Violinists of Metafilter, please save my neck!
September 12, 2013 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I have recently started rehearsing for a show in which I will be acting and playing the violin. Exciting! But also, painful. How the fuck do I relax my neck? Help!

I played violin very seriously from the age of 7 until sophomore year-ish of college. I haven't played much since then for a variety of reasons. I dealt with pretty bad neck tension toward the end of high school, and I stupidly played through the pain and still deal with a lot of upper back/shoulder/neck bullshit to this day. I did some Alexander technique and found that it helped, but the sessions were incredibly expensive. My very hardcore, no nonsense violin teacher was also not very helpful.

I recently got cast in a very interesting play that will require a fair amount of violin skillz on my part. How fun! But beyond the horrible impostor syndrome that I experience at every rehearsal, I am having a bad flare-up of the ol' neck pain. This hinders my playing, and it also hurts.

I have a long neck, but I sort of feel like the chin rest is more the problem than the shoulder rest. My head never feels like its in the right position. But I also sort of feel like the problem is in my head. To be clear, the tension/pain is on the sides of my neck and somewhat along the center of my upper back. I know that I need to relax, but how? New shoulder rest?Revolutionize my technique? Ughhshdfsdjfk!

I am pretty broke at the moment, but I would consider an Alexander technique session or a few lessons with a good teacher (I am in Los Angeles). But I am wary of being treated like a beginner, and I'm not. I am a rusty, classically-trained violinist with engrained bad habits and physical problems.

I realize that this is sort of rambling, but if there are any violinists on the green who have tips, tricks, or equipment recommendations, I would really, really appreciate it.
posted by ablazingsaddle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Former violist here. I have a long neck as well and so I had to get an extra-high shoulder rest for me not to feel like my neck was going to break. Before that, I'd put a folded dishtowel on my shoulder in addition to my viola with the regular shoulder rest.

It's also possible to raise the chin rest with cork, I believe, and I think there are custom-made extra-high chin rests as well. I never needed that, but you might want to check with a violin shop.
posted by scody at 2:41 PM on September 12, 2013

Another rusty, long-necked violinist here. I've never had the neck pain (my right shoulder, on the other hand...), but because of my long neck always held the violin in a weird position. During college my teacher suggested a new chinrest which is taller. Wish I could remember what it was exactly, but it's something like this (that's a viola one). There must be a music store somewhere in LA that would let you try out various rests to find one that's comfortable.

Though honestly, I think your best bet may be having some meetings with a few teachers and asking them to critique how you're holding the instrument. Maybe one of them will have an idea.
posted by lharmon at 2:44 PM on September 12, 2013

I agree with scody's general take. You've got to get the shoulder rest height right, before anything else. The tea towel trick is fine for checking new possible height adjustments, but if your current rests aren't made for proper adjustment in the range you need, you may need to get a new shoulder rest, or chin rest, or both. Wolf makes some fairly inexpensive ones that are easily adjustable.
posted by paulsc at 2:48 PM on September 12, 2013

There are violin/Alexander technique people who also offer chin rest fittings. Or at least there is one such person. He is based in Chicago but you might contact him for local suggestions or to find out if he can do anything for you long distance.
posted by cushie at 3:02 PM on September 12, 2013

Response by poster: I have a wolf secundo shoulder rest. I keep futzing with it - maybe a towel will help.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:08 PM on September 12, 2013

Can you post a picture of yourself playing, or at least holding the violin?
posted by muddgirl at 3:24 PM on September 12, 2013

Best answer: I'm a violinist. I've had neck tension problems in the past, too. Here are things that helped me:

1. I had to practice raising my violin in to playing position without twisting my hips clockwise. I hadn't realized that I was producing that rotation, but I was, and it was a hard habit to break. Check if you're doing it. It really affects your neck.

2. Bring your violin up to playing position, and THEN lower your chin. Let the *weight* of your head hold your violin in place; do not use your muscles to clamp down. This will require that you relax your left thumb, while still using your left hand to partially support the weight.

3. When you face your music stand, make sure your body is parallel to the stand. Most importantly, your hips. Do not face your hips 45 or 90 degrees away while having your HEAD face the stand! In my experience this will really help.

4. Consider getting a chinrest that fits directly over your tailpiece, instead of to the left. This allows your head to be more centered without feeling like you'll drop your instrument.

The hardest part of all of this is remembering to continue doing these things while you're immersed in the details of your music. I suggest setting a timer to go off every 3 minutes or so during the first week you try these things. It's amazing how quickly old physical patterns and tensions come back even when you set up very carefully.

My husband is also a violinist and he has had long-necked violinist issues. Maybe he'll pipe up later.
posted by Cygnet at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

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