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PREVENTING VIOLIN/VIOLA PLAYING INJURIES THROUGH PROPER SET-UP by Claire Stefani

Claire Stefani

Playing any instrument means MOVING … a lot!  A properly fitted set-up does not replace the benefits of a postural correction approach, but will optimize its benefits. 

We all recognize the validity of fitting the right size instrument and bow to a player’s body type.  But, when it comes to chin and shoulder rest set-up, the myriad of possibilities to adapt equipment to body type can be daunting.  So before you buy ANOTHER chinrest or shoulder rest, here are some guidelines on what matters, based on my bottom-up experience of fitting/working with some 400 musicians in the past 4 years.

GUIDELINES

Head balance

The head weighs 12 to 15 pounds.  The axis of its balance is at ear lobe level.  The head should rest on the chinrest at the same level as the end of nodding “yes”.

Arm balance

Arms should be supported by the back muscles in the same way as when hugging someone (but not falling in their arms!).  If not, the arms will pull the instrument down with force that can’t be borne by the head and shoulder nor compensated for by the chinrest/shoulder rest set-up. 

Best tool to train arm support? Apply the motion logic of walking, initiated from the hips, to arms: get the momentum going from the shoulder blades.  For more on this, refer to scapulohumeral rhythm from the body mapping approach. 

Instrument position

Up or down, in or out … it should be the teacher’s and player’s preference, not a chinrest or shoulder rest dictating how the instrument is held! One thing to remember though: by allowing a contact point with the collarbone instead of only on the left shoulder, one will notice:

  • a reduced need to clench
  • more freedom in the left shoulder, less strain on the left arm and hand
  • less heaviness, more freedom in the bow arm

Follow the pain

One player’s comfortable set-up could be torture for another.  It’s the same logic as trying on shoes! Initial pain or fatigue with instrument playing comes from muscle tension.  So as early as possible, identify any skeleton imbalance in playing position (vs. neutral position) leading muscle to sustain a static position instead of contributing to movement.  And say NO to the “no pain no gain” mantra, as it only leads to injury.

Claire Stefani, after 20 years of experience with musical accessory manufacturer/distributors (BAM Cases and then D’Addario), founded Volute Service International to provide an active interface between music instrument/accessory makers and orchestral string players and teachers.  Claire’s interest in violin/viola ergonomic set-up and its impact on movement efficiency stems from her experience as an international field hockey player in her native France.  She is a fitter for the Frisch & Denig chinrest line and has helped more than 400 musicians with their set-up.  She is also an avid amateur chamber music violist and violinist in New York City, an affiliate Andover trainee, and an active member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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