November 4, 2007 at 5:22 PM
With or without the shoulder rest:
Do not clamp your Jaw, Neck and Shoulder to hold the instrument.
Pretend you are playing and using those above-mentioned parts. Do you feel the tension typically applied to hold a few ounces of wood and string? Now, keep the tension and pretend you are shifting, doing string crossings and/or vibrato. Do you feel the tremendous resistance to the desired motions? This is what must be banished from your playing.
The only time I will temporarily clamp the instrument is to turn a page with my left hand.
Having played with (13 years) and without (34 years) the shoulder rest, I can do both ways, but personally find the shoulder rest to be a huge interference to movement. Mind you, I do allow and teach the use of the SR when it truly is necessary due to physical structure or psychological need. (By the way, I am 6’2” so it is not as though I have a short neck.)
Many players absolutely need a shoulder rest and many simply do not have the correct chin-rest for stability and ease of motion –– especially for the shifting down in the lower 3 positions.
I use a modified Strad Model chin rest because of the rounded ridge that easily stays behind my jawbone with no added pressure.
Crucial to this is the absolute need to hold the violin up to such a degree that the strings are level to the floor or preferably rising 1–3º particularly during ascending and descending shifts. The chin-rest and ribs of the instrument should not tilt away from your neck.
Try holding the violin face-high in front of you at a perpendicular line to your body. Look at it from the lowering side as when checking the bridge. Support the neck between the left hand’s thumb and 1st-finger (just above the knuckle) and place your right hand’s thumb under the edge where the collarbone would be supporting the instrument. Raise and lower the instrument maintaining the level strings and note the extreme lightness (especially without the shoulder rest) and the ascending line of the body of the instrument. This transfers a great deal of the weight to your body where it isn’t particularly noticeable.
Next, very, very lightly touch your chin-rest with the fingertips over the ridge of the chin-rest. If it is a flatter model then extend your fingers to the front edge. Again, this is to be extremely light –– no squeezing! Now shift/slide your left hand back and forth along the neck in the lower 4 – 5 positions. At first, keep your fingers off the strings. As your get a feel for the ease and lightness of touch gradually add 1 and then more fingers to the mix –– initially use a light, feather touch and then stronger.
During all of the above do NOT grip the chin-rest and instrument with the right hand. Simply do not allow the right hand finger (I use one to demonstrate how little is needed) to open thereby preventing the pulling away of the instrument during the downward/outward and actually upward shift. Remember to keep the slight ascent of the strings to the scroll. The finger over the chin-rest is imitating the jaw’s placement over/beyond the ridge of the chin-rest. (With a shorter neck less ridge is needed, but it must feel that the instrument cannot pull out unless you lift the jawbone out of the way –– again, no squeezing.
Do all of the above with the violin angle descending even slightly and the increase of weights and tension in both hands are exponential.
Remember: the chin-rest is not a chin-gripper and the shoulder-rest is not a shoulder-gripper and the Jaw, Neck and Shoulder are not vises to clamp down on the poor unsuspecting violin or viola.
Here is an additional excerpt that might help a bit further:
This deals with the physics of playing and handling the instrument.
1. Stance 2. Instrument 3. Left Hand: a. Thumb & b. Index Finger
Shifts in #2 & #3
1. Stand/sit tall supporting the abdominal and lower-back regions – “tuck in the butt and suck in the gut.”
a. Lift the chest without arching the lower back – keep it straight as possible.
b. When standing, balance over the arches of the feet – do not lean over the toes.
c. Keep an easy, flexible, alert stance and never lock the knees.
2. The instrument is to be held so that the strings are parallel to the floor.
a. The left arm should be held high enough so that the left hand is approximately mouth/nose high. (This practice goes back to the writing of Leopold Mozart in 1756.)
1) The left arm should take the fingers to the desired string(s) by the pendulum action from the shoulder.
2) Shifts are accomplished by moving the – note the order of thought – arm/hand/thumb/fingertip simultaneously. (Extensions are different.)
In thinking back, I first learned this particular bad habit in school: they taught us to hold the violin up without using our left hand at all, a sort of "look ma, no hands!" type of thing. I remember being really proud of being able to do this and somehow internalized the idea that if I ever needed to use my left hand to hold up the instrument at all, that was wrong. I now use my left hand just a tiny bit, sometimes, to hold the instrument up, and that has made a huge difference in being able to play for longer periods without pain. I think we need to be careful about what we tell kids about holding the instrument when they are first learning. I don't think it's a good idea to have them strive to keep the left hand completely uninvolved with holding up the instrument at all times.
I also had a situation of severe pain in my early 20’s that caused me to pursue a better way. Fortunately one of my Professors, Leonard Sorkin (founder and 1st violin with the Fine Arts Quartet) was a Misha Mishakoff (student of Auer) protégée and he showed me in one lesson the basics of playing freely and using only my collarbone and left hand/arm to support the violin.
I had actually studied with him for 4 years prior to this, but the need never arose to modify things as I had no pain and didn’t have difficulty maneuvering around the violin. I had experimented playing without the shoulder rest, but didn’t have a need-to-do motivation.
The same principals of technique work whether one plays with or without the shoulder rest.
Everything (!) is easier with the violin held up by the left hand. The left hand actually functions in a far superior way and the tone is naturally enhanced as gravity is being used to fullest advantage.
So glad you benefited from the blog and I hope a few others have as well.
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