Interview with Violinist Dylana Jenson: Preventing and Curing Injury (VIDEO)

October 6, 2020, 11:18 AM · Even though she's been playing the violin since she was two years old, violinist Dylana Jenson has never experienced any kind of injury associated with this infamously awkward instrument. On Monday, Dylana spoke with me about her approach to the violin; helping people heal from playing-related injury; and preventing injury in the first place. Here is our virtual interview:

Jenson attributes her lack of injury over the years to the approach that she learned from her three teachers, Manual Compinsky, Nathan Milstein and Josef Gingold.

That approach is something she now shares with her students at Notre Dame University, where she recently started teaching as a visiting associate professor of violin. In our interview she also talks about how music lessons are progressing at Notre Dame during COVID times, and about the new violin that New York-based luthier Sam Zygmuntowicz is making for her.

On October 16 Jenson will give a free virtual master class from Notre Dame - if you wish to attend, click here for more information. She'll give another free master class on November 13.

Jenson plays without a shoulder rest, though she does not demand that her students do the same. But she does look for students to be comfortable in their playing, and if they wish to change something (such as ditching the shoulder rest) she helps them to do so through a mindful process that involves adjusting their technique as well.

Jenson, who earned a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition when she was 17, has played with orchestras all over the world. She is married to conductor David Lockington, and over the summer their family moved from their longtime home in Grand Rapids, Mich., to South Bend, Ind. to be closer to Notre Dame.

Here is the link to the video Dylana mentioned, of Yuval Yaron playing the Chaconne from Bach's solo Partita in D minor.

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October 6, 2020 at 05:15 PM · I wish Ms. Jenson could help me figure out how to keep from getting repetitive strain injury from using my damned computer. For years I blamed my violin -- until the pandemic and the advent of online teaching.

October 7, 2020 at 03:57 AM · What a thought-provoking interview -- thank you. Ms. Jenson's way of dealing with the shoulder rest question -- whether or not a student uses one -- sounds very reasonable and even handed to me.

On the point, starting at 12:05, about small kids using shoulder rests: I've sometimes wondered why so many teachers now routinely start young kids on these devices. It strikes me as so unnecessary. Everyone's build is so individual. I suspect that a lot of players who successfully ditch the SR later on and are now doing better without it might have been better off not to start with one in the first place.

I started playing in elementary school -- restless -- and continued restless till 18 y/o. I don't have a long neck -- medium-short is more like it. But I found out, by trial and comparison, that I was more comfortable with the SR than without it. I just don't like the feel of a bareback fiddle. Also, the orientation of the device, as you view the back of the instrument, can make the difference between freedom and misery. I've seen quite a few players orient theirs NW-SE. If that works well for them, fine; but I can't play that way -- it feels forced and unnatural for my build. I orient mine SW-NE -- lowest possible setting on shoulder side and about midway on chest side.

And the right chin rest -- what a difference that makes. BTW, the same summer I started using the SR, I also started using a Strad Pad for a chin rest cover. I won't play without it. I love the added grip and freedom from slippage and skin irritation.

@Paul: How high do you have your computer keyboard? A lot of people place the keyboard on a desk, which can induce shoulder lift and shoulder fatigue. I have mine on a platform lower than desk height and can use it for long periods without any adverse effects.

October 7, 2020 at 06:38 AM · @Paul As a programmer, here are my experiences in combating RSI:

- Use less mouse, and more keyboard if possible.

- Use a vertical mouse if mouse is unavoidable; it feels funny for the first few days, but really reduces the tension in the long run

- A well-adjusted chair/desk combo, to allow you sit comfortably while typing, without a raised shoulder or bent wrist. Some expensive chairs are worth the money because they are exceedingly adjustable.

- Move around once a while

October 9, 2020 at 12:24 AM · My profile picture shows that I don't use a shoulder rest and it is what I would recommend. I used SR to my late forties. I am 68 now. I wanted to give it up years earlier but did not know how. My guiding motivation was a quote from Milstein in one of the Applebaum books. He said, "the function of the left hand is to hold up the violin." I found a teacher who taught me how to hold the violin with the left hand, shift up and down, and vibrato. I used to be very dogmatic about it but my position now is not "throw away the shoulder rest" but rather it is "do not hold the violin by lifting and clenching with the shoulder whether you use a shoulder rest or not". Clenching is always the worst thing whether it's transient or always on. If you can get a little stability with a shoulder rest but never lift the shoulder you may be alright.

I have noticed that really fine players who use a shoulder rest but never clench, hold the violin up with the left hand, keep the hand rotated to the neck and reach backwards with the first finger can play quite well without SR even though they prefer it.

One more observation. No SR helped me improve my technique and I am better for it but there are lots and lots of violinists with SR who are a lot lot better players than I am. No SR made me better than me not better than others .

Ironically my teacher was a transient clencher (when downshifting). But he never suggested I clench and he showed me how to avoid it.

October 9, 2020 at 02:56 AM · I gave up my shoulder rest abruptly, in a recording session in Nashville, when in my 30's. It solved many problems I had in my comfort and my playing--relaxation, intonation, shifting technique, the sound of my instrument--all better after throwing the shoulder rest away! Also my "violin hickey" disappeared.

But the damage was done in my right arm--had my torn rotator cuff repaired in 2006.

October 11, 2020 at 03:24 AM · I started with a small sponge when I was young but transitioned to a shoulder rest a few years later. Personally I can't play competently without a shoulder rest. I can live without one for a few minutes but for any extensive playing I need some sort of cushion at the very least.

For me the shoulder rest is critical for filling any space underneath the violin, especially on the chest side, and some people do need a lot of filler there. For those with a longer neck a raised chinrest would be a huge help. I raised my violin chinrest slightly with rubber material and it's been a godsend for me. On viola a regular height chinrest in combination with a low-set shoulder rest works for me because of the thickness of the instrument.

Of course as others have said it's a very individual

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