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First of all I want to thank Fiddlerman for creating such a fantastic resource - it is truly inspiring!
I learnt the basics as an 8 year old, and obtained my grade 1. Played '2nd fiddle' in the town orchestra for a few years and school band. I felt progress had hit a wall, then when the terrible teens arrived I grew more interest in sport than music, so my violin was put away.
Fast forward 25 years, my young daughter loves to play cornet, and she was asked to take part in a Christmas service. She was very nervous, so I said 'I will if you will!' and here I am 2 years later, playing once a week for a local music group.
I am still very novice - only playing first position, struggle with 4th finger, desperately want to learn vibrato!
I struggle massively with tension when I play. Sometimes I get so tight in my neck and shoulders I have BIG problems with shaky bow! Once I am aware of the tension I seem to grip, giving me cramp in the pad of my thumb as well as a headache!! 🙂 this is something I never experienced as a youngster playing. I find it really hard to relax, and once the shaking starts I find it really hard to stop - has anyone else experienced this?
Im looking forward to reading other peoples experiences and gaining more inspiration.
A life without music would be a very sad one indeed!
Best wishes to you all
Hopefully the tension will go away once you get properly into the swing of things. I still (3 year in) get a shaky bow occasionally (and so do some really good players if they are nervous enough) - I find the best solution is to ignore it, and it usually goes away. The worst thing is to worry about it and try to stop it as it just ends up getting worse.
Good luck with your journey on violin!
Hi, @LoveStrings, welcome to the forum. Hope you have fun here.
Sounds like you went back into performing in public a little too quickly and possibly picked up your daughter's anxiety, so that now, you have a strong dose of anxiety attached to playing. (Since you didn't mention this only happening during public performances, I'm assuming it's attached to playing, not publicly performing.)
If we could have several long conversations, so that I knew your personal psychology, I could make better suggestions, but... I'll throw out several ideas and hopefully one will work for you (and if more than one do, great.)
First off, the physical. This is obviously a mental problem, but sometimes it's easier to tackle these things backwards and work on the physical side and let that fix the mental side.
If you can find one, take a self-hypnosis class. It's a useful skill to have, and it it doesn't do anything else for you, it will teach you how to relax at will.
One of the techniques I learned when I took it (way too many years ago) was:
- Get comfortable.
- Deliberately tense the muscles in one part of your body. It's easiest to keep track of things if you move from one end to the other, so start with your toes.
- Clench them, then relax them. Do that a couple or three times the first time to teach yourself. Further on down the road, just once for each group of muscles is enough.
- Then do the feet
- Then pull the feet back (working the shins, stretching the calves), then the opposite (push the feet down, contracting the calves, stretching the shins) After all of these, remember to relax the muscle as completely as possible. (And leave the ones you've already done nice and boneless, too.)
- Then do the thighs (both directions)
- Then clench and release the buttocks, then the belly
- Then the fingers (first making a fist, relaxing, then spreading them wide, then relaxing)
- Then move up the arm in a similar way to how you did the legs.
- Then clench and release the chest muscles and the back muscles
- Then do the front, back, and each side of the neck.
- Then the jaw (don't overdo clenching your teeth or opening your jaw - just do it enough to get a sense of tension in the muscles.)
- Do your ears, if you can move them (some people can, some can't)
- Do the eyes, eyebrows and brow
- If you can find any other muscles in the head you can do this with do them.
- You should now be pretty boneless and relaxed all over your body. Enjoy it for as long as you wish, then go on about your day.
After you've learned how to do it, and practiced it a few times, that will take about 2 minutes. It should make you much more skilled at relaxing muscles deliberately when you need to.
This is going to be a complete grab bag of ideas. The physical stuff above I'm fairly sure will be of some use to practically anyone. The stuff below... I'm sure some of the ideas will help some people. I'm not sure any of them will help you personally - all I can do is put stuff out there and hope.
- Try reason - if you DID connect your daughter's anxiety to it (along with some of your own, I'm sure), notice that you've been playing for two years since then, and have hardly died even a little bit. (Reason is a 50 kg weakling dealing with 150 kg boxers when emotions are involved, so don't get your hopes up too high for this one. 🙂 (Translation for 'Merkins: 98lb weakling among 300 lb linebackers)
- Substitute a good association for a bad one. You right now have that episode with your daughter attached to playing. Connect up stuff from when you 8 years old, preferably really positive ones, even better, ones that involved performing in public. If you had a recital go really well, that would be ideal. Pull that memory up and hold it in your mind every time you start to practice (and perform in public.)
- Imagine things being much, much, much worse. You're in a huge, prestigious venue (Albert Hall, maybe? - sorry, don't know the UK that well), with whatever would be the worst possible audience for you. Famous people, hostile people, highly critical people, etc. Every time you make a mistake, an article of clothing disappears. If all the clothing is gone, each mistake schedules you for a torture of some kind. And then you'll be shunned by everyone you know, and exiled to Antarctica (where your violin will break after about an hour.) Now look out at your real audience (or practice room) and relax. 🙂
- Humor - Don't know if you've seen the Addam's family movies. In the second one, Grandma-ma is telling the older children "Are you worried because you think that when a new child is born, one of the older children is killed? That's just not true!" And then in an obviously sad and disappointed voice, "Not anymore...". If you find that as funny as I do, think of what you're afraid might happen to you (awfulize it some, like the above), and think to yourself, "Not anymore..." 🙂 (Here's the scene: )
- Courageous thoughts - Anxiety is obviously a species of fear. As one book title had it, "Feel the Fear and do it anyway." Tension is an attempt to suppress the fear. Stop trying to do that, and feel it in it full glory (or inglory, if you prefer). Fear is a funny animal - it will chase you up until the point you start chasing it. Then it runs away from you. If you start trying to pin it down and fully experience what, exactly, it is you're afraid of, you are very likely to find that the fear just up and evaporates. No fear = no anxiety = no tension.
Change of subject - vibrato
First off, you're going to have to do something about the tension first. Most of vibrato requires things to be loose and flexible. One or two muscles are making rhythmic pulling motions, and a couple of muscles are under light tension to hold your finger down (lightly). Pretty much everything else needs to be free to move easily.
Somebody on the forum (sorry, I've forgotten who should get the credit) did us all a huge favor a couple of weeks ago and pointed us to this video on vibrato: Best video on vibrato I've ever seen. He's a rather dry speaker, but VERY good information.
My teacher gave me a good vibrato exercise:
Put your right hand in front of you, relaxed. Put the tip of your left thumb in the center of the palm. (If your right hand is relaxed, that will be the bottom of a pit.)
Put whatever finger you want to practice with on the back of your right hand, opposite the thumb. I recommend the middle finger, because it reaches most easily, and this is primarily for exercising the wrist or arm muscles that will move the hand, but there's probably some value in practicing with different fingers from time to time.
Keeping the thumb in the same spot, move the tip of the finger up and down the back of the left hand, parallel to the tendons. (My finger naturally lands between the tendons for the middle and ring finger, so those are the two I go between). You should be using just enough force that the skin on the back of your hand moves along with your fingertip.
Things you can do to make it more like an actual violin:
Tilt the right hand down.
Turn the right hand so that the back is more up than out.
Move both hands to the left some. (If you move them both out near where a the fingerboard will be, it will be very realistic, but very awkward. I'd suggest a compromise that comfortable.)
This exercise has a one huge advantage - you have the stuff necessary to do it with you wherever you go. 🙂
Another one that's handy, but requires the violin:
The hardest thing about vibrato for many people is that it's an awkward, unfamiliar motion. So start out with something less awkward and more familiar, and work up to the vibrato position.
I recommend doing the above hand exercise first. You get to where you can can do the back and forth motion and know what it feels like very quickly with that. (And by very quickly, I mean a couple of minutes or less.)
Now take the violin and hold it it somewhat like a ukelele. The idea is to have the part of the fingerboard that you're working with right in front of you, so that your left arm isn't having to be stretched out to the side at all. It's working straight ahead.
Do that same exercise as you did with the hand on the neck. Your thumb is on the back, your fingertip is on one of the strings. Do all four fingers on all four strings. Notice how you have to change things to account for the curvature of the fingerboard, especially on the G string.
Now move the violin to the left a few inches, and repeat the whole exercise.
Keep doing that until you're all the way out in normal position.
As you move further out, you'll probably need more practice time with each new position before you're comfortable with it. Get comfortable with it before moving to the next one.
Don't plan on moving from the starting position to normal playing position in one session. It will take as long as it takes. You don't have to move two inches at a time, either. If you want to just move a finger's width, so that you can say you're making progress, that's fine. As long as you're getting more comfortable with being closer and closer to normal playing position, you're going to get there.
1st position in normal playing position is the hardest for vibrato. I'd recommend aiming at something easier as your first target.
4th finger - I'd need to hear more about what problems you're having to comment much on that.
4th finger was something sudden for me. I hadn't been using it much, and I had one piece that I just could not seem to speed up to anything like proper speed to save my life, and one day I tried playing it with 4th finger. It was so much easier it wasn't funny. Most of the difficulty of increasing the speed was a lot of string changes, and using the 4th finger eliminated 3/4s of them. So I tend to use it a lot now, and it hasn't been that hard for me. But I have fairly big hands, which might be why it's not hard.
The one trick I've learned to keep it from getting painful is to make sure I get enough of my hand over it that I can keep the finger curved. That makes it a good bit stronger. If you have small hands and that keeps you from being able to curve the finger, I understand the problem, but I'm afraid I don't have a fix for you.
Hope something in all this helped
...Back now that I have a quick break at work 🙂
If tensing up is part of stage fright, I personally use performing on StreetJelly.com as part of my regular practice. It has helped me when I've had to do recitals, I can pull my mindset back into how I feel when I play on there and kind of pretend the live audience isn't there, and it helps me relax how I'm playing.
We have regular events on there, the next one is FiddleFest on October 29 (thread found here: https://fiddlerman.com/forum/streetjelly/4th-annual-fiddlerman-fiddlefest-yayyyy/ And a few of us are usually found on there on Sundays playing "Strings on Sunday" (3 of us currently scheduled for this coming Sunday).
I am prone to panic attacks and overall anxiety in my normal non-performing life, and stage fright, and the relaxing atmosphere of StreetJelly has helped me work on getting over it quite a bit 🙂
If it's NOT part of stage fright and happens when just practicing, perhaps your shoulder rest/chin rest combo needs adjusting so that you can hold the violin without really having to try. You should be able to hold your violin with just a slight nod of the head, and be able to walk around without feeling like it might fall. When your hands tense up, drop your arms to your sides and shake them off, then continue playing.
On a journey to learn the fiddle since July 24, 2015
Welcome to the forum!
Sounds like you have some great advice above but i just wanted to add one tid bit in case it's not just nerves and in case you experience it outside of playing in front of people. If you tend to tense while practicing as well you might want to check your Chinrest and shoulder rest.
We change a lot as we age and what worked for you in your younger years may not work for you as well now. You may need to experiment with different chin rests and shoulder rests/no shoulder rest to see what is easiest and most comfortable to play without tensing so when the nerves hit and you tense because of anxiety it doesn't compound the already tense muscles and make you super stiff.
Lead me, Follow me, or get out of my way!
~General George S. Patton
Heyyy - WELCOME to the Fiddlerman community @LoveStrings ! Another UK member here
Good advice given above by Charles - just take your time, don't "force it", and relax while playing ( I now, I know, easy to say, hard to do... LOL )
Never hesitate to share your journey, its success or indeed failures - we all "fail" at something initially - so don't worry.
Rome was not built in a day !
Trust me, you'll enjoy the journey... no doubt about it...
I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh -
Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)
Thank you all so much for taking the time to message, I will certainly try some of the tips and tricks you have shared! You are all so kind.
Charles - my 4th finger problem is that my 3rd and 4th finger dont want to bend independently - i cannot bend my 4th finger without the 3rd one bending too 😀 I just dont feel it has any strength or flexibility, so I cheat and skip using it unless I really have to 😀
I was interested in the comment around chin-rest and shoulder rest - thinking about it, the shaking co-incides with my new violin - I have changed up to a full size Westbury (it was the best I could afford at the time) as I played a 3/4 size as a youngster. I use an EverREST shoulder rest, but I do still find that my violin leaves a mark on my collar bone. Maybe a trip back to the lutherie could help me with this one??
Best wishes 🙂
Well, I do think you should put some practice into making them more independent, but it's normal for the 3rd and 4th fingers to do things together to some extent. And as far as violin playing is concerned, what's wrong with your 3rd finger also bending?
The vast majority of the time I use my 4th finger, it's to play just above where my 3rd finger just played. I normally leave my 3rd finger right where it it (still depressing the string in may cases) and then play that next note with my 4th. Among other things, the 4th doesn't have to work as hard, because the 3rd has already lowered string a long part of the way to where it needs to be. (Of course, my violin has a very low action, by design, so none of my fingers have to work terribly hard.)
And even if the 3rd finger doesn't have anything in particular to do, having it bent, even touching a string, behind where you're playing with the 4th finger isn't going to hurt anything.
I also sometime use my 3rd finger to help my fourth, by planting the 3rd on top of it. There's one spot in Schindler's List where a note is very high (so I tend to play it with my fourth finger, but it's also held a long time. So I put my 3rd finger on top of my 4th to give it extra strength and make sure it doesn't tire out.
Using it some of the time, with the assistance of the 3rd finger, will give it some exercise, which will make it stronger.
A thought - can you drum your fingers? Where you hit a table or whatever with each fingertip in order? If you can, you've been moving the 4th finger independently of the 3rd for quite a while. There's just something different about the way you hold your hand to play violin that has your brain confused, and it's lost that.
A little trick I thought up a couple of days ago that's proving helpful to me for a few things: put down the bow, and hold the violin like a ukelele or miniature guitar. Now do whatever it is you're trying to do with your left hand with the fingerboard down right in front of your arm, where it's easy to reach, with no strain. (I originally thought of it for vibrato, but it work for this, too.)
Wrap your hand around it so your fingers are coming from the usual direction for violin playing (the treble side) and see if you can drum your fingers. If you can, try doing some simple fingering exercises that would involve the fourth finger, like a scale that starts away from any open strings. (The pattern is 221 2 221 (half steps). If you use your forefinger as the start (what the open string would be if you were using open strings), then your middle finger is two half-steps up (2nd note), your ring finger is another two half steps up (3rd note), then the 4th finger is one half-step up (4th note). First finger on the next string is the 5th note, 2nd finger (2 half steps) is the 6th note, 3rd finger (2 half steps up) is the 7th note, and the little finger (one half step up) is they end of the octave.
It blew my mind when somebody posted that little tidbit here on the forum. It means you can play a scale anywhere, and if you've had some practice at it, very quickly. Got a song where you need to play in an unfamiliar key in an unusual part of the keyboard? No, problem, takes about 2 minutes to get familiar with the note spacings and get your fingers used to them.
And it's an easy way to exercise the 4th finger a little. 🙂
So, back to the exercise. Do whatever you're going to do. A scale, a little tune, drumming your fingers, whatever. Do it a few times until you're comfortable with it. Now move the violin out to the left some (and maybe up a bit), so that it's closer to normal position. Maybe 20% of the way there. Repeat whatever you decided to work on. Rinse and repeat. Get comfortable with whatever exercise you chose (something that was easy when it was in "ukelele" position) and work at until it's at least comfortable in each position. When you have the violin in normal violin playing position, and it's comfortable, you've solved your problem. Then you just need to practice it enough more that it's easy, and your problem is solved completely.
Hope it helps
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