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"Death Grip" Problems
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Jols
Atlanta, GA
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February 12, 2016 - 1:17 am
Member Since: February 2, 2016
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Hello, everyone!

I've been learning to play the violin for about 5 weeks now.  My teacher says I've been making good progress so far (yay!), but lately I've noticed that I've been gripping the neck too hard a lot. I have two theories:

  1. So many things going on at once: focusing on reading the music, making sure bowing position is correct, getting the rhythm right, fingerboard position correct, etc..and I end up doing a death grip to concentrate really hard on all those things at the same time.
  2. My arm gets tired keeping the violin up, and when my left elbow drops down a few inches I hold on tighter on the neck to stop it from tilting downward.

Do the theories make sense? If so....

  • For theory #1, any suggestions on how i focus on all of those things but still keep myself relaxed?
  • For theory #2, I did see this post suggesting that I may have to consider if my chinrest/shoulder rest suits me (This Post), but how can I tell if it does? I DON'T feel like the violin is going to fall off, it just kind of tilts downward when my arm gets tired. I also saw a  YouTube video somewhere suggesting that I may just need to work on my arm strength to help me keep the violin tilted up. I know for a fact that I have very little upper body strength. Could that be it?

Thoughts?

-Jols

My neighbors probably want to strangle me for all the noise I've been making.  But hey, "no pain, no gain" right? Except, they feel the pain and I get the gain (I'm really sorry, neighbors :-S)

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Fidelestre
Texas
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February 12, 2016 - 6:35 am
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There is a lot to think about when playing violin, so #1 may be playing a role. Now that you are aware of the "death grip" issue, you can spend some time giving special attention to playing without such a grip, and soon it will become second nature.

But I think that #2 plays a very big role. Your arm shouldn't really be supporting the violin, so it shouldn't be getting tired from supporting weight. Your left arm may be getting tired from being held up in the air, but not from bearing the weight of the violin. As you practice more, you will become accustomed to the posture. And the shoulder rest and chin rest do make a huge difference. Can you hold your violin up without using your hand at all? If not, try making some adjustments.

Your teacher, if you have one, should be able to give you some pointers about good shoulder rests and chin rests that would fit you. If you have a local violin shop, it could be well worth it to go there and try several out, with the staff giving your feedback on what works best.

For me, having the right shoulder rest made an enormous difference. With my hand free to move, the violin is a lot easier to play.

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Ripton
Vermont, Massachusetts or somewhere in between
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February 12, 2016 - 7:47 am
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Having the correct set up for YOU is the most important. Not just what works for your instructor, or the guy behind the counter (Unless your lucky enough to live near Pierre or someone like him). The other aspect I found most helpful is to break down my practice into segments. relaxed arms, relaxed grip, simple fingering exercises, simple bowing exercises. My intonation and smoothness went down hill when I started to work on my death white knuckle grip, but it did slowly improve...

 

Gotta run, relax and have fun with it (unless you have to go play for the President, then it's panic time... lol... jk)

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Jols
Atlanta, GA
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February 12, 2016 - 12:43 pm
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Thank you for your inputs! I actually recently replaced my chinrest because the one that came with my violin felt too high for me.  My neck felt a lot more comfortable after I did that. I'll play around with shoulder rest adjustments and see if that also helps.

@Fidelestre You may have accurately described #2 more than I did - that was what I meant to say - my left arm gets tired from being held up in the air. Regarding your question - yes, I can hold the violin up without using my hand at all but it tilts a little downward. Is that OK?

I've posted some photos below to illustrate:

WIN_20160212_12_07_56_Pro-1.jpg

WIN_20160212_12_08_08_Pro.jpg

WIN_20160212_12_08_26_Pro.jpg

First photo is how I would hold it at the start.  Once my arm starts getting tired, the second phot shows how I would hold it. This is when I think I sometimes grip too hard because I don't want the violin to tilt down further.  Third photo shows me holding the violin without using my left hand:

@Ripton LOL, one time I did try to focus working on my grip, and my intonation didn't sound so good either! I'll try breaking down my practice into segments like you suggested, and I'll see how it goes.

My neighbors probably want to strangle me for all the noise I've been making.  But hey, "no pain, no gain" right? Except, they feel the pain and I get the gain (I'm really sorry, neighbors :-S)

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damfino
oHIo, USA
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February 12, 2016 - 1:07 pm
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Hi Jols! Welcome to the forum!

In the first picture, you shouldn't be lifting the neck at all. The way it looks in the last picture is the way it should look when you put your left hand to it (just meaning your left hand shouldn't be raising the neck)... at least that's how my teacher taught me. Once you get it comfortable with your neck and on your shoulder, however it flops is how it should stay.
 
Is it comfortable on your neck when you are holding it in the last picture? The way my teacher said it should be is like a very slight nod of the head to hold onto it, you shouldn't have to feel like you are gripping onto it with your chin. 
If your arm feels most comfortable in the second picture, play around with your shoulder rest to make the violin match that position without your hand having to hold it up. 
 
I play around with different heights on my shoulder rest and different positions (straight across, or at an angle) to find what feels comfortable for my left arm, and have played with a couple different kind of them as well just to see for sure what works for me.
 
Keep in mind... I am very new, only 6 months in, so I'm just sticking close to what my teacher told me back in my first lesson while she helped me get the shoulder rest setting right, lol.

~ I'm not torturing cats... I'm learning to play violin! ~

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Jols
Atlanta, GA
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February 12, 2016 - 5:04 pm
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damfino said

In the first picture, you shouldn't be lifting the neck at all. The way it looks in the last picture is the way it should look when you put your left hand to it (just meaning your left hand shouldn't be raising the neck)...
 
Is it comfortable on your neck when you are holding it in the last picture? The way my teacher said it should be is like a very slight nod of the head to hold onto it, you shouldn't have to feel like you are gripping onto it with your chin. 
If your arm feels most comfortable in the second picture, play around with your shoulder rest to make the violin match that position without your hand having to hold it up.

When you mentioned that about the first picture, I decided to look at some earlier photos and videos I took of myself practicing.  I noticed I didn't lift the neck that high before.  

It's like once I start concentrating on playing a song, especially without my teacher around, the basics come flying out the window.  5 weeks in and I'm already like this >> dazed

My hats off to you all who've been playing longer and with more advanced techniques/songs!

Oh, and to answer your question >> Yes, my neck is comfortable as I hold it in the last picture. And I do feel comfortable in the second picture, so I'll try adjusting my shoulder rest to match that position.

Thank you!

My neighbors probably want to strangle me for all the noise I've been making.  But hey, "no pain, no gain" right? Except, they feel the pain and I get the gain (I'm really sorry, neighbors :-S)

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damfino
oHIo, USA
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February 13, 2016 - 11:16 am
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@jols It's totally normal to have things start going wonky while you concentrate on others. They work themselves out after you get more comfortable with whatever you are working on.

For me, whenever I start learning a new song, my bowing starts going all crooked while I concentrate on the new finger patterns and rhythm. Once I get used to the new tune, it all straightens back out.

~ I'm not torturing cats... I'm learning to play violin! ~

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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
February 23, 2016 - 7:44 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 11694

Looks like I'm a bit late and you've already gotten a lot of great advice.
Above all, regularly during your practice sessions, take a deep breathe and let out all the tension. Focus on relaxing every part of your body when starting and a few times during your practice sessions as well. Tension can not only cause damage but also keep you from wanting to play for very long periods of time.
I agree that the first picture is a bit too high.
My personal theory about holding the instrument is that you hold it just enough that it doesn't come away from your jaw but mainly you balance it on your body (collar) and it can rest gently in your left hand. Any type of gripping will remove freedom of finger dexterity.
Welcome to the forum. 🙂

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Jols
Atlanta, GA
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May 16, 2016 - 7:28 pm
Member Since: February 2, 2016
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Things have been so busy around here that I've only gotten the chance to start browsing through the forums again...and I remembered this post!

I am happy to say that this is no longer a problem for me 🙂  After you guys mentioned the shoulder rest, I checked the one I had (which came with the violin I bought)...played around with the adjustments but couldn't quite get it to fit me well. I bought another one (from Fiddlershop, of course!) and that seems to work better for me.

All your practice tips have helped as well. I keep them in mind now whenever I start learning a new song.

Thank y'all for your recommendations!

My neighbors probably want to strangle me for all the noise I've been making.  But hey, "no pain, no gain" right? Except, they feel the pain and I get the gain (I'm really sorry, neighbors :-S)

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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
May 20, 2016 - 3:44 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
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Yeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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