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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Inside Out Muscles

Life is stressful, but violin playing and making music should not be. We should enjoy the beauty of creating music and expressing emotion without having to suffer the ill effects of a glitch in our posture or muscle use. To help us be more aware of the dangers of stress due to improper muscle usage, let me suggest that we pay attention to inside and outside muscles.

Have you ever seen a muscle "pose down" in a weight-lifting competition? This is the portion of the body building competition when the competitors strike various poses and tense their muscles in order to produce the optimum tensed muscle for the presentation. Notice that I said the competitors "tense" their muscles. If you watch such an exhibition, you will note that the contestants tend to pull their poses "inward" in order to add the tension necessary to stimulate the muscle formation for the pose.

Try this experiment. Form fists in both your hands. Now, facing both fists toward each other in front of your body, pull your elbows outward to the side. Hunch forward a little in your shoulders and squeeze your arms and the backs of your shoulders, while you try to tighten and lift your pectoral (chest) muscles. Notice how your muscles form. Notice also how much stress and tension you created by turning on the "inside" muscles of your arms.

Now turn on the "outside" muscles of your arms. Notice how the tension completely lifts and dissipates, leaving your arms light and feeling like they can float away. This is the release of tension.

Now pick up your instrument and bow. Set the bow on the A string (if you play violin). Feel the tension of the inside muscles in your right bow arm. Now alter your bow hold or position so that you can turn on the outside muscles instead. For most violinists, turning on the outside muscles involves weight distribution in the right hand toward the pinkie side of the bow hold, which will release the tension in the right arm and ultimately the right shoulder.

Aaaaah! Doesn't that feel great? Let's just sit with that feeling for a bit. Keep your bow on the A string, and move your right arm up and down a few times to make sure that your right shoulder is loose. Tip your bow hold silently from the G string level over to the E string level and feel the looseness in your right fingers.

Remember: inside muscles were designed to create tension, and outside muscles release it. Learn to recognize when you are using inside or outside muscles, and look for opportunities to release unnecessary tension.

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