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Body Springs
Calm Shoulders

BODY SPRINGS

by Bayla Keyes

 

The Three Principles:

Open Form (Alignment and Space) 

Stabilization (Balance) 

Circularity (Fluid Movement, Soft Muscles, Marriage of Line & Circle)

 

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Legs:

Tension in the legs will be transmitted like a virus into everything above. When you are balanced, the alignment of your spine will hold you up with a minimum of muscle effort.

Stand on your bare feet. Imagine you are a baby again with soft, pliable pads – there are no bones in your feet yet. Feel the pad under the ball of the foot, the pad under the outer toes, and the pad on your heel contacting the ground with gentle springiness. Do all three points feel the same, and can you feel your weight dropping into them equally through both feet? Bounce happily on your feet without picking them up. Walk slowly and softly, pretending they are suction cups as you lift, and placing them on the ground delicately. 

Stand easily on your baby feet. Notice the space at the front of your ankles. What happens to that space when you bend your knees? Push with your toes, bend and unbend your knees slightly, and sway lightly back and forth on your feet to find the place where your ankles feel soft and open in front. Notice how when you are out of balance the ankles, feet, and toes will tense. (Partner) Find a way of standing that will allow the least grabbing.

Experiment by straightening your knees and locking them. What happens to your neck and shoulders? Now release the backs of the knees. Notice how your hips and shoulders let go. Jiggle slightly, first with the knees bent and then with the knees locked; notice what changes. Also try this with air violin, holding an imaginary violin and moving your arms.

Stand with your feet soft, your ankles open and your knees slightly bent; your feet should be directly under your shoulders. Feel your weight evenly on both legs. Now shift weight to one leg. Let the other leg remain in contact with the ground and keep your hips level. Shift weight to the other leg. Shift side to side and then circle around forward and back, feeling the inside and outside of your feet; try a circle 8 as well.

Return to the center and allow your weight to drop right through the arches of both feet. Feel the space between your legs; imagine it connecting to the ground as if it were a third leg. Allow your bottom to melt down and forward, releasing the lower back. Relax and settle.

 

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Torso:

Weakness in the center of the body will cause it to fold in and collapse, diminishing sound, decreasing strength, and setting up the arms for injury. Rigidity in this area will cause thinness and harshness of tone, as it will communicate stiffness to all the joints of the arms and fingers. The ideal is space, balanced support, and freedom of motion in the back. Think of opening the front of the body and stabilizing and strengthening the back.

As your lower back drops, notice how your swayback diminishes and your hips come more directly under your shoulders. Exaggerate the swayback and play air violin; then allow the pelvis to tip forward and notice the difference in how your arms move and how your neck and shoulders feel. This posture is healthy for the arms and will give them the support they need, because the hips and shoulders are closely related. Throughout the day, jiggle occasionally to check the alignment and openness of your legs.

To counteract the weight of the violin pressing down, muscles in the midriff of the body need to engage and lift. Imagine your side ribs as folds of a fan and feel them stretching open and up. Do side bends to release and elongate the spaces between the ribs. Feel your spine, especially the area of the midback between your shoulder blades, stretching up toward heaven. Do the same with your occiput. Notice how reaching up from the back helps the fronts of your shoulders and collarbone open and relax. 

Your shoulderblades, while located in your back, are actually the beginnings of your arms. Utilizing them properly will enhance your sound, free your bow, and prevent the stooped posture that is common in string players.  Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Imagine a giant puppeteer holding strings attached to the back of your elbows. When the strings are raised, your upper arms will rise, while your forearms and hands dangle. Now flip the left arm over into playing position and play air violin. Notice how weightless your arms feel; this is because they are being held up from the strong deep muscles of the back, the rhomboids, between the shoulderblades. Let your arms hang straight down again and then lift the hands directly up into playing position. Even if you are at the same height as before, your arms will feel much heavier. Notice especially what you sense in the area between your upper arms and the sides of your body. Try the puppeteer version again for contrast.

Your armpits and indeed the whole area under your arms need to stay open, even when your bow arm is carving into the string. Imagine that you have small balloons in your armpits, and larger balloons around your waist and torso. Play air violin, carving down into the balloons with your elbows while simultaneously keeping the spaces of the balloons open. Notice the circularity of your elbow movements as you curve into those soft deep imaginary spaces under your arms. (Partner)

Find the connection of your elbows all the way back into your shoulderblades. Stand with your hands in loose fists, held at chest height with palms down and knuckles touching; stabilize your legs, torso, and head so that they do not move; and move the triangle of your arms and elbows around the column of your spine, back and forth from left to right. Can you feel the shoulderblades moving in relation to your spine? Now take your arms into playing position, continuing to hold the traction between your elbows and shoulderblades as your stretch your elbows apart in space (I call this the starfish stretch). Let the blades go and feel how your shoulders collapse forward and up. Feel the slackness and emptiness in your elbows. The balloons are gone. Activate the shoulderblades again; squeeze them together and allow the elbows to be drawn away from your body. (Hug a Tree X) Notice how wide open your chest and underarms are when your shoulderblades stabilize your arms. Notice how symmetrical the spaces under your arms are, how light they feel, and how calm, alert and energetic you are. Notice how your breathing changes. Everything expands.

(Shoulderblade pinch + neck tuck + pelvic tuck X)

 

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Arms:

When the arms are unimpeded at the critical joints of the shoulders and elbows, nerve impulses are more efficient and a sense of ease and comfort will result.

Roll your shoulders gently back and around. Now add elbow circles. Do this slowly enough that you can feel your shoulderblades sliding across your back, towards and away from the spine. 

With each hand, turn the opposite upper arm away from the body and towards the body. (Partner) Allow the forearms and hands to follow along passively. This gentle twisting motion will soften and open the tissues around the all-important juncture of your arm and body, through which many important blood vessels and nerves pass. Can you do both arms now, initiating the movement from your upper arms?

Play air violin while gently holding the front of your right armpit (the pectoralis) with your left hand. First play legato 16ths in the middle of the bow, leading with the hand, and notice the popping and jumping in the pectoralis; the right shoulder will also begin to rise as the pectoralis tightens. Now do the same but initiate the motion from the elbow (in effect, farther back in the upper arm). The forearm will still execute the motion but the circularity of the movement will prevent tension in the pec, making it much easier to keep the underarm soft and the right shoulder relaxed. Can you feel the circles in your right shoulderblade?

Play a downbow, allowing your arm to simply slide down and away from your body. See if you can find the gentle bounceback that will begin your upbow effortlessly. Now initiate the motion of the downbow from your hand; notice how you will automatically stop at the end of the bow and the upbow will necessitate a separate effort. Perform these two types of downbows again while holding your right bicep. Notice that a more circular motion will give you a fluid continuity from downbow to upbow, while the feeling of “straight across” produced by leading from the hand will immediately engender contractions in the bicep.

Contract your left bicep and execute an air shift. Can you feel the jerkiness and effort as you work against your own tension? Next do the same thing with a relaxed bicep. Finally, do the same thing but initiate the movement from underneath the arm, releasing the shoulderblade to allow the elbow to circle forward as you go into high position. Notice that the forearm and hand have the sensation of being carried. 


 

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Neck and Shoulders:

When holding the violin we often draw our shoulders up and our head down, creating what I call the drawstring effect. This position cuts off circulation to our arms and brain. Your posture when playing the violin should be as near to an ordinary standing posture as is feasible.

Keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible; imagine them falling away from your head and neck. Soften the muscles around your collarbone; visualize your head as a boat rocking gently in the water of the collarbone.  

Turn your head to the left, first by leading with your eyes and then by leading from the occiput, with your eyes trailing. Does your neck feel different? Is there a change in the range of motion?

Draw long bows in the air. Does your left side remain stable, or does it come towards the bow during an upbow? If you engage the shoulderblades it is easier to bow without collapsing the front of the armpits. Keep your head as close to vertical as possible; especially when drawing an upbow, avoid the tendency to crunch in and forward. (Is it easier or harder to move the bow in the air if you allow yourself to shift weight slightly, alternating left and right feet?)

Take your left hand and make a fist. Relax the full weight of your head onto your hand, resting on the chin. Talk (if you can). Now move your fist two inches closer towards your left ear, rest your head upon it, and try to talk again; notice how your jaw feels. Once again move your hand closer towards your ear. Once you have passed the hinge of the jaw you will be able to rest the full weight of your head on your hand, talk freely, and relax your jaw. Incorrect head position is responsible for much jaw tension and can eventually lead to temporomandibular joint disorders. 

Now let the violin rest upon the left shoulder. Balance your head upon the chinrest gently; find the balance point behind the hinge of the jaw, let the weight of your head relax, and do not add additional gripping. Remember that the left hand plays a key role in supporting the violin too. 

A balanced, upright posture, open and flexible joints, and using muscles as naturally as possible will all contribute to joy, effortlessness and ultimate freedom of expression as we play our glorious instrument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CALM SHOULDERS
By Bayla Keyes

 

Avoid the drawstring effect

Many violinists crunch their shoulders up and their heads down into the violin. This shortens the muscles of each arm and greatly affects sound and left hand facility. It also isolates the arm from the shoulder blade, which is the first bone of the arm.

 

To avoid this, try the following exercises:

 

Stand and play with your head against a doorframe. You may feel you have to press backwards with your head in order to maintain contact. Now step away and feel the same backwards, upright position.

 

In a straight chair, sit with your back against the back of the chair as you play. Maintain contact.

 

With a partner, take turns holding each other’s heads back. (This is really easy if you have a ponytail!)

 

Draw an upbow, allowing your head to travel in the same direction as the bow. Draw a downbow, and move your head slightly to the back of the chinrest, in the opposite direction from the bow. Can you feel the slight tug of the string?

 

Loosening the Head on the Violin

Settle your head into the chinrest gently, balancing the violin with the relaxed weight of your head.

 

Incorporate Karen Tuttle’s breathing exercises into your bowing: each time you breathe out, allow the head to settle towards the back of the chinrest gently.

As an exercise, play downbows holding the violin with your left hand as you move your head around; play upbows with your head gently relaxing into the chinrest as you take your left thumb off the neck of the violin. Are there moments in your music where you could do one or the other, to release muscles?

 

Interesting Dilemma

Holding still helps your nervous system sort out the fine movements of your hands and arms, because the variables are fewer; but moving releases muscles and combats rigidity. Moving also is often more exciting for the audience. Think of a modern day performer such as Joshua Bell and compare him to videos of Heifetz and Oistrach.  My own experience is that it is generally best to move lyrically during singing lines and slower music, with swaying being preferable to crunching to keep the shoulder blades free yet as stable as possible; but it is almost always best to have calm shoulders, a stable violin, and a centered balance which allows your weight to drop through both your feet during fast passages and string crossings. It can also be true that a stable violin produces a stronger tone. Experiment!

 

Try fast passages with your violin scroll on a stand, on a ledge, or against a towel on the wall. You will find that shifts and string crossings are much easier when you do not have a moving target!

 

CONNECTING UPPER AND LOWER BODY FOR A BEAUTIFUL SOUND: TAI CHI FIGURE EIGHTS 

By Bayla Keyes

 

One of the best ways to maintain a relaxed, strong, yet constantly releasing posture while holding the violin is to feel the connection clearly between the ground, your feet and legs, and your upper body. When you are in alignment and able to make your energy flow directly from your legs and lower body into your violin, it will be much easier to practice and perform many hours without tiring.

Stand with your feet parallel at a width directly under your shoulders. Your feet should be soft and relaxed, your knees slightly bent, your lower back in neutral (not arched – release your lower back so that your pelvis relaxes under) and your hips loose.

Push into the ground with your right toe. Notice how your body will react by shifting to the left and up.  Repeat on the opposite side. Continue to shift back and forth between your legs, alternating the pushes from your feet.

Now as you shift, instead of going directly across, trace a figure eight around your feet. Feel your weight as it passes from the front of your left foot backward around the outside, then around the left heel, then shifting weight, going diagonally to the right toes, then along the outside of the right foot into the right heel, then forward along the inside of the right foot and across to the left toes.  Do you notice how relaxing this circular movement is for your lower back? (To feel an extreme contrast, straighten your legs, lock your knees, and shift your weight from one foot to another, going directly across.)

Now return to the circular motions. Make the figure eight with your hips, allowing your left hip to drop back as you shift onto the left leg and then allowing the right hip to drop back as you shift onto the right leg. 

Play air violin with this hip motion. Put your bow at the imaginary tip; shift your weight onto your right foot; drop your right hip back, shifting your weight onto your right heel. Push off from that heel; allow your right hip and entire right side to come forward, turning slightly leftward. As your weight shifts onto your left foot, allow your bow to travel to the imaginary frog. Let the motion of your body carry your bow; your arm should feel relaxed and passive. 

At this point your weight is on your left leg and your bow is at your imaginary frog. Drop your left hip back, shifting onto the left heel. Push off from that heel, allowing your left hip and entire left side to come forward as you turn slightly toward the right. As you shift your weight onto your right leg allow your bow to open in a downbow to the imaginary tip. Now you have returned to your right leg and can repeat the circle. 

Remember that the figure eight you are making, initiating in the feet and reflecting in the hip movement, has an overturn; this means that you will be in one continuous flow of movement. The overturns anticipate the movement of your bow. Start your air upbow after dropping the right hip back and beginning to move your right side forward; start your air downbow after dropping the left hip back and beginning to move your left side forward. You may be able to notice how soft and relaxed your hands feel. (To feel an extreme contrast, stand still and move your arm in upbow and downbow motions. Where do you feel the work?) 

Repeat all the steps above with the violin. Try to feel the movement of your bow arm initiating from the hip. Your arms and torso should feel like one continuous flow. Do you notice anything about your sound as you draw the bow? Your ability to hold up your violin? The ease of movement in your arms? The release of tension in your back and shoulders? The arms begin in the lower back, and by moving in this figure eight you are constantly releasing those deep muscles, allowing your arms to work more freely and naturally. Put your awareness in your feet and legs, allow a subtle shifting and circling, and notice how much easier technique and expression become.

GOOD POSTURE

By Bayla Keyes

Relax into alignment

Tension in the legs will be transmitted like a virus into everything above. When you are balanced, the alignment of your spine will hold you up with a minimum of muscle effort. Stand with your feet parallel, directly under your shoulders; keep your knees springy and your toes and ankles soft. Feel your weight evenly on both legs. Now shift weight to one leg. Let the other leg remain in contact with the ground and keep your hips level. Shift weight to the other leg. Shift side to side and then circle around forward and back, feeling the inside and outside of your feet; try a figure 8 as well. Return to the center and allow your weight to drop right through the arches of both feet. Feel the space between your legs; imagine it connecting to the ground as if it were a third leg. Allow your bottom to melt down and forward, releasing the lower back. Relax and settle. 

Loosen the Head on the Violin

Settle your head into the chinrest gently, balancing the violin with the relaxed weight of your head.

Each time you breathe out, allow the head to settle towards the back of the chinrest gently.

Lift your chin when you shift up into high positions; settle your head gently into the chinrest before shifting to lower positions. On both downbows and upbows, let your head travel to the back of the chinrest; never turtle!

As an exercise, play downbows resting the violin on your left hand as you move your head around; play upbows with your head gently relaxing into the chinrest as you take your left thumb off the neck of the violin. Find places in your music where you can do one or the other, alternating the muscles you use to hold the violin.

Avoid the drawstring effect

Many violinists crunch their shoulders up and their heads down into the violin. This shortens the muscles of each arm and greatly affects sound and facility. It also isolates the arms from the shoulderblades, the first bones of the arm. To countertrain your muscles, try the following exercises:

  • Stand and play with your head against a doorframe. You may feel you have to press backwards with your head in order to maintain contact. Now step away and feel the same backwards, upright position.

  • Place a cloth against the wall and rest your scroll on it – you will have to lean slightly into the wall to keep the cloth from slipping. Keep your body loose as you play. Many fast passages will become much easier when you do not have a moving target!

  • In a straight chair, sit with your back against the back of the chair as you play. Maintain contact.

  • Jiggle slightly, first with the knees bent and then with the knees locked; notice how a slight bouncing can encourage your shoulders to relax and fall.

  • Breathe out, allowing your chest to soften and your shoulders to release down through your hips and feet.

Interesting Conundrum

Holding still helps your nervous system sort out the fine movements of your hands and arms, because the variables are fewer; but moving releases muscles and combats rigidity. Move lyrically during singing lines and slower music, but keep your body relaxed and centered and your violin stable during fast work.

 

KAREN TUTTLE BREATHING COORDINATION

By Bayla Keyes

 

The great viola pedagogue Karen Tuttle developed a system of breathing with the bow which she called Coordination. The genius of her teaching was to incorporate frequent muscle and breath releases during every bow. The muscles continually release, allowing the string to circulate freely under the bow.Your sound will remain open, rich, and never pressed, even in the loudest dynamics. This method can be used both to eliminate muscle tension and also to enhance musical expression. This technique is most easily learned with slow bows at first.

The*symbol in the examples below means to drop your stomach. Before beginning a downbow, breathe out gently or say “Lah-eee-Lah,”encouraging your stomach to descend on the “eee.”

 

As your stomach descends, everything softens: your shoulders, elbows and chest release down slightly, the head releases back slightly as the neck relaxes, the torso settles into the legs, the pelvis drops under as the lower back lengthens, and the legs bend slightly.  Releasing in this way before bow changes will allow your elbows to circle naturally.

The ~symbol means to lift. Inhale in the middle of the bow, noticing the natural slight lifting feeling. Near the end of your downbow, breathe out gently or say “Lah-eee-lah,” pushing your stomach down. Notice the emall circle your elbow makes. Notice the softness in your chest.

By breathing out near the end of your downbows, you will prevent the lifting of the shoulders and/or violin that often leads to tension in the upper half.

Draw the bow on an upbow. Inhale in the middle of the bow, noticing the slight lifting feeling. Near the end of your upbow, breathe out gently or say “Lah-eee’lah,” pushing your stomach down. Notice the small circle your elbow makes. Notice the softness in your chest.

Practice very slow open strings and scales with the breathing releases near the ends of the bow, as shown by the symbols on the first stave below. As you become more comfortable with this, you can begin to incorporate the breathing into slow or lyric material; some examples are given on the second stave. Sing your passage and vocalize the “lah-eee-lah;” then play it, breathing out or sighing before bow changes.

“Lah-eee-lah” can be used as well to energize the end of a long note or tie; long note in romantic music often need to increase into the next note. Some examples are given on the third stave below.

Connecting upper & lower
Good posture
Screen Shot 2023-06-25 at 7.24.44 PM.png
Kare Tuttle

 

 

 

 

Little Man 

By Bayla Keyes

 

When we play the violin, particularly in fast or difficult passages, we need to feel stable, centered and grounded, so that the violin is calm and still upon our shoulder. However we do not want to achieve this posture by stiffening or straining. We want to find a natural alignment in order to take advantage of our spine’s strength, letting our muscles and soft tissues relax.

A useful principal in the Chinese martial discipline Tai Chi is to think of the front and back of our body as two different surfaces, Yin and Yang. The front of the body, including the face, stomach and chest, is a Yin surface – soft and receptive. The back of the body, including the back of the head and neck, is a Yang surface, actively projecting energy.  When we stand we want to feel our back and spine projecting upwards, with the back of the neck and the top of the head rising, while allowing the soft surfaces of the front of our body to release down. Too much Yang will result in a stiff and military posture, with much tension in the neck and shoulders; too much Yin will result in a collapsed shoulder and chest area. We need a balance of both energies.

One of our most important areas to keep relaxed is our shoulders. Stand on relaxed parallel feet, spaced so that your hips are directly underneath your shoulders. See if you can feel your shoulders dropping down through your hips, knees, and the part of your feet between the arch and the ball. Standing on both feet, soften your knees and jiggle gently in the middle, feeling your shoulders release; then shift your weight to first one leg and then the other, feeling the corresponding shoulder release.  Let your arms hang freely and observe their small bouncing motions as you jiggle. You can experiment by stiffening your knees. What happens to your neck and shoulders? What happens if your legs are wider or narrower?

Return to the middle, with your weight evenly distributed between your feet. Imagine an invisible leg or stool between your legs and gently settle onto it, allowing your lower back to release down and your pelvis to relax forward. This is NOT the same feeling as a pelvic thrust -- the small movement of the pelvis is relaxed and passive.

Now visualize your whole body as a tree with roots that extend deep below the floor. Settle onto your third leg and feel your legs reach slowly into the earth. Can you feel your rooting even as your spine and back reach upwards?

When you are playing music with a technically demanding component such as fast bows, shifts, or string crossings, practice settling into this posture in the bars just before the passage begins. You can draw a little man in your part to remind yourself. Then when you begin the difficult passage you will be relaxed, calm, and grounded. Notice how much easier the passage feels!

LIVELY ELBOWS

by Bayla Keyes

 

An important thing to know about our arms is that they do not begin at the shoulders. Each upper arm bone fits into the scapula or shoulder blade like a ball and socket. The proper connection of the arm back into its shoulder blade will ensure strength and ease of movement. 

We often make movements with our arms leading with the muscles between the shoulders and hands. These are relatively small muscles which soon fatigue; our arms feel heavy, and our playing posture sags. We can avoid this by instead supporting both arms from the back, feeling their connection into the shoulder blades. The strong muscles of the back can easily maintain the lifting which is necessary for our hours of practice, rehearsal and performing. However we are sometimes not even aware of our shoulder blades and back because we cannot see them.

Creating the Lively Elbow Position

To learn how better to feel your shoulder blades and create optimal functioning positions for both your arms, put your arms in playing position for air violin and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Crack an imaginary walnut between them.  Allow the tops of your shoulders to widen at the same time as they press back and down, following the blades.  Relax the squeeze between your blades, but keep the shoulders open and down.

Still in this position, gently roll the tops of your shoulders forward, up, back, and down as you bring the shoulder blades together once more. Do this several times, feeling a soft massage of the area around your spine.

Now reach your elbows out very slightly to nudge an imaginary person on either side of you. This motion done correctly will open your chest even more and bring the tops of your shoulders back, down, and in towards the spine. Can you see and feel the large spaces underneath both arms? Can you feel the energetic connection across your upper back into your shoulder blades?

Circle your elbows gently backwards. Can you feel your shoulder blades circling too? Can you feel an energetic connection established from the tips of your elbows all the way through your shoulder blades into your spine? This is what I call Lively Elbows.

D. C. Dounis Exercise for Supporting from the Back

Stand with your arms relaxed by your side. Imagine that you are a puppet and that there are strings attached to your upper arms just above and behind your elbows. Imagine that the puppetmaster raises your arms twelve inches; notice how your upper arms are tilting because of the angle of the puppet strings.  Now flip your left arm over into playing position. Notice how wide your arms are, and how open are the spaces between your arms and your body. Notice how your arms feel light, as if floating on columns of air. Your strong back muscles are supporting your arms.

As a contrast, drop your arms by your side again and lift first your hands and then your elbows into playing position. Can you feel the heaviness of your arms and the deadness in your elbows? Even if you lift the elbows into the same position as in the sequence above, they will not feel the same. 

Using Lively Elbows in the Bow Arm

The genius of a good Galamian bow arm is that it sets up a continuous connection back into the right shoulder blade, producing a larger sound with less work. Key points to remember are:

At the frog or when moving across the frog, do NOT allow the elbow to droop. Keep the elbow lively, with a slight link back into the right shoulder blade. Feel the release in the back as the right shoulder blade moves away from the spine to allow your elbow to come forward.

As you draw a downbow and move to the middle of the bow, do not allow the elbow to droop; it does travel down but also stretches slightly out, so that the link to the blade is maintained at all times. The upper arm rotates internally.

At what Galamian called the middle bow square, when your elbow is bending at a 90 degree angle, feel the slight stretch out to the elbow. Even though your elbow is far from your body, your right shoulder blade will be nestling into the spine, and your right shoulder will be relaxed down.

At the tip, even if you are trying to bring the tip in close to the bridge, keep a lively elbow as your hand reaches forward; do not pincer or collapse the right shoulder in; feel how the shoulder blade releases away from the spine to allow you to reach farther.

As you pull an upbow, do not allow the hand to rise faster than the elbow. At middle bow square your upper arm, forearm and bow will be more or less in the same plane. Feel the slight stretch to the elbow.

Using Lively Elbows in the Left Arm

In the left arm, a lively elbow can prevent the very common and hazardous habit of raising the left shoulder and shoving the upper arm forward, pinching the armpit. While in position to play air violin, roll your left shoulder forward, up, back, and down; feel your left shoulder blade tucking under and settling into the spine. Notice how your upper arm has externally rotated. Now create the lively elbow, stretching your elbow forward and away from your body. Circle your left elbow, feeling the slight movement reflected in the left shoulder blade. Your arm should feel light and the space between it and your body should be wide open. This is your optimal playing position. Repeat these steps holding your actual violin. 

Try to maintain this openness in every activity:

  • When shifting, do not allow your upper arm to come into the body; as the forearm moves toward you, stretch your elbow away. This will mean for a high shift you will need to raise the violin, just like Jascha Heifetz!

  • When vibrating, feel the tiny circles of your shoulder blade. Always begin to vibrate by circling back and to the left; notice how this opens your armpit slightly. 

  • Relax your left thumb. Although the effects may seem infinitesimal, squeezing it in will cause the shoulder blade to leave the spine, the shoulder to lift, and the upper arm to rotate in, contracting the armpit. 

  • When playing rapid notes under a slur, keeping a lively elbow will give clarity to the fingers.
     

Taking the slack out of your upper arms to create Lively Elbows will increase strength, create open pathways for nerve signals, and allow the relaxation of smaller muscles. Learning and using this important postural principle will have an immediate effect on your playing.

POSTURAL ENERGIES: EXPANSION AND FLEXIBILITY

By Bayla Keyes

 

Principles of body energy have profound effects on the types of sounds you can produce, your ability to play for longer periods of time without getting tired or stiff, and even the variety of musical emotions you can feel and express. Everyone needs both expansive strength and flexible springs in combination. 

Before reading the following suggestions, ask yourself:
 

  • Do I want to be more musically expressive?

  • Do I feel the music as deeply as I want?

  • Do I need to be more physically free? Do I get stiff or sore?

  • Do I tire too easily when I practice?

  • How can my sound be improved? Is it projecting enough? Is it beautiful?

  • How can I find more variety of sound?

  • How can I improve my accuracy?
     

As you read, ask yourself:

  • Does this description sound like me?

  • What exercises might be immediately useful?

  • When in my pieces might expansive energy be most helpful?

  • When in my pieces might absorption and flexibility enhance my playing?

 

EXPANSION         



POSTURAL AND ENERGY CHARACTERISTICS

  • Physical expansion and feeling of fullness

  • Projecting, Unfurling, Opening, Exerting Power

  • Back of body is active – the Yang surfaces

  • Supportive energy comes up from ground and creates structure
     

POSTURE INSTRUCTION: DEEP ROOT, STRONG TRIANGLE

Take an open stance, with your feet under your shoulders. Your feet should be parallel and not angled. Imagine your feet dropping deep into and below the ground, as if they were tree roots. Your weight falls actively into the outside of both feet. Your legs feel strong, electric, and alive, not limp. As your feet push gently into the ground, the energy flows from them into your upper body. 
 

POSTURE INSTRUCTION: OPEN JOINTS, LIVELY ELBOWS

Your elbows are wide and far from your body; your arms are supported by your back muscles. Feel the connection from each arm directly into the spine. This connection is lost when you allow your arms to sag against and touch your sides. Therefore when going to the frog, your elbow should remain (more or less) at the same height as your wrist, and when shifting, your violin will rise. There is a slight but continual feeling of your elbows reaching away from your body. In fact all of your joints – elbows, armpits, groin, hip flexors, even knuckles -- are open; none collapse, pinch, or sag.
 

PLAYING RESULTS

  • Bigger, clearer, more penetrating sound

  • Sounding point automatically goes closer to bridge

  • Clearer left hand articulation

  • Excellent forearm stroke for détaché

  • Big Hand produces right hand articulation and focus

  • Higher right elbow

  • Higher violin

  •  Playing is possible for long periods of time without getting tired
     

FLEXIBILITY

 

 


 

POSTURAL AND ENERGY CHARACTERISTICS

  • Springs, flexibility and give

  • Physical absorption and receptivity

  • Front of body is receptive – the Yin surfaces

  • Playing through violin and into body

  • Body and violin feel soft

  • String absorbs weight of bow and bow arm
     

POSTURE INSTRUCTION: TAI CHI FIGURE EIGHTS

Shift your weight going from left heel to right toe, right toe to right heel, right heel to left toe, and left toe to left heel, so that you are making a figure eight. Soften your hip flexors to release your lower back. Coordinate the bow with the legs. By softening your lower back and hip flexors you can help all joints loosen. No joints should ever lock out or stiffen, even when playing at maximum volume. Even fingertips remain supple and never overpress.


POSTURE INSTRUCTION: PLAYING INTO AND THROUGH YOURSELF

Feel the springs, softness, and movement in the front of your body and in all your joints. As you play, imagine carving through the string and into yourself. Experiment with playing into your chest, belly, and pelvis. At all times feel the give of the string as you play through the violin and into yourself.


POSTURE INSTRUCTION: CIRCULAR MOVEMENTS

Because of our ball and socket joints, our arms move most naturally in circles. Examples of circular movement can be found in the Smile Bow, Scything, and exercises such as Dounis Engagement, Give of the Knuckles, Creating Footies, and Paintbrush Wrist. Softenings of the wrists, base knuckles, and finger pads in the right hand create deeper contact with the string and help as well with spiccato and string crossings.  Similar softenings in the left hand help with shifting and doublestop work. Shifts using these softenings and combining them with the circular motion of the shoulder blade will not be jerky. 
 

PLAYING RESULTS

  • Warmer, fuller, rounder, creamier, more beautiful sound

  • Sounding point automatically carves closer to bridge

  • Tender, more loving emotions are able to be felt and expressed

  • Shifts are smoother and more vocal

  • Large intervals in doublestops are easier

  • Actions feel soft even when powerful

  • String feels soft, accepts weight of bow readily; much weight can be applied without “bottoming out”

  • Playing for long periods of time is possible without getting stiff or sore 

 

EXERCISE TO COMBINE BOTH ENERGIES

PART I: FLEXIBILITY

Begin by standing with your feet directly under your shoulders, neither wider nor narrower. Feet should be parallel, not turned out.

Place the fingers of both hands into your hip flexors on the front of your hips. Relax your hip flexors by bending your knees slightly. Allow your weight to drop into your heels as you bend.

Lengthen and relax your lower back so that your pelvis releases forward and under your spine. This is not an active movement.

Notice how your hip flexors remain open and soft while you are in this position. If you play the violin in this open position your sound will be larger and more beautiful. The spring of the hip flexors is a significant and often overlooked source of resonance.

For contrast, try straightening your legs; your flexors will lock out. If you play the violin in this locked position your sound will be smaller and less resonant, and your bow changes will be stiffer and less connected.

Resume your open position. Do Tai Chi Figure Eights and notice how the Figure Eights keep your hip flexors soft.

When you have a lyric, loving, or legato passage, the softness of this position is really helpful. To remind yourself, you can mark :

 

 

 

PART II: EXPANSION

Begin with your open position. Relax your knees and lower back and check that your hip flexors are soft.

Now take a step outward to widen your stance just a bit. Place your hands on the outside of your thighs and press your thighs outward into your hands. Notice how you feel pressure into the outside of your feet, and your groin area has widened. Imagine the pressure into your feet going deep into the ground. Can you feel the energy returning through your legs and into your upper body, like a tree receiving sustenance from the ground? When you push down, you create a returning energy up, and it is much easier to hold the violin for long periods. You can get a good sense of this propulsion upwards by preparing as if you are going to execute a long jump; squat, then swing your arms and body upwards as if you were going to jump. Settle into position with your imaginary violin up. Feel how expansive and supported your upper body feels.
 

To avoid stiffening, keep your hip flexors soft even as you push into the ground. You should feel as if you have settled onto the wide broad back of a very strong horse. You are relaxing down and expanding up at the same time.
 

Experiment with different stances while playing the violin. You will find that wider stances will produce larger, fuller sounds. As you approach a strong or heroic passage, intentionally step out so that you are ready. To remind yourself, you can mark:


 


 

Remember that even when expanding, you still need flexibility; it is only that the ratio of expansion to flexibility may change. Your ideal position will vary as your energy pulses, and as the music requires!

LittleMan
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