Violin, Viola Bow Arm Elbow Height

by Rozanna Weinberger

Elbow height can seem like such an illusive issue for many string players. Having studied with teachers like Karen Tuttle, who had a ‘natural approach to technique’ and pointed out the necessity of arm/back weight vs. force to produce sound, it is impossible to really gage the correct elbow height if its considered a ‘static event’.  It needs to be in relation to preparing the arm weight to be delivered to the string being played. Without preparing the elbow in advance of landing on the string. its impossible to have the necessary momentum to deliver the weight.  Further its essential the weight be ‘dropped into the string’ and for this to happen the elbow must be sufficiently elevated so the weight can eventually be dropped into the string. By incorporating a circular movement initiated from the elbow to drive the weight of the arm into the string, and sinking into the string, one discovers a comfortable feeling in the arm once the weight is released  while producing a nice round sound.

Proper elbow height is essential for a great detache and interestingly a basic ricochet study aids in eventually mastering detache.

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The opposite of this way of producing sound would probably have to be when the elbow is too high in relation to the rest of the arm. Pronating the elbow upward causes the rest of the hand & arm to have a vertical emphasis in relation to the string.  I would argue that such an approach can also tend to ‘crush the sound and sound.’
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In trying to master certain bow strokes such as detache in the upper half of the bow I have also discovered that when working at an entirely different type of bow stroke such as ricochet or even spicatto,  the detache can be improved upon in the process. One reason might be because it seems impossible to produce a ricochet effectively to the tip of the bow  effectively if the elbow is not at precisely the right height.

The best way to begin a ricochet exercise is to lead the arm around with the elbow initiating the momentum. While avoiding inefficient use of the shoulder is a key part of doing this exercise well, trying to ‘impose on the shoulder to willfully not move can feel like an endless painful austerity.  There is one observational technique that can be done that will eventually train the shoulder to ‘go along for the ride’ rather than being the source of the elbows elevation.

At brief intervals of practicing this ricochet exercise, bring ones kinesthetic awareness to the right shoulder. See if its possible to ‘feel’ the muscles that are hyper extended in the shoulder. Feel the extent to which the humerus bone is extended out from the shoulder girdle. Then gently allow those muscles to relax back into the most unforced position. Being persistent in this kinesthetic focal point simultaneously trains the body to reroute its movements into a more efficient use of the muscles felt under the scapula. It may seem counterintuitive to imagine that the weight that goes into the instrument comes from under the scapula rather than the shoulder, in time it will start to feel like a yummy physical experience.

Muscles are important but noticing the bones can be equally insightful.

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Common Misconceptions About Posture & Violin, Viola Playing

Screenshot 2018-03-18 16.00.29When I was in school I always admired dancers who seemed to be the antithesis of the motley crew which were us instrumentalists. While most string players rarely considered posture as a significant part of the equation for optimal technique, posture and dance technique are inseparable.

But times have changed and it seems learning to play in a free and natural manner can’t be separated from a working understanding of how we carry ourselves and its effects on ones playing. From my own experience, posture and learning to differentiate parts of the body including shoulders, torso, sternum and clavicle, are essential though typically misunderstood or not discussed at all.

In previous posts I discussed the effects of slouching.  This blog posting will focus on the shoulder and its relationship to the angel the elbow.  The angel of the elbow has everything to do with ones sound production and overall relationship to the violin.Screenshot 2017-06-15 21.15.51

As a simple movement study to observe this phenomenon try the following:

  1. Sitting in a chair preferably without arms, allow oneself to sit as one normally would, if that means slumping  the shoulders and upper torso do so without censoring ones movements.  Simply observe kinesthetically.
  2. Bring up the right arm leading with the elbow. Its fine if the arm bends at the elbow similar to when playing the violin or viola.
  3. Notice how the elbow points towards the ceiling while the wrist & hand are lower in relation to the elbow.
  4. Relax the arm down to ones side.

String players and people in general sometimes have a misconception of what it means to have ‘good posture’. Typically students will raise their shoulders in the hopes of holding themselves, or this tendency can also stem from an emotional reaction to stress. But its not the shoulders that enable one to have an upright posture, rather it is the muscles of the chest and even abdominal muscles to contribute. To access these muscles try this simple action.

  1. Sitting in the chair, press down on the seat with ones hands. If chair has arms its fine to press down on the arms of the chair with ones hands.
  2. Notice how a simultaneous reaction happens in the torso and upper chest region, in reaction to the pressing downwards of the hands. The torso and chest elevate while the arms & shoulders press downward. Notice these sensations because if they feel ‘new’ chances are this is a teachable moment in terms of learning to access ones own optimal movements.
  3. While maintaining this elevated torso and corresponding natural straightening back of the shoulders, bring up the elbow again.
  4. Notice the relation of the elbow to the wrist & hand. Chances are they will be parallel in relation to each other when the shoulders are no longer curved.

The relationship of the elbow, wrist & hand are very important because it means the difference between using force & pressure, which is a result of the elbow angling upward causing the hand and rest of the arm to press into the string downward at a vertical angle.

But when the wrist & elbow are parallel, this relationship is conducive to a horizontal relationship to the string. When the weight drops into the string at a horizontal relationship to the string, there is a better chance the sound will be round and vibrating vs. a pressed sound.

Screenshot 2017-06-16 00.13.51How do we get the weight of the arm into the string when we are ‘horizontal’ or parallel to the string?  The key is to incorporate circular movements with the elbow so the weight, initiated by the elbow goes around, up & down. (Imagine drawing a circle with a pencil attached to the elbow.) This is the optimum movement of the bow arm and conveyer of the weight into the string.

NAMM Educator Sessions Excerpt On Creative String Education

by Rozanna Weinberger

Screenshot 2017-12-26 23.21.21Presented at the Educators Sessions, NAMM 2018

Anaheim, California

Good afternoon! I want to thank the NAMM organization for this opportunity to share with you a bit about my company, its inspiration, and why we’ve gained momentum in the industry.

For most of my life, I have worked on the performance side of the music business. This enabled me to experience, first hand, the changing climate for classically trained musicians, where opportunities for these musicians have diminished over time, in part as a result of changing societal trends. This issue was underscored in an article seen in the NY Times awhile back, citing the large nos. of Juilliard grads unable to make careers in music after graduating.

This suggested to me that on a certain level, students were not being prepared to effectively navigate the changing terrain of the music world. These realizations led to the nucleus of my own pedagogical beliefs and the formation of my company, Rozanna’s Violins, which produces violins with cool looking designs on them. Our aim has been to resonate with a child’s innate creative and playful impulses.

As a pedagogue, I also sensed our instruments could begin to fill a gap in a child’s education by helping them to form a connection to music on multiple sensory levels. Our aim has been to make this connection from the very start of a child’s experience with violin playing.

While it is generally considered a forgone conclusion that being creative is a natural bi product of music education, in fact creativity and playful learning are not necessarily a part of a students curriculum.

Knowing how to teach and engender a creative life is a science in itself. Companies such as 3M, Pixar and Apple among others, who’s bottom line is based on coming up with great ideas for their survival, have long recognized the science of creativity – to the extent that fostering a creative work environment is a key part of their corporate culture. And while its seems obvious that creativity is an essential part of music making, it can also be a tool for survival, when navigating unexpected changes on ones career path.

In a recent Forbes Magazine article, entitled ‘Why Playful Learning Is The Key To Prosperity’, author John Converse Townsend asks:

So, where did play go?

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Children at play!

Over the last three decades, while schoolchildren K-12 have become better test-takers, they’ve also become less imaginative, according to experts like, Kyung Hee Kim, professor of education at the College of William and Mary.

Kim analyzed scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

For most of us it seems to make sense that music education would help solve these gaps in development. And yet, too often, students are given a musical program so carefully orchestrated, if gives the student little opportunity to exert their free will and creative inclinations.

While I don’t presume that creating violins with cool designs on them will automatically solve all of these issues, stimulating a child’s connection to music on multiple levels, made sense as a starting point for a creative and playful musical life.

With playfulness at the heart of a child’s experience, they can more actively engage in music making, on an instrument that resonates with their unique personalities. In short, we believe children are better able to learn music, grounded in a more immersive creative experience.

It seems our violins are gaining traction because they are, in some way, filling a void, which is the basis of any trend. Regarding the nature of trends, Music Trades, Editor, Brian Majeski commented as follows in  publication of Music Trades:

“When we talk about “shifting product trends,” we’re actually describing what happens when consumers independently decide to do things a little differently. A few thousand, or perhaps millions, of potential buyers casually opt to postpone a purchase or buy something else, and all of a sudden, there is a new “trend” that forces businesses to restructure, revamp a product line, or face possible extinction.”

The bottom line is that our violins are resonating with something that consumers need – but perhaps more importantly, it is being led by the consumer, and following a current that is shaping a new world of possibilities for the modern string player. In the 7 short years of our existence, we have achieved industry firsts, which include designing a violin for the music to FROZEN and this year, a violin for the music to STAR WARS. I believe these achievements were possible because we are doing something of value that resonates with the world at large.  With creativity as the basis for modern music education, we are confident students will be better equiped to survive and thrive in this world.

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Common Misconceptions About Back Muscles and Violin, Viola Technique

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That ‘coming from under’ feeling can be accessed rather than using the shoulder to control bow arm.

by Rozanna Weinberger

Some of the most common beliefs string technique beliefs is  that somehow the back should be involved when playing, particularly when it comes to bowing. This can seem illusive at best since for many it seems like the shoulder wants to be the fulcrum for controlling arm movements bow technique rather than the the illusive back. Monitoring excess tension and elevation in the shoulder are a constant challenge. So which muscles exactly are we talking about when we say back muscles and how on earth can we access the the back muscles including the lower trapezius and latissimus dorsi  under the scapula. Making sense of this muscle and utilizing it is a key component that will go a long way towards allowing the shoulder to be more of a reaction to the of these muscles rather than the point of control in raising the arm to play as well as the entirety of the bow stroke.                    

And while it seems string players wonder how to solve the accompanying sloping shoulders and excess tension in the neck, it seems equally true that these attributes also seem present when not playing, i.e. in ones general posture. Which came first – the chicken or the egg?  In this instance one wonders – did poor posture influence a players bowing technique or have the practicing habits in the players technique influenced ones posture in a general sense?

Rehabilitation pioneer, Vladimir Janda (1928=2002) recognized a physical pattern comprised of a collection of imbalances which he referred to as the ‘Upper Crossed Syndrome.’ Upper crossed syndrome is characterized by over use of the upper trapezius, levator, sternocleidomastoid, and pectoralis muscles, while under using the deep cervical flexors, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior. Visually the clues to recognizing ‘upper crossed syndrome’ include sloped shoulders and head jutting out from base of neck. In short, this is similar to the posture many string players utilize as they jut forward the head in an attempt to secure the instrument while sloping the shoulders to play and experiencing pain in the neck & shoulders! 

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As the shoulders protract, the scapular shoulder blade stabilizers become inhibited and weak. Muscles that are normally quiet are utilized to help stabilize the shoulder girdle. According to Janda the result of this syndrome leads to overactive pectoralis minor, upper trapezius, levator scapulae. Rehabilitation pioneer, Vladimir Janda, called this collection of imbalances an “Upper Crossed Syndrome”.

Student Heal Thyself

Students with a genuine curiosity about their technique can, over time, improve posture in a general sense through observations made in the practice room. While teachers are important because they help point the way, ultimately some of the most valuable learning happens when we make discoveries for ourselves where our own bodies provide the necessary information to self correct.

‘Micro Practicing’ describes the kind of work where the most basic components of ones movements are isolated and ‘observed’. Differentiation is a key component because ‘noticing a movement’ has to have a reference point. The reference point is really ‘healthy and efficient movement’ or comfort vs. discomfort.  Its where the humerus bone tends to hang in shoulder girdle when muscle habits aren’t torquing the humerus bone forward.  If the player has ingrained a ‘bad habit’ to the point where it becomes the ‘new normal’ then recognizing patterns can seem nearly impossible to do. 

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Noticing positioning of humerus bone when shoulders are not slouching.

So the starting point for accessing and properly utilizing the latissimus dorsi and other underutilized muscles can begin by noticing at what point the shoulder and upper trapezius muscles begin to take control of elevating the elbow. So long as the player is overusing these muscles to control elevation of the elbow and the bow arm in general, the player will eventually feel a chronic level of tension and tightness in the shoulders & neck.

Notice the natural position of the humerus bone in relation to the shoulder girdle. Most string players tend to thrust the shoulder forward or curve the shoulder which creates a myriad of technical issues as a result.

Starting With How We Elevate The Elbow In Preparation To Play

Micro practicing can involve elevating the elbow away from the side of the body minutely. By minutely we mean barely any movement at all. But in this tiny motion one can access the sensations of the latissimus dorsi right underneath the scapula. Allow the arm to rest back to the side. Elevate the elbow once again, this time a light higher then drop back down to the side.  When doing this micro movement be sure to notice the point at which the shoulder and trapezius muscles try to take over the lifting of the arm. While the shoulder does engage eventually when raising the arm for the string player the ideal is to discover the ability to utilize the fulcrum relationship with the bow arm that is initiated from under the scapula.

Chicken Wing

  1. While standing, begin with right arm resting naturally against the body.
  2. Bringright palm to the left shoulder, creating a ‘V’ with the arm.
  3. Elevate the elbow then allow it to relax onto the chest
  4. Repeat this movement 4 or 5 times. As this movement is being done, notice the sensations in the back, and the scapula. 

Circular Movements & Arm Weight

Learning to access the lower back underused muscles rather than the neck & shoulders is the starting point to healthy bow arm. One of the main reasons is that the weight of the back & arms can best be utilized this way vs. hovering over the string. Once we’ve established this feeling learning to make circular movements initiated in the elbow will facilitate dropping weight of back and arm into string. Technique also effects the sounds being produced. So long as the upper traps & shoulders are relied upon to control the bow, the player will tend to use vertical pressure from the fingers, hand, etc. Such pressing action may lead to crushing the sound vs. a producing a round sound. The elbow will end up being higher than the wrist while the tense neck & shoulders will cause the arm weight to hover above the bow.  Some players get a false sense of security from this type of control but the player may also discover this type of ‘control’ leads to pain and fatigue vs. release both on a physical and emotive level when playing.

Screenshot 2017-06-16 00.13.51Circular Movements


Common Misconceptions About Shifting and Holding the Viola/Violin

Muybridge_race_horse_animatedby Rozanna Weinberger

Its fascinating that the discovery of the motion picture was a result of researching whether horses hooves completely leave the ground when racing at a gallop. While shifting on the violin or viola is a very different set of movements than a horse galloping, for a string player to shift with the greatest ease its paramount the hand and wrist have a split second of freedom from ‘holding’ the violin so the wrist/hand can release. This split second of releasing the instrument is not unlike the horses split second suspension in mid air as it resets the galloping movement. Because for a split second the instrument is not being held by the hand..

This releasing back of the hand from the wrist can really be applied to all shifting from upper to lower positions. Scary as it may sound, the player has to be able to ‘catch’ the violin or viola once arriving at the desired note. The weight of the instrument must be a nominal factor when shifting with speed. 

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It really is amazing to see all the movements involved in a gallop. What would your slow motion picture of shifting look like?

The study which proved horses completely leave the ground when galloping is called Sallie Gardner at a Gallop or The Horse in Motion; it shows images of the horse with all hoofs off the ground. This did not take place when the horse’s legs were extended to the front and back, as imagined by contemporary illustrators, but when its legs were collected beneath its body as it switched from “pulling” with the front legs to “pushing” with the back legs. – Wikipedia

AND WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE DISCUSSION ON HORSES?? If for no other reason than to suggest there are times when the instrument will be suspended in mid air much like a galloping horse. Much like a racing horse has a split seconds when it is suspended in mid air as it switches from curling to straightening their legs, the string player must have a split second when instrument is completely suspended in the air so wrist can react to arm motion of reaching to a lower position by simultaneously ‘falling back’ to the lower position with the wrist. And because the releasing wrist can help reach the desired note, the upper arm moves less. When this happens, arriving at the destination note will feel like one is ‘catching’ the instrument. It will also be a more efficient motion since the player will be distributing the movement to all the joints of the arm & hand rather than maintaining a rigid hand position.

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Allowing the hand & wrist to react to the forearm.  

Therefore it shouldn’t seem like such a stretch that part of the challenge in learning to shift with ease is to find a way to release the fingers from the violin or viola entirely for a split second while going from point A to point B. Its the only way to move with maximum speed and to readjust the hand to the new balance required of the fingers as notes change.

This approach to shifting  flies in the face of string methods that encourage players to keep a ‘shifting finger down’ while essentially sliding up and down maintaining constant instrument contact with shifting finger.


Cause and Effect in Left Hand

What much of this comes down to, from the standpoint of string playing is being able to freely utilize the natural movements/reactions of the wrist action in reaction to the forearm and rest of the arm & back. To bring this point home try the following:

Motion Study For Shifting/Vibrato Prep

When working on  this technique its recommended the player practice over a cushion or some other safe surface in case instrument slips while one is developing balance.

  1. Drop left hand & arm to the side.
  2. Bring up forearm by bending the elbow, allowing the palm to face the body.
  3. Allow forearm to drop back down then up again a few times.  Its not necessary to make large movements.
  4. As this movement is being done what is the REACTION of the wrist and hand?  What do these parts of the body do as a natural reaction to movements in upper arm and back?
  5. Chances are it will be clear the hand bends back & forth effortlessly. AND WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE DISCUSSION ON HORSES?? Much like a race horse has a split second suspended in air when switch from curling to straightening their legs, the string player must have a split second when instrument is completely suspended in the air so wrist can react to arm by ‘falling back’ to the first position for example.
  6. Sometimes when aiming for a specific pitch it may inhibit the players ability to release the wrist.  Batting average i.e. accurate pitch is the end game. But the player should first isolate the most basic feeling in the arm. To that end it may also be useful to practice shifting to a lower position without a specific pitch in mind, but rather aiming first for a freer feeling in the limbs.

When the wrist is relaxed rather than poking out, its easier to release the hand back  going from higher to lower positions. This does however require complete release from point A to point B. Shifting from 3rd to 1st position is a good opportunity to discover this feeling.  See below.


Its quite common for teachers to instruct students to have their wrist slightly bent in the opposite direction of the instrument as in the photo above. But this posture is really not the most effective position even if it is taught widely. Simply put, the wrist has the capacity to respond to the movements of the forearm while accommodating the changes in balance points of the fingers. 

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Pads of Fingers and Balance

Balance of the hand & finger is very much dictated by the fingers. The idea of not poking out the wrist when playing is based on accommodating the balance in the hand and fingers. One of the obvious issues is that by poking out the wrist we are actually moving counter to the direction of the fingers. Why, for example have the wrist poking out when trying to reach the 4th finger? Its difficult enough to play with the 4th finger when its shorter than the rest of the fingers and considered weaker. Therefore allowing the wrist to bend in slightly when reaching with the 4th finger is an economical use of the hand and wrist. Its also wise not to baby the 4th finger but use wherever appropriate.

A tactile sense in the fingers is a good starting point. Discovering the variety of sensations that occur when touching different parts of the finger tips, one will eventually find the fatty center is where the nerve endings have the sharpest sensations and also happens to be the best place to balance the finger.

While efficient technique does necessitate ‘tracking’ the distance on the finger board with the fingers for kinesthetic purposes, if we keep the fingers down without release, the hand will not be able to readjust to a new balance points when going from one finger to the next throughout fingerboard. This also means the ideal hand position is not static, but changes from one balance point to the next. Make no mistake, the hand most certainly adjusts to every place on the fingerboard and the body must adjust and balance on the most subtle level requiring a refined sense of balance that can be felt in the finger tips and entire hand.

Last But Not Least

In the last blog post we discussed the importance of not gripping the instrument with the head & shoulders like a human vice.  Suffice it to say it will be impossible to balance the instrument in the manner described above if we are holding on for dear life with the head & shoulders.  This tightening of the upper extremity will be manifest throughout the rest of the arm, wrist & shoulder. Patience patience and joyful awareness are key. Sure the destination is important in terms of practice goals, but when micro practicing to transform basic playing patterns, please let the path stay joyful and interesting.


Most Common Misconceptions String Players Have About Posture & Muscle Strain in Shoulders, Back & Neck

Screenshot 2017-05-21 21.54.57by Rozanna Weinberger

It amazes me when speaking to students that say they have excess tension in their playing that causes pain but feel at the mercy of the tension because they don’t even know when it begins. Its true once we’re in the state of compromised physical patterns, the challenge is to relieve the pain and self adjust. Being able to do so, even in a performance situation is really the ideal. But I also believe players are less helpless than they believe. Discovering that the inefficient patterns in playing a violin or viola occur in preparation to play and contribute to a host of new problems once we start to play.

The truth is most inefficient patterns occur as we prepare to play. The way we organize ourselves to hold the instrument and prepare the bow arm to produce a sound are hardwired for the very first impulse to raise our arms in preparation.

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The natural unforced weight of head is a simple and effective way to secure instrument against the shoulder & clavicle, so long as there is no tension in neck, rather the passive weight. Head should be facing forward with very slight tilting to the left when playing.

But its even more interesting that some of the most crucial ‘practicing’ and mindful awareness needs to happen as we’re ‘positioning’ ourselves to play – the moment when we hyperextend the shoulders to engage our bow arm or thrust the left shoulder forward in an attempt somehow hold the instrument.

Its also in that split second when we thrust the head forward in the mistaken belief it will enable us to secure the instrument against our shoulder, when in fact the weight of the head can easily be accessed without jutting the neck and chin forward. And the more one hyper extends the limbs to play, the more ones technique will be based on movements of the limbs rather than accessing the entire torso..Indeed just getting ready to play is when some of the key problems happen and worst of all, once we’ve contorted our bodies its very difficult to change after we start to play. Thats why its valuable to be hyper vigiliget about everyone movement we make from resting position to picking up our instruments because it forms the basis of most of our technique.

The Unfailing Function of the Abdominal Muscles

In contemporary society people try to work out in the gym in hopes of getting in good physical shape.  When it comes to improving our abdominals people often do sit ups to strengthen that muscle group. Yet considering their function and how the abdominals can improve our overall ability to carry ourselves, it is an important consideration and perhaps not discussed enough except when doing Pilates, Gyrotonics, Yoga or other forms of exercise that address lengthen the limbs and functionality.. For great posture, we don’t just need strong abdominals, we need them to lengthen and support our upper bodies effectively. If they don’t do this, other problems will occur as a result of compensation, such as raising and tensing the shoulder in the mistaken belief we holdup our upper bodies by elevating our shoulders.  Other problems will include slouching.

And when it comes to string playing the use of the abdominal muscles is almost never addressed. For sure the abdominal muscles are never discussed in technique books. And yet the abdominal muscles are so crucial in supporting our torso and lengthening out the space between the vertebrae. This support is at the heart of being able counter the effects of gravity when supporting our instruments and at the heart of being able to effectively balance a violin or viola.

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When we press down into the ground with our hands we can access the feelings of lifting and support the abdominal muscles contribute in supporting posture

Awareness of the Spine is Crucial

Stretching is another misconception. When it comes to supporting our upper body effectively its not just a matter of standing taller, but noticing and articulating the natural curvature and straightening of the spine. We need to cultivate the ability to access the sensations of our spine, to the extent that we can feel where we are slumping, where we are compressing the vertebrae and as well as the ability to elongate the spine without leaning backwards or forwards in excess. The curious student will discover many ways to develop kinesthetic awareness as well as ways to make the beneficial connection when it comes to playing with ease.

But when these supporting muscles are able to support the torso sufficiently, the shoulder and its accompanying bones, muscles & ligaments will do what gravity encourages and rest atop the rib cage. They may move and occasionally be elevated but the are a cog in the wheel and not the fulcrum. Screenshot 2017-05-29 20.18.31

Some find it difficult to isolate the movements of the rib cage vs. the shoulders and arms. A simple motion study of curling and lengthening of our spine with hands clasped behind the head, can be useful in isolating those muscles needed. 

The Most Common Misconceptions About Why We Freak Out When Performing Plus Awareness Studies For Bow.

by Rozanna Weinberger

The other day a colleague was warming up beautifully on a violin I was showing him.  I remember being impressed at the fluidity of his technique, which seemed confident and inspired.  When he stopped I praised him and then said I would like to  shoot a little demo video clip of him playing since the sound was so lovely and a wonderful representation of the instrument.  No sooner did I make that request than everything changed in my friends demeanor.  He needed to ‘warm up’ which I couldn’t quite understand since he had already been playing for awhile and sure enough, the effortlessness playing I had heard use moments before became fraught with uncertainty and mistakes I hadn’t heard previously.

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What is it that happens to string players that makes everything change in a pressure situation? Why is that passages that seemed to be perfected in the practice room – when under the gun- prove unreliable? In some cases I’ve seen the most naturally musical players lose their ability to communicate their musical intentions when they think they believe they are limited by the tools of their technical ability or overly focused on the technical side of playing. Sure we all have to build technical skill but very often when players are focused on the musical intent, their bodies naturally produce the requisite movements to execute that musical idea.

Its not uncommon for string players to practice for hours on end, often repeating certain


Batting Average When It Counts Awhile back I coined the idea of technical mastery in performance being akin to a baseball players’ batting average. We are able to, overtime assess the likelihood of a batter being able to hit that ball effectively.  I wonder if players have ever tested how many times they are able to play a technical passage accurately when repeating it 5 or even 10 times in a row.

passages hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of learning a piece of music.  And yet how many times do we find that when we’re under the gun in front of an audience something happens. Its as if all that practicing is forgotten and the physical experience is completely different.  If thats not bad enough we may be pervaded by an inner voice reminding us of all the technical challenges ahead often with a fearful anticipation.

Sure experts can explain away adrenaline and other factors influencing the brain when a pressured situation comes up. But truly there is so much the player can do in the practice room, through CULTIVATING AWARENESS, which can be the basis of overcoming technical/emotional patterns that are likely to manifest under pressure. By awareness, we are talking about a subtle, almost meditative state in which the player learns to observe what the body is communicating to the brain so that learning takes place.

Its also essential that the player develop a refined sense of what their bodies are doing.  It really amazes me when I come across players who have ‘suddenly developed carpal tunnel syndrome, or some other similar ailment, which should have been producing pain and tension in the effected areas for months prior because it really does require a lot of physical abuse of a particular muscle or ligament to eventually produce a chronic condition like carpal tunnel.

Why Trying To Copy A Teacher Isn’t The Most Complete Way To Learn – If only an ideal technical command was as simple as copying what a teacher does with reinforcement through practice. Sure many teachers teach that way and many students try to copy what they see their teachers do. In theory this approach seems to make sense, and yet it is one very big reason players develop physical habits that can lead to big problems down the road. This is because unless our own bodies and kinesthetic awareness can help us fine tune our movements, there will remain a level of crudeness to our approach if we don’t make our technique ‘our own’.  By this I am referring to  the ability to learn from the physical sensations of a movement, whether they give a feeling of prolonged tension that leads to physical pain, or a pattern of movement that does not use the joints efficiently.

For example, most players don’t connect the movements of the bow arm to the lower back and momentum produced by the weight of the hips but its really true. It is actually possible to play a whole bow from frog to tip using the movements of the torso and back entirely, without ever engaging the arm. While it certainly is convenient to use the arm, players need to discover the momentum that comes from other parts of the body, such as the back & hip.


Here is a simple study to cultivate awareness of hips, back & arms in essential bowing. Sitting in a chair, position oneself squarely, with hips aligned to shoulders. By ‘scanning the body’ one may notice what they weight feels like from our hips and bottom in relation to the chair.

1. Notice each hip and observe whether it feelings like one side is pressing into the chair    more than the other.

2. Notice the effect this weightiness effects the angle of the shoulders and the head. 3.Does the head tend to tilt in the same direction of the favored hip or in the opposite direction?

Observations on the bow ‘arm’.

  1. While still sitting in the chair, bring the right hand up to the left shoulder. Swing the hand/arm backwards as far as the arm can go then bring hand back to the shoulder. This step can be repeated and if arm feels slightly fatigued, allow arm to fall back down to side and relax.
  2. Bring right hand back up to the left shoulder in ‘chicken wing’ type position once again. This time, while keeping hand on shoulder turn the shoulders and upper body to the right so that whatever is to the right of oneself can be viewed. Then allow body to swivel back to original position. While repeating this movement slowly notice how the spine is effected. Where does the movement seem most active?  What part of the spine does this occur? After a couple repetitions, rest.
  3. Bring right hand back to left shoulder. This tie player will turn to the right using only the waist & hips to turn. Again notice the sensations in the spinal chord as well as the hips. What happens to the weight of the body as one is turning? Are their any parts of the movement that feel tight?  Any parts of the spine that are difficult to sense? After repeating a couple times, rest.
  4. Repeat step 3.  But rather than keeping the right hand on the left shoulder the whole time, this time, allow the hand and arm to swing back in response to the movements of the spine & hips. 
  5. Turn the body back towards the left and notice how arm swings back from the momentum of the rest of the body movements. 

Understanding The Right Shoulder: The shoulder is a favored topic because its the source of so much confusion. We are told not to raise the shoulder quite often and yet it is impossible to move the arm & back without the shoulder being engaged in some way. It may take the student months if not years of self discovery until they can feel how the shoulder is a part of the whole. Its not the fulcrum, but it must function in relation to the back and arm. As such the shoulder is elevated but its more a reaction to a circular movement that should be happening in the elbow.  The shoulder elevates but then it drops down, and with it the weight of the arm that produces the sound on the string as the bow draws across it. it seems many players can elevate the shoulder, but cultivating sufficient awareness of the shoulder and muscles surrounding it, is necessary to feel the sense of tension and release when the weight of the arm is released as a result of a drop in the shoulder.

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The feeling that everything is somehow different from the practice room may very well be an accurate reading when our emotions take over and find expression in exasperating tensions in the body. It may very well be that the excess tension is also manifesting in the practice room but under pressure, manifests to an extreme. There may also be cases where our general technical approach is not optimally efficient movements and the body tries to literally protect itself from the embarrassment of a mistake manifest in ones performance.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.”
W. Timothy Gallwey, Inner Game of Tennis

Something So Basic As Learning to Feel Our Bones


Simple observations of where the humorous bone is in relation to the shoulder girdle and the muscles that may compromise that relation with muscular patterns that are not efficient.

From a technical standpoint, as a frame of reference, most people tend to think about the muscles. But I believe the issues goes deeper to the bones. By developing the sensitivity to differentiate when we are hyper extending our humorous bone in relation to the shoulder girdle, is a pivotal way to begin to use the back when bowing and not just from the arm.  All these things can and should be addressed in the practice room. Teachers need to help students discover what can be learned through kinesthetic awareness and the ability to do so will play a pivotal role for the best teachers of performance to come. At the same time the teacher must understand efficient movement sufficient to be able to guide student in differentiating between efficient and inefficient movement, as well as awareness of uncomfortable and excessive muscle movements that can also effect the placement of the bones, the skeleton. And sure, the muscles are indicators of how we move, the skeleton must also be taken into account.

It is the weightiness of the skeleton and its components, and their relationship to each other that creates a natural momentum as well as the weight necessary in the arm, with the help of the back torso and hips, not force, to produce sound. in bow technique. Sure its possible to isolate the arm alone and produce movement and sound, but its also possible to feel the initiation of movement in the bow arm, from the left side of the pelvis and hip – and when that happens, one starts to feel as though the arm is ‘being moved’ rather than initiating movement. Of course, the ideal is when the student comes to discover this possibility for themselves.

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Young violinist Alex Cameron discovers musical freedom!