Violinist in Balance
Crissman Taylor

A research and education project at Utrecht Conservatory helped violin and viola students overcome chronic tension and cramped playing. Research charted the link between ill-fitting chin and shoulder rests and recurrent difficulties in technique. Chosen or constructed chin and shoulder rests helped to eliminate cramped playing habits. In weekly group meetings students overcame fear of losing control of their playing technique, releasing them to try something new. Weekly private Alexander Technique lessons proved essential in helping students to overcome old habits and accustom themselves to improved equipment.
Typically violinists and violists are attached to their cramped style of playing and are unaware of other options. Initially students believed that pulling their head down and enduring overall muscle tension was necessary for expressivity.
We discovered that ill-fitting equipment was common, causing physical and technical stress. Re-alignment of the instrument brought ease and facility to bowing and fingering. Placement of the instrument on the collar bone increased sound through bone resonance. Adjusted chin rest and shoulder rest combined with re-training of cramped playing technique improved coordination and eliminating playing-related pain and discomfort. As they came out of cramped playing positions, students also reported being able to “see and hear better,” and reduction of sensory background noise allowed them to feel themselves and their instruments better.
At year’s end, many students found playing techniques that formerly eluded mastery came within reach or simply “solved themselves.” One student summed it up: “Probably the most important thing that I got from all this was that I was not the problem. I only needed to find the way to solve the problem.”