Teacher’s Corner: by Sarah Williams
Musicians Are Athletes
Musicians use their bodies extensively while playing. There are some instruments that are more naturally positioned for the body, such as the oboe or trumpet, where the instrument is simply held in front of the body, positioned in the centre. The violin is a different case. It is held on the left shoulder with the left arm suspended in the air out to the side and the right arm raised, moving horizontally as the bow is drawn across the strings. Although we can learn to relax as much as possible while playing violin, it is still not a natural position.
Many complications can result from improper posture while playing the violin, such as unbalanced legs, a curvature in the back, over extended elbows and many more. Some violinists develop stiffness in the jaw from clenching their teeth while playing. I saw a teacher once in a masterclass who asked the student to play with their mouth open to help relax the jaw muscles. Another good tip is to lift your head off the chin rest and move it around periodically.
With a good teacher and practice, musicians learn proper posture right from the beginning of learning to play the violin. By maintaining proper posture, they may be able to prevent injuries.
Similar to athletes, musicians train hours a day, and use their bodies strenuously with repetitive motions. The muscles and body tires after playing for long periods, and injuries can develop. I developed tendinitis at age 16, and had to take a year break from playing the violin. Thankfully, my muscles recovered and I was able to start playing again, but this is not always the case. Some musicians develop injuries and are no longer able to play because of the pain
This is why I would like to stress the importance of stretching before practising. Stretching helps relax the muscles and prepare them for the repetitive motions we create when playing. This will in turn avoid complications with overused muscles over time.