I’m telling you! That is as loose as it gets! I think I’m just genetically predisposed to having a higher level of tension, I think it runs in my family.”


Most of us begin the violin with the violin in our hands (duh). Usually, the wording used by the teacher involves the word hold. We are often told to hold the violin or to hold the bow. Well, obviously we have to do something with them otherwise they will fall and smash on the ground. It is of no benefit to the beginning violinist that violins are usually incredibly fragile and expensive. This is a true setup for relaxation and success: Tell someone to hold the instrument and remind them that it is quite expensive, fragile, and breakable. Thus, the first impression of the violin for many is one of fear and a blind hope that they don’t mess something up or destroy this pricy ancient artifact. More often than not, because from day one students are expected to perform, there are already deadlines (recitals, auditions) and expectations that have been set for their future. So what may have seemed like a relaxing hobby… Instead, playing the violin has turned into something like tapping your head and spinning a circle on your stomach ( while juggling and jumping rope at the same time). The icing on the cake is that the jump rope is made out of gold and (you’re juggling are newborn babies, why not!). This is, more or less, the feeling a new student can generally have about his new fun and relaxing adventure into playing the violin. No wonder so many people quit before they begin! Rather than beginning the violin without the violin gripped to death in our hands, far too often a student is handed the instrument and expected to spin-tap-juggle-jump-etc and to do it well and be ready to play something epic in front of a group of people way too soon. Oh yeah, but you know, you’re gonna love it!

Rather than beginning the violin without the violin gripped to death in our hands, far too often a student is handed the instrument and expected to spin-tap-juggle-jump-etc and to do it well and be ready to play something epic in front of a group of people way too soon.

 

Oh yeah, but you know, you’re gonna love it!

Given the nature of a typical violinist’s first day it isn’t unbelievable when they say they can’t relax while playing. Or, that they are as relaxed as they can be. Since the moment they have begun playing it has been a trigger of tension. Like the famous salivating dog except rather than hunger, when you see a violin and think about playing it your body starts to feel you are living in a bucket of ice. In another example, when you speak to an attractive person for the first time and suddenly, become a blithering idiot. When you try a new motion, any motion, something foreign; the usual response of the nervous system is to pucker up and hinder your performance. Neither fight nor flight are great for mastery but they are our reactions. The mistake that is often made is cultivating and working with our juiced up defense mechanisms rather than unraveling and sinking into the flow. Our instinct for beginning is one of do it and move on. It will just keep repeating itself until we are sick and tired of the rat race, we quit altogether and let the instrument or hobby collect dust in the attic or we, heaven forbid, go back and start over. The tragedy is that we have so much more control than we allow ourselves. We are not the monkey folk we once were. We have mental options that we are allowed to exercise. Yet, these options are quickly forgotten. We begin the violin, we begin anything with a certain predisposition. Then, we wonder why it doesn’t go exactly how we wanted it to go in our ideal world. We cross the bridge, make our choice, and say something like this is how it is. Then rather than having the courage to be imperfect we power through. Rather than waste a single second of effort to go another way about it, we just march on like an ant. We throw ourselves into our limitation loop and let the monkey run the show. The monkey wants to succeed so he will take the method of the grip of death.

This predisposed programming to what we think the violin is and what it is like to play it is a recipe for tension. Every instinctual response that occurs when we encounter a seemingly special object is triggered. What do we do with such objects? We hold them. What is one of the first things a baby can do? Grab and grip and hold the giant alien finger that has presented itself. It isn’t the fault of the student for tensing up to the level of metal when they start the violin. They actually were born this way. One of our first responses is to hold on. But when this was programmed into Uncle monkey the violin was not in existence. Typing was not in existence. Driving a car or 90% of normal activities were not in existence. Yet, we still approach them all with a hold on for dear life mentality.

I have never heard of an ancient cave man playing the violin. If one had appeared before him, he would probably use it for fuel or try to beat something to death with it.

There are two choices, play the violin like a caveman or evolve.

I have never heard of an ancient cave man playing the violin. If one had appeared before him, he would probably use it for fuel or try to beat something to death with it.

There are two choices, play the violin like a death gripping caveman or evolve.

Many of us begin with the first choice, myself included. I don’t quite remember the exact thoughts in the beginning because I was four. I have some memories from my start but they are just that, memories that could be factual or reproductions I have fabricated later in life from looking at photos. Who knows, and really, it isn’t important. I do know that it came quickly, it came easily, I was drawn to music and it made everything a little less empty. It didn’t require much work to play the pieces I was given in a way that the audiences or my teachers would deem good. So, as a young student I thought very simply about the violin. I am asked to play this piece. Okay, I will listen to it and soon I will know how to play it. Done. Next. Move on. Repeat. But the unfortunate byproduct was that I still fell victim to the natural fear and instincts within:

1. This is like juggling-jumping-spinning-and-brushing-your-teeth at the same time.

2. This instrument is expensive so don’t break it.

3. Definitely do not drop it, be careful, hold on!

4. What size tuxedo will you need for your first performance?

5. Oh yeah, relax! Are you listening? I said relax!

Not only this, but as a 4 year old, my only education had been in the school of holding stuff. I felt like I knew quite a bit:

1. Hold mom’s hand when crossing the street.

2. Hold fingers that are extended to me.

3. Hold onto things and put them in my mouth to examine.

4. Hold a fork to eat because I’m four, time to be sophisticated, no more shoveling food with dirty fingers (still struggling).

They say musicians are more than likely to excel in mathematical skills. Here is a formula to summarize:

clueless + overwhelmed + confused = stressed

stress + schedule + group of peers = need for action

genetics + need for action = tension

tension = grip of death

grip of death = fucked from day one

So the grip of death is one of the most natural and most likely outcomes for beginner violinists, guitarists and people doing things with their arms alike. This is the violin killer. This is the happiness and relaxation killer. All we simply have to do is go back and realize that we have a choice in control and an undo button. Now, this undo button does not work instantaneously. It requires patience, discipline and a want. Where it may seem daunting to begin undoing just ponder the alternative. Continue gripping, trying, struggling, wishing and hoping that someday it will magically fix itself and get better before our bodies are too old and decrepit.

Now which one sounds easier?

One can actually take this same formula and apply it to a plethora of activities that cause the so called grip of death Take a second to analyze anything that you do, right down to holding the remote and changing the channel. Are you aware of how tightly you are holding it? Are your fingertips white from lack of blood flow? How hard do you really need to push the volume button in order for the TV to pick up the signal? When a remote has a dead battery a person is more than likely to spend about five minutes pushing the buttons down with all their weight and both hands thinking the sensor is weakened.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>