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Death Grip, And The End Of Death Grip

As a music teacher, I'm sure you've had students who grip their instrument like a corpse clutching a priceless family heirloom.

OK - maybe that's not an appealing analogy... but clearly these students are using far too much tension in their playing. And, as a result, their sound quality and technical ability suffer.

The problem is that death grip just doesn't respond to, "Relax!" or, "Loosen your hands."

Why not? What can you do to help them play more fluidly?


There are three things you need to know:

  1. Tension doesn't happen only locally; it's a "whole body" kind of thing.

  2. Your students probably can't feel the tension because tension is a habit, and habits "feel right."

  3. The biggest factor in helping them let go of tension is YOUR ability to let go of tension.


Here's my recommendation:

I've developed an exploration called "Leading & Following." It's kind of like "follow the leader," except you're doing it through their instrument.

For instance, I'll take the tip of my student's bow and lead them around the room - up high, down low, round and round. It's fun and it helps them let go of tension in their whole body. (See #1 above.)

When I lead them I make sure that I'm leading in a "non-squeezy" kind of way. I make sure that I'm using my body as fluidly as I can because they won't be able to let go of tension until I model fluidity through this direct sensory experience. (See #3 above.)

Then I have them lead me around the room, both of us still holding onto the bow. I ask them to lead me in a "non-squeezy" kind of way. It's a lot of fun for them and they learn what it feels like to move their bow with less tension. (See #2 above.)


If you do this exploration on a weekly basis with your students, you will begin to see a gradual softening of tension in their body.

One big benefit of this practice is that you might see a similar release of tension in your own playing! Win win!


For more information on playing music with less tension and pain, please visit for a free webinar and blog posts.

I also will start doing monthly workshops. On March 18th I'm teaching a brief workshop at the Philadelphia Flute Society "Flute Fair." In April, I'll likely do another workshop at Mount Airy Violins & Bows. I'm thinking it'll be called "How to Teach Your Students to Use Less Tension in Their Playing."

Also - please take my 90-second survey! It REALLY helps me to give you what you want. For instance, this very blog post was inspired by a recent survey entry!


Joseph Arnold

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