Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Whether I’m at the session, or playing with one or more other people in some other setting, even outdoors, I get a strong paranoia that there isn’t enough space, and I’m absolutely convinced I’m about to thump someone with my bowing arm, or the walls are too close and I’m gonna break the top of the bow, or I’m jabbing someone with the scroll, etc. It causes me to really tense up while playing. Even if I’m at a lesson in my teacher’s huge living room, I’m still paranoid I’m too close and am about to wallop him any second, and the tension takes over again. If I can see a person or an object or a wall or something even if it’s barely visible out of the corner of my eye, I’m convinced I’m going to hit that person or thing, and it’s gonna be bad.

I do have poor depth perception which probably contributes. It’s possibly the entire cause of it actually. I sometimes overreach for door handles and punch the door (oww!) or I underreach and grasp fruitlessly at thin air.

I don’t suppose anyone else has had this, or if you’ve any suggestions I can use to sort out my understanding of how much space I actually take up when playing so I can lose the constant worry?

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Try playing the uilleann pipes!

You’re strapped into the things, they’re in your lap, you can’t get up or move much, the bass bar sticks out one side and people bump into it, the drones stick out much further on the other side and people are tripping over them.

You think "next time I’ll just take the chanter to the session".

But you’re right, a fiddler has that bow sticking out and moving all over the place. Makes you want to play mandolin, probably.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Is this just a focus for your generalised fear and nervousness? It’s not very rational, obviously, because it’s pretty rare for fiddlers to poke someone in the eye to the left or bang their frog on someone’s knee to the right, even in a very crowded session.

A couple of ideas off the top of my head: allow yourself to take up lots of room, give yourself permission to expand your personal space. A friend on a visit to Ireland decades ago had the temerity to buttonhole Frankie Gavin and ask him for a lesson. I gather FG was too surprised to refuse. I later asked him what was the most important piece of knowledge the deity had imparted to him, and the answer was "Get used to making a lot of noise"! To do that, obviously, you have to give your right arm permission to move and take up space.

Another idea: a group of people, a cult actually, that a friend of mine rubbed shoulders with briefly had an obsession with doing physical work efficiently, and their mantra was "focus on the point of work". For us fiddlers the point of work would be where the bow meets the string. If you focused on that and stopped worrying about your peripheral field of vision - or even close your eyes and focus on it mentally - (while giving your extremities permission to occupy the whole known universe) would that help?

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

there’s a badge you earn when you poke someone in the eye with your bow the first time. earned mine in grade school. i still feel kinda bad, and i still sometimes laugh about it. my genuine advice is to sit only with other fiddlers. we have bow awareness.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

I have been a victim of anxiety for as long as I can remember, with it getting worse with age.
A bloke told me many years ago "it’s all in the mind" - he was no bloody help at all!….
The anxiety definitely flares up when problems arise, getting to the point where I can’t think my way out.
These days, when something goes wrong - even can’t find the keys to the ute - I just stop, *tell myself* to settle and the situation normally sorts itself out.

I found - " I’m convinced I’m going to hit that person or thing, and it’s gonna be bad" - in your post.

Think about it. If you are *convinced*, it’s your thinking. Stop thinking about it. Stop worrying. Talk to yourself. Say to yourself - "it’s all good", "it’s OK", whatever spins your top!
If you’re concerned about your proximity to others, do a stretch with your elbows out, then you won’t have to worry (there’s that word) about others.
I live with one that has extremely poor depth perception (try driving with her 🙂 ) so I have some understanding of your problem with that.

I realise that you may possibly get all sorts of suggestions here, but I believe that if you take the time to determine your *space* you should be able to tell yourself "it’s all good". If somebody does enter into ‘your’ space, let it be their problem. Don’t *make* it *your* problem.

I wish you the very best.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

That took me so long to write that Staimh and Alex Henry jumped in. 🙂

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Here a very old memory of shyness and embarrassment - I started learning violin with a small group at school. There was a building site next door to our newly built house in Wembley, Middx. I was trying rather painfully to practise "Half a pound of tuppenny rice". Awful. 2 or 3 of the workmen shouted out "Music while you work". Crept back home feeling bad. I gave up playing the fiddle until I started again in Kirkwall in about 2007. Then through the usual squawking and creaking a second time!

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

If you use a shoulder rest, then changing the angle of the fiddle relative to your chin/collarbone can help reduce the space you need for a full bow in both directions.

Some players have bow travel which is almost parallel to the floor, and in a tight space that makes it easier to hit people on the left with the bow tip, and people on the right with the frog (or elbow).

If you increase the height of the rest on your left side (or pad out if you don’t use a rest), it means your bow travel will be less to the right and left, and more up and down, in relation to the floor. It’s surprising just how much difference even a small adjustment makes.

You can experiment alone first - keep your normal angle, and stand close to a wall, your left side facing it. Now play a full up-bow. Note how far away from the wall you need to be avoid hitting it with the bow tip.

Do the same with your right side facing the wall, and how far you need to be away from the wall without hitting it with the frog on a full down-bow.

Now make the rest adjustment, and see the difference.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle


close your eyes
THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
cheers!

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

I’m constantly in fear that my session fiddle-playing co-host is going to pop the bag on my pipes with the tip of his bow. We play in rather cramped quarters.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

I can usually tell where the danger zone is, when sitting next to a fiddler. I can’t help with claustrophobia issues, but don’t worry too much about other players. Most of us develop a sense of self-preservation after being jabbed and poked a few times, and will make sure we’re clear of the action. If you’re constantly thinking about it when you’re fiddling, it will distract too much from your playing. So don’t think about it. 🙂

I’m not likely to cause anyone else trouble when I’m on mandolin, but the flute is another story. There is always a danger of dripping condensation on the player’s leg to my right, or into their pint of Guinness. It’s condensation, not "spit," but still a thing to be avoided. I usually just say "mind the spigot!" and leave it to their own self-defense instincts.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

As one of our local pipers said, “It’s not really a session unless somebody has to sit in someone’s lap.” If you’re not deliberately trying to stick your bow in someone’s eye, you should be just fine. A basic rule at our sessions is show up early and stake out a safe seat - sit on the fiddler’s right - and the flute player’s left.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

I hate shoulder rests in general, but in this case, I think Jim Dorans is right. Try what he says. If you’re convinced that your bow is going up and down instead of side to side, you won’t worry about hitting anyone and will fiddle in peace. Actually your fear is not completely misplaced: my daughter got hit in the eye by a fellow violinist in a professional orchestra. No harm done, but it does happen even where everyone’s depth perception is fine. So try going up and down. A lot of fiddlers do it.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

The trouble with that is that in sessions you play sitting down, and if you angle the fiddle you land up hitting your legs with the frog end. A better (and simpler) solution to playing in a cramped space is to just turn your chair to the right, so that your bow tip is well out in front of the person on your left, and your left hand passes behind the person on your right

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Yes! Turning the chair works for all kinds of instruments’ claustrophobia problems: guitar and banjo necks, fiddle bows and flute protrusions, box bellows. Just leave the theorbo at home.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Thanks all for the answers so far! I actually have the shoulder rest adjusted for as vertical bowing direction as possible, so that’s that done… I guess it’s time to play with chair angles more. Also I like the idea of knowing how much space I actually take up, so maybe I’ll practice more in front of a mirror with intent to observe that particular detail.
And as a few of you point out, the other person is also responsible for avoiding getting in the way. I guess I get over-aware of myself and worry a lot about whether I’m "in the way", not just in fiddle playing…

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

I think it’s entirely up to the player next to you to watch out for themselves and recognise that you may need ample room, even if that is in a begrudging sense. 🙂 Don’t we all respect each others’ space in that regard and don’t you make allowances for others sitting next to you?

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

As benhockenberry says it’s not just a problem for fiddles, but for many instruments that need to stretch out one side or the other or even both. Whether it’s a session or a gig, the first job on arrival is to re-arrange the chairs! And if it’s mixed instruments that might include re-arrange the instruments to avoid/anticipate any potential clashes of bows/necks/bellows/drones. I play button accordion, so need more room on my left-hand side: if there isn’t any, I’ll rotate 90 deg sideways and play left hand side outwards towards the centre/audience.
Worst possible scenarios:
All chairs have arms or are bucket seats
All chairs are clamped together: undoing clamps takes superhuman strength
All chairs are in a straight line - much easier to interact and keep together if they are in a curve
Beyond that, and answering the OP, it’s just making sure you are comfortable with your positioning and trying to relax into your playing and forget the rest. And, do you play sitting or standing? Some of my fiddle playing friends prefer to play standing as they feel that gives them more freedom of movement, and you, your bow and your fiddle will be above any seated players.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

"I’m constantly in fear that my session fiddle-playing co-host is going to pop the bag on my pipes with the tip of his bow."

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

*rimshot*

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Trish’s listing of horrible seating: clamp chairs are terrible! I’d add those old classroom chairs featuring the fold-down desks to the list. Claustrophobic for so many instruments…

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

lol, CB, i also have my "Is that saliva or water on my leg?" badge. I have flute awareness now, too.

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Lots of great suggestions here — does it help to know that if one spends enough time in sessions, a certain degree of fiddle-pokery is inevitable?

Maybe you could arrange a friend who’s willing to sit next to you (on one side, then the other) at different distances until you can see at what point the jabbing actually begins? That’ll give you some points of reference, and also a chance to experience that it’s usually not too big a deal. As a bonus, they don’t even have to be a musician; just a tolerant human.

So far the one time I accidentally jabbed somebody with my bow elbow, it happened to be when I wanted to change tunes. It worked, so for the rest of the set I’d give him another little poke when it was time for the next change. Strangely he didn’t comment, and generally sits out of reach now…

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

See what you mean heydiddle. My fiddle class at the Reel (Kirkwall, Orkney) gave a charity concert at the Reel (one of the Wrigley Sisters’ series). The stage in the part of the bar for sitting was tiny and we were crammed together most of us peering at music stands. Thora Linklater never used a stand (she’s the composer of fabulous reel "The Golden Slipper" qv). A lot of us couldn’t move our arms in any sort of sensible way and I’m sure this detracted from our performance that night. Of course our teacher Jenny Wrigley kept us almost up to scratch with her excellent playing but, elbows mixed up and a very odd feeling for an awful lot of us. I’d call that claustrophobic.

Moral is as everyone would agree, do without music and take up less room. (We were encouraged to do this in class I must say).

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

It sounds like your estimation of how much space you’re taking up may not be realistic, and you suspect that disconnect might have to do with your poor depth perception. Finding the best optometrist in your area may be helpful as it was for me. I see better now than ever.
This might be related more to performance anxiety, though, and there’s lots you can do about that. It’s actually a fun process, figuring out what’s really going on. The first step is finding out what the questions are and then figuring out the answers.
That sounds all woo-woo, but our minds are very complicated and sometimes make bizarre assumptions that limit our horizons.
A common question for people who have performance anxiety would be: Do I deserve to be here?
I do work with people on this issue, in workshops or lessons. If you’d like I can talk to you in more detail and get you going on your path - no money, just for fun. Contact me on my website www.bethkolle.com

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

Buy an L shaped bow
Stand
Sit on a stool

Re: Claustrophobia-like feeling when playing fiddle

An L shaped bow would snag- try a U shaped bow.