Tone Production and Holding the Violin

July 25, 2009 at 11:47 AM ·

We  endeavor to produce a tone on the violin that is as loud or soft as we need, as fully  varied and flexible in tone color as the instrument we are born with, our voice, and one that can be achieved with efficiency and ease, as free of tension as possible. There is much focus on the bow arm and its contribution to tone production including the well established factors of arm weight, bow speed, and contact point of the hair between the bridge and fingerboard. There is also the notable contribution of vibrato, but I am interested in how the factor of how you hold the violin enhances the tone. I am fullly aware that it cannot be isolated from these other factors, so feel free to relate/interrelate the factors as needed. In reading several members' articles about how they hold the violin and in observing many players from the world-famous to the not world-famous who produce a fine sound, one sees all kinds of postures and stances and ways of supporting the instrument; but perhaps there are certain commonalities or movements/ positions you feel are essential to making what to you constitutes the "best" tone.

Replies (20)

July 25, 2009 at 03:51 PM ·

Basically, you have to "pull" the sound out from your violin with the bow, instead of "push".

July 25, 2009 at 04:02 PM ·

Having seen cellists do a credible job of violin playing in the normal cello-holding position, I think it is ALL about the use of the bow AND vibrato. Having helped people from different musical backgrounds (and none) learn to play violin and cello I think that in addition to bowing experience transfering quickly from one instrument to another, there is also a strong element of coordination that allows some people to almost instinctively correct their bowing to improve their sound.

Some, but not many!


July 27, 2009 at 02:24 AM ·

  It is true that one is pulling horizontally to the right and pushing horizontally to the left , the "tirer and pousser" that the French speak of in producing a tone with the bow, and that there is no undue downward vertical pressure that would stifle and crush the tone  but  in asking about violin positioning affecting tone I was thinking more along the lines of , to take one aspect of this, the angle or slant  at which the violin rests and if one feels the need to change it going from E to G string and if so, if you do it by pivoting  with your hand or if you adjust your hips or back differently or if you leave it at one angle and adjust the bow arm torque or if you push the violin into the bow  and the bow into the violin, much the way two hands might come together when clapping to produce a more resonant tone than if one hand clapped against the other which remained stationary. It's these kinds of things I was after in bringing up the issue of how one's violin hold or position affects the tone.

     Another aspect would be to consider to what extent the shoulder is used to support the violin and whether this has an affect on  tone production. Some people would say that even given the general admonition never to raise your shoulders when playing, that one should also not pull the shoulder forward. This is generally acknowledged not to be a good thing on the bow arm side in an attempt to draw a straight bow but for some it is considered acceptable to do so on the left side so that one can have a  broader table of support together with the collar bone.  How that affects tone production compared to not using the shoulder would be something else I hope others would address.

  By the way Andrew, I use an acoustifoam as you do,  with a  Berber/ Ohrenform- type centered chinrest which has proven very comfortable and which I believe has given the best resonance so far compared to the other options I tried.

August 4, 2009 at 10:01 PM ·

I am a beginning violin student that does not use a shoulder rest. I've had them professionally fitted to me, and just don't care for them. That said, I also prefer to play in bare feet or ballet slippers, because I don't play as well when I foot movement is restricted. There is definetly a "sweet spot" as far as me holding the violin, where I get the most sound, and I can hear flashes of my instument's potential- where it begins to sound like a violin and exhibit all of the neat charecteristics like plantive, sweet, mellow, and really rings out. Unfortunately, when it does I remember that there is a bow in my hand and I lose it again.

The positioning was different on my previous violin, and it probably took about a month before I found the "new" place where the violin became a part of me, not just something I was holding. I find that even though I am not a player that moves around a lot, there are constant, subtle adjustments constantly going on in my lower back especially, to the point where I took up basic yoga to make me a better violin player.

Hmm, now that I've written it I'm not sure my post has anything to do with the question really, but maybe it'll kick off something in someone else's head and they can say it better.

August 4, 2009 at 10:59 PM ·

The way the violin is held (by a particular player) will make a difference in sound, but this difference is trivial compared to to a host of other factors.

August 5, 2009 at 05:11 AM ·

Well, I am grateful for these recent responses and that brings up more questions. Perhaps the hold of the violin is connected to issues of posture and the relationship of the violin with the bow?

       As a violin maker and repairman, perhaps David you would agree that the placement of the chin rest and how much weight is brought to bear on a particular part of the violin where the chin rest is has a significant effect on the tone of the violin? Perhaps this is a more significant factor on the sound of  the violin than whether or not one is using a shoulder rest or a sponge or one's shoulder or nothing at all  against the back of the violin?

    But I would like to suggest that just as one claps ones hands bringing both hands together to create a more resonant sound to the clapping, and not clap one hand against the stationary other hand, so too using the violin's resistance against the bow and vice versa will effect the tone significantly.  Then, there are these other factors:

     Some people prefer to keep their feet in a V shape without moving one foot forward of another.  Some prefer to  have one foot further forward than another.  Some prefer to rest more weight on the left foot than the right. Some prefer to bend more significantly at the knees and shift weight back and forth between the feet. Some people, in an effort to shorten the distance between violin and shoulder will collapse the body some on the left side. Some people put their left shoulder under the violin or put the violin somewhat on their left shoulder. Others stay clear of the left shoulder.   Are these movements only done for comfort or stability or do these choices have  significant effect on tone production or cause a significant effect on tone production because they alter the relationship between performer, violin, and bow?

  There is also the tilt of the violin to be considered. Do you flatten it (that is more parallel to the floor) when playing on the E string  and do you have more of an angle when playing on the G string or do you leave the tilt alone? Do you raise the violin such that the scroll is typically higher than the chin rest end or are they parallel or do you let the scroll come down a little below parallel to the floor? Under what circumstances do you change these factors to enhance the tone or project it more strongly?

     Do you find that letting the left arm rest against the side of your body while holding the violin gives you a feeling of greater support and ease in producing a strong, resonant sound or do you find the opposite to be true?

     It's these kinds of things that may be contributing factors beyond the usual discussion about  arm weight, bow speed, and  contact point, and which fingers do what kinds of work on the bow. Those bow hand/arm  related factors are certainly extremely important but I'm just wondering what others think about the way your posture and your violin hold effect the tone you are able to get out of your violin?


August 20, 2009 at 05:00 PM ·

 I am also a beginner violinist (one year now) and just recently I tried playing without a shoulder rest, to test out what it would be like. Immediately I noticed that my violin sounded much clearer, had a better intonation. The problem was that my violin rocked back and forth on my collarbone, and to stabilize the violin, I pushed up my shoulder. And that is bad, right?

I don't exactly know why it sounds better, however I will be asking my teacher when our lessons resume this term. Hope that helped somewhat :)

August 20, 2009 at 06:52 PM ·

Do ask your teacher about that. And yes, one should never have to raise the shoulder to support the instrument. even if one is very fit, the body will soon enough resent that kind of treatment. Your shoulders are meant to rest where they naturally do and pulling them up, forcing them down, pulling them back or forward and inward are all things that can hurt not only your violin playing but your body itself.

 A few things to consider and ask your teacher about:

 Should your head and neck rest comfortably atop your spine  as the default position or should your head turn to face the fingerboard as the default position?

 Should you have a raised chin rest so that your violin rests on your collarbone without your neck having to pull forward and down such that its natural curve is straightened out ?

Should you tilt the head to the left or right in any way or should you turn to the left  or right and under what circumstances?

If your violin is tilted to favor the E string, does that tilt come from manual changes or from the tilt given it by a shoulder rest or a sponge or pad or some other means?

 If your violin is parallel to the floor more or less, how does that influence how you negotiate the instrument with your left hand and right arm? 

  Is the position of the chin rest  ( with the barrels on opposite sides of the button or all to the left) affecting the sound of the instrument  more than whether or not you are using some support from below?

 To what extent is your hand being used to  hold the instrument? Where else do you need support? Must it come from both chin rest and shoulder rest or can you balance the instrument without additional support?

 These are posture and violin positioning issues that  all violinists must work out for themselves. I was hoping more people would respond with what works for them and why before I put my two cents in.


August 21, 2009 at 08:33 AM ·

  1. excellent player 
  2. excellent violin
  3. excellent bow
  4. excellent bow technique
  5. optimal setup and strings
  6. centre positioned chin rest
  7. no shoulder rest, no shoulder pad
  8. space between violin and shoulder
  9. good room acoustics

January 23, 2010 at 02:54 PM ·

 I practise yoga. When I tried to play sitting in lotus position, (like Indian violinists do) to my surprise I found my sound got warmer and more resonant. The sound obviously travels through the body.

I suppose it has something to do with body alignment, your back gets straight, the vertebrae in contact with each other, your pelvis is in a good angle. 

January 23, 2010 at 04:16 PM ·

I agree with everything Ron said except the

"no shoulder rest, no shoulder pad" and "centered chin rest"

Many old masters as Oistrakh, Stern, Ferras and restless modern masters as Repin and Perlman  known for their powerful/beautiful tone (to just name a few who had/have little homemade devices as I call them)  had all kind of sponges, folded towels, pads sewed on coat, cosmetic sponge... etc  They just knew how to put a minimum point of contact to not dammage the sound of their violin and were very good at hiding them under their clothes.  They also don't  all have centered chin rest even if the chin is often close to the center. 

But I agree so much with everything else!  


For myself as my experiences (as an amateur)


- find a good reasonating instrument

- lift up the scrool slightly (may you be restless or not)

-- stay very straigh, no dancing since this contracts muscles and is a terrible loss of energy

- try to not clamp the head down...  with a long neck, it is tough to not clamp down for stability. Having a "steel" straigh neck is not natural for me (look at soloists with long and short neck and you can see what I mean) but how a difference it makes for the sound and tension of shoulders

- find the tilt of the violin you need. Some like it very tilt and will sound good with it others like flatter violin and will sound optimum this way but you have to have one that suits you and where the neck feels comfortable in your left hand.  If you just accept the tilt the a rest gives you but that you don't feel good with it, the sound will be affected. 

Interesting discussion



January 23, 2010 at 07:04 PM ·

 I've been experimenting with Yehudi Menuhin's advice that the violinist should be "the least grasping of all creatures".  My recent abandonment of the shoulder rest has inspired (forced, maybe) me to experiment with all sorts of movement, relaxation and balancing techniques.  There are times, and they are increasing with regularity, that I sound like what I call a "real violinist", after three or four years of fairly simple fiddling and pushing myself through three Suzuki books.  Some recent lessons have helped tremendously, of course, but I think I owe a lot to Menuhin's advice, Simon Fischer's Basics, and Drew Lecher's book.

I've been experimenting with spending a few minutes, now and then, moving everything you shouldn't move while playing, just to loosen up enough to relax all those body parts into a peaceful, balanced state.  I'm learning to minimize tension--a bit like Simon Fischer's Basics exercises moving  the left thumb around while playing some simple exercises.  

But, to the point of violin placement,  loosening up a little at the beginning of practice by moving my shoulders around (in every direction but "up"), playing lots of harmonics (which relaxes my left hand nicely),  doing this on what for me are the easiest exercises in Drew Lecher's book ...has given me some nice glimpses into balancing the fiddle on basically two points: my left thumb tip and my collarbone.  When I'm doing my best, it seems like if I can feel even the slightest touch of skin to the chinrest, then my jaw is doing what it needs to do to keep the violin from sliding around and falling off my collarbone.  And that touch doesn't even have to be constant.

I think I'm heading for a relaxed flexibility, from the tips of my toes and fingers all the way through my neck and jaw, that would not be visible...but finds its way into the tone.  The violin placement becomes more dynamic rather than static,but in the most subtle way, too subtle to be seen, but still flexible enough to respond to all the bowing and left hand fingering techniques.  I suspect each person needs to discover for themselves what it takes to bring all these forces into balance, depending on their body, habits, and psychological stressors.



January 23, 2010 at 07:59 PM ·

In the book 'The Physiology of Violin Playing'  there are scientific tests of players performing amongst other things Paganini's Caprice #17.

The test results clearly show that gripping the violin with the left shoulder and or raising the right shoulder has an adverse effect on tone and respiration.

Perhaps the emphasis should be on awareness of tensions rather than whether or not to use a shoulder rest.

January 24, 2010 at 03:29 AM ·

 Awareness of tension, I think, exactly describes the benefits I've recently realized.  The harmonics practice has helped relax the top half of my left hand, but learning to balance the violin on the thumb more has made me realize how much tension I held in the lower half, from the base of the fingers all the way through the wrist.  Shedding the shoulder rest has made me realize that I had lots of tension in the left shoulder that I was completely unaware of.  And holding the scroll up where it really ought to be has helped everything.

January 28, 2010 at 04:13 AM ·

Phil, Written with incredible insight!  I'd love to hear sometime how you came to be such a thoughtful practicer and player.  What were your influences?

January 28, 2010 at 06:35 PM ·

Phil, what you have written makes great sense to me, especially because it has allowed you and others who experiment as you have to discover that there can be no such thing as a frozen position for anything on the violin. We are meant to move and the violin and bow need to feel a part of that dynamic balance.

February 1, 2010 at 01:43 AM ·

 For tone production I heard that long slow bows work. But its  the same thing like saying that to learn a piece you should always practice the whole piece instead of 5 to 10 measures a day. So instead of doing long slow bows  I divide the bow by 2 using a marker to mark the middle of the bow. After that I play the kreutzer etude # 2 which revolves around 3rds. I start with the lower part of the bow. With the metronome at 40 and making every 16 note a quarter note I spend 20 mins of my practice time on this excersise. My tone production and control has increased 75% in less than a week. YOU MUST STAY WITH THE METRONOME. After that do the same thing with the upper half. If you want to get really serious about tone production and control try dividing your bow into 3 then 4 then 5 then 6 and etc... its a really good excersise since it lets you know how your bow feels in every section of it.

February 1, 2010 at 03:10 AM ·

Long, slow bows.  That's another technique that comes highly recommended by the teachers and violinists that I read the most.  It seems like several well regarded teachers have endorsed the really long bow exercise: set the metronome at 60, play near the bridge, and try to get thirty beats (seconds) out of each bow.  When you've achieved that,  with some semblance of decent tone throughout, try to increase the number of beats, day by day, to 60.  Like so many techniques, what seems impossible at first starts happening, with time, if attempted on a regular enough basis.

Lynne Denig asked about influences.  I've been doing quite a bit of reading, in no particular order, and now I can't honestly remember who said what.  I have found Simon Fischer's Basics and Drew Lecher's book quite helpful, and I keep running up library fines on two books Yehudi Menuhin wrote.  Then, masterclasses I find on YouTube, and the websites of Kurt Sassmanshaus and Todd Ehle, seem to corroborate what I've read and find helpful to practice.  I pore over every bit of advice I can find on this site, and see how it fits with what has been published.  And I like to experiment with a cross-disciplinary approach, looking for analogies everywhere and anywhere that might provide insight. 

Two of the oddest (and they both concern tone production):

I was recently using a hand saw on a board in a little workshop I have, and experimenting with speed and pressure.  I am almost sure that by making the saw sing the loudest, I cut through the board faster and easier than ever before.

And I was on an elliptical machine at the local activities center work-out room, imagining smoother bowing techniques by paying attention to the way my feet were pressing on the pedals, heel first, smoothly transitioning to the toes, remembering that somewhere I had read that the bowing arm can be compared to the leg and foot while walking.  Maxim Vengerov works out a lot...I wonder if he's ever stepped onto an elliptical machine.



February 1, 2010 at 07:25 PM ·

One other aspect to consider in the production of tone related to posture and the holding of the violin is the choice to be made in shifting your weight between right and left feet/legs.  If the speed  of the bow is moderate enough, and certainly when it is moving slowly, one will find that starting  with the weight on  the left foot and leg at the frog and gradually moving to the right foot and leg as you draw a down bow will help keep the tone firm and even without excessive pronation at the tip. It will also feel as if , when drawing out those long bows mentioned in a couple of the previous posts,  you can hold the bow longer than if you simply kept your weight still in one place. In other words, you are moving your weight in the direction the bow is traveling.This will also make it feel easier to keep the bow traveling a relatively straight path towards the bridge and make the crescent bowing movements physically easier.

   For very fast bows, like vigorous chords at  the end of a phrase, for example, moving opposite to the direction of the bow will generate more energy. Take care though  that the bow does not move crooked as a result.

   In fast bows in the middle, quick detache, a more neutral position with weight kept in one place will feel better for balance. It would look very unusual and frenetic to try to move the body with the bow in such situations.

February 2, 2010 at 04:36 AM ·

This video of a masterclass by Zucherman is most illuminating in terms of tone production and posture/hold.  I especially recommend the first two masterclass segments and the q/a part 1.


Or if you just want to download them so you can watch at your convenience (and also resize the window)

the files of interest are rcm_1. mov thru and rcm_qa_1 and 2 .mov

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