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Tips for String Players

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by fifthsuite, Jul 11, 2022.

  1. fifthsuite

    fifthsuite Peer Supporter

    As a cellist who has recovered from TMS - see my success story - I wanted to share some practical tips for string players NOT directly related to Sarno's teachings. Reading Sarno's books and forum success stories & journaling are absolutely the most important practices. Nonetheless, ergonomics are not irrelevant, and changing your approach can help you make the mental shift out of dysfunctional patterns. For example, there may be nothing wrong with how you play from a physical standpoint, but if you associate your typical posture/technique with pain, trying something new can help your brain re-associate playing with positive function.

    1. Read Victor Sazer.

    I built my current technique by reading New Directions in Cello Playing by Victor Sazer. I cannot recommend this book too highly. He contradicts some of what I learned from my teachers - and the evidence shows he is right. To summarize what may help your right arm directly (I am sure you know many of these already):
    1. Place the cello on your left leg, on the left plane of your chest, without touching the right leg at all. This decreases the angle at which you must lift your right arm to play in the upper bow, especially on the A string. Try it. Jean-Louis Duport played this way.
    2. Try lowering your endpin. This also decreases the arm height required to play every string. Janos Starker plays this way.
    3. Play downbows with the frog slightly angled away from you, upbows slightly angled frog in. This naturally helps the bow hold the string, freeing you from exerting any unnecessary effort to maintain a consistent spot on the string.
    4. Play downbows at a slightly higher arm level, upbows at a slightly lower level.
    5. Change bows by forming a figure eight with your hand. Don't just stop and reverse direction - this is hard on the arm.
    6. Doing 3-5 will create a sensation of circling the string with your bow, rather than merely playing on them.
    7. Practice mostly at mf-f. Avoid prolonged, maybe with your symptoms, any playing, at mp or softer. Playing quietly is very taxing because you must hold your weight up, rather than letting it sink in the bow.
    Don't worry, you can still get a very romantic "Russian" sound using these techniques. I slowly incorporated these into my technique over about a month of slow practice, right hand only.

    2. Play pizzicato a lot.

    This is a way you can use your right while avoiding hopefully some of the characteristic built in muscle/neural memory you've developed. You can play passages this way, then if you feel good, try arco. Alternate between the two, try to confuse your brain into not feeding you the "tight" or "pain" signal fast enough. Maybe this will teach your brain your right is strong.

    3. Work on Your Left Arm.

    I always had tension in my right arm - and it wasn't until I fixed the tension in my left that the right went away. Again, let me summarize Sazer's thoughts:

    1. Don't press or hammer your left fingers. Let them rest on the string. They do not need to touch the fingerboard at all to produce a clean stop!
    2. Don't press your thumb or fix it on the back of the neck. Let the thumb shift when and where it wants. It can come off the neck completely when you vibrate for a quaver or longer. For example, you may find some double stops are easier with your thumb on the side of the neck or on the fingerboard - even when the thumb isn't fretting (i.e. neck position double stops)!
    3. Play with your fingers slightly to the right (towards your own right arm) of the string, especially when you play close to the bridge where the action is higher. Again, like #1, this avoids pressing (you may be tempted to press a string, but probably not just wood).
    4. Replace some extensions with shifts. Substitute harder fingerings (I usually do for chords that typically require both my second and third fingers to fret simultaneously).

    4. Learn the Uncello.

    I start every practice with my bow in my left hand and my neck across my right shoulder. I slowly mime, first the bow arm by itself, then fretting. You may find it clumsy, but you won't have the same tension because you haven't learned how to be tense the same way. Use this as a kind of lab to explore if you can play the "uncello" without discomfort. This also coordinates the left and right hemispheres of your brain - which control opposite sides of the body - in a novel way. Novelty is good. Get the brain so busy it forgets to make pain.

    5. Learn Another Instrument

    Same principle as #4. Get the brain out of its "I'm in pain" comfort zone. Yes, you have become too comfortable with your pain! I picked up the guitar and drums. I found I could play for hours and hours, even though it was actually harder on my hands (since you are constantly fretting multiple stops and rely more on fingers than arm). This proved to my brain that the cello wasn't the problem.

    6. Play with Others!

    Choose something easy that you'll need minimal practice for. Don't tell your partner(s) about your condition. See what happens. Next time, choose a longer, harder piece. I often found I was easily able to forget my learned symptoms in public, because the pressure to perform or keep playing is often greater than the fear of injury. Of course, there's no risk of injury, but you have to convince your unconscious of that.

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