Reducing tension while playing the violin is extremely important. After all, relaxing your muscles is one of the keys to producing a smooth sound. Below, violin teacher Carol Beth L. shares five exercises for helping reduce tension while playing the violin.
Are you having a difficult time perfecting your violin playing? Very often, violin students have trouble producing a good sound when they aren’t properly relaxed.
High-level players learn, among other things, to eliminate tension in the areas required to produce a beautiful sound, such as their bow-arm and bow-hand.
Some, however, may still put themselves at risk for stress-related injuries if they aren’t careful. For violin students, staying relaxed will help them play more beautifully and for a longer period of time.
Below are a few exercises you can do if you feel yourself becoming tense while playing the violin:
1. Shake your muscles out
If you’re feeling tense, put down your violin and shake away the tension. While this exercise seems pretty simple, it gives your muscles a fresh and relaxed start.
Oftentimes, you don’t even realize that you’re tensing up while playing the violin. Making a conscious effort to stop and shake out your muscles will often do the trick.
However, if you’re still feeling strained, try massaging muscles that don’t want to relax.
2. Take it slowly
It’s easy to give into the temptation to rush. Rushing, however, adds unnecessary stress and takes away precious time needed for the fingers, hand, and arm to understand and respond to messages from the brain.
It’s usually only when you are fairly confident that you should speed up. Don’t take this to the extreme either, though. Some types of perfectionists advance more slowly because they don’t realize how much they can do.
3. Position yourself correctly
When a student holds the violin or the bow incorrectly or they have incorrect posture, muscles tend to tighten. Sometimes, this occurs without the student even realizing it.
If you’re having trouble positioning correctly, stop playing the violin and start over, making sure that your bow-arm is in the right position and your standing tall. Standing while practicing rather than sitting can also encourage correct posture.
4. Let gravity do its job
Some beginner violin players will push the bow down on the strings to make a sound. However, it’s more useful to guide the bow onto the strings, allowing gravity to actually do the work.
If that’s difficult to imagine, try thinking about air-bowing in a “u” shape–almost as if the bow is on a swing moving down onto the imaginary string and then back up again.
In doing this exercise, you’re letting yourself follow the arc naturally dictated by the pull of gravity combined with the forward and backward motion of the swing. Once you can do this with your bow in the air, put your violin back up and let the bow catch the string as it moves.
5. Try the ‘baroque’ bowhold
During the baroque era, the bow looked a lot more like a bow with which you might shoot an arrow. It was difficult to hold it close to the frog, so people held it a quarter to a third of the way up. Of course, modern bows are no longer shaped this way, but we can still learn from the basic idea.
First, find the balance point of your bow–that is, the point at which you can hold the bow by the stick with just a finger and thumb and allow the bow to hang horizontally. Visually, it will look like an imbalanced set of scales; both sides will weigh the same, but the side with the frog is heavier and therefore shorter.
Now hold the bow as closely as possible to your regular bowhold and try playing the violin. Chances are it will feel unnaturally light. Once you have played a little bit and moved back to the frog, you may notice that your sound is more open. If you do, it’s probably because your bowhold has become lighter and more relaxed.
If you’re currently taking violin lessons, try out these exercises and see if they help your playing. Some of these exercises I have done on my own for many years; others, I observed through teachers in recent years and then tried out myself.
All of them, however, can help violin students to improve their playing and, very often, can either directly or indirectly help to reduce tension.
Photo by Scott Schram