3.1 Violin/viola Ergonomics

    Position of the body with and without instrument

    A posture that offers good support for the shoulder muscles and a stable position for the shoulder blades against the rib cage is vital for avoiding muscle problems in the shoulders and neck. Here is an exercise for this: stand in a stable position with feet a comfortable distance apart from each other (under the hips), without locking the knees. Shift your weight and balance first on your right foot and then your left, feeling freedom towards the left when on the left foot, and to the right when on the right foot. When you have the same feeling of balance on both feet, the activity of playing will come from the centre of the body. Stretch the whole body and arms/hands straight up as far as you can. Then bring both arms down at the same time to a relaxed position with a 90-degree bend in the elbow and a 60-degree angle with the arms outwards.




    Illustration 3.1.1 

    Stand in a stable position with your feet as far apart as your shoulders, and then stretch up as far as you can with the hands. Take a deep breath. Now simply let the air out and let the arms fall to a natural bend in the elbows. 




    Illustration. 3.1.2

    Now the arms have fallen into a resting position with elbows bent. The rest of the body’s posture should be as before. 




    Illustration 3.1.3

    From the previous position, now take your instrument with the same feeling in the shoulders, arms and the rest of the body. 

    This is a good starting position for playing the violin. It is also crucial that there is symmetry in the activity of both shoulders, i.e. that one shoulder is not pulled forwards while playing. If not, there will be extra strain placed on the condyle of the shoulder joint, and on the tendons that fasten there.
    For the correct positioning of the body in sitting and standing positions, please also see video about sitting and standing.  

    Adjusting the rests on the instrument

    When you bring the instrument to your body, begin by adjusting both the chin rest and the shoulder rest. Try to position the shoulders/shoulder blades symmetrically. Avoid constant twisting and bending to the sides in the cervical spine, as this entails increased strain on parts of the cervical spine, in the discs and on certain muscles. In this case, the muscles become shorter over time on the bent/twisted side than on the other side, and wear and tear on the discs and tendons of the cervical vertebrae is also worse than on the opposite side.

    The goal is to make use of the weight of the head so that you avoid the feeling of needing to press down tightly on the violin. Simply allow the head to rest with all its weight on the chin rest without any muscle power. Try to find a height for the rest where you do not constantly need to bend the cervical spine to the side. The chin rest should be shaped so that you have a good and comfortable grip with the cheekbone and chin, and so you can vary how you position your head.

    Begin by taking off the shoulder rest and let someone else place the instrument on your collarbone, still without trying to hold the violin firmly under your chin. Feel your way to the correct angle of the instrument (approximately 45 degrees) when playing with the bow. Examine how much height needs to be compensated for – first with the shoulder rest and then the chin rest. Feel free to use something to measure with so you can adjust the rests to fit perfectly. Be careful not to overcompensate in height for the chin, but rather allow there to be flexibility to change the position of the head; make sure there is still room to turn your head or bend it over to the side in order to be mobile and flexible as you play.

    A long neck requires a higher chin rest, while a sloping shoulder requires a higher shoulder rest.

    At the music stand 

    In ensemble situations, for example when you are sitting in front of a music stand, you may have to rotate the instrument in order to achieve good contact with colleagues, the conductor and with the sheet music itself. In such cases, try to rotate your body from below, i.e. from the pelvis and hips, not from higher up around the shoulder blades. To be able to rotate the chair that you are sitting on would be ideal. Use an active sitting position when you play, that is, to play without the back support of the chair, but with a stable upper body. From a stable starting position, you can vary your balance forwards, backwards and to the sides, and in this way vary the positioning of your centre of mass.

    Balance with the bow and the positioning of the instrument 

    Examine the balance between the bow and the positioning of the instrument. Try to achieve a feeling of the centre of your movements being the same as the centre of your body. If the instrument comes too far to the left, this will result in increased strain in the bow arm, especially when playing on the G or C strings.

    The more the violin moves to the left, the more you have to follow with the bow arm in order to play and for the centre of activity to be the same as the body’s centre. This results in increased strain on one side of the body. If you play with the instrument in a more horizontal manner, this results in the bow arm having to reach up higher in comparison to when you play with an angle greater than 45 degrees, which could result in you having to raise your left shoulder joint slightly.

    Placement of the left hand 

    For good hand position, begin by placing the little finger and then the other fingers, as the tension in the small muscles of the hand will then be less. See illustrations 3.1.4–5. Otherwise, small pains can arise in these muscles, which can be felt all the way up at the muscular attachment in the elbow.

    The left wrist will stay healthy if it can regularly return to a relaxed position, i.e. to lessen the inward rotation and bending of the wrist. Let the elbow hang naturally free. The arm must be able to move freely beneath the instrument. When playing in the first to third positions on low strings, the elbow should also move forwards, and when playing on the higher strings, it should move backwards. This produces a movement in the left shoulder joint that stimulates circulation in the left shoulder. Moving actively upwards and downwards with the instrument can also help make leaps between high and low positions easier.




    Illustration 3.1.4. When beginning with the first finger on the fingerboard and maintaining the hand position, tension increases in the bent wrist and in the muscles in the back of the hand.
    Illustration 3.1.5. When playing with the fourth finger, the tension in the hand will be much less if the position is the same as when using the position of the little finger as the starting point.

    The bow

    Observe how much power you use to hold the bow with the thumb, index finger and middle finger. It is the power in this grip that is crucial regarding pain in the thumb and the arm in general. Try to see how loosely you can hold the bow and still maintain control.

    Begin with an exercise without the bow. Stand at ease on the floor with feet a comfortable distance apart from each other (under the hips). Try a movement with the bow arm; move the arm forwards and backwards in a straight line. Then try to make movements in circles, ellipses and figures of eight, etc. with the feeling that the movement comes from the elbow. What does it feel like in your body, and how is your breathing?

    The thumb should not be in an overstretched position in its middle joint, as then the thumb muscle will become overstrained and the thumb’s joints will lock. Check out the video about Excercises for hand and thumb.




    Illustration 3.1.6. Aim for relaxation in the thumb/index finger grip with a bend in the thumb’s joints.



    Illustration 3.1.7: This places strain on the thumb-knuckle joint, which becomes more locked and tense. 

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