Left Hand Position Supporting Violin Issues

January 19, 2008 at 07:56 PM · I recently realized I am tipping the violin down when I'm playing/concentrating and wasn't aware I had started to do this until I started having issues with bowing as well. What I've started doing is placing my left thumb more under the neck vs alongside...rather laying the thumb under the neck as a table to support and with the thumb in this position I can't use it to pull down. I'm trying to be more aware of keeping my left arm/hand up at all times and not push my head down into the instrument.

I would appreciate any thoughts on this. I guess I'm still not 100% confident that I am holding the violin in the best optimal position. I know I tend to push my head down into the instrument and this is probably causing me to then tip the violin down because of the increased weight.

I found the following post by Oliver Steiner very helpful and worth including for other's struggling with the same problems, but I would like to ask everyone...how much pressure on the instrument by the jaw is too much? Is the ideal goal to have a tripod of support with jaw-left hand-left collarbone and the violin should be 'floating' or just what IS the key to a proper, problem-free hold of the instrument?

"From Oliver Steiner

Posted on December 3, 2007 at 06:47 PM

Sometimes violinists will unintentionally pull the scroll downward while playing. This sets up a see-saw battle in which the back of the violin, or the shoulder rest, is the fulcrum, and every increment of downward pull is countered by more clamping of the violin between head and shoulder! The higher the chinrest, the more the violin might tend to tip downward toward the scroll, pouring the weight into the left hand.

My advice is:

1. Remind yourself to push the scroll toward the ceiling while you play.

2. Regardless of your neck length, be careful about building up too high a tower on the chinrest end of the violin. Sometimes the highest possible shoulder rest and chinrest may seem to be be a good idea at first, but in fact turns out to cause various imbalances and additional efforts. Remember that the higher the chinrest tower, the more the violin tends to be tipped into the left hand. This is often corrected by *lowering* all the apparatus on the chinrest end of the violin and pushing the scroll toward the ceiling, so as to shift the weight toward your face, rather than into your left hand.

3. Teach yourself to share some of the holding of the violin with your left hand...at least partially and some of the time at first. Be careful to hold the violin with the left hand only as a table would support the object that rests on it....without any grasping at all.

4. Train yourself to feel how light the violin actually is, so you never have more than a very light touch of the head to the chinrest. The more sensitivity to feel the actual light weight of the instrument, the more immunity from clamping it with the head and shoulder.


Visualize the violin as a see-saw in which your goal is to pour the weight toward the chinrest end, by pushing the scroll upward (rather than pouring the weight into your left hand by pulling the scroll downward.)

Visualize your left arm as the table upon which the violin rests, rather than as the weight which hangs from the violin neck."

Replies (27)

January 19, 2008 at 08:19 PM · What is correct? It isn't one answer. There's more than one way of getting there and more than one body shape! Watch a range of great violinists and you'll see a range of correct technique. There might be a mean but it is all inter-related.

January 19, 2008 at 08:59 PM · T. Netz asks: "how much pressure on the instrument by the jaw is too much?"

Expect that the ideal amount will not be exactly the same at all times. Then, at all times simply use as little as you can get away with. Therefore I would say that the answer to the above question is: One ounce more than needed. This includes the possibility of removing all head weight from the chinrest when possible. For example playing a passage which remains in sixth position (no shifting out of position) one may have the shoulder far away from the violin and the jaw barely touching the chinrest. The violin neck saddle may rest on the thumb and the chinrest end of the violin back may rest on the collar bone.

January 23, 2008 at 09:48 AM · I can't remember whether it was in Carl Flesch's book or Leopold Auer's, both of which are important treatises from early/mid last century, that there are two main acceptable ways of using the left thumb. One is to the side of the neck and the other is underneath to offer support in the way that Oliver Steiner says in your quote.

2 years ago I quit my chin rest (I've only been playing for three years) as I realised it was causing me to clamp the violin between chin and shoulder so everything got locked up and held. This interfered with my vibrato and shifting as well as the freedom of my bowing arm. I'm a teacher of the Alexander Technique and such things are of particular interest to me. So despite having a long neck and having read and studied how players from early last century all held their violin without a shoulder rest, I decided to do the same. The rib sits on my left collarbone and the neck is supported by my left thumb. To take that away causes the violin to drop.

However, as the violin is balancing between thumb and collarbone, it is unstable and during downward shifts can slip away from the neck. Leopold Auer says clearly that the violin should be held as high as possible i.e. a few degrees up from horizontal so when downward shifting when the hand moves away from the body, the weight of the violin and gravity cause the instrument to stay where it is....under your chin which is lightly holding it in place.

Using the thumb under the violin without a shoulder rest requires the thumb to be much more active and lively; using a shoulder rest can allow the violin to be clamped in place and the thumb does relatively little. But with practice the thumb gains agility in moving around as we change positions as well as supporting the instrument. It also helps free up the fingers and right bowing arm. Being so 'unstable' can be very unsettling at first but in time it becomes quite familiar. It took me quite a few months for it to be familiar and now I'm really glad to have worked at it. There is now no concern about whether the rest is at the right height as it's not there. I've also got much more connection with the instrument, rather like riding a horse bareback, if you know what I mean.

January 23, 2008 at 01:44 PM · That's exactly what I needed to hear, Noel. I worry and over-think the way I hold the violin because my teacher uses a shoulder rest and has no problems with it. I stopped using a shoulder rest because I was using too much downward pressure with my head to hold the violin in place. This in turn put pressure on my left shoulder which was not only uncomfortable, but limited my range of motion with the left arm/hand. I found I was actually holding the left elbow 'out' or to the left instead of under the instrument. Once I took off the shoulder rest I could feel that my arm wasn't in the correct position and I had to work a little bit to correct it and pull it in. I think I was holding the left elbow out to counter the pressure from the shoulder rest/violin.

I worry I am using my left hand too much for support but now I see I need to just relax about the left hand and just play. Thanks!

January 24, 2008 at 11:12 AM · Yes, the left arm and elbow needs to come right under the violin. Carl Flesch (who taught Heifetz and you can see this in photos of him) that the violin should be brought round in front (not pointing to the side) as much as possible, the left elbow well underneath and even more when playing G string, and the violin held up to above horizontal. Then relax! Don't let the left arm get stuck or held, it can swing from left to right as you cross strings. I try to keep my shoulders and chest open and broad, so the violin sits on my left collarbone and chin gently resting on the rest.

The left thumb will find the right place to support the instrument if you just 'let' it. Yes, it supports the violin (when there's no shoulder rest) but it needs to be agile for changing positions. I believe some teachers encourage the thumb to advance or retreat up and down the neck in advance of the shift, so it's in place supporting the instrument before the shift. However, Simon Fischer recommends that we allow the thumb to find its own way as it's far more complex than we can rationally work out. Just keep it all relaxed.

By bringing the violin round more in front, this helps the bow go straight from head to frog. There is the sense of 'enclosing' the instrument within your arms.

That's the best I can offer. :-)

Best, Noel

January 24, 2008 at 01:22 PM · There is a lot of variation in where the thumb lands on the neck, in part depending on length of the thumb and distance from webbing to first knuckle of the index. But thumb underneath, except when heading into 4th pos.and up, isn't conventional. It might mean that you are pulling your elbow too far to the right generally and may be exaggerating the "upper & over" feeling in the forearm, wrist & back of the hand that can help get the fingers over the fingerboard. // You may like to read the article "Chinrest Choice" by Denig & Frisch, Strings magazine 2/07. They present a solid argument on how a currently popular chinrest leads to the vln. leaning down the way you describe. Sue

January 24, 2008 at 03:40 PM · Sue, I can't seem to pull up that article and I would like to read it. What did you type to get it?

January 24, 2008 at 04:09 PM · I subscribe to Strings magazine. I found them on the Net before, though, so I'll go looking. Back at you when I have more info. Sue

January 24, 2008 at 04:24 PM · My error! I am so sorry. The article was in American String Teacher, a publication of ASTA/NSOA. I walked through the website & it looks as though there are plans to provide links to articles, but not yet available. Would you know anyone who is an ASTA member who could lend you the magazine?? Feb.'07. Sue

January 24, 2008 at 05:13 PM · I am the articles editor for the ASTA journal and I may have that article in the PDF proof on my computer. If so, I will try to get you a copy. I've asked several times about ASTA creating an article archive, as it would not only make *my* job easier, it would make articles accessible to the general public, and could enhance our membership. I'll keep mentioning it--this thread will help!

January 24, 2008 at 10:58 PM · Greetings,

Noel, Leopold Ayuer taught Heifetz. In his book Auer advocated keeping the two arms as close together as sensiblky possible. But this advice is not reflected in the postures of his studnets which vary tremendously. There are other greta teahcer s who argue that it is better to keep the chest open by hoding the violin morer to the left.

In the end it boils down to physique. It is ratehr hard for me top bring the violin to the right as much as many players. It is also worth bearing in mind that the naturla positon for the arm is hanging down and one should deviate form that as little as possible and return to it as quickly a spossible.



January 25, 2008 at 12:07 AM · Hi T Netz,

Why don't you post a short video, either here or on youtube, that we could look at? I'm sure there are more than a few teachers who wouldn't mind giving you some advice, and we could get a better idea of how you're holding the violin.

Also, don't be so quick to throw away the shoulder pad. You might find that after experimenting with NOT using a shoulder pad, that you can bring that experience and sense of freedom to your playing WITH a shoulder pad and have the best of both worlds...

January 25, 2008 at 01:30 AM · Greetings,

>Also, don't be so quick to throw away the shoulder pad. You might find that after experimenting with NOT using a shoulder pad, that you can bring that experience and sense of freedom to your playing WITH a shoulder pad and have the best of both worlds...

Very good point Howard, although I abhor the lack of reference to prunes.



January 25, 2008 at 04:24 AM · Ah,Buri... orange you getting tired of plumming the depths of prune usage? Or have I mango'd your words?

January 25, 2008 at 04:42 AM · a man who is tired of prunes is tired of life.

January 25, 2008 at 10:50 AM · Auer says using a shoulder pad can reduce the amount of resonance from the violin by as much as 30%.

Thanks Buri for comments on open chest. I maximise my width and openness across front as well as bring the violin around as much as possible. (I'm a teacher of the Alexander Technique so am most keen not to narrow across my front.) It's not necessary to hollow the chest (to be avoided if poss.) in order to 'enclose' the violin within the arms. It's not easy, but possible. However, even when the violin is brought round so it's more in front, it's still at an angle. Heifetz had it more round in front than most I feel, although still at an angle. It's all so subtle...difficult to talk about without images. How does one post a photo here?


January 25, 2008 at 02:36 PM · Kristin, Thanks for weighing in re ASTA magazine articles. I have a notebook full that I've clipped over a number of years. Many people not ASTA members, since not teachers/conductors, could clearly benefit. Surely educating one & all should be correlary to the association's goals. If there is somewhere I could write to support this idea, please let me know. Thanks, Sue

January 25, 2008 at 04:37 PM · "a man who is tired of prunes is tired of life."

LOL...Buri will that be the epitaph on your headstone?

January 26, 2008 at 04:46 AM · Noel,

Well, you can only imagine what sort of pad Auer was referring to. Probably wasn't at all like the modern Kun style pads that barely touch the back. In any case, as much as I respect Auer, it would be interesting to see MODERN hard data on sound production with and without a "pad" (i.e. Kun style apparatus).

January 26, 2008 at 05:06 AM · And 30% in what units? The only unit for measuring this I know of is dB, where 100% (2x) equals the limit of perceptible change. And are you sure it's not 29 1/2? Get real, Leo.

January 26, 2008 at 07:24 PM · On the subject of how far left or right to place the scroll, the one thing I try to avoid is keeping the scroll rigidly fixed at one point along its arc. Rather I find it most helpful to vary the scroll placement as I play (and that's what I teach my students to do)......When I'm approaching the tip, and at the same time want the bow to be near the bridge, I'll have the scroll more to my right. (Less "out motion" is needed.) When I need the freedom to quickly shift to the high positions (e.g.: third page of Scherzo-Tarantelle), it really helps to liberate the movement of the large shift by placing the scroll more to the left. Careful observation of the finest violinists teaches that the more everything is free to move, rather than being held still, the better. Another example of this general principle (nothing gripped, nothing clamped, everything free to move) is in allowing the violin to easily change its tilt, so that a leap of the bow from E string to G string (bow moving counter-clockwise) is accompanied by a small clockwise tilt of the violin. In other words, the G string is being brought toward the bow hair as well as the bow hair is being brought toward the G string. Thus the effort is reduced. Watching Heifetz on YouTube can be a great lesson in this, if one knows what to look for.

January 27, 2008 at 12:23 AM · I have found it helpful to consider a basic position from which one will deviate depending on the circumstances much as Oliver Steiner has outlined previously. To quote from another thread in which issues of balance and form were discussed: "Bill Steck, former concertmaster of the National Symphony explained that he felt that where your arms rest at your sides is a good indication of where, as a basic starting position, they should remain when you lift them into playing position with bent elbows. He felt that the chest area could remain open and therefore there would be less risk in pulling the shoulder forward. He also felt that the chinrest should be adjusted so that it would not be necessary to severely turn one's head and neck to the left but allow the jaw to occupy the space of the chinrest for the most part. There are a number of players nowadays who seem to follow this stance. Their heads almost face the audience with their violins more to the left, even with players of seemingly average length arms. Mark Kaplan specifically talked about this in a master class once explaining that with the chest kept open, one could feel the natural weight of the arm fall onto the string and the left hand, traveling more sideways,could align itself without thrusting the arm around severely to the right and risk overstretching the rhomboid muscles."

I think the idea of an active mobile thumb, even when using a shoulder rest and chin rest is not only useful but necessary. It helps to position the hand for difficult stretches on a given string and for scale like double-stop passages in parallel thirds, fingered octaves, etc. It also gives support to the neck while change the height of the violin ( the scroll end) and relieves dependency on the chin rest/shoulder rest end for bearing the brunt of the support the majority of the time. This is all a shared dynamic (in motion) balance and I do second the idea that if we could see a clear video of you it would help to understand your concerns and offer more specific advice for various situations that come up related to posture/balance/holding/positioning of the violin.

February 15, 2009 at 04:14 AM ·

While it's been about 1 year since Kristin Mortenson's post on January 24 about the ASTA article on Chinrest Choice, I wanted to let everyone know that this article can now be found on our new chinrest site at www.chinrests.com.  I think it's under Resources.  You'll find other chinrest info on the site, too.

February 15, 2009 at 04:14 AM ·

While it's been about 1 year since Kristin Mortenson's post on January 24 about the ASTA article on Chinrest Choice, I wanted to let everyone know that this article can now be found on our new chinrest site at www.chinrests.com.  I think it's under Resources.  You'll find other chinrest info on the site, too.

February 10, 2011 at 02:19 AM ·

As a novice, I would be interested in comments about  the placement of finger 1 (knuckle)  on or away from the neck both during normal playing  and also with vibrato (which for me is undeveloped as of yet).  Thankyou

February 10, 2011 at 02:07 PM ·

I find that I have a better posture and arm position if I am standing.  If I sit when I play, my arm gets lazy and before I know it I am resting my left elbow on my side and then everything else goes to pot.

February 10, 2011 at 02:45 PM ·

"a man who is tired of prunes is tired of life." (Buri)


"a man who is tired of prunes is likely to be constipated."

Because of my build I need to keep the fiddle out to the left slightly more, as this helps the bow. I also try and have the left thumb alongside the kneck, a bit like Ricci and Perlman.

Also, Ricci says one should not jerk when changing position or going for a note, but stretch out like a cat, and also treat the fingerboard as all being in one position.

The only real jerks I know are conductors!! (wink)

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