I received the following question: "I'm a highschool student that has been playing the cello for about 11 years, and have had different arm/hand pains, but recently, my right hand has been bothering me very very much. I play with a straight thumb and I've tried changing it, but it hasn't changed. Also, I notice that my hand creeps up a lot on the bow. Anyway, my hand hurts immensely at the base of the thumb and on the top and bottom of my wrist. Another thing that happens is that when my hand starts to hurt, it follows with the thumb slipping through and I lose all control. This used to only happen when I would play Bach Suites, particularly the Preludes. Recently, it hampered my playing a lot at a competition and performance of the Dvorak Concerto. I'm worried now, because it happens really badly when I'm playing the Shostokovich and by the second to last page, my hand feels ready to fall off. I have too play the piece soon, and in a recent rehearsal I couldn't finish a run-through because it hurt too much. I would appreciate any help! Sincerely, S. K. I asked for help from Victor Sazer, author of "New Directions in Cello Playing." The following was his response: "It is difficult if not impossible to diagnose S. K.'s problem completely, sight unseen. However, it is obvious that she plays in a way that generates a great deal of tension. I believe that the first step in solving her problem is to evaluate the way she uses her body when she plays. She needs to learn more about her body's natural impulses, so that she can adapt her technique to these impulses, rather than forcing her body into unhealthy patterns. Most pain is related to poor body balance. Faulty alignment, immobility and pressing are the main causes of such imbalance. Body imbalances create muscle tension which can accumulate layer upon layer, leading to the kind of pain and loss of control that S. K. is experiencing. Clearly, she clutches and presses her bow, but I would guess that this is just the tip of the iceberg. If your body is out of balance and/or any part of your body holds tension, you tend to clutch and press. One of the most fundamental causes of tension and pain among cellists, is faulty sitting. (This is why cellists have the highest incidence of back problems of any group of musicians.) Many pain problems that appear in the hand, arm, shoulder, etc. are not initiated at the site of the pain, but are the result of a chain-reaction related to the way cellists sit and hold their instruments. A solid, mobile and balanced base of support is essential to healthy and efficient playing. Click here for further information on seating problems of musicians. Anyone can Increase awareness of their body's natural impulses. It is not a difficult task. If you are alive and can breathe an feel, you have all of the equipment you need. The next step is to ask your body a few questions. Your body will give you the right answers if you ask the right questions. I suggest checking out "New Directions in Cello Playing" for examples of some right questions. Your body's answers will provide the tools which will enable you to identify the sources of your tension. I have worked with many musicians who were able to overcome problems similar to S.K.'s with this approach. Naturally, it would be helpful if S.K. could find a teacher who could guide her though this process. " Tim Janof
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