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Should You Lift or Rotate Your Shoulder when Bowing on the G String

Zlata Brouwer

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Published: August 21, 2014 at 12:02 PM [UTC]

In this episode of Violin Lounge TV I answer a question from a viewer. Mike Pearson writes as a comment on my video ‘What to do if your shoulder hurts when playing on the G string':
How important is it to rotate your shoulder forward when playing on the G string? My teacher says to show everyone behind you your armpit. I am a beginner and when I bow like this it seems to aggravate an old rotator cuff injury. I know this is probably the correct technique, but it is painful especially when at the tip of the bow on the G string and I rotate to the D string. I don’t want to quite, any advise would be appreciated.

First I would like you to ask yourself this question: Should you play exactly the same way your teacher plays? My answer is: NO!

Everybody has got a different body. Everybody plays in a different way. Everybody has got a different muscle tonus. Everybody should find their own way of playing.

Of course there are standards, proven ways and best ways to play, but there is a certain part of playing the violin that is personal.

You play with two instruments: your body and the violin (three, if you also count the bow as a separate instrument).

When a certain technique does not fit your body, you should look for an alternative technique. This is true for a lot of techniques, amongst them playing on the G string.

When you use a certain technique, it should match your violin AND your body. You should find a balance between what result you want, for example playing on the G string with a beautiful tone, and what is good for your body.

If you develop a lot of tension or an injury using a certain technique... you will hear this in the sound of your violin. The violin is a very sensitive instrument. You can hear everything you feel and everything you think in the sound of your violin. You MUST find a way to play comfortably to be able to play beautifully. You shouldn’t quit because of pain, because it’s possible for everybody to play effortlessly and comfortably.

If people behind you should see your armpit, you have to do something really strange with your shoulder. If it works for you, it’s fine. If it hurts you, don’t do it. This strange shoulder position doesn’t improve your tone.

When playing on the G string, you have to keep your arm and elbow a little up, but never higher than your wrist.

Sometimes the cause of the problem can be in a different area than the problem shows itself. The solution to your problem can again be in a different area. Think about this. A good violin hold might be the solution to the pain in your right shoulder. Let me explain...

When the position of your violin forces you to lift your arm so high that people behind you can see your armpit, then your violin might be too much pivoted to the back. Make sure your shoulder rest is not too high and that the foot on the front isn’t too high. This might seem comfortable for your neck, but it will hurt your right shoulder and arm. Besides that it doesn’t improve your tone.

Your violin should be a little pivoted to the front. This makes bowing easier. Please watch the video to see exactly what I mean. I will show you the good position and the bad position and illustrate what is best.

Your violin should not be too much on your shoulder and not too much to the left. Also it shouldn’t be too high.

Sometimes people say ‘no pain, no gain’. This is not the case in violin playing. Pain will be translated by the violin into bad tone.

My motto is: ‘Pain? No gain!'

Push your shoulder down and never lift your shoulder.

I hope you have gotten some good tips from this video. Take from it what works for you and leave the rest :).

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

From Cristina Haines
Posted on August 21, 2014 at 6:07 PM
"You shouldn’t quit because of pain, because it’s possible for everybody to play effortlessly and comfortably."

Thank you so much for saying this! When I was a kid, my abusive mother did not allow me to play the violin at all. I walked and rode the bus for 3 hours to the nearest university to audition for the music program and got in, but I had never had the opportunity to take lessons before. So when I started college and began practicing A LOT for the first time in my life—not really knowing proper technique yet—I injured myself. It has taken me 7 years to complete a music performance degree, and I have injured my right shoulder twice during this time. Playing the violin always hurts, and this can be extremely frustrating for me. But I am SO, SO, SO determined to find a way to play the violin without pain! I have been very diligent about this, studying everything and taking in as much information as I can. It is still difficult to play in orchestra because of my shoulder injuries, though. I am hopeful that my body will move past these day.

I do want to point out something: When you say to "push" your right shoulder down, I think "push" is the wrong word. The shoulder should be in its natural position. The first time I injured myself, it was because my shoulder was too high; the second time was because I was trying to overcorrect by pushing it down, and it was rubbing against a tendon. Be careful about pushing your shoulder down to compensate; the bottom of the shoulder blade should come down in its natural position without requiring forceful movement from the top of the shoulder. I had to strengthen my shoulder blades in order for this to happen (which is where a good physical therapist comes in!)

From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on August 27, 2014 at 9:00 AM
Hi Christina,

Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right! Forcing your shoulder down into an unnatural position is just as bad. The reason why I tell people to push it down is that they tend to pull it up and it comes back into a natural position when I say ‘push down’. Of course this differs per person.

Ah, I know these exercises for your back... when I had pain in my neck and shoulders I had to do the same ones (probably) to bring my muscles in balance again. The violin muscles were overtrained and muscles on my back were undertrained. I’m trying to do these exercises daily...

All the best,


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