I Can’t Reach The High Notes

It’s not just singers who struggle with high notes!

For the third of my mini-series looking at making the best use of what you’ve got I’m looking at musicians, particularly string players, and the issue of how to get those awkward high notes.

77 high notes pic1

I recently had a lesson with a viola player who was struggling to get her hand round a top F. About as high as you can make a viola go. For those who are not into music much, the viola is like a violin only bigger; you tuck it under your chin, wrap your hand around the pointy end and press your fingers down on the strings. With speed, delicacy and accuracy. This is as hard as it sounds.

So, what’s available to help?

Head and neck – doesn’t really help(*).
Shoulders – don’t really help(*).
Upper body – doesn’t really help(†).
Legs – well, you should be getting the picture by now(†).

Crunching your neck, hunching your shoulders, curling your upper body, pulling a face: all these things make your muscles sore, and don’t get you one millimetre closer to that note. So leave them alone.

Arm – now we’re talking.
Elbow, wrist and hand – definitely
Fingers – oh yes.

These are the guys we’re looking at. So let’s take a moment, to take them apart and see what is in there.

Your upper arm will move from side to side. You can bring it quite a long way across in front of your body, especially when your elbow is lifted to viola (or violin) height.

Now the elbow. If you just bend your elbow, it will carry the arm and hand along with it. No need to strain and struggle. Just bend. How far do you need to bend to reach your notes?

Then there’s the hand. Have you ever considered your hand separate from your fingers and separate from your wrist?  They all bend, wriggle and twist. Each one separately, especially if you don’t lock them in place.

Now put them together, and see how close you get to that note.

(*) yes, it keeps the instrument in place, but that’s a different task
(†) yes, they keep you standing up, but that’s a different task too


CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

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Posted in asking questions, effort, tips

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