Can't seem to hold it properly.... ???!

February 9, 2010 at 05:36 AM ·

Hey everyone,

         I'm just wondering about how you hold your violin without a shoulder rest.

         I've been playing without a shoulder rest ever since i started because a shoulder rest just doesn't fit me. However, i was taught to hold my violin with my shoulder and chin, which means i have to raise my shoulder.

         I read here though that one shouldn't raise his shoulder when playing. So how should i hold my violin? I know you have to balance it correctly but i just cant seem to do it.

         Any advise?  Thanks! :))



Replies (22)

February 9, 2010 at 06:41 AM ·


basically the violin should -rest- on your collar bone. This can actually be quite difficult for some people with sunken collar bones or who are veyr narrow around the upper chest.  It is then supported by the left hand.  Make sure you have the scroll high enough.  Practice with the head off the instruemnt.  Experiment with turning it from side to side and looking up at the ceiling.



February 9, 2010 at 08:12 AM ·

Hey Buri,

         Thanks for the reply. How about the left hand tho? i seem to be clenching the violin! THanks!

February 9, 2010 at 09:45 AM ·

Oh, also, at what angle should it be from my neck? Or does that also depend on my body type?

February 9, 2010 at 10:29 AM ·


no reason to clench the instrument. Its just resting on the thumb with light first finger contact..  Do you clench all the time ,  before you shift or when?

There are various exercises oyu can do to prevent thi stension including wiping the thumb up and down the neck from its base,  which is near the wrist rather than above the palm like the fingers.

The angle of the instrument is base don the ability to play at the point of the bow without having te left arm locket out at the point or with an obvious bend.



February 9, 2010 at 12:45 PM ·

Hi. Take a look at my website

Cick on "writings", then "fundamentals of holding the violin and bow"


February 9, 2010 at 03:30 PM ·

Your choice of CHINREST is very important. If you neck is too long to hold your violin, as presently configured, between your jaw and collar bone, you need a different chinrest.

You say you cannot use a shoulder rest! But how many different models have you tried. It really does make a difference. But using most clamp-on shoulder rests will limit your ability to move the violin around. Although most violinists today actually use shoulder rests, it is possible to pad your shoulder to give a bit of extra support to the violin (and a fulcrum for shifting its angle).

The old style of "strap-on pad" essentially puts that pad on the back of the violin at the shoulder. The best of these I ahve seen is the Acoustifoam, that comes in many different thicknesess to suit the particular player. I've been using an Acoustifoam (5/8" thich) for the past year or so, since arthritis forced me to stop using a conventional shoulder rest.


February 10, 2010 at 02:42 AM ·

Hey guys,

        Thank you for all the insightful responses.

         Buri, Thanks for the helpful advise. They were very helpful in practicing.

        Raphael, your post was very clear and helpful. It shed some light on a lot of things!

        Andrew, you insights were also helpful.



February 10, 2010 at 05:17 AM ·

 Click on my name in this message and you can see a picture of me holding the violin. The shoulder has nothing to do with holding the violin. 

February 10, 2010 at 05:37 AM ·

You could also try a tall shoulder rest to raise the violin up a bit. The Bon Musica is supposed to adjust pretty high and I think Kun makes 'extra long' legs for their rests now. Good luck!

February 10, 2010 at 06:30 AM ·


I would be a tad wary of absolutes regarding violin technique (aside from `Play in tune.`)  You say that one -should not- raise the shoulder and that is the way I play and teach. Nonetheless I once studied with a world class violin who told me quite bluntly that one can raise the shoulder as long as there was an equivalent drpp when it was no longer needed.  He noted wryly that in a Paginini cocnerto the shoulder would be raised much of the time.

For me,  violin playing comes from the back and a raising of the shoulder simply disturbs the whole body connection.  But there are always differnet schools of thought on these issues. 

Just an idle thought, but suppose you are the outside player in an orchestra and have to turn a page.  Are you going to raise your shoudler ot support the isntrument?



February 10, 2010 at 06:46 AM ·

I am curious Buri if this world class violinist had any physical ailments at some point  related to the raising of the shoulder  or might have developed such had he had to play a Paganini concerto with some frequency. And what of those who play Paganini concerti and do not raise the shoulder- surely there are a fair number of those. I agree there are no absolutes, but there are general principles which help most people. I sense that more people than not would have trouble overtime if they consistently raised the shoulder. If there is a way to avoid doing it in Paganini or elsewhere I would say not to. What about Nathan Milstein-he seemed to raise the violin high when he wanted but without raising the shoulder. Here is an example:  In fact, looking at this closely, the violin does not even seem to be on the shoulder per se.

February 10, 2010 at 07:42 AM ·

Hey everyone,

       I actually have a taller chinrest i had a local luthier make! :P  Thank you for all your helpful replies!


February 10, 2010 at 02:33 PM ·

To a greater or lesser extent, every great violinist that I can think of who doesn't use a shoulder rest, does make at least some use of the shoulder - among other aspects.  Here is a short list: Heifetz, Mutter, Rosand, Dicterow, Nadien, Francescatti, Milstein, Szeryng, Perlman.

MIlstein does so to a much lesser extent, but still had it in play; Francescartti much more so, and Mutter most of all. I studied with Rosand and Dicterow. The others on that list are among those whose DVD's I own and have seen many times. The placement of the chin rest, as I think someone has already said, does affect the placement of the violin. None of these masters have their shoulders in a completely straight line.

I think that a list like that should give one something to think about. Not wishing to re-kindle an old flame, but when an amateur categorically states that the shoulder has nothing to do with holding the violin, I think he ought to at least add "in my approach", which is what I do in my article. I begin by saying that that are many ways to play the violin well, which I think reflects what Buri said. However, closely reading Buri, he says that he studied with a world-class violin! I'd definitely like to add that instrument to my collection! Just kidding, Buri!

February 10, 2010 at 06:53 PM ·

Raphael, I don't doubt that the shoulder may move,and in fact should not be deliberately prevented from doing so. My concern would be with constant raising and holding up of the shoulder for any appreciable length of time. When you mentioned the great players you had observed making some use of the shoulder did you mean you typically observed them raising the shoulder often or did you mean that the shoulder moved in from its straight position with the back but did not really lift up and stay lifted up? Perhaps the violin was more typically held a little lower than parallel with the floor so the shoulder would not  have to rise up? In other words the back of the violin rested somewhat on the shoulder area? I notice Francescatti in particular let the violin come down some.

I have been watching a lot of the Berlin Philharmonic broadcasts (the Digital Concert Hall series) in which the camera angles allow one to see how the violinists and violists in the orchestra are supporting their instruments as they play. Not surprisingly a majority are using shoulder rests but one thing that nearly everyone has in common is that the violins and violas are not resting on the part of the shoulder furthest out. Whatever support involves the shoulder area seems to be closer in to the collarbone. The impression I get is that the shoulder rests are being used  as an extended shelf to fill in a gap as the space widens from where the violin rests on the collarbone and the collarbone extends out to the shoulder. The players I see with no rests at all seem to be allowing that gap to remain and are letting the violin rest on the collarbone and in their left hands. There is one violinist who has his head turned more to the left and downward than any other. He decidedly looks ill at ease and I honestly think he will be in physical trouble , if he's not already, by maintaining this position.

     The Paul Rolland videos , Teaching Action in String Playing, seem to advocate for a position in which the scroll is higher than the chin rest but without using a shoulder rest that spans both sides of the back of the violin. They specifically mention not holding the violin up on the shoulder because it would raise the height of the arms too much and lead to tension and fatigue. I am assuming they mean the shoulder area beyond the acromion.

    The principle of resistance with the violin being brought against the bow as the arm weight is released into the string, much like two hands coming together to clap, seems to give a fuller, more resonant sound than by simply letting the violin rest on the shoulder and having the right arm and back muscles be the chief source for producing the tone. By allowing the hand to lift the violin the shoulder can still remain level. In the sample of Milstein I cited, once can see how he does this at the ends of cadences with powerful chords or final notes that need projection.



February 10, 2010 at 11:25 PM ·

Ronald - good post, and it gives me a chance to clarify a couple of things. I am opposed to something that I myself used to do for a number of years as a young man, namely jutting the shoulder up. I share your concerns about raising the shoulder for longer than a moment - perhaps during a postion change. Even there, I feel that it should be minimal. In my approach, which closely reflects Rosand's method, which in turn is very similar to Heifetz, the shoulder moves a bit OVER towards the right shoulder. The shoulders are brought closer together in a way that somewhat resembles a boxer, or someone rowing a boat. This lateral placement helps to create a 'table' upon which the violin rests. This also has the effect of moving the clavicle a bit. This shortens the distance between the violin and the neck. Many people who would like to try to play 'restless' but feel that they can't on account of a long neck, find that this approach, together with minimal padding over the clavicle can enable them to play 'restless' comfortably, after some instruction and practice. For more details please see the article on my website.

There's nothing about this approach that precludes raising the violin with the hand. In fact my approach encourages free leverage with the violin - laterally, vertically, and even in circles. I feel that the violin should almost feel like it's floating, and yet secure. To take two extemes in the examples I listed before, with Mutter, the violin rests right on her shoulder. With Milstein the violin basically rests on his clavicle. Yet I say that his shoulder comes into play because - well, it does. It is also somewhat over, which in turn brings everything else over, and lends a small but significant touch of support.

Again, the chinrest has an influence on violin placement. I'm not surprized to see that Milstein used a Guarneri model with the cup to the left of the tailpiece. This encourages the chin to follow suit. At the same time, it brings the violin more towrds the clavicle. Mutter uses a Flesch model, which is centered right over the tailpiece. This tends to bring the violin over more to the left shoulder. We can fight against a chinrest's tendencies - conciously or unconciously. Most players in my observation tend to like being at least somewhat in the center with their chin. If they use a Guarneri model they end up with their chin on the rim that this model has over the tailpiece. I've seen many players using this model with the whole cup exposed, because they don't use it. But that rim protects the tail piece from chin pressure; it doesn't really provide support. I use, and strongly recommend, the Kaplan model. It's a mean between the extemes. It supports my approach of being pretty centered, and having the violin rest partly on the clavicle and partly on the shoulder.

February 11, 2010 at 12:33 AM ·

Thank you for the clarification Raphael. What you have elaborated on does make sense and I can definitely feel how a lateral movement in the shoulder changes the feeling in the collarbone. It also makes sense that the goal is to create enough of a table of support without immobilizing  our bodies since they are meant to move and not be held rigidly in one place. With regard to the centered chin rest, it would seems people with shorter arms would have an easier time reaching  to the tip of the bow relatively straight and that if the violin is placed too far to the left, the arm cannot extend enough to even reach to the tip. It is a balance, and each person must find a way to allow their body to move and adjust the positioning of the violin and bow such that they can reach the highest notes and still draw the bow with a good contact point.

 Thank you for your explanations- your site is excellent by the way.

February 11, 2010 at 01:28 AM ·


March 2, 2010 at 06:22 PM ·

Ive been trying a new way without a shoulder rest but I dont know. I dont think about the shoulder - put the violin up the normal way like you would with a shoulder rest. Then you have to support it with the left hand. Then tilt your head alot to the left so the side of your face is flatter on the chin rest and the violin is almost parellel to the floor. And it stays without your left hand just as good as with a SR. But I keep moving my head back up to the right while Im playing cuz it feels weird to tilt your head like that. I havent seen many people tilt their head like that. I think that guy did on the Red Violin. That long hair guy that played really fast. But I think he might have been faking. It might be good if you can make it a habit to keep your head that way. It looks funny too. Like your cuddling it like a teddy bear.

March 3, 2010 at 11:08 AM ·

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo, this is so wrong (that someone told you to hold the violin with your shoulder and chin!

The violin is held by: collarbone, chin and left hand!

but you need to bring your shoulder 'forward' (not upwards) for the collarbone to form a nice 'shelf' for your violin to rest on...

to see what I mean do this:

put your right hand over to the left of the base of your neck and with the tip of your fingers 'get hold of collarbone', keep your left shoulder all the way back like you want to have your shoulders flat against a wall, keep feeling the collarbone with your hand.  Now push your shoulder 'forward' (not up) and feel how the collarbone now 'sticks out' a lot more, giving more area for your violin to rest on.

The human body is magical :)

ps some people with long necks may need a higher 'chin rest', see if you have a teacher or other experienced person to help determine if this would help or maybe go into a specialist shop for advice...

often though just a thin sponge over your collarbone is enough.  I have to use one as the violin 'hurts' my collarbone (well, the metal clamp of my chin rest which presses on my collarbone hurts, but often just a cloth is enough to take this away for me).  I have to say I have not yet learned to play without a shoulder rest, I am learning so I've done a lot of reading around it on this site and others.

March 3, 2010 at 01:21 PM ·

 Here I beg to differ. I know that there are those who disagree but I believe that the shoulder need not and should not be moved at all. Any movement of the shoulder introduces unnecessary tension and should be avoided. the muscles of your back and shoulder should feel entirely relaxed.

But the collarbone, chin and left hand are sufficient. Look at my profile picture and see what I mean.

March 3, 2010 at 04:46 PM ·

I'd really like to be able to play shoulder-restless, because I like sound & feeling of the resonance/vibration from the instrument, plus I think it's easier on my bow arm, but... I can't seem to do it without tension. My left collarbone is practically non-existent, it doesn't stick out like my right one, and to get the violin to rest upon it, I practically need to press it in against my neck. So, I have been using a shoulder rest to keep the violin in place. My chin rest is comfortable, but it's not the whole solution... Anything I should try?




March 3, 2010 at 05:34 PM ·

 David, This transition can be quite difficult and is best done with a teacher who plays without a rest and without lifting or twisting and better yet a teacher who once used a shoulder rest. 

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