Jaw Position

Edited: June 6, 2018, 1:43 PM · I have talked to about 20 students and a few teachers in the last few years about a very specific problem, with no luck or useful advice. But I would like to try again to see if anyone on violinist.com has this problem, before I go to a dentist or another physical therapist. Thanks for any thoughts you have!

Because of gravity when resting my jaw on the chinrest or any other surface, the weight of my head pushes my jaws together and therefore my teeth. To prevent this, I push down onto the chinrest with my throat/mouth muscles (flex) and push up with my tongue onto the roof of my mouth to fill the space. All these muscles get strained, and in the last year it turned into TMJ tension. The lasting alignment of my jaws is as if they are compressed by resting on the chinrest: lower jaw pulled to the left overall, plus tilted so that the back left of the lower jaw is elevated and the front left of the lower jaw is down. I'm constantly aware of how much I'm pushing buffer I'm creating with the muscles and whether my lower jaw is getting pushed to the right side (from the tilt of the violin). My question is, are you able to rest your jaw passively while you play without your teeth touching? Or do you observe yourself doing something with your jaw to prevent this?

I have tried all chinrests and shoulder rests (or none) including my own designs. Of course it's worse when I'm playing a section of a piece that is beyond where my hand can quite hold up the violin without considerable head pressure.

Replies (17)

June 4, 2018, 5:23 PM · This sounds to me like squeezing. When you hold a violin, you do put pressure on the chinrest with your chin, but it should come from the natural weight of your head and not chin squeezing or clamping. Avoid chin and neck tension. Make sure the weight of the violin rests on the chest/collarbone region and not the shoulder itself. Avoid placing the whole chin on the chin rest. You only need the left side of your chin (or just the chin bone if yours portrudes) to sit on the chin rest. Don't overturn your head.
June 5, 2018, 9:37 AM · Hi Esther,

With my violin hold the jaw contacts the chinrest and my left hand doesn't hold the violin at all. The weight of my head is sufficient to do this and no extra pressure is applied so in a way I am totally relaxed. It sounds like you might be having chronic problems f4om prolonged tension in your basic hold and you might not be doing it as effortlessly as need be. It is hard for me to correct old habits and perhaps you could try focusing for five minutes at a time playing with less head downward pressure and not worrying so much about bowing and intonation.

June 5, 2018, 9:56 AM · Or if you can't fix it any other way, you could try a style of playing in which you don't (mostly) hold the instrument up with your head at all, but with your left hand (generally used without a shoulder rest).

What you've been doing definitely sounds very hard to do - when I do support the instrument with my head, as Jeff says, the ideal is to use pure gravity, but even when squeezing (a bad habit of mine), I definitely still have my teeth closed, not open. I can't even imagine playing that way.

Another thought - is it possible your instrument is too large, too heavy, or its balance point is too close to the scroll end? If you are small, you might be better off with a smaller-pattern instrument like some Guarneri models. I have a Scott Cao 750 (Chinese workshop instrument, i.e. not expensive) David Guarneri copy that has a lengthwise balance much closer to the chinrest than the scroll than my other instruments, and it made low-pressure holds, especially restless, much easier for me - and I'm an average-height man, so I would expect most women and shorter men might benefit even more from such a balance in their instrument. Playing this instrument caused me to immediately realize a different way to hold the violin (after ~35 years of playing before), that I could then transition back to my other instruments...so possible even borrowing someone else's light, small instrument for a while and experimenting might help, without having to buy a new one.

June 5, 2018, 10:18 AM · Apart from the advice above, what is the problem with the head weight transmitting via the teeth? Are they poorly aligned (very common..)?
June 5, 2018, 11:50 AM · Don't open and close your mouth when playing, unless you have to talk or sing. It causes chin tension. The left upper arm supports the violin slightly, but overall, you must be secure and free.
Edited: June 5, 2018, 3:55 PM · 50 years ago I found the perfect chinrest shape for MY jaw (it is not a popular shape "Original Stuber" (made in Germany - the ones they sell now - made in Asia - do not work at all for me - but custom made in UK does). Ten years after that I started to need something softer on top of the the chinrests - I started with chamois - now I use a thicker pad that protects my jaw on the chinrest and underneath the violin - on my collarbone - they also shield your neck from the chinrest hardware.

This item, sold on Amazon.com for about $10 is what I now use on several chinrests ( https://www.amazon.com/String-Chinrest-Violin-Viola-Preventing-Contact/dp/B01ED3QJZ4 ). A slightly more substantial but nearly identical item sold by SHAR costs about twice as much - I have several of those too. Both types attach quite easily in the same way to various chinrest styles.

I suggest that similar protection might work for Esther, the OP.

June 5, 2018, 4:20 PM · Like other suggested, it sounds like an improper SR/CR setup. You shouldn't have to use downward pressure to hold your instrument. Holding your head straight is all that should be needed. How far back do you have your SR set?
June 5, 2018, 4:22 PM · Whaat Francis said, but also, chiro/alexander/alignment work could help a lot! I can relate to what you're saying and those things have helped me rethink and relax my jaw position a lot. It takes time and relearning though.
June 5, 2018, 4:42 PM · You're squeezing too much all the time.

Remember many 18th and 19th century sources still said to only put your head on the violin temporary in moments of shifting, and which means by default play chin off.

I'm not saying you should play chin off, but you really don't need much force on the chin rest most of the time because you're not constantly shifting every moment. And even in moments of downward shift, It's more like having the minimum friction of your jaw to chin rest to keep the instrument from slipping off.

June 5, 2018, 4:44 PM · I suggest removing the chinrest and playing without it as an exercise of learning to play with little or no pressure from the head. It's doable, as seen for example in the following video:

Amandine Beyer Ciaccona live. (Her studio recording is a better performance.)

Always playing that way might not be a viable option for you, but the exercise of playing without is helpful for reducing the dependence on the chinrest / jaw.

Edited: June 5, 2018, 11:44 PM · Thanks for all of your replies. So it sounds like your teeth are touching when you play. If they are touching, what prevents them from getting pushed together too much or being ground together? This would be helpful to know. As I said, the weight of my head pushes my jaws and teeth together (from gravity alone, even when I hold the violin entirely with my hand or when I rest my head on another surface like a table).
June 6, 2018, 12:21 AM · Your teeth are pretty durable. Having them touch shouldn't be an issue. It certainly hasn't been an issue for me or anyone else that I know.
June 6, 2018, 12:26 AM · Esther:
The biting process is made with the jaw and its muscles. You can use as much gravity of your head as you want, and you will not even pierce a soft apple.
If you are not a bruxist (a person who symptomatically clenches the jaw and grind the teeth), you have nothing to worry about the effect of gravity to your teeth. Unless you have an unusual jaw shape or teeth misalignment, you are looking for solutions to a non-existing problem and those solutions are what's really damaging you. Play normally without trying any of those techniques to sepparate the teeth. Only if you feel pain in the teeth or soreness in the jaw muscles, look for solutions. If you can't get that out of your head, you may use a mouthguard for bruxism but I think it would only be a placebo...
June 6, 2018, 4:44 AM · Violin's weight is about 400 grams.
June 6, 2018, 8:52 AM · Part of the problem could be the choice of chinrest. I ask new students, "Is that the original chinrest that came with your violin?". Almost always they answer "Yes". I say "then it is probably not the best one for you". The makers prefer the Guarnari model because it puts the clamps on a safer spot, the end-block. But when given a comparison choice, only a minority will choose that chinrest. Even with 1st tier soloists I see some of them not using the Guarneri chin-rest as designed, they have their chin partly over the tailpiece and half of the cup sticking out in the air. Some Violists and early music specialists use the Flesch model, centered over the tailpiece. The majority use some version of the in-between design, partly over the tailpiece, like the Teka. Those have a ridge that catches the inside edge of the jaw-bone, and the violin just hangs there, without any extra force from the neck muscles. The Ohrenform model is gaining in popularity. My personal favorite is the Hollywood, which might be the same as what I got from the Hans Weisshaar shop in LA. One of Paul Roland's books has a valuable discussion on this topic. The horizontal angle of the violin is also part of the decision.
June 6, 2018, 9:02 AM · Hi Joel, I have tried many shapes of chinrests and shoulder rests and am making my own chinrest.
June 6, 2018, 7:43 PM · It could also be just tension when you are playing. If so, focus on relaxing. This would also greatly improve your playing if that's the case. Teeth grinding is often linked to tension; I greatly doubt it's the weight of your head, unless you are so relaxed that it's a total dead weight, which would be really exceptional.

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