relieve sore muscles, check out this video.