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Hi Beth,
In remediating I came up to left arm in "violin hold" http://violinlab.com/videoLibrary/lesson.php?id=36 starting around 3:30  You talk of using the "back muscles" and I want to get closer, as to "which" because this is part of my ground zero where things went wrong.  I've already worked with this outside violin, after.

Way back, there was a push against hunching up, and it was "shoulders back and down" (which got me in trouble, and with perpetually engaged back muscles).  The shoulders need to be free to move.   Later I learned it's fine for shoulders to move, that the culprit was "tight neck" - in fact, the trapezius that you highlight; this gigantic set:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Trapezius_Gray409.PNG where we hike up the shoulder instead of raising the arms at the shoulder.   But "back muscle" was too broad for me, as it gets me back to the old bad place.  It seems more to be deltoids and some muscles in that area https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supraspinatus_muscle  that seem to hook into the shoulder blades which themselves are still free to move.  There are probably the actual "back muscles" involved, and that keeps the back itself relaxed and loose for me.  ....... Actually at this point I rarely consider the muscles, and instead check that the "hunch-up muscles" that you highlighted are not engaged (hard) and that my arm can still move at the shoulder joint.  I think it's Mimi Zweig who has that check.  I'm just starting very briefly to be able to raise my arm without things going haywire.

My original lifelong posture was lordosis ("swayback") with a kind of "military" shoulders back.   The old "fixes" against people hunching forward aggravated things (and they're not right for anyone).  I've had to relearn in general even beyond violin, and for violin, I have 4+ years of steady daily wrong practise to unlearn in my body.  "How to raise the arm" without "stuff" kicking in is my next task.  When I briefly play the violin to check things, this is the next place where it goes wrong.

19 Responses
Posted: March 19, 2018
Last Comment: April 7, 2018

Posted: April 7, 2018
Elke, that is not something I had looked at, so thank you.  :)

Well, it's all in flux and dismantled.  I don't know yet where, how high, what angle the violin will be or what I'll do with my head.  There was so much discomfort for so long back then; if I just put up a violin, the body will do what it's used to doing.  This part, head and chin rest, is another thing I'll have to explore so I thank you.

Beth, is this video totally useless to you?  I don't even know if I should chase this, because for example my arm might already fall the right way, if the thumb functioned and the hand didn't twist - (chicken egg, cause effect) but if you do see something I'd be grateful. :)

Elke Meier
Posted: April 7, 2018
Inge, observe where your chin rest is toward the end of the first video. You jaw clearly is over the middle of the violin, but your chin rest is way to the left. The wrong chin rest can invite A LOT of unwanted tension also!

Posted: April 7, 2018
This discussion includes members-only video content

A video of how this progressed in 3 stages.  The 1st "elbow shove" is a thing I moved from later as it was uncomfortable, and when I first tried your method, that inserted itself.  The 2nd, "twist", is strong habit and it's creating a lot of the problems.  In the 3rd I think I finally managed to do what you showed - so-so - without those two things.

I've added a 4th, because I tried that first before coming here, and it seems to help the squished shoulder blades that are part of the old lordosis posture.

I have also added a short video from something I sent a piano teacher in 2014, because it shows what I've come out of.  It is still hard for my arms to come forward and around, because those back muscles got shortened.

If you remember my old Wohlfahrt video, my left elbow is deliberately out because I was relieving the strain from both the "elbow shove" and the twisted in hand.  I finally felt pain-free, but it was a stop-gap solution.  I also did not play for 10+ years except those two brief times, so as to not make things worse.

Posted: March 31, 2018
Rustam - cool to hear from you. :)
I may have been writing too much about muscles.  We've got a kind of balance of things that all affect each other.  I deleted my last post because it was getting too complicated but you read it.  Like, if you neglect form, like what I'm sorting out here, it has an effect, but if you're over-careful, that ties you up; if your right hand relaxes, it might help the left relax.

It was starting to go backward so I changed tack. Beth wrote here about free movement. I remembered this Rolland idea: https://youtu.be/yeNcxi3aYr4?t=34 and just bowed while swaying; bobbled my head around but keeping it feeling centered over the body; did a hoola hoop to relax the back; the bow looser in my right hand relaxed my left arm.  When we walk we don't think of what muscles we use: when we find our balance, the right ones kick in; but athletes and dancers may also have to focus on the body specifically at times.  It seems to be a back and forth.

Rustam Gill
Posted: March 31, 2018
What a great discussion! 
When it comes to the bow arm, I would suggest another set of muscle to consider:

This is what is (mildly) sore for me lately when I have been more regimented about my practice time.

Posted: March 31, 2018
Beth, I worked further with this last night.  For reference, it's still "violin hold" this video: http://violinlab.com/videoLibrary/lesson.php?id=36   I have been concentrating all this time at the moment leading up to 4:46 at especially that part at 4:46.  Now I know two things: students will follow too literally, and demonstrations can never be 100% natural.  I went on in the video, and also to other videos.  Anywhere else: notably in the performance of Twinkle, your elbow does not go that far across pointing toward the navel: I might see it when on the G string, esp. when playing in a high position.  Therefore I think I have been aiming for something too extreme, too literal; if in my past this was already extreme, that's part of it.

Where I did progress: - the rotation issue - I already had an inkling that my old habits involved an over-rotation of the forearm from the elbow.  I was missing how the upper arm part that we just explored so in the past I couldn't get further in exploring it.  The "forearm twist" reflex is very strong right now.  I actually have to manually hold it back and get the body to relearn it.  This puts tension in the arm, the neck, and part of the upper back.

Last night, by relaxing the degree to which I bring in the elbow, having it more like in Twinkle, and using what I learned above, it started to feel more normal.  If anything feels uncomfortable, or close to hurting, I know it's off -track.  Our bodies to guide us that way. I felt constant discomfort several years when I studied violin a decade ago, and thought it was normal.

Posted: March 30, 2018
Thank you Beth.  What you are saying at least confirms my impressions.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: March 30, 2018
Inge, I don't know technically if the shoulder is rotating or not, but I think of it as the rotation necessary to comfortably play should feel like it comes from the shoulder and is supported there. If you rotate the arm starting from a twist of the forearm, like you're unscrewing a light bulb from a hanging light pendant, then there is more torque and tension in the wrist and forearm. Using stronger chest muscles to swing the arm around puts less tension in the wrist and forearm.

Posted: March 30, 2018
Beth, in your video "Violin Hold" http://violinlab.com/videoLibrary/lesson.php?id=36 around the 4:46 mark, when you "turn the arm over" - would you be rotating the upper arm as well in the shoulder socket to make that turn?   I am thinking that you might, and that it's even logical.

I know that I used to twist the forearm around at the elbow.  I also know that "elbow under" was originally done uncomfortably, so it's coming from the wrong place. and the minute I tried to get at this part, something that felt bad was going wrong.  I also know that the forearm can rotate at the elbow, but the upper arm can also rotate further up at the shoulder.  A first quick trial had a better feeling and more liberating, so this might be on track.

Posted: March 26, 2018
Thank you, Beth.  You've given me a number of things that help.
* "The back doesn't play a big role in this. It feels as though the chest muscles are the ones working in this case. "
In the dysfunctional movement and posture I had before, it did come from the back, and was quite uncomfortable.  Even if I've fixed things elsewhere, as soon as I go back to violin, I'll fall into the same patterns from habit.  I've already found ways of moving my elbow in and out without those things happening: I'd say that "in" feels a bit more like "forward" as well as "becoming tall".   I may have also had it in too far at one point, because when I let the elbow fall under the violin more (a relaxation) it feels better.
* "
 If it didn't you'd have to twist the forearm uncomfortably around for the fingers to reach the strings."
This was a biggy.  By "twist around", I think you mean the forearm rotation at the elbow (the "doorknob turn").  I know that by habit I have a huge perpetual rotation (twist) and when I do the opposite, (what students usually do too much of) things feel better.  This again confirms that part of it.

I'm addressing the issues one by one, so I won't go on. There is a host of habits that all kick in at the same time when you practised wrongly for some years, and that is why I'm making my goals small.  If I can get the violin up without my back "getting read" by going tense, and can raise my arm up without things tightening up - and can keep that, then that's getting somewhere.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: March 26, 2018
Inge, the arm will come in like that to varying degrees depending on what string you're playing on. But the elbow does still angle in toward the belly button. If it didn't you'd have to twist the forearm uncomfortably around for the fingers to reach the strings. The back doesn't play a big role in this. It feels as though the chest muscles are the ones working in this case. 

Posted: March 25, 2018
Adding (sigh).  I discovered that the actual way that I brought my elbow in was related to my old posture which I won't try to explain.  I have an old video from 2015 where I showed a piano teacher what was going on, and it's the same muscles mid-back that twinge.  I think I found the right way which keeps my back feeling free - but I may also have been bringing the arm in too far, so my original question from yesterday is still useful.

I'm thinking that if this gets solved, maybe the first practising should be with bow only, holding the violin at the body as one sees for beginners.  It is aggravating because this stops me from going further.  Constant discomfort and almost pain as in the past is not something I want to go back to.

Posted: March 24, 2018
Beth, I'm gradually inching my way out of the hole.  I was working again with your video.  I got to a certain point which I've captured in my screenshot below.  I think that my arm may have been angled something like that habitually, along with some other things .... When I see you with the violin normally, I don't think your elbow is in that far (which mine possibly might have been), and this is also where I felt the old strain.  I'm also struck by the idea that while you spoke of the 45 degree angle of comfort, at this point, that angle is no longer there (?).  Is this a clue to anything, do you think?

Posted: March 24, 2018
JANICE - A belated thank you for your comment.  For some reason I didn't see it.  Yes, you are right that observing what we do in everyday activities can give us a lot of feedback.

Posted: March 23, 2018
What comes right after being able to lift the left arm without the old reflex seizing up the shoulder blades, is that if I were to start to play, soon a twisty-around thing kicks in - so I just don't go there yet.  So it's one very slow step at a time, relearning everything from the start.  This is really an argument for starting properly in the first place, seeking comfort - undoing and redoing are so much harder.  But the rewards maybe sweeter, since ultimately you'll notice the difference which as a novice you might just take for granted. ;)

Posted: March 23, 2018
Motion - being in motion - this was a main thrust of your response, Beth.  This is very wise, and has also been part of my journey.

I see an interplay.  I must be able to raise my left arm in such a way that I have not locked up part of my body, preventing it from free movement.  If I hunch up my neck or squeeze my back, then I've locked up, and that affects everything.  Otoh, if I stand in "perfect posture" like a statue, then I'll get stiff all round which can go back to that left arm.  So I have to look at both.  I practised daily in the wrong way for 5 years, so I only have to think the word "violin" for my body to start preparing itself into stiffness.  That is why I'm going so slowly in this retraining.

For "movement".  There are the ideas of Paul Rolland who included movement from the get-go.  I learned of this in Dec.  Long before this, I played with Menuhin's ideas in "part 1 of 6 lessons" - This strange looking thing https://youtu.be/O7BZV1btlK4?t=832 where you experience the motion being initiated in the feet, to the hips, to the arms.  At least it moved me into a greater body awareness which for me was close to zero.

I've been taught "everything must move at least a little bit, nothing should ever be locked, everything works together".  Mary Bond's "New Rules of Posture" redefines posture itself - to stand upright we are more like swaying trees constantly in a state of falling into balance.
I've also learned how fluid and multidimensional movement can be, and how we can oversimplify things and thus "encase" ourselves in such models. (This goes to what you say about us students.)

Anyway, what you say about movement is very important.

My task right now is to manage to raise that right arm without locking up anywhere, but that does not take away from the wisdom of movement.

Posted: March 23, 2018
Beth, I wanted to make sure that I had time to think and time to respond properly.  Thank you so much for your deep video response.  You spoke about some different things, and I'll post about them separately.

My first concern was: we hear guidance, imagine what it means, and then execute what we think it means.  This can go quite wrong.  I learned that the hard way. That's why I checked.  Your answer about your reference to "back muscle" gave me the right perspective.  Your physiotherapist saw how you use your body, and gave you the right reference for you.  For example, if you tended to do with your arm what you show us first, you need to be led away from that more toward the "back".  But if I have (had) swayback functioned with "military posture", I may need to balance out from another angle.  In the middle there is an optimum place, and how our bodies actually function when we're in balance.  That is the same for all of us.

What I learned is that we often pull our shoulders up through our "neck muscles" (part of the trapezius), instead of learning how to raise our arms.  This hunching is also what we do when fearful or stressed.  You'll also see people cradling phones and cell phones that way.  We definitely don't want to do that.  The old fix was "shoulders back and down - keep them down - tighten your shoulderblades" This was told before "hunching" was understood.  (The trapezius - neck - is the right answer).  I was told by a 2ndary teacher I consulted to do this, and it made a mess - because it exaggerated what was already wrong in my posture.  When you do that, the "back muscles" are perpetually tight.  It blocks mobility and ease that you write about.

This is also why, personally, I have needed to find out how the arms do get raised naturally, because what I did for years was not ok.  But this part of the journey is unique to me, and won't help anyone else.  I have some sense of which muscles are actually involved, because I had to work with this even while doing piano.  But that actual work was more in the sense of aiming for things:
- freedom of motion
- diminishing of discomfort
- experimenting where that can be found

For piano it was relatively easy, because on piano you are working symmetrically with both arms, and your arms move in a way to raise and literally fall - nothing is "held up" like the left arm.  I started to learn to use the body naturally with piano the last years, which has been quite a job.  Quite a few of the principles apply to violin as well.  It's all one body.

Janice Branley
Posted: March 20, 2018
Beth, that was such an amazing response, we can all learn so much from this sharing of your experience, so thank you.

Inge, In the quest for relaxed pain free enjoyment and a comfortable relationship with violin playing with no time limit, I have found it useful to not only observe the obvious potentially stressful postures required for playing violin, but to include everyday activities. It is somewhat surprising to observe that one holds tension in the shoulders or hands when you are at the checkout of a supermarket, or watching TV, reading or doing any number of activities.  When tension is taken out of the ordinary activity it is easier to recognise it and remove it from the extraordinary activities. 

Beth Blackerby
Posted: March 20, 2018
This discussion includes members-only video content