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4. What worked for me

Pain is not part of playing

I was happy to find out that there was a solution for my pain, and that pain didn't have to be "part of the game." It became clear that the pain came from a combination of the wrong equipment for my body, and what I was doing while playing. Working on these two things caused the pain to disappear.

Looking and listening

Looking and listening more to myself helped me the most. But the most important point for me was that suddenly I was able to play in tune because I was able to hear myself much more. The pain had been very distracting, and had disturbed my concentration. My ability to listen improved as my ease and comfort with my instrument increased. In fact all these changes put a lot of order in my mind.   My practicing started to be more organized and I paid more attention to small details.

Balance board and mouthguard

I also practiced standing on a balance board which centered me and kept me from my old habit of leaning forward. I sometimes used a plastic mouth guard over my upper teeth (like they use for hockey practice) to help me be aware when I was biting. During concerts I often had chewing gum in my mouth to keep me from clenching my teeth. Later I also tried practicing with my tongue sticking out of my mouth, which is difficult to do!

Alexander Technique

The Alexander lessons helped me observe and control my body, to find my balance, and to make me aware that everything is happening in the center of my body, not just in the right and left hands. Now I am aware of the relation between head, neck, and back that allows them to work together. This coordination contributes to the development of a brilliant technique. My sound improved because of improved length in my spine and a freer neck. I learned how to use my head while playing without stiffening my neck and without grabbing the viola with my chin.

I also understood some concepts better. Once "being relaxed" meant for me losing energy from all the muscles. Now it means just "don't be tense". "Standing firmly on the ground" now has a meaning which it didn't have before. I had a viola teacher who once said that I should "feel the ground," but how? Yet now I am on the ground, yet not stuck to it.   The ground gives me support but, at the same time, freedom.

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