Please bear with me as I begin today’s entry with a grotesque simile: The sensation of changing your violin set-up is like that feeling after a yearly teeth cleaning. It’s clean and sharp, and while you know it’s infinitely better to rid yourself of all that’s not serving you (read: plaque), you can’t help but run your tongue obsessively over those new gaps between your teeth. Your mouth just doesn’t feel like your own for awhile.
Two weeks ago I ordered a shoulder rest and for the first time in nearly three years, I’m getting used to playing with about an inch more space between my shoulder and violin. The change in sound is amazing–more clear, brilliant, and voluminous–so I know that it’s worth all the effort. But the difference of an inch means a vast number of other tiny adjustments are necessary, and at this point, I’m still getting adjusted to the new and improved (read: slightly uncomfortable) feel.
For me, the advantage and disadvantage of playing without a shoulder rest are one and the same: freedom of movement. My left shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers can move in coordination without any obstruction without a shoulder rest; however, there’s also little in the way to keep my violin from falling when shifting down or from slumping when I’m not paying attention to the height of my scroll (which results in a less brilliant tone and other problems). After a few years of battling the inevitable, it’s back to the shoulder rest for me.
If you’ve ever played the violin, you know that the whole manner of holding the thing yet alone moving and playing is somewhat unintuitive. Years of practice make it possible for violinists to move and express themselves with freedom and ease. That’s why it’s critical now, while making this adjustment in position, that I’m extremely attentive to the minutiae of musculature involved in realigning my left elbow, wrist, fingers, and the contact point of my bow to the strings–basically, the basics. For a violinist of over 20 years, it’s a bit like relearning the ABC’s.
The great thing is, I have the rest of summer and a ton of etude books to help me make the move. This Kreutzer exercise gets at a lot of basic movements and challenges on the violin. Framing the hand for specific chords and practicing the movement between them is really great to get realigned for efficiency and ease.
While etudes are far from my favorite thing to practice, my goal now is to take it all in stride, let the sound quality and comfort of playing guide me, and nip these issues in the bud while I have the time before school starts up in the fall.
The process of writing and sharing has already helped me to form more concrete goals (like not pulling so many silly faces), and I hope it will serve as a great point of comparison and show of my improvements over the weeks, months, and even years. Thanks for reading and listening, and if you have any questions or comments, please start the conversation in the section below!