4. What worked for me
The first time that I tried to change my equipment, before this project, I didn’t have a group to support me. When you are working only on your own you feel kind of alone in the world; but in the group you can say: “I had this or that problem”, and they say: “I had that too!” You see each other every week and you can hear what has been going on. You get feedback from the group.
Also, when you are with a group, it becomes a lot easier for the school to accept that this is happening because there are ten other students that are all changing things. It gives an impression of being more official. It is all happening in agreement with the school. Before, when I tried on my own, I didn't feel that the school gave me the time I needed. Because of this I decided to stop the process. This time, the school was now completely behind this project. It was just time for it now!
Also, there was a whole bunch of equipment laid out for us in the work room. There is also more knowledge built up than a few years ago. For instance, we now have chin rests positioned well for tall people that are not completely over the tailpiece, but slightly to the left of center, giving more room to bow. I think these things also contributed to the success for me this time.
I used the Alexander Technique lessons as a kind of rest moment in the week. The whole week you have been playing, so it is good to lie-down on the Alexander table and take care of your body, that it is functioning well so that you can use the equipment well. The teacher helped by showing me when I was doing strange things. Otherwise, a lot of things would have escaped my notice. Habits are stubborn. I noticed about myself that I often said: “That’s good now.” And then after awhile, I realized that in my idea of “good” was a lot of faults, a lot of things that didn’t make sense, that were wrong use of the equipment. That's why you need lessons in this.
To stand solidly on the ground now means for me to stand on two feet. In the past, especially when I was nervous I went over to the left and stood only on my left foot. Although I don’t always realize it when I am tense, I think that the unnecessary tension has become less in general. I used to think that being relaxed meant that your arms had to be heavy and lifeless, but that is absolutely not true. Relaxed playing does not have to mean not using any muscle power. Sporting also helped me to learn this.
One extra thing that I learned through my previous experience of being injured is that violin playing is a heavy profession physically, a heavy activity that you often do all day. You need a lot of reserve energy. During the recovery period three years ago I had fitness training with supervision two times a week, and that helped a lot because then I could begin to play again. I still go a couple of times a week to the gym to keep my muscles supple and strong.
Of course, now we’ve also worked on posture and the chin and shoulder rest. But if you participate in a sport, your body is in better shape. Basic condition is very important. I think here at school that they should really promote this idea. In other schools, like universities, it is just normal that there are sport halls, and I think that conservatories should do the same. They should arrange possibilities with sport halls for the students to be able to use them.
Advice & conclusions
Form a group! If you are alone, it is difficult to keep going for a year, trying to sort things out at home alone, and to only come once a week for your Alexander lesson. Even if there are only two people going through equipment changes they should call each other up, get together, have a coffee and talk about it.
These days in my own teaching I try to get the student to think of violin playing as something that you do with the whole body, by letting go, and not just something that you do with the violin and two little arms. So, I ask them to walk, or count out loud, or talk while playing, or stand on one leg or on the balance board, or I put things on top of their head.
Perhaps I have gotten more sensible and patient through participating in the project. That is the most important thing! I find I am more able to just think about these things. I give more value to the use of the equipment and how I hold the violin. I am the kind of person that would usually have said: “Oh, what does all this matter? You should just stand normally and play relaxed.” I used to think that I just had to get it all over with so that I could just go ahead and play. I don’t think like that anymore. When I saw people who played well I used to think: “The violin looks like it just sits there and they can play.” But now I know there is more behind it. It is now a valuable topic to think about, for sure! I know that sorting out your equipment is not the only solution to get to be a good player; you are, in the end, the one who has to do the playing, but it can really help you to both change equipment and learn how to use it properly.