A Check List to Develop Excellent Violin Posture and Position
Let me show you how to hold the violin and bow. Got it? Excellent!
Illustration by Jessica Schallock.
It seems like it should be possible to cover "how to hold the violin" in one quick lesson with a teacher, or with a glance at an illustration on the internet or in a book. Somehow, that's not enough - not even close.
Good posture and positioning most often requires years of tweaking, with a long cycle of breaking old habits and forming new ones. Early violin lessons focus on position, but the subject continues long afterwards. I can't count the number of times I've seen teachers raise issues about posture and position in master classes for high-level conservatory students. And beyond the student years, a professional player must also constantly assess his or her playing positions. Good habits can easily go bad -- this is human nature. And unaddressed position problems can lead to injuries. If you don't address them in the practice room, you may find yourself addressing them in physical therapy!
That said, there are a number of things you can check on a regular basis, just to make sure you are staying on the right track. I've come up with a simple quick-hit list to get you started. I've addressed these suggestions to "you," but you can also use this list to check the posture and positioning of a student, or if you are a parent of a young violinist, of a child that you are helping. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
Violin Position Check List:
- Head and neck: Is your head straight? Make sure it is not tilting to either side. The head will likely be turned slightly to the left, but that is different from being tilted to the left. Keep your neck in good alignment with your spine, and your head atop that. Are you straining your neck muscles? Don't! The weight of the head resting on the chin rest should be sufficient to keep the violin up, without any clenching from the muscles in the neck. (You can tweak your shoulder rest and/or chin rest to achieve this, but that is another blog for another day!)
- Shoulders: Relax both shoulders. As a biofeedback therapist once told me, one of the basic human reactions to stress of any kind is to tense the muscles in the shoulders. So you'll need to keep checking your shoulders as you play, as the shoulders are prone to tensing up again and again. On the left side, check that you are not over-tensing your shoulder in order to "hold" the violin. On the right side, check that your arm is moving freely from the shoulder socket, and that the shoulder is not trying to "help" by tensing. The shoulder should be down - scrunching it upwards does nothing for your bow mechanics.
- Back and Spine: If you are standing, stand erect. If you are sitting, sit erect. Note: Your spine will not be as straight as a rod because spines are not made that way; spines have a natural curve. That said, you know what "straight" means. Do not slouch at the belly or hunch at the shoulders. Sit up, or stand up, and take a deep breath. Also avoid standing "overly" straight - don't arch the back or stand with hips too far forward.
- Violin position: Keep the violin parallel to the ground, or more or less, with the top of the violin relatively flat, like a table. (It will not be literally flat, it will tilt forward, but visualizing the table can help correct a drooping fiddle.) The scroll should point neither to the floor or to the ceiling. The scroll should be somewhat to the left. It should not be completely 90 degrees to the left, nor should it be straight-ahead in front of you, but somewhere in between. No droopy scrolls!
- Left arm: "Elbow over left toe, wrist straight" - a famous teacher described it that way, more as something to visualize rather than to do literally. Here's more detail: If your elbow is pointing backwards, you are probably slouching, and you're likely putting your fingers at a disadvantage because they are too low, causing strain. Bringing the elbow forward puts the hand and fingers into an easier position over the fingerboard, so the fingers can simply drop onto the strings, allowing for more fluidity, easier vibrato, etc. But don't over-do it; if the elbow is too far forward, that also can cause strain. So the elbow should be under the violin and slightly forward. The wrist should be straight; neither collapsing in nor sticking out. Some double-stops and reaches require a slight collapsing of the wrist, and that's okay, but the default position will be straight. The thumb counters the fingers but should not grab the violin. The violin is cradled in the hand but not "held" by the hand.
- Right arm: Again, relax the shoulder. The arm should move freely at the elbow. The upper arm supports, helps with string crossings and getting to the frog, but the forearm does most of the work. The wrist should be flexible, hand relaxed generally below the wrist. A constantly inverted wrist causes tension and limits mobility.
- Balance: If you are standing, balance your weight on both feet, rather than favoring one over the other.
- Movement: No part of your body should be strictly rigid. Violin-playing is fluid by nature, and a good position should allow you to relax and move with the music - without injuring yourself!
In the end, the most important thing is to develop a position (or more accurately, a system of positions) that accommodates the violin while allowing natural movements that keep your body in alignment. It will require a lot of analysis and monitoring of habits, as well as building the muscle strength that allows you to maintain good posture and positioning. Happy (and healthy) playing!
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