Finger Warm-Up Exercises to Extended Flexibility and Prevent Overuse Injury
Being driven to achieve excellence is a great personal quality to possess. However, in their efforts to make progress and master certain techniques, many violinists and string instrument students overlook the very important physical elements involved with playing. And although your body will give you clear indicators when you overreach – namely sharp pains in your arms, neck or hands, numbness in the limbs, or stiffness in the joints – you can prevent these serious problems from occurring.Excessive, sustained tension can lead to chronic injuries that have the power to scuttle your musical ability for good.
Fortunately, the most important steps you can take to prevent injury on your violin is to make sure that you adequately warm up before playing, using full body stretches and finger exercises, and also that you pace yourself during practice sessions. Occasionally pausing and stretching during practice will help hinder repetitive motion injuries by allowing the body to flush away metabolic waste products that damage tissues.
These finger exercises are designed to help you prevent overuse injuries and improve your flexibility. Always perform these pre-practice calisthenics before playing. They’ll help you build muscle strength and head off potential injuries. And although these drills are fairly easy, you should always consult a doctor before undertaking any exercise regimen.
For each example, perform at least 5-10 repetitions on each hand. As you build flexibility and strength, increase the number of repetitions.
- Flexor Stretch—This is a simple warm-up, but important. Place your forearm and hand flat on a table. Using your other hand, gently pull each finger back toward your wrist only until you feel resistance, not discomfort. Perform this stretch on each finger of each hand.
- Lifts—With your palm down on a flat surface, gently extend each finger upwards as far as possible and hold it for two seconds and then lower it. Repeat the procedure on both hands and also vary the order. Try thumb then middle finger, index then pinky, etc.
- Spread—Again, with your hand palm down on a flat surface, squeeze all of the fingers together for a count of two, then spread them as far as you comfortably can, and hold it for a count of two. Return to the original “closed” position and repeat.
- Spider Fingers—This warm-up stretch will enhance finger, forearm, and wrist strength. Standing close to a flat wall, place your palm on the wall and by using each individual finger, slowly “crawl” your hand up as far as you can reach. Hold it there for the count of four, and then repeat the exercise with your other hand. The idea here is to mimic the way a spider creepily uses its legs. Gravity will provide plenty of resistance.
- Crumple—This exercise is better than purchasing some mechanical grip builder, and much more fun. Holding an old newspaper or a piece of paper between your thumb and all four fingers (like a crab claw), extend your arm all the way in front of your body and only using your fingers, crumple the paper into a ball. You should try to accomplish this feat as fast as possible.
- Touch Stretch—Place your hand, palm up, on a flat surface. Gently move your thumb across your palm and touch the outer edge of your hand, at the base of your pinky finger and hold it for a count of two. Then return it to its normal position and touch the tip of your index finger. This finger exercise will help prevent injury on your violin in both hands.
There have been many studies and much research conducted on finding effective methods to reduce overuse injury for musicians. Many of these resources are available at your local library and, if you plan to pursue a professional career, are invaluable for students. A few include:
Tension In the Performance of Music: A Symposium by Carola Grindea. With a forward by Yehudi Menuhin, this contains tons of information about overuse injury caused by tension.
The Athletic Musician: A Guide to Playing Without Pain by Barbra Paull and Christian Harrison. With over one million copies sold, this guide includes numerous body and finger exercises to prevent injury on the violin. A must have for any serious musician.
The Compleat Violinist by Yehudi Menuhin. Incredible, relevant information on posture, form, and execution.
By avoiding marathon practice sessions and performing these finger exercises every time before you play, you can help prevent injury on your violin.