I’m going to go out on a limb with this blog. I don’t know how best to hold my violin and I’m frustrated.
What I do know is that if I keep doing what I do know, I won’t be able to do something I don’t know, to paraphrase the words of F.M. Alexander.
I don’t know how writing this will help me, or you, but here I go. Encouraged by my students who share their learning process with me, my mentor Jeremy Chance and my fellow Alexander Technique teachers, I am delving into the unknown.
Here are the facts. (Note: do facts exist? Or do we each have our own interpretation of reality that depends on our own psycho-physical state in which we perceive it?) I’ll list them as I see them anyhow.
- I played for ten years when I was a kid and I don’t remember having any problem holding the violin.
- I’ve been playing with more or less constancy for the past two years. How to hold the violin has often been a subject of investigation and experimentation for me, but never, until now, has it progressed to the degree of “obsession.”
- My “obsession” started about three weeks ago. I try to think back to when exactly, and I think it started the day I decided to do a video blog with my violin instead of a written one. I did a trial run, and when I checked it, I was horrified by the tension I saw in my neck. How could I – an Alexander Technique teacher – have such tension in my neck?! I was able, at the time, to invite more ease into my neck and the rest of my self, laugh and have some fun as I made the video, only to discover that the camera had shut off. (But that’s another story.)
- Over the past two weeks I’ve gotten so frustrated trying to figure out how to hold my violin without tension in my neck that the other day I was actually afraid to pick it up.
- When I realized this, I sat on the sofa and cried, and then I said to my self, “I am free to feel depressed and sad. I will not force my self to feel positive and hopeful.” And I gave my self permission to stay in my funk.
Since then, I have begun to have a different attitude about holding my violin. I sought help from my violin teacher, Sami Abadi, who helped me adjust my shoulder rest and make sure I wasn’t applying needless pressure. He reminded me that I don’t need to press with my chin, that just allowing my head to weigh on the chin rest is enough. I know how to do this because I know how to release my neck to allow the weight of my head to do the work. That made me feel more confident. I started to feel a bit more ease. We brought our focus back to the whole body instead of just the neck. Before too long I was playing comfortably, practicing slides, and my violin wasn’t falling.
I also tried out some suggestions from Alexander Technique teacher and professional violinist Jennifer Roig-Francoli, in whose Facebook group I’m a “lurker.” She recommends improving one’s relationship with the violin by touching and holding it in all kinds of ways. I actually ended up with my violin on top of my head, and that made me laugh. And I had a good practice session after that. I stopped about 7 million times (well, maybe that divided by a million) to adjust my shoulder rest, but I’m finding a bit more ease in my neck.
And that’s where I’m at. Feeling a little anxious but excited and enthusiastic about playing again. In fact, I’m going to go play a bit now. I’m pausing for a moment as I finish writing this to remember how to access my ease and coordination. So that’s the end of this blog. I’ll let you know later how it goes.
p.s. I’m really thrilled I was able to enjoy playing without the struggle I was going through! I didn’t expect this blog to end this way, but I’m adding this p.s. before I send it off. Anyhow, it’s not the end. It’s another step in the process.
p.s. 2 As I reflect on this as I’m going through the process of actually sending this, I’m remembering that this is what the Alexander Technique is about. I was trying so hard to figure out how to do it, but when we get out of our own way, the problems we struggle with just aren’t there anymore. We don’t have to try so hard. We can move on to other questions.
For anyone who’d like to share in my happiness with this breakthrough, here’s a link to the tune I ended with tonight.