The second in a trio of articles on muscle problems for musicians by D J Hodson.

Take a look at the silhouettes above.  Which, you may ask, could be holding a gun?  Which a violin.  Interchangeable or what? 

Not as easy as you first thought is it? 

I have definitely seen violinists in positions A, B and E.  (Yes, E as well.  Sir Yehudi Menuin teaches all his pupils Yoga.  C is little used by violinists as the prone position restricts movement of the elbows.  D is a result of excessive bending of the elbows.

As for the shooters?  Granted, D is only used in conjunction with the shotgun when after ducks or geese but A, B and C certainly.  (The sport similarity does not end there.  Which of the silhouettes could be Frank Bruno?)

Violinists will be well aware of the fatigue that can set in about half way through the second set.  Lactose building up in the Biceps causes cramps in the upper arms, particularly the left arm.  (Assuming that you are right-handed which, for the benefit of this article, we shall continue to do.)  This being just from supporting its own weight as the instrument, of course, is supported by down force from the chin onto the shoulder.

Other more serious problems can arise in time if proper training is neglected.  Tennis elbow (yes, Tennis again) - also known as Repetitive Strain Injury - can result from the continuous fast flexing of the arm, often found in the Hot Club style playing.  Rhythm guitarists (and some perverts) are also prone to this.

It will come as no surprise to those of you who remember the power and timbre of the string section of the (then) Soviet National Orchestra through the 60s and 70s, to discover that they trained alongside the Eastern block athletes for many years.  Indeed, some of the Violas played in Moscow in 1980. [1]

Why did they do this?

Every action has an equal and opposite action.  The same applies in the body.  A muscle to bend the arm (Bicep) and a muscle to straighten it again (Tricep), etc.

Each should counter the other if all is to be well within us.  Why do violin/viola players always have that wistful look?  Always seem to be attentive?  Always have one ear cocked?  Therein lies the clue.

The muscles on the left-hand side and front of the neck have been overtrained by years of holding the violin/viola by the chin.  What of the right-hand side and back of the neck?  Atrophy or wastage has set in.   In later yeas this wistful look appears more like manic depression.

With grateful thanks I spoke to Dr Richard Bland, a leading optician in Melton Mowbray, (which you may or may not know - or even care - is the home of the Pork Pie; particularly with regard to the Veal, Egg and Ham side).

Dr Bland suggested a rigorous exercise programme which can easily be performed during your daily routine.

If you already wear glasses all well and good.  If not, a lightly tinted pair of Amber sunglasses off the market should set you back no more than a pound or two.  You will also need a roll of black electrical tape (50p off the market).  Carefully cut the tape as shown in the diagram below and apply to the lenses.

It will be obvious as soon as you put them on that in order to see, the head will have to be tilted back and over to the right.  A few hours each day and the neck should build up enough strength on the back and right side to counter the tension on the left.

The fatigue in the arms can also be rectified by training for strength and endurance.  With only slight modification from the shooter’s technique (the pulley) you could build up the biceps in both arms.

From your local hardware store obtain 5’ (1.75 m) of strong washing line, a small pulley (see sketch) also used for washing lines, a small block of wood about 1˝” x 4” x 4” (36 x 100 x 100 mm) with a hole drilled to take the line (see sketch) and a house brick (or other suitable weight).  

Chin rest optional

Tie one end of the line through the block of wood.  This can then be held under the chin in place of your violin/viola.  Pass the line over the pulley, which should be held in the left hand (use your remaining tape to cover the screw threads so as not to cut your fingers).  Your elbow should be bent to the same position you would obtain when playing.  To the other end of the line tie the brick.  It will be found that by pulling on the line with the right hand, midway between the chin and the pulley, that the brick can be raised and lowered.  20 or 30 repetitions per day will quickly build up those biceps.  In time further bricks can be added. [2]

Small bore shooters close one eye during this exercise.  Shotgun users keep both eyes open.  It matters little which you choose to do.

The third in this series will deal with the serious problems (Hernias etc) suffered by double bass players in the course of a long gig.

Publisher’s Note:  It is regretted that the third article “Pole vaulting with the double bass” may not be forthcoming as we understand that Mr Hodson was rushed to hospital suffering from the inhalation of toxic fumes - we believe lacquer used in his work as a luthier.  We wish him a speedy recovery.

[1] Anabolic steriods cannot be ruled out but they were never tested.

[2] A doctor should be consulted before strenuous exercise is undertaken.

Many thanks for David Hodson for supplying this informative article.

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