World-renowned music educator Julie Lyonn Lieberman‘s latest DVD, Violin and Viola Ergonomics ($23.95, 90 min., distributed by Hal Leonard), provides a comprehensive overview of the issues that determine instrument position and support. This DVD provides valuable tips for players of all levels about healthy playing habits and posture.
Ms. Lieberman covers a broad range of topics including posture as determined by body type, individualizing chin and shoulder rest setup, postural issues, and reprogramming muscular habits. She gives her most important piece of advice near the beginning of the DVD – there’s no one right solution for all of us. Each person is shaped differently, and our bodies are constantly changing weight and muscle mass. Therefore, we should constantly be adjusting our support system accordingly.
As a violin and viola teacher, I’m always searching for new ways to help my students achieve excellent posture. I found Ms. Lieberman’s ideas quite innovative. For example, she suggests that players should juggle their awareness while playing by checking various aspects of their posture at specific spots in the music. During this process, players should not correct their posture by mentally barking commands (i.e. Bend your knees! Make sure you’re breathing!). The body will react by tightening up. Instead, players should ask questions (i.e. Are my knees bent? Am I breathing?). I tried this out during my own practice sessions and found tension in my body that I hadn’t even been aware of. I also found that my students were much more attentive to their incorrect posture when asking themselves questions, rather than ordering themselves to play with correct posture.
Practice and Posture
Another important bit of advice involves practice and posture. Ms. Lieberman recommends that teachers ask their students to describe their practice environments in great detail. Inadequate lighting, a poorly placed music stand, or sitting/standing in one position for too long can lead to detrimental playing habits.
A large portion of the DVD describes how to determine appropriate posture for different body parts. Part of the discussion is a detailed description of shoulder rests and chin rests. Ms. Lieberman shares information which will prove illuminating for less experienced players, but she also gets into detailed information which even advanced instrumentalists may not know. For example, I was unaware that the screws which attach the feet to the shoulder rest are two different lengths. Apparently, manufacturers always put a longer screw on the chest side of the shoulder rest. Ms. Lieberman likes to switch to screws around so that the longer one is on the shoulder side.
Pain and Muscle Memory
Ms. Lieberman shares an interesting scientific study which claims that it takes three hours of repetitive activity to build a new sensory engram into the motor cortex. In other words, if you’re trying to fix your bow hold, it takes three hours of repetitive work for your body to learn the new correct posture. Ms. Lieberman also discusses how to reprogram the body from years of tension. She recommends gentle massage from an experienced therapist and exercises which work muscles in the opposite direction than when playing the instrument. The DVD closes with demonstrations of muscle balancing exercises including shoulder shrugs/rolls, chest/posture openers, and chest expansion and strengthening.
- Violin Shoulder Rest – Benefits and drawbacks of Using a Violin Shoulder Rest (johnsonstrings.wordpress.com)
- The Violin Store – Musical Instruments and Accessories (violinbow1.wordpress.com)