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Thanks, and come to the front.

February 13, 2007 at 11:38 PM

My heartfelt thanks to all the people who dedicated a piece of music to Marnie Bradbury. It was a great source of comfort to all concerned.

Last week a university student came to me who has been playing the violin for 8 years and not got very far in spite of evidence of considerable talent. There was, as far as I could see only one reason: the lady was incredibly short even by Japanese standards and extremely chunky with unusually short arms. Yet, she was trying her damndest to play the violin with it held out around 45 degrees to the left, with the bow going at an opposing 45 degrees to the string in a straight line.
In the five seconds it took to move her violin around so that it was pointing directly forward her bowing straightened and her left hand and arm relaxed beautifully. Did her teachers not see this? Did they not care enough to help her? I hate watching people frustrated by inflexible teachers.

An interesting aspect of being a looney old dude is that one remembers the past with clarity but not where you put the clean socks. I can recall my first violin lesson like it was yesterday. Four or five of us kiddies and this really smelly old geezer (tobacco) who clearly didn’t want to be there. Quite a well know player, long serving in one of Britain’s top orchestras but not too interested in what was going on. His explanation of how to put up the violin was to ask us to see ourselves on bikes, signal to turn left and then keep the violin in that position.
That to me is typical of two things I can’t stand: 1) not making allowances for individual body structure and 2) a strong tendency for many players to keep the instrument too far to the left, particularly for their physique. Its interesting that the players who keep the violin more to the front tend not to use rests (am thinking of Aaron Rosand and people he has influenced in particular) but that is another story
If one consults Auer’s little book on this issue he is just a little vague. However, he does say ` should be held in such a position that the eye may be fixed on the head of the instrument…..endeavor always to lessen the distance between the arms….` (Now if I had followed the instructions of my first teacher and been able to look at the scroll my neck would have been twisted at 90 degrees from the norm).
It doesn’t surprise me that Auer is less than specific because, like a lot of things in violin playing, it is not so much a case of there being a correct position that fits everyone but rather a rational parameter within which each unique individual is fluid. Positions change from moment to moment. The main guideline for the confused player is the bow arm. If you can keep the bow on at the point with the arm very slightly bent and not stressed that is correct. A second useful thing to keep in mind is that one does not necessarily have to adjust the scroll. Very often the scroll can be left where it is and the base end of the violin moved IE the position of the jaw on the chin rest is changed.
Prunes of course, are invaluable.

From Amy F.
Posted on February 14, 2007 at 12:31 AM
interesting that you mention that people who don't use shoulder rests tend to play with the violin more to the front. i fit with that category, and i wonder whether the reason why i feel that a rest is so uncomfortable is because it encourages a player to hold the violin more to the left. (aside from the obvious lack of flexibility that a rest causes)
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on February 14, 2007 at 3:41 AM
Buri, I am amazed at the lack of typos in your post :).

Seriously...I have wrestled with this. The violin is held quite to the side, and I must look down the scroll to the music and stand perpendicular to the music stand. This is how I was taught to keep the violin from "sagging". Now the problem is that when I sit in orchestra, I am not comfortable unless I am facing the audience and the stand to my side, with my head looking down the violin to the music. This causes awkwardness, I think mostly visually, with the section.

I have asked my teacher if I might sit down for my next lesson to learn where my back pain is coming from in orchestra. I sat down and immediately she said I can't bend my right leg, they both must be heels on floor. But I sit at the tip of my chair and that didn't work. So this weekend I was really really consicous of this during the orchestra rehearsals and concert. Conclusion...I need a higher shoulder rest or some corking under the chin rest...something the widen the body because, yes I hunch..a lot. My teacher is dead on about that. But I think fixing that problem is going to be strongly reliant on my willingness to change my setup. As it is, I really HAVE to scrunch/hunch to hold the instrument. Or else my head is just wandering around not connected to the instrument. Llaaa la la la....

As for the viola. It needs a more frontal position because of the weight and body proportions. I'm still working on that, though.


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 14, 2007 at 4:18 AM
Jennifer, I think you have long arms but that doe s not sound like a very useful position for playing in. Maybe you could experiment with bringing the insturment round? One day you are going to have a veyr close up audience and the guy you are facing has bad breath...
From Jenna Potts
Posted on February 14, 2007 at 6:18 AM

This is a very interesting post. In fact, my pedagogy teacher was discussing this very thing in class today. Now, in the case of the very short student, would you ever think of putting her on a smaller instrument?


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 14, 2007 at 6:41 AM
yes, without hesitation. Comfort first. I`m big enough but I have definitly felt the big instruments I have played have not been healthy in the long run. There are certaibnly small full size instruments around if one has the patience to search.
From Man Wong
Posted on February 17, 2007 at 5:57 PM
Thanks for another excellent blog entry.

Our Suzuki teacher seems to be pretty good about all this stuff too. She certainly seems more flexible than some of the others and is often thinking about comfort/ergonomics for us though she may not be as quick/good at it as you are. I think it probably helps that she herself has to wrestle w/ this subject all the time due to her own injuries from an old, very unfortunate, serious car accident. :-( That and she also has a long neck and sloping shoulders, so really need the extra help for a good violin/viola hold anyway. I'm not sure what size viola she plays now, but it's definitely much smaller than 16" as she cannot handle one for more than a couple minutes anymore.

Currently, I'm casually picking up the viola on a 16" (alongside my beginner's violin lessons), but I'm really at my very limits on playing one and may ultimately have to move down to a 15.5". My arm length is barely enough for a 16" (according to size charts), and I've got rather short fingers. I find that even the slightest diff in the 16" viola's depth/height, including chinrest, makes a significant diff for me. I'm going to see if I can acquire a good 15.5" to compare and see whether I really need to switch. But at the moment, I'm only approaching the viola as a casual thing since I'm such a beginner and the differences in technique are not as pronounced for me just yet -- though the viola obviously feels much bigger and harder to handle and play. :-p It impacts my intonation on the violin, yes, but I'm not good enough yet for the impact to be too serious or too hard to adjust. OTOH, I find the difficulties w/ handling the large size help me become a bit more flexible and relaxed on the violin so far, especially w/ the left hand...

Best regards,


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