Anyone who has ever played a stringed instrument will know how much strain it can put on your back, neck, shoulders and wrists, whether you play every day or for only a few hours a week. Nervous tension and severe stage fright are also demons that many players have to battle.

The good news is that a three-day workshop coming up in Oxford can show you how to eliminate or prevent these problems, and improve your tone, agility, stamina and confidence.

The workshop is based on the New Approach developed by Hungarian violinist and former child prodigy Kató Havas — now in her 90s and living in Oxford — and is being run by two of her former students, international players Caroline Duffner (violin) and the Oxford-based viola player Monica Cuneo.

Monica tells me how her own problems with nervous tension led her to come to Oxford in 2003 to study with Havas, after studying music in her native Italy and touring with a number of orchestras and chamber music ensembles.

“I used to be very nervous, like most players are nervous,” she says. “It’s a really serious problem. Nowadays other people write articles about pain, but Kató Havas was the first.

“In her autobiography she tells how she developed the New Approach because she had become very nervous. When you start playing you think it is just fun, but then you become so concerned or worried about being good. She was really in pain.

“So she developed this New Approach, and she realised that by releasing physical tension also the nervous tension and emotional tension were released. “She talks about having no violin ‘hold’ and no bow ‘hold’, because as soon as you think about holding you get tense. Instead, you just rest the violin gently, because it’s all about releasing physical tension. “Same with the bow — instead of holding it, you just rest it on the strings lightly, because as soon as you grip here you get these horrible noises that beginners do. It’s about using balance instead of force, which is more powerful. So that’s the concept.”

Monica and Caroline met at one of Havas’s workshops some years ago, and now specialise in the New Approach, giving workshops in a number of countries and attracting students from all over the world. Monica has also translated Havas’s books into Italian.

The pair hope that the workshops will enable players to release physical, emotional and nervous tension, so that they can rediscover the joy of playing an instrument.

All players are welcome, from amateurs to professionals, students to teachers. And although the focus is on stringed instruments, many of the principles apply to singers and other instrumentalists as well.

ESTA International Conference

Examination Schools, Oxford

August 28-September 1

Booking and details:

New Approach Kató Havas Workshop

St Edmund Hall, Oxford

September 5-7

Booking and details: