This week’s clinic features a 13 year old violin student. Jane (not her real name) has been playing the violin for two and a half years and has recently passed her grade 4. She emailed us with a couple of questions:
Thank you for your questions Jane. The first thing to say is that you are not unusual. Many, many musicians suffer from aches, pains and tiredness of all kinds. Playing any musical instrument is not always the most natural thing to do and in many instances we have to contort our bodies into awkward positions just in order to play.
Let’s first talk about your tiredness. You say you get tired very quickly when you play. What you don’t tell us is if this is a physical or mental tiredness. From a non-musical stand point there is plenty you an do to ensure that you are both physically and mentally fit to play your instrument. Eating a healthy diet, taking exercise and getting a good amount of sleep will all help to ensure that you are in a good state to play. If you are finding that you are mentally tired then perhaps you could try breaking your practice down into smaller more manageable sections. Try perhaps to do several 15 minute sessions instead of a single hour long one – you will find that you concentrate much better during the shorter periods. You could also try to shake up your routine a bit to give a bit of variety to what you play – our brains tend to switch of a little bit when we do exactly the same thing each and every session.
If you find that you are physically tired when you play this could be linked to the other point you make about having back ache. Holding your violin up (and therefore your arms), stretching your fingers and bending your neck are all unatural things to be doing. Your body will not be used to these and will therefore complain (ache) if you continue with this for too long. The first and most important thing to say about this is not to over do it. Your body is giving you a signal – if you carry on you risk doing some more serious damage to your back. When you play try to bear a couple of things in mind. Firstly you should try to maintain as good a posture as you can, make sure your back is straight when both sitting and standing. Also make sure your head is upright as far as possible. The second thing you should strive for is to be as relaxed as possible when you play. Try to avoid tense neck and shoulders and this will help not just your back ache but your overall playing as well.
I hope we have helped to answer your questions, you should however discuss this situation further with your teacher and work with them to resolve these problems. You might also consider some more specialised help to reduce the pressure and tension in your body. An experienced Alexander Technique instructor would be a good place to start.