Irving Penn (1971-2009)
“The Palm of Miles Davis”
New York – 1986
(A reminder of how important our body parts are as musicians)
I want to talk about a big part of my inspiration for starting a blog in the first place. Along with many musicians, I have dealt with muscle tension as a result of my violin playing for a long time. I have definitely been lucky compared to some people, my issues have never stopped me from playing altogether and they have never been so bad that I have had intense pain, but they are consistent and present even when I’m not holding my instrument. Recently more than ever, these issues have become a huge motivator for me in shaping my career. Though I wish I didn’t personally have to deal with these physical barriers, it has inspired me to pursue a life that involves helping others overcome these problems. I know there is a better way to educate musicians about these issues and I’ve only just begun to figure out how I can be of most use.
My first big step towards this is to go and learn from the best. Next year I will be moving to Norman, Oklahoma to study with Professor Hal Grossman, a teacher who specializes in helping violin students overcome playing related injuries. Mr. Grossman is the founder of The Grossman Method©, a method that was developed with the philosophy of “using larger muscle groups in the training of smaller muscle groups.” I am very excited to learn more from him next year because of his emphasis on the musician as athlete and his depth of knowledge regarding the anatomy of the human body. To learn more about The Grossman Method© you can visit his website: thegrossmanmethod.com.
It is my hope that through my study with Mr. Grossman, I will develop a better understanding of my own issues in order to help others overcome theirs. I am also very excited about the idea of truly enjoying performing again, because if I’m being honest it has been a while since I’ve had a good time on stage, especially in solo performances. Probably the most difficult side effect of my muscle tension problems has been my performance anxiety. Come to think of it, I’m not sure whether the performance anxiety is caused by my muscle tension or vice versa, but I know the two are related.
Without focusing too much on the frustrating aspects of my experience thus far, I want to mention a few things I have found that have helped:
Exercise: This may seem obvious, but as I mentioned in my first post it is not something that is emphasized enough to musicians. I try to stick to exercises that require low wrist impact, and am working on swallowing my pride in pilates or yoga classes if any move causes me discomfort and modifying. I have so far found pilates to be the best form of exercise for me because it is such a core strengthener, but I like yoga for the mental benefits. Since I’m poor and can’t pay for classes right now, I use YouTube videos which have been great. I also love riding my bike and walking (and not just because they are currently my primary mode of transport). I am very open to other types of exercise that have helped people, so please help me out here!
Stretching: I can’t stress this one enough, there is always time to stretch. No “I only have a half hour to practice” crap. For a long time I didn’t even know to stretch before playing my instrument. Now, I have a hard time practicing if I don’t. Just like any good athlete stretches before a practice or a game, so should we! Here are some great stretches that Mr. Grossman suggests doing before practicing or performing: stretches
Meditation: I still have a hard time getting myself to do this one, but I know how helpful it can be. There are a lot of great meditation apps out there that provide free guided meditations, like Headspace and Calm to name a couple. Here’s a list I found recently of a wide range of meditations that you can do: meditations. Another strategy I like to use is just listening to a piece I love without any other distractions; no score studying, no conducting, no stressing out about how difficult the violin part sounds, just listening and remembering why you love what you do. Here are a couple of my favorite pieces to do that with:
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 Movement II
Caroline Shaw – Entracte
to name a couple 🙂
Visualization: This is a great practice strategy that doesn’t even require an instrument. Visualization in this sense is when you imagine yourself in the exact situation you will be in when performing. I like to try and recreate the performance space to the best of my ability. If I know where I will be performing this helps a lot, but if it’s an audition at an unfamiliar location it helps to visualize myself in a classroom or auditorium. My favorite thing to do is physically go to the place I will be performing, or a similar type of place and walk through the performance without my instrument. I find that if I do this it’s easy to recreate the same physiological reaction (shaky, clammy, shortness of breath) that I have when I’m actually about to perform. I think the best defense is just to get comfortable with these feelings because they serve the purpose of keeping you on your toes in a performance, it just isn’t healthy to let them dominate you.
This is just a short list of strategies that I have found to have helped me control my performance anxiety and muscle tension issues. I am still searching for more so let me know what works best for you! I am so excited to continue studying these methods in greater detail so I can enhance my own experience as well as help others to improve theirs.
Thank you for reading!
Along with many musicians, I have dealt with muscle tension as a result of my violin playing for a long time. I hope that this blog will be useful to those dealing with similar issues as I talk through my ongoing journey to play my instrument pain free.