Why is the violin played resting on the shoulder?
After looking at a list of bowed string instruments on Wikipedia, it seems to me that relatively few instruments are played on the shoulder like a violin or viola. More bowed instruments are played in an upright stance with the front of the instrument facing away from the player, such as the cello, viola da gamba, and a variety of Asian and Middle Eastern instruments. Even small instruments can be played upright, such as the treble viol, so it's not like the size of a violin makes an upright stance impractical. Why are the violin and viola played resting between the shoulder and the head? Is there a technical advantage to this position?
The gravitation force is not pulling the bow away from its contact point but helping you getting that string in motion.
Also being able to stand and move around. You see cellos with super long endpins that allow standing, but it's not very efficient. With a smaller instrument it'd be even worse.
When respectable folk kept a "chest of viols" for ad hoc chamber music with their respectable friends, and barber's shops would have a lute at the disposition of those waiting their turn, the violin was a nasty, brash thing for leading dances and processions.
I think it's because when a violinist goes table to table in a chintzy restaurant playing sappy tunes to couples for tips, the bowing arm doesn't accidentally get in the way of the wait staff carrying trays of tiramisu and prosecco.
Then again, it could just be a way to sell more shoulder rests...
If I recall history correctly, the early European violins were "street" instruments, too loud and raucous for inside performances (viols were the chamber instruments) so shoulder/arm playing allowed for movement.
When the instrument is planted on the ground by means of an end-pin, or if you are sitting in a chair, then you can't very well sway gaily like a minstrel of yore, can you?
You will notice how hampered the bass player is here by his bass planted on the ground...
The OP was talking specifically about
You don't have to put the violin on the shoulder if you don't want to, as this guy shows a la viola da gamba style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NseBdxfHk5k
I've played chamber music with a professional cellist...subbing for the first violin...in the Schubert Cello Quintet. He played the violin like a cello, brilliantly. Humbling.
Thank you all for your great replies! I learned a lot from this discussion. I didn't know this simple question would get so many responses!
Wait you should not compare cello or bass with Asian string instruments. Most Asian instruments' bows hit the lowest part of the string, like just above the cello's bridge, except ther isn't one. And Asian string instruments have their bow between two strings. This lets the player pull the bow outwards-downwards, taking intire advantage of the gravity also.
David, that's a wonderful clip! I'm going circulate it to the cellists in my orchestras.
actually, I thought the violin was held between the jaw and the collarbone and didn't rest on the shoulder.
No one has asked the obvious question: given the demands of the repertoire, where else would it be held?
I'd say the collarbone and she shoulder are connected, so this question is right.
My guess is during the early 18th century the violin was moved from below the collarbone to on the collarbone as passages required (as Scott alludes to). How else could Locatelli etc play? Eventually it just stayed there.
Then there's this, of course: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NseBdxfHk5k
Re: Ella Yu's commment:" I'd say the collarbone and she shoulder are connected, so this question is right" — I actually have a bone to pick on that as I have the same thoughts as Michael's ("actually, I thought the violin was held between the jaw and the collarbone and didn't rest on the shoulder.")
And of course Stefan Dymiter is always an inspiration...shows you how there's no single correct way for everyone. He found his own solution to overcame his handicap.
Mobility's sake and accuracy.
Dorian, and others, every single restless player I have seen, from nearby, or on videos, uses shoulder support some of the time, even if they hotly deny it!
I agree! That's true for me when I play modern rep up in the fingerboard and my left hand thumb leaves the neck and goes on the side of the fingerboard. Without left hand support I have to use my shoulder momentarily for those passages.
A look at old illustrations show that the violin has been slowly migrating from in front, on the chest, un-supported, gradually up and to the left, so that some modern players have the violin almost in line with the body. The original name of the viola was the Viola d' bratsche - the arm-viol. The main is reason is better bowing efficiency, gravity assist, better leverage. We want the string to be horizontal so that gravity does not pull the bow off of the best point-of-contact. The chin-rest and shoulder-rest were invented to better support the violin in that position, to free the left hand. The Cellists have the opposite problem: their left hand is free, but they are constantly fighting gravity. Some use the new bent end-pin, which puts the cello at almost a 45 o angle. jq
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