Just this week, I heard from an advanced student who had been looking for a long time to play the violin without pain in her neck and shoulder. I had a look at her general stance and at how she holds the violin and we have made a few changes, which I thought might be of use to others as well.
Violin playing is a balancing act, involving both strength and flexibility. From time to time, our body tells us that either or both might need some focus. Focus on the body, but also perhaps on the repertoire we are learning.
I always start with addressing a person’s stance. The way we stand on our feet has a profound impact on the way the violin is held, and on how we can achieve a balance in the violin hold. I like to stand with my left foot forward slightly, so that we can start to create a forwards and backwards rocking motion, rather than a sideways sway, which may occur when the feet are next to each other. With the left foot slightly forward, not only can we play with an elongated spine, we also have a counter balance underneath the violin on the left side of the body.
The violin is held quite high up on the shoulder, with the jaw (not chin!) on the chinrest.
In order to enable a more relaxed playing position, it is important that the space between the collarbone and the jaw is filled with either a shoulder rest to support the instrument and/or a slightly elevated chinrest. It depends on the length of each individual’s neck if there is a space at all, and how that space can be best filled.
By standing upright with a correctly balanced instrument, there is plenty of space for both arms to move. In my view it is important to have space for the bow to move forward and also for the left elbow to move freely underneath the instrument. Note that when the correct balance is achieved, there is no need to grip the violin with either the neck or the shoulder.
Once a balancing instrument hold has been established, you will also find that there is much less need for gripping the instrument with the left hand-thumb or base knuckle of the first finger. This is indeed a balance: sometimes, the neck will carry the instrument more, and at other times the left hand will be more supportive.
You will also find that there is mostly very little need to press down the stings more than to stop the string to play the notes. Any more pressure is simply a waste of energy, which will not enhance your playing at all. Very occasionally, when playing double stops however, one might press slightly harder, but generally speaking, we play with as little finger pressure on the fingerboard as possible.
Once you have established a balanced violin hold, you will probably also find that bowing becomes more free too, as both arms generally are in sync as far as pressure is concerned. In addition, when the violin is held more with the balanced hold, the bow arm can move further forward, which will encourage straight bowing and the use of longer bows.
All of this is dependent on each individual’s posture and stance and small adjustments may be necessary for each individual. It is also important to bear in mind that when learning a more balanced stance and violin hold, you choose repertoire which is not too demanding, to fully develop and consolidate the new techniques.
At Pro-Am Strings,we will gladly help you finding your own individual set-up for a balanced violin hold.
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