The German violinist shares her personal favourite practice habits

Arabella Steinbacher

Arabella Steinbacher
Photo: Peter Rigaud

1. Practise while sitting on the floor

I always sit on a cushion on the floor and practise by resting the scroll of my violin on a chair because this takes the weight off my left arm. And if my left arm is relaxed, that encourages my right arm to relax too and the sound becomes much fuller.

Then when I stand up it feels a lot easier. This is a good way of practising in hotel rooms especially, where you always find pillows!  

2. Practise while lying on the floor

This is something I try from time to time.You have to be careful not to let the bow fall on your nose, and it sounds quite awful. But it’s a good training for the bow hand because you need so much more control to play this way, and it’s an especially helpful way to practise Mozart, where you need a light bow hand and a lot of flexibility.

Sometimes when I feel tense after a long flight or feel that something is not in balance I lie down and practise and afterwards it feels a lot better. 

3. Turn your head to the right

So often we end up with pain in our necks because we spend so much time with our violins fixed to the left hand side of our head.

So sometimes I deliberately turn my head to the right hand side, or look away from the instrument completely without turning my body. This is something that my teacher Ana Chumachenco encouraged when I was only ten years old; she would stand on the other side of the room and say ‘turn to me, not with the body, just with the head.’ Then she’d move through the room and I’d follow her with my head, just to feel free with the instrument.

 4. Don’t over practise

I was never the kind of crazy practiser who stays in a practice room for hours; I think the concentration of the brain is quite limited: after a while you realise that you’re just playing and not really practising anymore. The brain is amazing: overnight it’s still practising by itself without the instrument. So it’s much better just to be brave enough to allow it to grow like a wine that just improves when you leave it.

 5. Take time to relax your muscles

This is something very simple, but so often we forget to do it, and then we end up with pain. So it’s important to remember to put your violin away, especially after exhausting passages, to massage your muscles, stretch out your arm and do some yoga positions.