Just how did Milstein support the violin?

December 7, 2007 at 11:04 PM · And this time noticed that Nathan Milstein, in the Mendelssohn VC clip, appears not to have a shoulder rest, his chin rarely contacts the violin, his left hand is, must be, supporting the instrument and yet it is freee moving, and (sigh) his bow arm. [let me say, that the bow arms of those guys captivate me].

What was he doing to support the instrument as if he wasn't.


December 7, 2007 at 11:46 PM · Hey, Sharelle. I believe, if he didn't use a rest, that he must have used a pad. Only he could hold the violin like that and play like that. He would be amazing at the baroque violin, though!

December 8, 2007 at 12:01 AM · It's quite possible he used a pad under his suit coat--that's what Oistrakh did and they both did study with Stoliarsky at the beginning.

December 8, 2007 at 12:06 AM · You don't need a pad to balance the violin on your collarbone and left hand. When I'm demonstrating things to my students, I find I often don't have to use my chin, either. And you can move your left hand freely without losing balance, too, with a little training.

December 8, 2007 at 01:21 AM · Wow Emily! Are you a magician or something?

December 8, 2007 at 03:45 AM · Milstein is on record as saying that the function of the left hand is to support the violin. I doubt he used a pad. In some of the Youtube videos you can see him adjusting his jacket so that is away from his collarbone.

Someone (I believe it was a v.com colleague who played for Milstein as a teenager) said that he played the opening of the Wieniawski Scherzo Tarantella with the violin on his chest.

Supporting the violin with the left hand is very feasible and many of us would claim, very desirable.

December 8, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Maybe.

December 8, 2007 at 07:43 AM · It's also pretty clear from those clips that Milstein's fiddle was not stuck in one position; that it would slip a little from time to time, and he would adjust it while he was playing. Or he might shift the angle, maybe to get at a high G position better. This is only possible if the left hand is taking much of the weight.

I have found that my LH is more accurate and more free since using it to give the violin more support. Losing the SR was the single most productive thing I have done for LH technique.


December 8, 2007 at 08:12 AM · Graham, I wish you hadn't said that. Now I'm having impulses to ditch the rest again.

I have a feeling though, that tomorrow, when I have a chance to work on my newly relaxed and flexible left wrist, will lead to flexibility in other areas--actually pretty close to your remark.

December 8, 2007 at 10:13 AM · Crikey! That;s really something then. And kudos to you Emily and any one else who can do this. I don't see myself doing it, although I like the idea of it - I just can't seem to get a comfy chin/neck. I don't notice it being tense now, but often I feel like I've got a lump in my throat. I've tried a couple of chinrests, and may go down that route again, just a bit harder to get them via internet for 3/4 size. My shoulder rest almost isn't there - a 3/4 kun on its lowest level. I feel much better with it than without it.

Realistically, even if I ditched the rest and learned to support the violin with my left hand, I still wouldn't get as good as Nathan Milstein, do you think.

December 8, 2007 at 12:44 PM · Hi Sharelle,

I see you are doing the AMEB exams, too! I'm up to grade 7, but I seem to have been very very slow in my progress because I've been learning for ages. You are already nearly catching up on me.

One reason my progress has been slow is that I've stubbornly insisted on playing the way I like playing - which is without a rest. No doubt the talent element comes into it too (me being a slow learner). I started late, and always figured that I would be best served in the long run by following my strong instincts. I probably could not have lasted the distance any other way. It has been tough at times.

For some reason, from the very beginning, I had a strong impulse not to use a rest. This was when I was totally 'green' and knew not a thing. But the more I have learned over the years the more encouraged I have become.

Milstein is my number one favourite violinist. I do strongly believe he didn't use a pad. I must have seen every video of him ever made. You often see other 'rest-less' violinists such as Francescatti occasionally adjust a foam pad under their jackets. Never Milstein. He didn't use his shoulder at all, unlike Heifetz. Corwin is right. He held the violin in his hand. Not only can you see this in all the films but he actually stated this in interviews. He said that you hold the violin in the left hand. His friend Bill Primrose was the same and said that you hold the violin "like a country fiddler", and that "you should be able to teach a swan how to play", meaning that even the use of the chin is not crucial - at least not all of the time.

But such a method is difficult. It is not for very many violinists. For Milstein it was probably easy because he was a violinistic genius. As for me, I'm happy with my playing. I hold the violin up with my left hand. I was using my shoulder as an alternative 'strategy' but have lately gone back to holding the violin 'aloft'. My biggest problem is not with technique, but with putting up with the odd looks I sometimes get when I turn up at AMEB exams with my rest-less violin.

So that is the answer. He just held it up in his left hand.

P.S. Szigeti once made reference to a certain artistic trait of 'seeking the path of most resistance' or words to that effect. For some people this is an important factor. They cannot function artistically without somehow 'wrestling with angels'.

(Emil would probably have said 'tilting at windmills')

December 8, 2007 at 01:18 PM · I find it remarkable that so many people are so *certain* that "you just can't play well without a rest or a pad" and "you can't possibly support the violin with your left hand" and "you absolutely must be able to support the fiddle without any left hand at all".

It is all so ludicrous that it is really hysterically funny in a way. Obviously you don't *need* a shoulder rest--they weren't even invented until relatively recently!

Of course many great players use a shoulder rest. But that by no means indicates that it is essential. Many great thinkers were circumcised but that doesn't make that essential either.

I don't use a shoulder rest and I am not any good. Milstein didn't use one but he was great.

How to go without a rest? As Emily said, it is about balance, and also about accepting some support from the left hand. It isn't mysterious. Also it isn't a big deal to try it. You'd think we were discussing an expedition to land on an asteroid or something. Playing without a rest is as easy as--not putting one on!

December 8, 2007 at 02:11 PM · Maybe for everyone else, I tried going without

one and couldn't do it. Maybe I'll join a support group. Shoulder Rests Anonymous.

December 8, 2007 at 02:39 PM · I'm with Ray. Found it annoying and distracting beyond words. Leached all the pleasure out of playing. In fact, I'm about to blog about my experience with this.

>... it is really hysterically funny in a way.

Hmm. Bilbo, I think you need to get out more.

December 8, 2007 at 02:44 PM · Ah, here's something I just thought of. The violin I used, rest-less, was rather heavy (the weight ill-distributed, to boot) and overly varnished. Cheap chinese fiddle. My newer violin is lighter in weight and the fingerboard, in particular, feels lighter balancing against my left hand. Going further with this, do you suppose the best violins are constructed so that it might be easier to play without a shoulder rest? As mentioned, the shoulder rest is more recent than the violin's design.

December 8, 2007 at 03:12 PM · many of the greats did not use shoulder rests. most of them used small sponges underneath their instruments. I recently got rid of my shoulder rest for a sponge and it is about 100x more secure as well as much more versatile and movable.

December 8, 2007 at 04:16 PM · I had tried going restless a couple of times and it just did not work out. When I started training with my current teacher one of the first things I noticed was he did not use one and thought about it again. Then during a lesson after being shown a proper technique I went to put the violin back on my shoulder and just as my chin touched down the rest sprang off, sending both violin and rest flying straight up in the air. I was quick enough to grab my violin before it hit the floor. But my rest lay there on its side with my teacher looking at it like some sort of dead sea-creature pulled from the deep. I then got a look that said what is that thing? I quickly put it back on for the rest of that lesson and that was the last time it was on my instrument. It took some adjustment but next lesson my teacher immediatly noticed asking "There is nothing on your violin? This is good." worth all the effort.

December 8, 2007 at 05:08 PM · I ended up a mutt, but I had a good start. I try and support the instrument as if I weren't using the rest, but use one currently. One of the images (yes I had a pretty good time during the 70's), is visualizing the instrument as a sort of air guitar (I play Pink Floyd and Aerosmith on guitar)...

And I have these huge shoulders and biceps from when I was in the military. There's a point here: it really does just boil down to finding what fits.

I do think it's good to take the rest off occasionally for a lightness check. Milstein, even when he is adjusting, is 'one' with that thing. I should practice more!

December 8, 2007 at 08:53 PM · Milstein did not use a shoulder rest nor any sort of pad. He supported the violin by the left hand, with the hand offering only passive support (like a table on which the violin rests), never clutching the violin with the hand.

When one of the other students in his class took out her violin and put a shoulder rest on it, he said: "Why do you put that insect on your violin?" (He thought the feet of the rest looked like legs coming out of an insect.)

I have never used a shoulder rest. When I tried one, just to see how it felt, I found that for me, three things were immediately compromised by it: the feeling of intimate contact with the instrument, the freedom of shifting (especially long shifts to the top of the fingerboard), and the freedom of movement of the instrument to facilitate certain bow movements (such as rotating the violin very slightly clockwise as the bow hops counterclockwise, from an E string note to a G string note...e.g.: 3rd to 4th violin solo note of Wieniawski D Major Polonaise).

I specifically asked Mr. Milstein how he played with the violin so far away from the shoulder. He didn't actually answer my specific question, but his answer was lots of fun to see and hear: He said: "It's simple..Don't use the shoulder!....If I would use the shoulder, I would have stopped playing ten years ago! Of course, when I shift down, I do a little this..." (He showed a tiny sinking of his head weight into the chinrest.) Then he stood a couple of feet from me, but standing so as to show me the opposite-to-what-the-audience-sees side of the violin, and he played passages from Brahms and Tschaikovsky Concertos in which he shifted rapidly from one end of the fingerboard to the other, while his shoulder was nowhere near the violin.

At the time I studied with him, I was able to take the violin away from my shoulder *some* of the time. Having thought about it for 37 years, I can now hold the violin away from my shoulder alot of the time. I saw a beautiful performance of the Grieg Sonata by Clayton Haslop (who also studied with Milstein, but not at the same time as I) on YouTube. He seems to have learned Milstein's way of supporting the violin better than I have so far been able to do. For those interested in the subject, and for those who would like to hear a beautiful performance of the c minor Grieg Sonata, I would recommend watching this video.

December 9, 2007 at 03:34 AM · Oliver, To my eye, Haslop lifts his shoulder.

I wish there were more pictures from the angle in my profile (click on my name in this post to see a picture of me from the angle that I would like to see for other players).

I am able to play, shift and hold the violin as you see in that picture. I am sure that my playing is more like common with Bilbo's description of his playing than it is of Milstein's but of all the improvements I desire in my playing, none would be effected by adopting a different way of holding the violin.

December 9, 2007 at 01:00 AM · sharelle, i think milstein's chin occasionally lifts off the chinrest but most of the time it rests on it. you can actually see the skin fold of the left side of his face in full contact with the chin rest in many clips on youtube. thus, the chin has a downward force vector on the violin through the chinrest.

if you look at his violin position, you can easily appreciate that his violin "rests" more centrally, that is, closer to the sternum and the inner third of the clavicle area, thus leaving the upper, outside quardrant of the chest:the mobile shoulder area, free from contacting the violin. therefore, the chest area described above provides an upward force vector.

the above mentioned upward and downward force vectors balance each other out and his violin stays where it is. the proximal third of the clavicle is rather flat and straight and apparently serves as a decent resting spot for the back of his violin. the advantage is that he is milstein and whatever he does must have a holy reason (not unlike people who study shakespeare end up knowing more about his plays than shakespeare himself, so it seems). the disadvantage of using that area "naked", as some of you may have figured out by experimentation, is that the skin is not very comfortable when compressed between 2 hard surfaces, namely, the back of the violin and the underlying clavicle. go to any hospital's spinal cord injury unit and ask why the patients need to be repositioned every 2 hours. the fact that he constantly moves his chin away from his chin rest is perhaps an indication he is subconsciously readjusting to a new position to alleviate soft tissue discomfort. this part is my own speculation which i think probably sits well with the tone of this thread:)

the saying that he holds his entire violin purely from his hand, with no input from anywhere else of his body, simply does not make sense. but apparently in this world, if you have something to sell, there will be someone to buy! imagine playing violin where the downward vector is from the chin only and the upper ward vector is from hand only! or better yet, from hand only!! (no wonder there is no need for a shoulder rest---it will be too heavy!!!)

but i guess, to create a legend, to propagate a myth, anything goes:)

December 9, 2007 at 12:53 AM · SR shifts the CG much closer to the body too. That also aids supporting it.

December 9, 2007 at 12:59 AM · Often,I get vibrations from laying as much of the jawbone across the chinrest as possible...I think it's a big help to feel the vibes in your bones in order to 'hear' the sounds produced...

Might this be called the vibrating bone syndrome ?

Diagnosis= 101.12 Unequivical in the DSM of psychiatric and etymological disorders of a violin player in the eternal quest for a 'nice' vibe...

December 9, 2007 at 01:10 AM · Its a very interesting conversation here to which I d like to add that changing any aspect of your techique affects all other parts of your techique and set up, So the ability to not play with a shoulder rest is a combination of how you use your left hand, but also your bow technique, which often lets you relax the left hand. Thats why its so hard to find the right balance, you have to recheck all other aspects of your approach to you instrument in the process. There were plenty of fabulous violinists who used rests or pads though. Like Oistrakh, who used a Poeland pad for a great deal of his life(especially later in his careeer.. There were some that played with shoulder rests, and were able to figure out the balance and go without, like Ilya Kaler, and who is teaching his students how to play without one, as well as Zukerman, who also teaches it.. I think there definitely is a proccess of learning to play without a rest, but I havent seen one person put it all together in a formula, one points towards one detail of it, another points to others, but no one seems to get the whole transition into a clear context. All the individual details can be right, bit without the others the freedom in playing will be hard to achieve.

December 9, 2007 at 01:32 AM · In my "studies" with Milstein which were unfortunately limited to attendance and playing a couple of times in a series of weekly masterclasses over one semester at Juilliard, what I noticed about his playing was a complete freedom in movement of the violin and bow. If he moved the violin from right to left the bow always stuck to the right place to make the correct sound for the music he was playing. Having been schooled in the Galamian style of playing which was a bit rigid, this was a revolutionary, and eye opening experience. I would hope that Oliver S. could expand upon his experiences since he actually spent quite a bit of time with this master violinist.

December 9, 2007 at 01:54 AM · Too bad Lisa no longer participates. She'd find this thread interesting.

December 9, 2007 at 02:20 AM · Greetings,

yes to the first. No to the second.;)



December 9, 2007 at 02:46 AM · al ku wrote: "the saying that he holds his entire violin purely from his hand, with no input from anywhere else of his body, simply does not make sense. but apparently in this world, if you have something to sell, there will be someone to buy! "

I did not say that there is no input from any other part of the body, nor is my statement intended as a detailed analysis. I merely said: "He supported the violin by the left hand, with the hand offering only passive support (like a table on which the violin rests), never clutching the violin with the hand." (It is understood without saying, I hope, that the chinrest end of the violin is resting on the collar bone.)

Some who observe this in Milstein's playing may think that they have something to learn from Milstein's actions. I am amongst them. Those people who are interested will experiment with the idea, and see whether they may learn and benefit from it.

December 9, 2007 at 04:28 AM · Though I have a house full of company I could not resist sneaking away for an hour and a half to practice: it's a new strings kind of thing.

But my practice was overshadowed by this conversation, coming from a good place. This lightness of the instrument in the left hand, taught to me not by Milstein, but by Raphael Klayman here, is such an incredible playing experience.

Blogging recently about finding my relaxed left wrist, really underwrites the idea above by somebody that an adjustment here, means an adjustment everywhere--and, I find that for progress on my level anyway, adjustments are just a fact of life.

Those steps in experimenting to find one's self on the instrument, though for me inspired by Milstein as to where to go with my efforts, also involve Perlman's bow, Raphael's balance, and just a lot of things.

When tonight for example, I returned to where Raph. had me with the hand, and overlaying it with what I discovered about my wrist, and returning to both Perlman's and Buri's bow hand, I can tell where I'll be in six months, but getting there seems a continuous journey, and I think it probably is.

Is this a journey more accomplished people experience? I simply do not know. The more senior levels of my hand's rehabilitation are about to begin, in ways that make all my previous efforts pale. Important to me here though, is that it has always been Milstein's fluidity that I kept in my mind's eye every step of the way. And then I encountered Hilary.

Tonight, when I was doing my chords in the Bach Bouree, just a gentle relaxed flowing began to come to my bow. I am in danger of over-emphasizing that fluidity per a recent comment to Emily though, as I felt my background in music wanting to be expressive. I've promised to try not to do that too much yet.

Nonetheless, the sweetness of the chords were facilitated by: a-the instrument 'resting' on my hand with zero grip, that actually translated to my bow gliding through the double-stops as I had imagined but not mastered--I think because the relaxation in my balance of the instrument did a little coaching to my bow hold..

Now, I can relax this bow hold as I wish, and consider Sue Belcher's and Buri's remarks. But tonight, the left and right started kind of coming together.

So for me, it seems sort of a moot point, how Milstein supported the violin today, because, I'm feeling we know from Alexander notions, teachers such as Mimi Zweig, Raphael Klayman, and just many others, what flow of the instrument should feel like. So for me, Milstein's balance is a figurehead.

The fact that I had to rehabilitate while learning, 'greatly magnified' the importance of these things for me. Oddly, my body type is more that of Oistrakh. But when I watch Milstein play Partitas, 'I want that energy, all that energy,' in the music rather than 'any single other thing'.

And watching Nikita's energy playing Ysaye, I sort of saw also who I really am when I start throwing down. So taming myself will be in the que as well. 'He' can do that, because 'he' can--not I. Maybe some day! Playing my Gypsy version of Lully came to mind.

So, I think, it is the 'example' that Milstein leaves us with, rather than trying to copy specifically him. Today, it becomes the spirit of the law.

December 9, 2007 at 03:57 AM · One can't look at the way Milstein held the violin without looking at how he held his bow, how was his left hand thumb placement, his vibrato and many other details that contribute towards his ability to support the violin that way, there is no one thing that did it. It's easy to say Oh he held it in his hand, or it didnt touch here or there, but those are just a part of many things, some that can be seen, and others that cant that helped him do it that way.

December 9, 2007 at 04:28 AM · mr steiner, i appreciate your interest to share valuable insight with us. my post was not directed at any one post per se; the phrase "hand support violin" was used often in the thread. i find that phrase misleading because the fundamental issue is what happens to the violin on the other end, that is, when the violin makes contact with the chest region. you stated that it is understood that the violin makes contact with the collar bone. agree and disagree. i agree it makes contact with the collar bone, but the real issue is that since the collar bone is quite long (one part connecting the sternum, the other part ending in the shoulder), which part of it and how,,,so far the description is qualitative at best. (often, set-up like this makes great conversation and discussion:)

it remains to be a mystery since his violin has always blocked the view and even your direct question was not directly answered.

i agree that it is violinists' duty to study the masters to find out things that can be of benefit to their own playing. however, the danger is to assume that everything milstein does will be appropriately applicable to millions of violinists following his footsteps. without a clear understanding about his assertion of "hand support violin", one may want to proceed with caution when switching one's own playing and even more so when passing our own understanding onto the next generation.

December 9, 2007 at 04:42 AM · Al too--I can offer one sweeping generalization: 'There are two hands, which must both find their ways to remaining just as relaxed, pliable and responsive as possible'.

Connected to these hands are forearms and shoulders, which must remain equally relaxed as possible, pliable and flexible. And so goes supporting the instrument.

And connected to these, is a center of gravity and posture, which should remain--yep, relaxed, 'generally' straight, pliable and flexible.

December 9, 2007 at 07:18 AM · al ku wrote: "the danger is to assume that everything milstein does will be appropriately applicable to millions of violinists following his footsteps. without a clear understanding about his assertion of "hand support violin".

I completely agree with you in that mindless parroting of an isolated point in some individual artist's playing is harmful. Taking on something into one's playing without a thorough understanding of it is harmful. What I am advocating is that intelligent investigation of, and experimentation with a particular point is a way to begin to understand it. I'm also saying that I am especially eager to learn whatever I can from artists whose playing I admire the most.

Everything I'm saying here is mainly directed toward violinists who are no longer, or not presently, working with a teacher. As much as I love to discuss violin playing on this forum, I sincerely hope that anyone who is working with a teacher will allow his teacher to direct his study, rather than neglect his teacher's advice because he is distracted from it by any one of many interesting and potentially valuable study projects suggested by me or anyone else here. I hope that all students who are presently working with teachers will do what their teachers say, not what I say!

December 9, 2007 at 11:02 AM · Leonid's points are important.

For example, if you raise the violin on a SR by even an inch or so, then the bow also needs to be raised, and that changes the dynamics of bowing.

Lower the fiddle by losing the rest, and the bow need not be raised so far above the level of the collar bone, which in turn relaxes the bow arm.

December 9, 2007 at 12:23 PM · Theres no doubt in my mind that Milstein used his left hand substantially to support the violin, heres some evidence:

1. Clayton Harslop a student of Milstein once said in his blog that in masterclass Milstein explained how he has trained his left hand to support the violin and then proceeded to play one of Paganini's Caprices with the violin resting on his shoulder - Clayton was shocked and now he is playing without a shoulder rest. Milstein also tells people on occasion to drop the shoulder rest.

2. When Milstein shifts up, sometimes you can see his hand 'flexing' in order to reach higher positions, this is because the hand is supporting weight and this would not be required with a shoulder rest.

December 9, 2007 at 12:31 PM · thank you mr steiner for the additional comment which i agree.

years ago, i came across a survey done in a medical setting. the gist of it is about better communication so that physicians really understand what patients complain about when referring to specific body parts. what they did was present a list of body parts and ask patients to circle the parts on a "body". the list consists of neck, back, shoulder, etc.

it turned out, as many might have expected, there was a wide variation on the definition of each of the body parts. people's interpretation of a body part is far from a physician's anatomical understanding. "my back hurts" could be referring to the hip. the shoulder and the neck were often used interchangably.

i can imagine a parallel to this discussion because we are talking about terms that can only be interpreted on paper (sort of). in addition, as you and some have already presented, perhaps in isolation. further, some of you have experiences that are light years ahead of others. you are probably talking about step 98 because you are on step 97. those on step 2, looking at step 98, tell themselves, yes i can do it, too.

no they can't.

December 9, 2007 at 12:48 PM · Leonid, Wasn't perhaps his vibrato and his bow hold etc. somewhat a function of his decision to 'support the violin with the left hand' (if I can be forgiven for this shorthand)?

I know that when I made the decision to rely on the left hand much of what I did before had to be re-thought.

In my case I didn't say 'I want this vibrato, therefore I must hold the violin with the left hand' or 'I want this tone capability with the bow, therefore ...' .

But I did change my bowing and my vibrato in ways that were both dependent and independent of my left hand decision.

December 9, 2007 at 02:35 PM · I dont really think it was his decision to support the violin that way, it was the way Mistein was taught from the beginning, so all those balances were in his muscle memory, He didnt have to think about it. I've tried to switch to having no rest a few times in life and always kept going back, as I couldnt play without tension in the left hand for extended periods. But then I went back to Galamian's book and re examined everything I was doing, left hand, and right, and corrected some things in the left and right hand, and now dont seem to have a problem playing without a rest.

December 9, 2007 at 03:52 PM · leonid, it seems that every young kid i come across these days uses a sr and it seems that you also did (unlike the older generation where no sr was the norm from the beginning to the end). do you think, in retrospect, that your transition is a wise route to take, that is, starting with sr, acquiring the fundamentals and more, and then (for different personal reasons) evolving to sr-less playing, or do you advocate teaching a beginner young kid fresh with no sr? in other words, whatever benefits of sr-less playing you are enjoying, do you think a beginner, with minimal concepts of many things, can or should learn to appreciate from day one? thanks.

btw, you sound marvellous on those clips on your website:)

December 9, 2007 at 07:17 PM · My impression from the videos is that Milstein had a lot of security from the chinrest, because he had a built-in pad of flesh giving lots of contact to the wood.

The instrument's support at the collarbone requires only enough force to keep it from pulling away, the more efficient the chin/chinrest contact the less force is required. Milstein's chin contact looks exceedingly efficient yet flexible.

Interestingly he appears to have been able to support the violin 'hand-less' at its normal angle with little or no shoulder movement:


...and he did at times have 'something' under the violin, although its exact function is unknown:


I would love to know details of the sequences of finger/thumb contacts which allow flexible movement around the fingerboard while supporting the violin at all times, although given the first video above I wonder if that's really what Milstein was doing.

December 9, 2007 at 09:44 PM · Greetinfs,


>it turned out, as many might have expected, there was a wide variation on the definition of each of the body parts. people's interpretation of a body part is far from a physician's anatomical understanding. "my back hurts" could be referring to the hip. the shoulder and the neck were often used interchangably.

This ad hoc internal image of the body has become a major point of attention in Alexander Technique over recnet years. The majority of people don`yt have a clue wghere the writs is, the spine, the knee joint, the base of the thumb and so on. So even when a teacher gives directions to a stduent the studnet may actualyy be sending out instructions that icrease conflict. The probelm is explored in greta depth in the books by the Conable`s who were pioneering in this area. They have a useful website,



December 9, 2007 at 11:42 PM · I agree that in some Youtube videos there appears to be more under Milsteins shoulder, but on the Art of the Violin clip it looks like there is nothing ther. and his chin 'roll', doesn't even have much contact. He's quite a young man there.

I have played a number of times in lesson and ensemble sans SR, as I forgot it. Sure I could do it, I could propbably get much better at it, but the blasted chinrest bracket digs into my collar bone (I'm a wooz) and I am only aware of being tense in trying to get everything to feel right. I am inspired by the mass of info on this post though, and shall sift out the stuff that I think I could do, and do it.

It hadn't occurred to me the impact on bow action and hold (such a newb). I'm learning to pay attention, but it takes time.

December 9, 2007 at 11:37 PM · Both of my sons have played without shoulder rests for three years. My oldest son's teacher uses a shoulder rest but wanted to do a little experiment with my son when he was about 12 and it definitely stuck. My younger son's teacher was impressed with the results and followed suit with equally good results.

I asked them both today about how they support the instrument. Both of them offered the same explanation which is that the head keeps the instrument up and the hand is used to adjust the direction of the scroll (whether forward or more out to the side). Since the hand is not supporting the weight of the violin, there is no trouble with shifting. They feel this allows a lot of freedom of movement and is quite comfortable. It is an especially nice way to play if you have very long arms and need the space to make room for achieving the correct angle between the bow and the strings.

My oldest has been told several times that his approach to the violin looks a lot like Nathan Milstein's. His head looks free to move about and the violin is sometimes rather forward. It is definitely not the tallest stance I have seen, but he adjusts the height and angle of the instrument as he plays to meet the immediate needs of the passage, sometimes standing very tall. My younger son does not look like Milstein at all when he plays. He is quite long armed and he holds the violin up and back in a tall stance. In fact his position looks taller without the shoulder rest than it did with one and the motion of his bow arm is definitely improved.

Both of them have experimented with using a soft leather cloth on the shoulder to prevent slippage as well as using a soft pad under their shirt. They eventually found pads and cloths to be unnecessary.

Good luck!


December 10, 2007 at 12:07 AM · A corollary of what Al wrote is that it can be very hard to know what a teacher means to say regarding the body, if he's vague in a certain way. Example, if a teacher says relax completely, if you take him literally you'll collapse to the floor. Therefore he hasn't taught you anything, and potentially done harm as you try to follow some very personal interpretation of what he said. This problem was really rampant in the teaching I got, with every teacher.

December 10, 2007 at 12:30 AM · http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQjzKVkFqag

take a look at this youtube clip, the first several seconds, at milstein's "pre-shot routine", for the lack of a better phrase: he first slides his left hand up and down the fb couple times, then he grabs the violin at the lower bout with his bow hand while he flips his jacket collar with his left hand. not sure if it is done for a purpose or on a whim to focus(many athletes have trade-mark moves like that).

therefore, when he said he supported his violin with his left hand, he truly meant it, or he would not have engaged his right hand to holding up the violin in that sequence.

sharelle, we need more experienced players to share with us the details of bow/grip changes in association with sr-less playing, but you can experiment a little on your own. for instance, if you do it carefully, you can definitely see that with a sr-less set-up, your right shoulder abduction will be less, relatively speaking. in other words, you do not have to raise your bow arm as high to the side. (with milstein it is even more so because he tends to dip the scroll often) for one, that can be energy saving (or rotator cuff tendon saving:). in terms of tone production, i would love to hear what experts like mr steiner or leonid or others have to say...

thanks jennifer for sharing your family stories! you sound like an adorable geeky mother and you should be proud:) it is quite neat to read that the first teacher, being sr him/herself, has initiated the experiment for your elder son to go sr-less. pretty expansive mental capacity on his part...worth the tuition!

December 10, 2007 at 12:33 AM · "on a whim to focus(many athletes have trade-mark moves like that)."

Too bad he doesn't spit in his hands and rub them together.

December 10, 2007 at 12:35 AM · Hi Andres - I believe Milstein used a handkerchief under the violin.

I've tried to go sr free for 3 month, and since I have such a long neck i pretty much have to 'hold' the violin with my left hand. I find that its very different to playing with a sr, at the start I kept thinking the violin would fall off when I shift. Also my muscles around left upper ribs are often sore - I'm thinking(hoping) this will go away once they're stronger.

I find the thumb is critical in supporting the violin particularly at higher positions - I am now applying pressure towards my neck in order to keep the violin in place when in high positions. Shifting up to 4th position seems no big deal, but higher positions require a lot work by the left hand(Milstein videos sometimes show him flexing his left hand). As Mr Steiner pointed out shifting downward requires downward pressure of the chin to keep the violin in place, and this is much easier to me then shifting up :)

Regarding the bow - definitely not as high as it used to be, but now when I put the sr on, I still keep the violin very low and there seems to be not much change. Milstein videos (particularly his Bach Chaconne) show instances where the violin is almost vertical when he plays 4th string to keep his bow at a very low level.

December 10, 2007 at 12:53 AM · Thanks for the comment. I actually started playing with a little pillow my grandmother sewed up with a couple of rubber bands attached. But I know that I was gripping the violin with my neck pretty hard for many years. I do have students that play without a rest, and some who do, some use a sponge, it just depends on the adaptibility of the student, the violin does rest on the collar bone but how you fill the space to the shoulder can be different, some can find the support alot with the left hand, others need the space filled to feel comfortable.

December 10, 2007 at 02:48 AM · al ku wrote: "with a sr-less set-up, your right shoulder abduction will be less, relatively speaking. in other words, you do not have to raise your bow arm as high to the side."

Excellent point. I like to ask my students: "Where are your strings in relation to your right shoulder?" It's so much more comfortable and easy to drop weight down from above, than to reach up, as if for a book on a high shelf, when you bow. Sometimes violinists get a false sense of security by putting the chinrest end of the violin as high on top of the shoulder as they can, and building up as high a chinrest and shoulder rest tower as they can. I encourage my students to get the chinrest end of the violin as low as they are individualy able; and to experiment with shoulder rest, low shoulder rest and no shoulder rest, aiming for getting the strings parallel to, and as close to, the floor as each individual is able. I believe that high scroll and low chinrest end of violin is generally a good goal to pursue, each person to the extent that it is natural for him. It throws the violin's weight away from the left hand, which is a good thing.

Francescatti and Rabin were marvelous violinists, but they held the chinrest end of the violin rather high on top of the shoulder, forcing them to reach up alot when playing on the G string. Milstein's way, which rests the chinrest end of the violin on the *lowest part of the collar bone* allowed him to play with less wear and tear on the rotator cuff. Students who have tiny shoulders and long necks may not be able to do this as easily as those who, like me, look like one of Tony Soprano's hit men. So there is an example of the best course being an individualized solution, rather than the same prescription for all patients. Obviously, Francescatti and Rabin did very well indeed with an approach to holding the instrument that was quite different from Milstein's.

I would think that students with very long necks might do better to first try a higher chinrest, before experimenting with a shoulder rest, or a higher shoulder rest. I would be grateful to know the Alexander view of this issue: If you need to fill in some space on the chinrest end of the violin, would you not want to add to the chinrest (thus keeping the strings closer to the floor and the violin less tilted downward toward the scroll), before adding height beneath the violin? Buri, are you reading this? What do you think?

December 10, 2007 at 02:37 AM · Reading this caused me to pull that shoulder rest off again! But only for a second. Before I returned it, I lowered it to it's lowest position, and it just feels alot better. I actually had the thing angled. Sheesh.

The upper side of the rest is only about 1.5 -2 inches up on my collar bone now, bringing it even a little lower than previously. This seems to have even freed my left wrist more. Very interesting conversation.

December 10, 2007 at 03:23 AM · I don't want to derail this great discussion, but I'd like to ask a somewhat related question.

I play without a shoulder rest, resting the violin on the proximal (near the sternum) part of the collar bone, supporting the scroll end with my left hand/arm. This is working rather well, and my shifts are getting better all the time. I'm still having problems with vibrato though. Can any of you more experienced restless players share tips or advice on how to vibrate while holding the instrument up with the left hand?

This is a truly great website!

Thanks in advance.

December 10, 2007 at 05:16 AM · What exactly is your problem Anthony? Without the rest, or with the rest, it's a matter of allowing your wrist to flow free--something I just started overcoming, in wrist vibrato. And freeing the thumb joint as well. And relaxing all joints of the vibrating finger. And landing on more padding, than a normal note where you might want to land on the edge of the finger for like quick detache.

Since you would be allowing the instrument to rest on your hand's c-shape between the thumb and first finger without a rest, try maybe a little deeper hold/rest in the cusp(actually something I learned from Mr. Brivati). And it helps to make sure that your first finger is coming off the instrument in vibrations--something else I'm personally just mastering.

For me, (since I don't know your obstacles), it really was all in the wrist, and not holding it like a board in lieu of straightness--ya gotta release that, and again for me, it came down to breaking that plane that had become too stiff for me. Watch Heifetz playing Paganini's 24 Caprices. Notice how his wrist almost looks bulging outward--that was what I was trying to do. I ''''ever so slightly'''' brought it inward--not even really perceptibly. That made a huge difference for me--especially in allowing me to free the first finger from the neck.

I come from a rural background, so my images are rural so let me try something a little more understandable but, as the neck wrests in your cusp, imagine you were squeezing very thin frosting out of a baker's decorating bag. You grip your thumb too much, you get too much frosting. But if your thumb applies a very subtle , and very light pressure--very very light--the frosting uses the opposite balance point on your first finger to actually kind of massage--the frosting in a very light controlled manner onto the pastry. Then lightly remove that first finger, and allow just the weight of the instrument to make the bead of frosting. I hope that makes sense.

And I hope that helps. These are basically things I've learned here pretty much.

December 10, 2007 at 03:56 AM · Anthony, use a wrist generated vibrato rather than an arm vibrato.

December 10, 2007 at 03:58 AM · Wrist vibrato is actually the wrong terminology, as it is the hand the does the motion moving the finger as it remains passive.

December 10, 2007 at 03:43 AM · I played restless with the neck of the violin balanced between the thumb and index for some time and was able to get a moderate vibrato while keeping the contact points of both the thumb and the index. The index simply moved along the side of the neck when I used vibrato.

I wasn't completely happy with that method though, because I couldn't get a wide, meaty sounding vibrato that way. What I really wanted was to be able to free the index finger up completely.

Here's how you do that:

1. Swing your left hand loosely as though throwing a ball over your left shoulder. When you bring your forearm and hand up toward you, the palm faces your body in a natural, relaxed fashion.

2. With your palm facing you this way, make a backward "L" with your thumb and the rest of your fingers. Your entire hand is flat. Now do you see how your thumb is a perch for the violin's neck?

3. Take the neck of the violin and balance it on just your thumb, just to the left of the flabby skin section (on top of the middle joint). Your palm is still flat and facing you at this point, and your violin balances on your collarbone, toward the center, with the corner of the jaw keeping the violin stable.

4. If you rotate your forearm so that your thumb comes toward you slightly, and collapse the wrist toward the neck ever so slightly, your index finger will make contact with the neck. There will be a small "mouse hole" of space right at the flabby part between thumb and index, beneath the neck of the violin.

The violin rests on the thumb alone. It doesn't need the index finger for support, and so it is free to leave the neck of the violin when you use vibrato. The general shape of the palm of the hand is spherical, and the thumb and second finger would form a circle much like the one in the bow hand.

That's just one way to do it. I got this idea from Dylana Jensen and Lisa Marsnik, and of all the left hand positions I tried, this one worked the best for me. As far as I know, it is also similar to Milstein's left hand, although I never met the man.

December 10, 2007 at 05:00 AM · Thank you all for your replies.

I think my biggest problem is that I don't free the first finger enough from contact with the fingerboard. The wrist motion is less of a problem. I just need to keep that darn first finger away, as Emily and Albert have stated. When the first finger contacts the neck of the violin it's pretty much impossible to keep the instrument steady while vibrating, which makes a mess of bowing, to say the least. OK, my work is cut out for me - lose the first finger contact!

Thanks again.


December 10, 2007 at 05:06 AM · Emily, I look forward to working with this. But, how do you adjust your balance for vibratos on the fly to allow the instrument to find it's new balance point?

This is kind of vague, but could you think about where the energy comes from in your forearm, bicep/tricep and anything related to the elbow.... And maybe expand a little. Please...

I saw somebody else--actually with a rest, who appeared to let the instrument float around to the thumb like that, but, actually, getting there has been a long-standing issue with me, even with a normal c-cusp--which I'm now finally mastering.

I hope this makes sense.

December 10, 2007 at 05:12 AM · Anthony--I know this sounds elementary, but are you anticipating, vibrations? Google Hilary Hahn's practice advice for planning and anticipating things.

You should be a fly on a wall to know what I've been through getting these things! Sheesh--so, also determine to persist.

December 10, 2007 at 05:41 AM · Albert, you're not really changing the balance point at all. Whether the index touches the instrument at the base joint or not, the neck is still supported solely by the thumb. And when you shift, you just slide the hand forward, and the thumb continues to support the neck exactly the same, all the way up to 4th position. Since you don't hold the neck between the thumb and index, you don't have to release your grip to shift.

As far as vibrato goes, if I'm teaching wrist vibrato I start by having the student knock on the wall with his index knuckle, palm facing away from the wall. That's the basic motion of wrist vibrato. I personally use all kinds of vibrato, depending on what I want. It's difficult for me to blame any particular muscle.

December 10, 2007 at 06:05 AM · "I start by having the student knock on the wall with his index knuckle, palm facing away from the wall." That ^, is very slick!

Ok--I guess I'm just having a little trouble visualizing I guess. But, this guy--one of our posters, 'appears' to roll his thumb under the instrument--and that is what I 'thought' you were talking about.

Contrasting Oistrakh, who I remember clearly having his c-cusp in place and apparently adjusting his thumb up and down the neck for first versus third/fourth vibrating fingers, I had in my mind the thumb actually, under the instrument.

Whatever--I'm getting it anyway--uh, finally!--Jeeeezzzzusss. You must have been describing a more subtle motion.... I'm still going to try and work with your images...

December 10, 2007 at 06:36 AM · Ah, I didn't invent that knuckle-knocking thing. It's in Adventures in Violinland. Any advice that I give is usually stolen from someone else.

One thing I've gathered from watching these Milstien clips this evening is, playing the violin is anything but formulaic.

December 10, 2007 at 06:48 AM · I hear ya... I have only one that I'm aware of original thought in life: 'the storyteller precedes the story', and it has nothing to do with music.

Here's another example. I started playing these descending/ascending step down/up patterns of all four fingers a few months ago, and though I'd discovered it... Not--it was something I saw elsewhere... Jeez-I just realized I'm going to be wanting to apply this exercise to guitar now.

December 10, 2007 at 07:33 AM · Ricci talks about all of this in his new book, but he takes it much further. He talks about how before SR and chin rest there was a single position for the thumb at the around third position, hand against rib to support fiddle, and players swivelled the hand around that to give access to the first five positions. In particular, he discusses this regarding Paganini. He doesn't say we should all only play like that now, but that we should at least incorporate some of this into our playing. He also advocates the importance and usefulness of one finger scales.

Further he says we should play on the pads rather than the tips, and that vibrato is generated from the base knuckle (a bit like Steve Redrobe's "impulse" vib)


December 10, 2007 at 07:48 AM · Speaking of impulse, mine is that amplitude based vibrato is for me. Me thinks, it is a matter of evolution, and that vibrato has left it's past, just as shoulder rests themselves, have evolved? I simply don't know really. It does, though, remind me of my hybrid habit of light hold, as if one were playing without a rest--with a rest.

December 10, 2007 at 07:53 AM · Hi Al, >>It does, though, remind me of my hybrid habit of light hold, as if one were playing without a rest--with a rest.<<

That's how I was with a rest.

December 10, 2007 at 08:18 AM · To be honest Graham, I wish to play without a rest. But I have been through so much--a lot--just getting balance because of injuries.

So the wisdom to proceed wisely, because of injuries for the uninitiated won for now. I did pretty well with Klayman's help, but the shifting et. al, and the advice to prevent injuries scared me.

Actually, I should say I did quite well w/o... So,..

December 10, 2007 at 08:21 AM · "...watching Milstein clips...violin is anything but formulaic."

From what I've read, technique-wise in Russia the attitude was a bit take this and learn to play it and if you can't you're gone, compared to Galamian's I will teach you how to play, more formulaic approach.

December 10, 2007 at 08:50 AM · I notice you type very good English Jim! ;)

December 10, 2007 at 10:38 AM · Thank you. I hope to remain in your country.

December 10, 2007 at 12:34 PM · Anthony, What do you mean when you say lose the first finger contact? If your hand is properly shaped the violin actually rests at the base of the first finger. This is a good thing and facilitates support of the violin. The thumb acts quite passively as a counter to keep the neck of the violin on this little shelf.

I know that my advice is contrary to some you have seen but I wouldn't support the violin on the thumb.

December 10, 2007 at 01:26 PM · i knew nothing about violin, now know close to nothing, but i think it makes more sense (on the hand contact to the violin neck aspect) to have the thumb (whichever part depending on your style) to support the weight of the violin instead of the first finger (index). i think having the opposing thumb is one virtue we humans have over other primates and god made it that way for violin playing:) i will provide couple instances to support that claim:

1. if you insist on maintaining contact between first finger and the neck, you will realize that the contact point changes when you go from first position e string to g string. it is conceivable that by habits or whatever, you touch part of the first finger to the side of the neck while on e string; when you move over to g string, if you insist on maintaining contact, that contact point may very well land on top of the e string itself instead of staying back on the side of the neck. i do not know much of the intricacies of higher level of playing, but for one, it will make double stop a little messy. you need to maintain some space under your fingers. it may be a weird feeling trying to sit down and stand up at the same time.

2. if you maintain the contact point while in lower position, treble side, you may lose that contact point when going higher position, treble side, and certainly when playing higher position, base side, since your fingers will be on top instead of on the side of the neck. who is supporting the violin head then? some part of the thumb. in other words, you need to learn to support the violin in 2 ways: sometimes with both thumb and index finger and other times with thumb alone.

3. we may argue that since violinists need to learn 2 million things anyway, what is the big deal of learning one more? to become a lean and mean fighting machine:), to throw in one more variable has a multiplying effect, not an additional effect.


December 10, 2007 at 02:03 PM · I think its fun to be arguing about how to hold the violin with the left hand rather than whether to hold the violin with the left hand.

Al, to your point on changing the contact point my answer is don't. The hand doesn't need to rotate very much at all to play on the G-string. Panoramas and vistas opened up when I made this realization. It was actually driven by efforts to master multiple stops that had an open e-string. If I rotated my hand I kept interfering with the e string. If I kept a quiet stable position and moved my fingers and not my hand I could nail the chord every time. Then came the benefits.

But this contact really is lost as one move past 4th position. But lots of things change when we move over the bout. Without overworking the details, moving over the bout should be a linear and continuous extension of our on the neck playing not an abrupt and discontinuous change to a new technique.

At all times there are three points of contact (1 thumb 2) finger on the string and 3) either base of index finger or (in higher positions) palm of the hand.

December 10, 2007 at 02:30 PM · ok, corwin, if that works for you, all the best.

for my info, i wonder if you can do something for me so that i have a better understanding of your hand shape.

can you put your index finger on E string first position (f or f sharp) and then put your pinkie on G string (d) and then look at the contact point area you were referring to... do you touch the fb with anything on your index finger region?

December 10, 2007 at 02:25 PM · Nate and Corwin, thanks for your input.

It may be that the contact point of my first finger involves a bit too much finger - when it includes the portion above the base joint (i.e., the proximal phalanx above the metacarpal-phalangeal joint), it is difficult for me to produce a wide vibrato while keeping the instrument still (unless I use a hyperextended wrist with flat fingers as Ricci advocates). Too much first finger contact seems simply to limit the range of motion, which would apply to wrist/hand vibrato as well as finger impulse generated vibrato. I'll have to work on this. Thanks again everyone.


December 10, 2007 at 07:40 PM · Anthony, I'm a little too hyper to actually mark every vibrato note--I tried. But, in shifting over at VMC is the concept of lift-shift-drop.

Similarly, I find it helpful to think--shape--vibrate. There was a paper by Mozart's father suggesting even that one would wish to hear the primary note before the vibration I hope to explore more as I go along--I've worked with this since the beginning.

--or--(I'm a wanna be math type)

f(think-shape-vibrate) = anticipate.

Also, from Laurie's survey I think, is Vengerov playing Bach Partita 2 Sarabande

There within is a really clear example of the wrist adjusting lightly inward for vibrato. I was cleaning up some of the things I have down-loaded and realized.... Two closeup examples: 2:59 point and 3:31. I can see it throughout, and also noted how the whole arm is involved earlier throughout the clip.

December 11, 2007 at 04:26 AM · Got it Emily--that's (thumb-L) is where I had naturally ended up when the plane of the wrist was relaxed slightly--so, well- I guess that was easy?

December 11, 2007 at 10:44 AM · Al, When I place my hand as you describe nothing but the pad of the index finger (covering f) touches the fingerboard. The base of the index finger (actually the fleshy part of the palm) touches the neck.

December 11, 2007 at 11:25 AM · thanks corwin, i think that pose can provide some idea about our hand posture based on habits or physiological limits. in my case, i simply find that extremely tight and uncomfortable if any part of hand touches the neck other than the thumb. my hand from index finger side maintains a tiny space, not touching fb or neck at all. but who am i?:)

another point worth mentioning imo is our definition when saying something like using part of index finger (or near there) to "support" the neck. it can mean very different things: simply touching the neck on occasion (which i do), or as a balance feature (i may or may not do, not very sure), or actually relying on it for weight bearing (as suggested by others).

if someone says he/she actually uses it for weight bearing purpose, i question whether it is simply a matter of landing the neck on a different spot on the bottom of the L that albert/emily were talking about: at the intersection of thumb and index finger vs a little toward thumb vs a little toward index finger.

with respect to vibrato, for simplicity sake, we talk about arm and wrist (and finger if you will). IF there is a constant contact point between the neck and the index finger region when you do wrist vibrato, the pivot point essentially moves up from the wrist to the point that the index finger touches the neck. not saying if it is good or bad, just want to point out the physical set up, intentional or not. if we buy the argument that arm vibrato has a bigger amplitude than wrist vibrato, then this "index finger" vibrato will be in a class of its own in that aspect. if a beginner is learning 4th finger vibrato,which is difficult to everyone in the beginning in my imagination, via arm/wrist, i think the contact at index base may limit motion further.

look at gitlis at 1:50 here where the camera angle allows a peek at his left hand quite clearly


December 11, 2007 at 12:47 PM · I played without a chinrest and shoulder rest for about 3 years. I never played with a shoulder rest. And I took off the chin rest because it broke. My family was having some hard times, couldn't afford to get a new one...yada, yada.

So, I dreaded the idea of losing practice time waiting for a new chin rest, so I picked up my violin and practiced without it. It felt great!

Well, when I got my loaner violin this summer, it had a chin rest on it so I did not want to ruin the varnish of the expensive violin that is not mine yet by taking off the chin rest to play. It feels good!

What did I noticed the other day when I was Practicing? Well, one of my fellow musicians pointed out that she noticed that sometimes I would play without actually holding my violin between my chin and shoulder. I would just let it rest on my shoulder, or sometimes without noticing it will start to slip down on my chest and I will not notice because I am supporting the violin with my left hand. Amazingly, this does not effect my shifting on the E string. Although, I have run into some problems on the G string shifts which could be my own inexperience.

Now, I would not advise anyone to just give up their shoulder rest or chin rest. Doing that could either have the above effect as in my case or you could start clenching your instrument because you'll feel like its slipping all the time. The only reason I think I did not clench is because I was never trained with a shoulder rest and in my early development, I mostly taught myself. Because I did not have a teacher to watch me and make me keep the violin under my neck, I would usually practice lazily with violin resting in awkward places that required more left hand support than anything else.

As far as Clayton Haslop goes, when I met him this summer and watched him play--he most definitely does support that violin with his left hand. And my teacher here at school is a former Milstein pupil and she taught her own little system dedicated to left hand support. I think its great!

December 11, 2007 at 01:53 PM · Jasmine Reese wrote: "And my teacher here at school is a former Milstein pupil and she taught her own little system dedicated to left hand support. I think its great!"

Would you kindly tell us about this system?

December 11, 2007 at 04:34 PM · To answer the original question:

I think Milstein supported the violin by working as a pinsetter at Odessa Bowl.

December 12, 2007 at 12:45 AM · A bit of objective observation of those I've experienced that use no shoulder or chin rests. Though you cannot call them Symphony players I thrilled over...dozens of older men and women who played their 'fiddle' with it tucked into the meat of their arm, chest, shoulder. One fella had his violin literaly on end, and if he raised his left elbow the instrument would have been shoved to his axillia (under-arm.) all of them held and pushed their violin into themselves with their left hand and played all over their fingerboards and not miss a note!!! Symphony violinist stood in line to shake their hands. There would be four or five playing the same song and I mean breakneck speed! Not a note was out. It sounded like one person. One concert master said that he could go up there and play a Paganini Caprice and still "Lose"!!! This was in a span of 7 years at an old fiddler's contest. Alot of these songs are becoming exstinct because very few have the enterest or ability to play them. I figured maybe yall'ed be interested since all of them for go the rests completely!

December 11, 2007 at 10:23 PM · Hey, Mr. Steiner.

She calls it, the "Anchor System." I am sure it is done or taught, just like Willa Cather said in so many words, there are no new stories.

Basically, she combined what she learned from Milstein and Ruggiero Ricci...

Anyways, you anchor your left hand's thumb and first finger across from eachother (the thumb slightly under the violin, supporting the violin), holding on near the pegs exactly above the fingerboard in first position. Accordingly, if you anchor your hand this way in every position as if you were in first position, the left hand will undoubtedly support the violin and your fingers drop almost always accurately on the right spot. My intonation has improved technically because of this! I mean, I have a pretty good ear, so I knew when I was out-of-tune so I would quickly slide to find the right note, but now I just use the "Anchor" idea and my finger always hits the right place.

I cannot explain it as well as she could! But she is not a violinist.com member! I am workin' on it.

December 11, 2007 at 11:42 PM · Jasmine,

If you set your hand on a first finger note as you described (E string F#, for example), then raise the scroll with your left arm so the violin's back is not touching anything...only the edge at the chinrest end of the violin is resting on the collar bone, ***then play open E***what is holding the violin opposing your thumb? Is it the side of your hand, or can you do all of the above and also have a little space between the side of your hand and the violin neck?

December 12, 2007 at 02:49 AM · The discussion on this style of left hand technique has been going much longer that this thread.

Back in April of this year I finally got rid of my SR and a few weeks later my teacher was changing my left hand technique to what is being discussed including Emily's "Mouse hole" with only my thumb making real serious contact with the neck/fingerboard.

Towards the end of the lesson I was told that Isaac Stern was discussing this same thing with David Oistrakh. I think it was arround 1959. My teacher said right after their meeting he noticed a difference in tone when Oistrakh played. But the change in technique took a bit longer to get passed down to his students...

December 12, 2007 at 05:13 AM · This has been a most fascinating thread and I may be repeating some points made by others but I wanted to try to describe an experiment I ran a few minutes ago with regard to balancing the "violin hold" and bow arm without a shoulder rest while playing the first page of the Mendelssohn concerto. I would venture to say that two of the crucial aspects of his support of the violin, without using a shoulder rest, had to have been the way the neck of the violin is cradled gently in the thumb at what I would call the area near and including the webbing between the thumb and the index finger (first finger) and the comfortable position of the chin and jaw over the chin rest. It seems to me that if one has these two points of contact well balanced without tension in the neck and without an attempt to grab the violin with a sideways vise-like clamping between thumb and side of index finger, it will not be necessary to raise the left shoulder in any permanent way, or collapse the area below the ribs to create additional support in holding the instrument and tilt the neck downward on the left in an attempt to shorten the space between the top of the shoulder/edge of collarbone and the underside of the violin. If these two things are not done, I think a decent balance is achieved in supporting the violin in a manner that is at least similar to what I observe Milstein doing.

I would like to propose that because of a correct placement of the chinrest as well as the right kind to suit one's jaw,the head and neck find themselves in a neutral position with gentle head turning that does not seem to require additional pressure to navigate up and down the fingerboard.

Also, because the hand is simply acting as a cradle for the neck to rest in and is not actively grabbing on to the violin for dear life, it is quite possible to move the hand freely up and down, and change thumb angles and deliberately raise the scroll or leave it be or angle it to the left or right or change the violin tilt very quickly and efficiently depending on the desired balance of the hand on a given string in a given position. As an example, one might choose to flatten the table of the violin for the E string to create a more advantageous angle for the weight of the arm to fall onto the bow compared with a steeper angle when playing on the G string so that the bow arm height does not have to be overly high.

This can be done with the hand or with a stance that favors the left side of the body for E string and returns the body to a more centered position for the G string. Because of the nature of most pieces of music going over all four strings into numerous positions, one is rarely if ever at risk for getting stuck into a set position that would create obvious wear and tear on the muscles performing the mechanics of violin playing. Just as no one stands on one foot for a long period of time so balances are shifted in violin playing as well.

I believe Milstein personifies an extremely efficient approach in this regard and therefore is a model for us all whether or not we use a shoulder rest.

I also believe that those who use a shoulder rest properly do not allow it to cause the violin to be raised unduly high such that their arms are lifted to the point of having to over reach to be over top of the instrument and do not rest it on the shoulder but more towards the center of the upper chest so that the area in and around the left shoulder is not locked or inhibited in its movement when shifting which feels to me more like a left right movement rather than an up and down movement.

In this regard too, they appear to be emulating

the stance one observes in Milstein with the left shoulder completely free.

December 12, 2007 at 12:07 PM · Hey Mr. Steiner,

You know how you make a gun with your two fingers: thumb and index finger. Now, raise those two fingers in the same gun-style facing you as if you would place it on the violin. Those are the two fingers supporting the violin in first position. Your thumb, in gun-position (hehehe), is lower than your index finger, unless you have a mutated thumb that extends, I am sorry. The thumb lays slightly side ways, the tip facing towards the scroll, but still placed where the thumb would be normally placed. It must be in parallel with the index finger which is placed, still sticking up in gun-position, above the f natural. Kind of in between the E peg and the finger board, right where the peg box begins. Yes, Cris, kind of creating a mouse-hole, but not as drastic as some tend to do it and the focus should not be on making a hole, but instead on obtaining a beautiful parallel between the anchored thumb and index. That way when you drop your index finger on the F natural, your index should be perfectly curved. Now, the whole idea of hand formation comes into play as well. In order for my teacher's anchoring system to work, you have to do what Milstein did. He placed all his fingers down. That is the way he navigated the violin. If he was going to play 4th finger on the G String, then all fingers would go down, depending on the key: 1 H2-3 4/ 1-L2 3 4. And that is the genral rule. My teacher usually snaps at me if I fail to put my first finger down when playing a second finger. Stiffens up my vibrato, but its been getting loser. Although, I think Milstein would take off his fingers in order to get a looser vibrato if he wanted, but then he'd quickly form his hand again.

When in position it is the two fingers mentioned above that support the violin. But when shifting, the thumb gives momentary support because it is anchored to the side of the violin. Of course, Ricci's glissando idea starts to come into effect when doing the shifting. My teacher wants my hand to move as a unit to the next position, but my fingers on the violin never change form and they stay anchored, creating an invisible glissando, or sometimes, in my case, a a clearly heard glissando. My teacher can hold her violin with her index and thumb alone, which she said took years to build that kind of muscle. She even flexed her index for me. :)

The anchoring only supports about 75% of the violin, the bottom of the violin is supported by "resting" the violin on your shoulder or "resting" the violin on your chest. So, the anchor is reversed I guess. Instead of anchoring your violin to your shoulder and chin, the left hand thumb becomes the shoulder and the index finger, the chin.

When I first started the anchor, my hand was really tight and unrelaxed, but if you get it right and practice it long enough your left hand is able to relax and support the violin at the same time. Now, the only downfall to this system is that your violin starts to slip a little, but if you got it mastered like Milstein, my teacher, and I am sure countless others have than the slip it not too noticeable and will eventually disappear. And I think the slip is due more to relaxation, not a bad grip on the violin. If you are anchored right, your left hand should naturally put the violin back in position without corrupting shifts and so on. I guess that's why that index needs to be in shape.

If I can find any good pictures of violinist doing this than I will place it on my next blog, with permission, of course. I have seen a couple of fiddlers doing the anchoring system. I do not think they know that they are doing the anchoring system, but they are nonetheless, which is probably why so many fiddlers can play with the violin resting on their, well, everywhere!

December 12, 2007 at 12:51 PM · Oh, Mr Steiner.

The left arm should be able to do what it wants, it is not involved. Some teachers teach that your left elbow should stay inside (close to your chest), others say outside. But no matter what your left arm is doing, the anchor will not be affected. Okay, or maybe the anchor will start to put your arm in a way that is more comfortable for you. But the focus should be on the Index and thumb, not the left arm. Once, you have the anchor then you can decide what you would like to do with your arm...

Like I said, you are just reversing the role of support from your chin and shoulde to your index and thumb. And just like you would not want your student to clench the chin and shoulder together in order to hold the violin, the thumb and index should not be overly stressed in supporting the violin.

December 12, 2007 at 01:16 PM · Here are some links to images:

The way his hand looks here should be exactly how it is n first position. See the perfect curve of the index finger.


Once again, index finger is slightly above the intended first finger mark, so that it can drop straight down on the first finger mark. Also, the way you see the thumb in this picture is how it should be in every position up until 6th and 7th and so on, the thumb needs to go further under the violin, as you know.


This one is a great picture of the anchor! But my teacher teaches it with the thumb being way lower, more of the tip of the thumb touching the side of the violin like Milstein did on the above picture in third position. But whichever works for you!


Look at Thomas Zehetmair's picture on this page. He has a perfect anchor!!!! Notice particularly where the index is placed, always above the intended first finger placement, so that a perfect curve is formed when hitting the mark!


This is a clip of Mark O' Connor playing! Perfect Anchor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But, I am not sure, it looks like he still supports the violin with chin and shoulder. Maybe not!!! I ain't no expert. His thumb is great though, not too high and not too low and maintains the same height through the duration of his playing, until the higher positions of course.


Anyways, I am tired. Have a 102 degree fever. That is how addicting violinist.com is! I can't get away from the computer.

December 12, 2007 at 01:48 PM · i often read that if you use a shoulder rest, then your shoulder's mobility will be limited.

here is an experiment: stand in front of your bed (in case the violin drops), put your violin with the rest in the usual slot under the chin.

now, drop both arms to the side so that the violin is only supported under the chin.

raise your left arm and point your left hand straight into the ceiling.

if you can do it, without dropping your violin, your shoulder mobility is not compromised.

if you cannot do it, you may need to play around to see if you can reposition the violin with rest more to the center.

December 12, 2007 at 02:12 PM · Jasmine,

Thanks so much. It is generous of you to put so much thought and effort into such a detailed description. I'll take my time reading it and thinking about it. On a quick perusal, there may be some ideas that are counter to my way of doing things, but that's exactly what I like to confront. I've been around long enough to have learned not to form conclusions from quick perusals, and to know that challenging myself with new and different ideas, generally leads to growth.

December 12, 2007 at 02:42 PM · Jasmine- Hope you get to feeling better! I wish Chicken soup could be delivered email, I would send you some. :)

December 12, 2007 at 03:18 PM · Al, I ran your experiment and determined that I do have my shoulder rest in a place that does not compromise my shoulder's mobility as best I can judge. Another point comes to mind which is that we should all be attempting to find positions in violin playing that are the most comfortable and flexible and that avoid pain and certainly injury. Sometimes I wonder how things would be easier, if, in our left hand, our little finger were where our first finger is and our middle finger were where our little finger is so we could have a natural advantage in reaching easier with a larger thicker finger that is further out in our hand but this is not how we are built so we must adapt. I look at the use of a chin rest and a shoulder rest as a means to adapt. Perhaps for some these are unnecessary adaptations but for others they are aids that do not hinder.

As for the concept of a perfect hand position, I don't recall noticing any appreciable difference in any number of well known players' curved fingers. One teacher I know puts a roll of life savers or one of her fingers (depending on the size of the student's hand) underneath her students' fingers and asks them to curl their fingers to hold the life savers to establish the feeling of curved fingers lined up and then transfers that feeling to the strings. With this curved motion she also advocated "firing" the fingers from the base joints to develop strength and agility. Perhaps I am not understanding that this anchor system Jasmine describes is any different than what most fine players do with their left hands? It seems to me that you want to reach your targets in the quickest most efficient way and that, except when pivoting or extending or contracting the hand,(which is also a natural response to avoiding inefficient shifting in a number of instances and one that Ricci discusses in his book on left hand violin technique) there is a natural, curved position to the fingers that allows you to reach all the notes in a given position easily and accurately. One has to allow for separation between the fingers for the particular combination of half steps and whole steps but the basic frame of hand remains. If I have misunderstood, please explain further.

December 12, 2007 at 04:48 PM · Thank you, Royce. I just woke up!!

Mr. Steiner, since I am still learning, I am always open to new ideas. Of course, when I first started violin lessons with my teacher, I did not want to change the way I had originally been taught and I did not like her disagreement of me playing without a chin rest, but I quickly learn that in order to excel you have to have an open mind. I sincerely appreciate all the advice I get from violinist.com; I believe this site has been vital to my growth as a violinist! I am glad that you, a master, will even take time to read through my rambling! I hope if I ever become a "master," I will be just as humble and open minded as you! (Gosh, I feel like Charles Dickens, using so many exclamation points.)

Mr. Ronald Mutchnik, yeah I made it clear in my other post that my teacher just coined the title Anchor System, I do not believe she created it. But I think there is still a slight difference between the Anchor system I discussed and the one you are seeing. The point of the Anchor system and doing it "just right" is so that all support of the violin or atleast 75% of it, shifts to the left hand. That does not mean you do not have to wear a shoulder rest and chin rest! All of my teacher's students use a shoulder rest, excluding me, and she encourages it. As long as they keep in mind and action that the left hand must be strong. Not everyone can master the anchor system to a point where the left hand is completely in control like Milstein, Some knock-out fiddlers, and a lot of Milstein's students. The only reason I think I took on to the anchor system is because of not playing with a chin rest or shoulder rest so before i met my new teacher I had been letting my left hand do 65% of the work. She just gave me the extra tools to make my left hand do even more work! Also, the anchor systems goal is not for a perfect curve, that just one of the results of using the anchor system, the main point and usage of it is to give the left hand control. So, I am sure many violinist do position their hands in a way that resembles the anchor system, but are they focusing on curvature or left hand control? I am not sure because I have not had the time to ask, due to this fever and all....

December 12, 2007 at 04:49 PM · Also, Mr Mutchnik, from Mr. Haslop's autobiography on his site about his experience with Milstein. I think the original creators of the Anchor system must have been Fiddlers! Why? Well, Mr. Haslop tells of a time when Milstein played Bach with the violin resting on his chest (Wow, I just noticed Mr. Haslop's first name is the same as William Cecil "Clayton's" from Edgar Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes). Fiddlers have been doing that forever!! Maybe not with Bach, but they can play some pretty hard stuff!!!!!!

Sorry for the desultory moment up there, but I do that sometimes.

December 12, 2007 at 05:11 PM · Thank you Jasmine for clarifying about the anchor system, and I think it is great that you are able to use it for the purpose and in the way you described. I will continue to explore this. I'll also look at Clayton Haslop's website and blog. Thanks again for your comments and patience in explaining this- they have been very helpful.

December 12, 2007 at 06:30 PM · Jasmine, this is what I teach, only I bring the thumb a little more forward. But I watch myself play, and my thumb doesn't really have a set location, as far as which finger it stays across from. It depends on what needs done.

What I like also about this hand position is how easy it is to drop the fingers further back on the pads, and if you hang them just right, you get that glossy vibrant sound.

December 12, 2007 at 08:17 PM · Yeah, Emily. it does give you a better sound.

December 12, 2007 at 10:56 PM · ...I hope we both sound like Milstein some day...

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