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A Check List to Develop Excellent Violin Posture and Position

October 17, 2019, 7:19 PM · Let me show you how to hold the violin and bow. Got it? Excellent!

violin position
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:

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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October 18, 2019 at 01:27 AM · Laurie, great article, but I have a question. Many players (e.g. Anne Akiko Myers or Janine Jansen) play with a great deal of tilt of the violin. Simon Fischer even suggests adjusting the tilt if one is a first or second violinist. Do you have any pictures that show a “typical” tilt?

October 18, 2019 at 01:41 AM · Do you mean tilting forward? That is very normal - but tell a beginner that and you run the risk that it will go sloping full sideways! I think the mental idea of a flat table is helpful, but yes it will be tilted forward.

October 18, 2019 at 03:51 AM · Good point!

October 18, 2019 at 12:06 PM · I enjoyed reading and will read again more carefully later. I'm having some shoulder issues so I want to try and "reboot" my posture and hold positions.

That whole "flat table" concept is baloney. Level on the long axis of the violin -- fine. But level along the other axis? I don't know any violinists who play that way.

Just noticing that the "Illustration by Jessica Schallock" does not include a shoulder rest. :)

October 18, 2019 at 02:48 PM · Paul, I concede that the table business is more of a visualization for the person whose violin is sliding down and down. As for the illustration, in the original article that her father Michael Schallock wrote on, he does extensively address the fact that you can hold the violin with or without a shoulder rest and has an illustration with a shoulder rest (and various options) as well.

October 18, 2019 at 03:19 PM · Very helpful, Laurie! Question: I stand up when I practice, and have since I was a little girl. My lessons were always conducted standing up, which is probably why. To this day, I am more comfortable playing while standing. (You make a good point about keeping the back and spine erect, whether seated or standing.) Do you encourage your students one way or another in terms of practice position? (Clearly, I don't practice more than an hour at a stretch, so standing works for me!)

October 18, 2019 at 03:38 PM · Diana, I like standing - I think you can get the optimal position that way. That said, it is not always possible. If you are sitting, make sure you have a good chair that is armless, with a fairly flat, minimally cushioned seat that does not throw your spine backwards . (Several companies make orchestra chairs, which are great.)

October 18, 2019 at 08:41 PM · I take it standing on one foot while playing is completely out...

October 19, 2019 at 05:54 AM · I have tried all of it, including being relax......

I had to stop playing since November 2013.....

Trigger finger, pinched nerve....etc....

It happened sudden...

But at least I could play some samples of sound and coach.....

October 19, 2019 at 01:35 PM · As an old violinist, I appreciate this concise review of proper posture. Sometimes age brings on laziness in posture and I've learned doesn't take much to start repetitive injury problems.

October 19, 2019 at 08:32 PM · The tilt angle; For me, the minimum tilt would be when the bow is horizontal while on the D string. Less than that angle, the bow arm needs to lift too high while on the G string, you lose leverage. The maximum tilt would be when the bow is horizontal while on the G string. More than that angle the bow is almost vertical while playing on the all important E string, you are pushing sideways, losing the assist of gravity. One advantage to not using the conventional shoulder rest (not me) is that you are not locked into one angle, you can vary the tilt to the string level (I don't do this).

October 20, 2019 at 07:22 PM · Professional violinists are more aware than ever about the need to look after ourselves and our students’ physical health. Sometimes we still lack detailed anatomical information, for example, what exactly is a shoulder ? Are we talking about the shoulder blade, the collar bone, the humerus ? Are we clear where the humerus articulates with the scapula ? Do we have a clear mental image ? The book ‘what every musician needs to know about the body’ by Barbara Conable is a great place to get this information.

October 21, 2019 at 01:46 PM · I guess I'm the odd-man-out when it comes to my elbow. I move my elbow, not my wrist, to change strings as I have come to learn, moving the elbow while maintaining a wrist in line with the ulna keeps the finger-tips in the same plane and therefore in tune. Also my palm is almost parallel with the fingerboard (compensating for a short fourth finger metacarpal).

October 22, 2019 at 10:42 AM · The very concepts of "violin hold" and "bow hold" are the source of all problems because those concepts themselves cause tension and rigidity in the body. The correction of those should always be involving the musical aspect, which is lacking when a cure addresses only the physical posture. I found the Havas New Approach, having been created by a musician, much more complete and resolutive. I help violin & viola players play freely, without pain, injuries and stage fright.

October 22, 2019 at 11:43 PM · George, I think it depends on the kind of string crossing. The arm/elbow is good for when you are changing from playing on one string to another; the wrist works well for rapid and repeated string-changes (bariolage).

Monica, I agree - physical posture has to allow for constantly changing positioning. There is physical posture that allows it, and physical posture that blocks it!

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