Achieving Balance and Ease in Violin Playing
Good posture is in balance. Well-balanced posture requires minimal muscular effort to remain in a position or to perform an action. The right alignment between the head, torso, and the arms and legs will give us that balance and allow us to move with ease. Playing the violin with balanced posture prevents fatigue and injuries, and at the same time, enhances our tone and accuracy.
Legs and Feet
The proper standing position for playing the violin needs to be taught right from the beginning. It will get tougher to address this issue once a student moves beyond the early stages and gets occupied with complicated techniques and repertoire. Without a relaxed standing position, the tension in the legs and feet can spread to the upper part of the body and affects the ease of movements.
To achieve balance at the feet, imagine that all three points: the heel, the outer ball, and the inner ball of the feet support the weight of the body evenly. Try to bounce on your feet a little to see how the weight is distributed. The feet should be about a shoulder-width apart when playing the violin.
Next, the knees and ankles should not be locked. They should remain flexible and in line with the thighs. The entire legs form a very nimble yet solid support for the torso.
Torso: Waist, Chest, and Shoulders
The pelvis rest directly on top of the legs, without being pushed in any direction. The pelvis is connected to the base of our spine and often enough, it is the main source of many problems in our posture. If the hip is swayed forward, the lower spine has to assume more tension. When this happens, we can see from the side of the body of that person, the shoulder is behind the alignment of the lower body. Such position is frequently seen in students, usually with their knees over-extended as well.
The upper torso has to be in line with the pelvis, the collapsing of the front of the body, which results in a hunched back, is another commonly seen problem. Opening up the front torso and finding the support in the main muscles of the back can give us a well-balanced posture in the upper body.
The shoulder girdles, which include the collarbones and the shoulder blades, rest on top of the balanced torso, with the arms hanging down at both sides. It is important to keep the shoulder girdles wide and relaxed. Any large movements in violin playing, such as long bow strokes, should involve the shoulder girdles. Isolating them will cause weak tone and stiffness.
When the arms are being held up, try to feel the support that comes from the back muscles (the rhomboids, which connect the shoulder blades to the spine). This should come easily when the body is well aligned. Strengthening the rhomboid muscles with exercises can be helpful for violinists.
Neck and Head
When holding the violin, we should not raise the shoulders nor drop our head beyond what is comfortable. Finding the right chin rest plays an important role in this, as a chin rest with the proper height can prevent unnecessary tension in our neck and shoulders.
The shoulders should remain as relaxed as possible, while the head rest its entire weight on the chin rest with a gentle nod. Before that, the violin must first find a good support on the shoulder, so that it does not slip forward towards the chest. The neck is an extension of the spine, and it should not be made to take on unnecessary tension. Remember to keep the neck lengthening upwards at all times, with the head balance lightly on top of the neck.
It is important to keep the head as vertical as possible. As we turn our head to the left, try to initiate the movement from the back of the neck. This prevents us from sticking our head forward or tilting our head too much. This is a very common problem in young children, and therefore, we must remind them to “bring the violin towards the body” and not the other way around.
Keep the jaw relaxed at all times. While we do not want to be seen having our mouths open when playing the violin, we need to keep in mind that the teeth should stay apart. Ideally, we need to be able to talk when we are holding the violin. The left hand is partly responsible for supporting the violin as well.
Mimi Zweig's String Pedagogy
"What drew me to the violin was mastering the instrument technically, which I'm continuing to do. You want to push boundaries, to not always be in your comfort zone. If you don't, you get stale. So you have to find areas of growth." - Joshua Bell
© 2017 Goh Tong Keat