Fiddling with injuries

by adminKFS on · 6 comments

For the past 3 years, I’ve been dealing with chronic neck and shoulder pain. It started very soon after I enrolled at Berklee. At first it was tolerable. I sought help in physical therapy but after working with two different physical therapists my improvement was minimal. This past summer, after teaching at four week-long camps, I knew I was in trouble when I could not raise my right arm above my head. I finally made a point to ensure I was getting the proper help. I saw a shoulder specialist who referred me to a great physical therapist. I also found a great massage therapist. As of yet, I do not have the problem officially diagnosed as anything in particular, other than chronic muscle tightness and pain. But I do feel I am headed in the right direction.

I’m certain that just because I started to show symptoms at Berklee, the problem did not begin there. One of my private lesson instructors discovered that I had a habit of squeezing the fiddle tightly between my right shoulder (I play left handed) and my neck. I played for twenty years like this so it was no surprise that I was extremely tense in these areas. It took the change of playing from 1-2 hours a day before going to school at Berklee, to playing 6-7 hours a day to notice what this bad habit could do to my body. I wondered why I played like this. Another instructor noticed that my shoulder rest was not contacting correctly to my body so that I had a gap between the shoulder rest and my collar bone. I compensated by squeezing tightly for all of those years.

In addition to this bad habit, I did not take part in any other activities that counteracted playing the violin: no sports, almost no stretching or anything of the sort. I’ve come to the conclusion that the pain in my neck and shoulders is not going to be an easy or quick fix, but rather a lifestyle change.

I am relearning how to play without squeezing. Not easy. But I finally found a left handed shoulder rest and that has helped. When I play, I make sure to take breaks and stretch. I’m also increasing my physical activity and I devote much more of my day stretching and staying active.

Everyone’s body type is different and not everyone experiences injuries despite years of playing and bad habits. The first step to preventing injuries is being aware of your body. If you experience pain, where is it occurring? Are you playing with unnecessary tension? It is very valuable to have a teacher watch you play to look for any inefficiencies. Does the pain occur after a certain amount of time when playing? Taking breaks is always a great idea and be aware of your body’s limits.

For beginners, awareness is especially important. The violin is such an awkward instrument to play, and not being comfortable leads to unnecessary stress on the body.

I’m definitely not an expert on musicians’ injuries, but I am speaking from my own experience. Being aware and getting help as soon as possible is key to preventing chronic injuries. Also, take preventative measures before you experience pain. As musicians, we need to think of ourselves as athletes. Any serious athlete will warm up and cool down as part of their routine. As musicians, our bodies need the same thing.

Here are some resources on the web about common musicians’ injuries:

Also check out this book:
The Athletic Musician: A Guide to Playing without Pain by Barbara Paul and Christine Harrison, The Scarecrow Press Inc, 1999

Playing Left Handed

by adminKFS on · 2 comments

I often get asked why I started playing left handed. My answer is simple- I am left handed. I was 6 when I started to play. I had already been in school and I knew that my left hand was dominant. When I opened up my first fiddle case Christmas morning, I automatically put the bow in my left hand. I was lucky enough to have a teacher that believed it was important for me to play the way the felt the most natural. He simply reversed my strings and taught me in mirror image.

I also get asked if it was difficult to learn that way. My answer is that it was not. It was no more difficult than the experience of a right hander. My teachers never expressed any difficulty in teaching me, either. For me, it would have been much more difficult to learn right handed. People are often puzzled by this, arguing that I would have been better off learning right handed since my fingering hand would have benefited from the dexterity. I understand this argument, but I have to say it’s not entirely thought through. If that was the case, wouldn’t all the right handers play left handed? While we see people playing fast tunes, and are amazed at the speed of their fingers, the higher skill is actually in the coordination of their bow hand.  Sure, it becomes more complex when you start shifting to other positions, or adding vibrato, but for the most part, your hand is locked in place and it is the fingers that are moving. You use your non-dominant hand’s fingers on your computer keyboard all the time and don’t think twice.

But the bow… that is where the real magic happens. You’re relying on the same coordination that a tennis player might use to return a volley. You are incorporating your shoulder, your elbow, your wrists, and trying to guide a stick that it’s two and a half feet long with the utmost precision. So naturally, it’s going to ultimately feel more comfortable in your dominant hand. The bow arm is where you really feel and express the music.

This having been said, I know plenty of players who consider themselves left handed but play right and are champion fiddlers.   I know that everyone has different degrees of ‘dominance’ in a dominant hand.  There are people that have great dexterity and coordination in what they would consider their non dominant hand.  However for me, this was not the case.  I am severely left handed.  And I am very grateful that I was given the choice to play the fiddle that way.

If you would like any information on my instrument and who made it, please contact me at