Violin/Jaw pain while playing
I've had tmj pain for a few years and am just starting to play the violin. I really love it but it seems to be aggravating my pain. I had my instrument sized at a shop and they gave me a foam pad as a shoulder rest since it's only a rental. Any tips on how to avoid this tension? I really don't want this to be the reason I stop learning
Thanks for your question. It's an important one. Holding tension in the jaw while playing is detrimental to both your health and your music. If you are prone to TMJ, then you are most likely prone to tension in the jaw and unnecessary biting even when you are not playing. If you are not already making a conscious effort to relax your jaw, throughout the day, then you'll want to do this. But, it sounds like you may already be aware of this.
With the violin, there are additional challenges. If the violin is not held correctly or if it is not adjusted well with a good chin rest and shoulder rest combination, then pressure is exerted on the jaw while you play. Even worse, if your head is tilting to the left as you play, that pressure will be at an angle, pushing your jaw out of alignment.
But, don't despair! With a bit of effort, and perhaps a little help, you can get your instrument properly fitted with a good shoulder and chin rest, and you can learn to hold it properly. There is no need for tension in the jaw when playing. But, you're going to have to get rid of that sponge!
When holding your violin, your neck should be straight, not tilting to the left (though you should turn your head to the left), your violin should rest on your collar bone, and your jaw should rest, lightly, on the chin rest. The shoulder rest should take up the entire gap between the back of the violin and both your shoulder and your chest, and it should be angled so that there are no gaps under the pad. The style, shape, and height of the shoulder rest and chin rest both enter into this, and I would strongly advise you to call a reputable violin shop (violin shop, not general music store) and ask for an appointment with the owner to fit you, personally, with both chin rest and shoulder rest. Everyone's body is different, and it is often necessary to bend the rest to fit your body shape.
Check out this webpage on the same subject: http://www.violinistinbalance.nl/facejaw.htm
You'll notice that several of the examples use a center-mounted chin rest. Many players swear by this approach, and even find that shoulder rest in not necessary when a center-mounted chin rest is used. Personally, I use a side-mounted chin rest and a shoulder rest. But, regardless, you'll need to find some arrangement that keeps your neck straight, pressure off your jaw, and allows you to relax your neck and shoulders.
Best of luck with it!
J.S. Fisher Violins