Who doesn’t dream about a sweet and melting sound, of a sparkling staccato and juicy chords? Yet somehow the common notion that violin is one of the hardest instruments causes many enthusiastic players to fail to relax while playing.

Consciously or unconsciously they feel overwhelmed by the coordinative challenge to align bow and fingers. Unwanted sonority and sounds, and unnecessary muscle tension right up to pain- especially in hands, arms and shoulders- are common grievances, which intensify in the presence of an audience. This unpleasant experience is also often called stagefright.

In my teaching, I emphasize the fact that the separate movements are simple and easily executed. The challenge is in combining the various movements required to play well. To avoid unwanted tension and sound, we look at what we effectively need to do, for example to realize a down stroke on the e-string. The goal is to become able to perform any movement as relaxed as possible – the guiding idea being passivity. This is the basis on which to recognise upcoming tension and to release it back into that well-known relaxed feeling. Right along the lines of ,,less is more’’.

If a player succeeds to achieve an optimum of flexibility and adaptability of the working muscles and joints, musical ideas can be implemented effortlessly. The body will be guided by the musical and tonal vision just like it is when we talk.

Therefore two skills have to be developed: On the one hand, to recognise, localise and loosen muscular tension, and on the other hand to develop a vivid musical imagination, which ‘is capable’ of guiding the movements.

Some key concepts:

  • virtuosity is always coordinative mastery, performed with lightness and ease. It is the optimal interplay between muscular activity and passivity. In other words: tension and release, action and reaction, impulse and receptivity belong together.
  • symptoms of stagefright (shaky bow, bad intonation etc.) are mostly caused by a lack of body-awareness
  • pain is mostly the consequence of too high muscle tension
  • true to the motto: if it sounds good you do it right
  • aspire to be passive, to let it happen and learn to do just enough
  • let the musical imagination lead your movements
  • prefer to use gravity and weight over muscle work
  • working with images (float, sink, rise, push, hang, …)
Alina was the first person that looked at my violin playing as a whole and that could immediately tell where the problems were. By going back to the basics and solving some problems there, she has helped me to improve my sound and physical awareness enormously.
Marian, violin student – 2016, Gent