3 Tips on How To Release Tension While Playing

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 | Practice Tips

Many technical issues in cello playing are caused by holding tension in our bodies. 

Here are a few tips on observing and reducing tension (without making you more tense in the process!):

1. When you observe tension, notice it but don't get frustrated by it. Observe it neutrally. And don't be surprised if in the process of letting tension go, you discover more tension. We are all much tenser than we think we are. Be glad that you're noticing it (so many people don't notice their tension, which is what gets them into trouble) and also know than even just letting a little tension go will help your playing. It's not an all-or-nothing thing. 

2. Observe your breathing. If your breath isn't flowing naturally, then you are holding tension and interfering with yourself. So, start to see if you can notice your breath when you play. To begin with, notice your breath immediately before you begin a piece or a scale, at a given midpoint, and at the end. If there are certain areas where you stop breathing, come back to them, working slowly and methodically. Avoid trying to control your breath, just observe it neutrally. 

3. Try doing a few gentle stretches or lying down on the floor (I like semi-supine position for this, but if you're a yoga person, the "corpse pose" is also good for this) for a minute or two before practicing, or in the middle of a practice session if you need a break. I don't recommend playing cello immediately after being on the phone or computer. Better to take even a minute to relax a little bit to help your body and mind transition into practice.