11th position on E string and NO shoulder rest

July 5, 2010 at 04:06 PM ·

Hi, I am learning to play without a shoulder rest, all I am using is a non slip 'patch' on my collarbone (it's actually John Cadd's invention if anyone on this site knows him and his invention), with this the violin does not slip off anywhere when I play/shift/vibrato, apart from that it is just exactly as playing normally without a shoulder rest, it just adds a bit more friction like some thin sponges or  chamois leather might....

Anyway, my question is:

I have only just started 3 weeks ago to practice 3 octave scales.

Up to D 3 octave I am ok, when I do E or F/Fsharp then I start having a problem:

when I get to the last 5 notes on E string (let's talk about F major) and I have my 1st finger on Bflat, I then am ok-ish to put down 2nd on C, 3rd on D (this is a major struggle) but to put down my fourth finger on E and extend it to F I cannot do this unless I lift my 2nd and 3rd fingers and even then it's a MAJOR struggle.

The struggle is because I can't reach! or I can very hardly reach.

What I do is I have my thumb under neck of violin by bout and I have only just the tip of the thumb there, the violin is 'only just secure' if I let go a millimetre more I'll drop the violin.....

my left arm elbow is as much as I can put it under the violin and to the right, the violin is 'tilted' sideways to the right towards my bowing arm.

I really think the problem is that I should move my thumb further, but if I do I'll drop the violin as I don't use any support (no sponge no rest nothing) and without my left hand holding it the violin will drop!

Someone told me the only way I'll play well without lifting my fingers is to bring the thumb by the side of the fingerboard, but like I say, I will drop the violin. Lifting the fingers as you all know is recipe for almost definitely a disaster, in such high positions it is not easy to keep a secure intonation.....

At this stage it's not a problem not being able to play higher than D 3 octaves as I don't play advanced repertoire yet.... but I am planning to play the violin for the rest of my life and am planning to one day be able to learn Paganini's Caprices and lots of other stuff which involve going up that high on E string...

So.....how do I do it???

Thank you for your help in advance.


July 5, 2010 at 04:14 PM ·

In your picture you have a cello, and so I wouldn't advise putting that under your chin ...

On the fiddle Ricci just says you should think of everything as just one position, as Paganini apparently did.

When you get up into the frostbite zone Ricci also says you can't always put different fingers down, there is no room, so just use one finger and move it about.

It's unlikely that you will drop the fiddle, but in the early stages if you think it possible then practise over a bed or sofa or something that is very soft.

July 5, 2010 at 04:18 PM ·

 thank you Peter, it's a double bass by the way, not a cello ;) lol

I don't think my teacher would 'approve' of the 'one finger approach' but I have not asked so who knows.....

but even with one finger, I still would not be able to reach the top of the fingerboard without putting my thumb by the side of the fingerboard and hence not being able to hold it with my left hand......I keep thinking about this one but to me it seems I might have to adopt a 'rest' of some sort to achieve this one?

July 5, 2010 at 04:20 PM ·

I also play without a shoulder rest. All you have to do is drop your violin down to your shoulder when you get to the high positions. Works everytime.

July 5, 2010 at 04:23 PM ·

 Thank you Caroline, I will try but when I let go of my violin it goes RIGHT DOWN a LONG WAY down and it drops, it does not just lower an inch or two, it goes over a foot downwards and I can't keep a hold of it with my chin/jaw, not even if I raise my shoulder....


hang on...I just tried, if I turn the violin over to the left so that the scroll is more in line with the tip of my shoulder 'maybe' I can let it down a little but still hold it, I have to raise my shoulder right up to hold it though, that should not be a problem as it would only be for the few seconds I have to play 'up there' then as I come back down in positions I can go back to holding the violin with my left hand and my shoulder can go back to its 'relaxed position'. I will have to try over the bed as I'm scared LOL is that what you do? have it more sideways then towards your front?

July 5, 2010 at 04:28 PM ·

Yes I noticed it was a bass but too late!! There's nothing wrong with using a shoulder rest. And in the slow movement of Mozarts's F major K590 quartet - first violin part - it goes up to a top C - in fact its semiquavers CBCBCB C. This is right up in the rosin and it works fine with just one finger.

And Ricci suggests we practise scales on one string using only ONE finger - any finger - but the same finger. Its good for ear training.

July 5, 2010 at 04:31 PM ·

 thank you Peter, I will experiment with Caroline's suggestion, if this will work good, if not I might have to resort to use a rest of some sort just when I plan to play pieces which go 'all the way up there'.

I practice scales on one string with one finger only by the way, they are great, love them :) I do just 1st then just 2nd then just 3rd and just 4th, then I do all other sorts of combinations on one string (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 1-2-3-4...:))

July 5, 2010 at 07:09 PM ·


I recall that when I first did 3 octave F scales that I had similar difficulties, and I have a large hand. And G flat was an "Oh puleeese" experience.   I was on a repeating cycle in the Flesch book, and a year later when I came around to F, it was pretty easy, and G flat was OK.  Another cycle later, and I had no problem. It was easy all the way up.  I remember thinking, something has changed, I wonder what it is?

My advice is don't do some "trick" thing for F and G flat up high right now. Down that road madness lies.  You are just starting 3 octaves and lots will change as you continue these exercises.  Work on consistent technique.  Keep doing cycles of exercises in all keys and come back to these - in a while.  By the time you are playing pieces that require lots of high notes, your hand will have changed - maybe larger, certainly stronger, and certainly more flexible.  Don't obsess on it now.  If in a couple years, it is a problem, then think about finding a special "trick".

July 5, 2010 at 07:17 PM ·

I have experimented alot with and without shoulder rest, chinrest, ... If Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn use a SR it must be alright. I have to play without a shirt when its hot, there is less chance of dropping it on the floor, you can play for hours without hurting your collar bone, and you can play alot more proficiently in the high positions with a SR. I have watched Perlman without a shoulder rest and it looks like he easily reaches all the way up with his thumb still under the neck because he has large hands. I have small hands so I cant.

July 5, 2010 at 07:31 PM ·

 What Mike said is interesting and I was hoping it was the answer too....

I was thinking: maybe this will 'just sort itself out in time'

it was the same when I started artificial harmonics (totally different kettle of fish I know) but they sounded HORRID and it was so hard to get it right, now they are almost a breeze and I haven't done anything just kept trying :)

so I was hoping that maybe with time.....arm/hand/fingers would stretch and become more 'elastic' etc maybe I'll get more 'relaxed' as it gets more familiar 'up on the mount everest' and by getting more relaxed I'll reach easier.... just like Mike said.

I did ask my teacher and he said not to worry for now, to just do them up to D as I don't play advanced stuff yet and won't need anything higher for now, so maybe that's what he meant, that if I keep practicing up to D 3 octave then when all that is really easy the E/F scales will get easier too....

thanks :)

July 5, 2010 at 07:42 PM ·

I really do not understand some answers here. Been playing without a shoulder rest for almost 50 years. In my opinion, the shoulder is never involved in the process. Keep your entire arm close  to your body near the heart and allow it to be free . Do not exagerate the motion when you play on the G string and let it swing naturally. Raise the violin up. It is the thumb that is doing the job here in high positions. The thumb is all streched ( with ease) around  the upper body the instrument to allow the fingers to move freely. It is much easier than the first position, because everything is much closer to your body... Always have in mind that there must not be any tension from your neck. That is a major point

I think as years are passing,  we are loosing the technique of playing without a shoulder rest. This is all well explained in Leopold Auer's book. Make it simple. Never raise the shoulder to fill the empty space.  The empty space = freedom. It is not a good idea to hold the instrument on the shoulder, it does not work. Use the collar bone and the natural weight of the head. Loosen up the entire arm and feel the weight of your instrument in your hand and thumb.Feel it with an up and down motion of your arm as a basic exercise.. Feel it with a free  and narrow motion of the entire arm from right (E string) to the left (G string). Allow your head to move on its own motion while playing fast détaché or sautillé...

P.S. Most violinists who do not use shoulder rests turn their head to the right and just feel the different motions while playing in high positions. They do not look the fingers action. For those who have short necks, it is possible that the instrument touches the shoulder very softly when they arche back toward the left. But the shoulder does not try to reach the instrument in that particular case. It is not raised.


July 5, 2010 at 07:59 PM ·

 Hi Marc, at present I cannot reach high up well whilst having my thumb under the neck of the violin by bout (holding violin with my left hand) but maybe like Mike said, if I don't let it worry me for now and just reach as far as I can with time I'll learn to relax/strech easier and then I will get to the higher notes eventually....

ps I never raise my shoulder  when playing 'rest free' in an attempt to 'fill the gap', I leave the gap well alone, keep my shoulder down and relaxed, keep violin up with my left hand and let it rest on collarbone like you said :)

July 5, 2010 at 09:08 PM ·

Well, you are searching exactly the right way. Auer and Galamian wrote that at first, one must forget about the thumb. It will find its way naturally... I believe this to be wise... Kogan holds his thumb right under the neck from first to third postions. ( he keeps his thumb backward in the direction of the scroll.) This is quite unsusual and considered by many as wrongful. Well, it surely worked for him!!

July 5, 2010 at 10:15 PM ·

 I am extracting this from a previous thread in the hopes it may be helpful here. Especially note the idea of climbing over top of the instrument and moving the instrument to the left. A center-cupped chin rest is helpful to people with shorter length arms in reaching to the end of the bow  but be careful not to push the left side of the violin near the chin rest over on to your shoulder because the height of the violin will  rise and cause you to have to reach higher with your arms.

"I think the elbow movement is a posture related one because what I would consider the most natural position to start with is the one where your arm is resting by your side. When you lift the arm up to the violin from this position and take care not to pull the elbow outward and to the right you will have what I would consider a neutral position from which you may have to move the elbow to the right or left depending on which string you are trying to get your fingers over to.

  In any case, a twist to the right that pulls from the rhomboid muscles in back is definitely not a good thing to do. In fact, with regard to the elbow movement, it is really more a question of away from the rib cage and towards it as opposed to a dramatic push out and to the right which is what it appears the demonstrator in the video is doing, In fact, to limit this push, many violinists let the violin move to the left so their arm does not have to come around as much and further, when they go beyond fifth position, they begin to raise the hand higher so that the bottom of the thumb clears the upper bout of the violin allowing the hand to be closer to the strings and the fingers more over top their marks.

 Finally, it has been mentioned before that no less an eminent violinist than David Nadien,did not pull his arm around  so much to the right but kept the elbow back with minimum torque. Observe the following in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofS_sNu5dfw&feature=related  The solo begins about 3:02"

July 6, 2010 at 01:30 AM ·

1. Make sure that in the lower positons you are holding the violin with your hand, not your shoulder, and that your shoulder is completely relaxed. DO NOT RAISE YOUR SHOULDER.

2. In the very high positions, bring your violin down to your shoulder.

3. If you do not have the proper chinrest, all of this will be very difficult. It is important that you have a chinrest with a high lip to that you can grip the violin easily without it slipping.

July 6, 2010 at 09:49 AM ·

" that you have a chinrest with a high lip to that you can grip the violin easily without it slipping."

There should never be any reason to "GRIP."

July 6, 2010 at 10:06 AM ·

Take a look at my "fundamentals" in the 'writings" section of my website. http://rkviolin.com


July 6, 2010 at 03:31 PM ·

I do not understand why  bringing the violin down to the shoulder to play  in the high positions would be a good thing. It would seem one would want weight to fall in the direction of one's body and not toward the hand which you'd think you'd want to feel lighter and not heavier. Also, in observing a number of  well-known violinist's videos, with the exception of Anne Sophie Mutter, it seems violinists are not having their violin rest on the shoulder but away from the shoulder. I suggest two reasons. First, if you place the violin on the shoulder the height of the instrument will be much higher and it will be more of a reach up with the bow arm as well as up with the left hand. This extra height and distance is not necessary. Secondly,  if one leaves the violin off the shoulder at first but then  turns the shoulder to bring it under  into alignment with the violin, the shoulder and upper chest muscles are pushed over and constricted. One may think one is providing a more stable table of support  but at what cost? Is the sound of the instrument being dampened as a result? Is your arm out of alignment with its natural tendency to want to be lined up with the violin the way it would if it were resting at its side. Why distort the natural position of the arm. instead, I would advocate for moving the violin at the scroll end to left and/or tilting towards the E string (But not severely) to shorten the distance the left hand and arm have to travel to reach the notes, especially for the G string. In addition, one if one's chin rest cup is over the tail piece, you will not need to distort your head and turn it to the left, unnecessarily stretching the neck muscles. I also believe the chin rest height should be raised so that you can preserve the natural curve in your neck without having to clench with the jaw and neck to secure a hold at that end. The chin and jaw in particular should rest on the chin rest with a little give or play so there is no rigid grip. The scroll end should be higher than the chin rest end and the the shoulders  level, never raised. The violin is resting on the collarbone and in the hand and the bow is resting on the string. There is no need to grip at either end.

July 6, 2010 at 04:14 PM ·

Ronald: Playing without a shoulder rest means to hold the violin in front of you and keeping both shoulders at their natural position. As Auer says: it is not the shoulder that is under the back of the instrument, it is the left arm...this is accomplished "by slightly advancing the left arm towards the chest, holding the violin as high as possible...endeavor always to lessen the distance between the arms, to bring them together by inclining the body slightly to the left, yet without resting the left arm against the front of the body. Eyes must be fixed on the head of the instrument..."

July 6, 2010 at 06:30 PM ·

Jo - if you are in 11th position on the E string, your fingers are clearly on the wrong side of the bridge.  You need to be on the side with the fingerboard, not the tailpiece.  Once you change sides, you will find that the advice given in previous posts is right on.

July 6, 2010 at 06:33 PM ·

Tom: very funny...and true. That is why Paganini invented the high harmonics. He had short hands...

July 6, 2010 at 08:40 PM ·

Marc, the statements you've mentioned from Leopold Auer seem very reasonable- I assume there in the book "Violin Playing As I teach It"- it definitely makes sense that both shoulders should be kept in their natural position, and that distances should be shortened but not to the point that your elbow is in front of your body or as if one were playing in a telephone booth or a narrow closet. Curiously,  there is a video tape  for sale by  someone who is from the Auer tradition  that shows the violin positioned from the collarbone across to  where the shoulder joins with the arm turning the neck so that the violin has a shelf on which to rest. This severe neck turning seems to me much like putting a kink in a hose and restricting water flow. That position seems to be one that would cause tension and I would advocate for a position that does not strain the neck. As for the eyes being fixed on the head of the instrument,   Mimi Zweig and others have felt it less necessary to fix the eyes down the fingerboard and  toward the scroll and have advocated for less turn in the head/neck. Here are some videos that I think show a reasonable head/neck position without any severe turn:







July 7, 2010 at 01:04 AM ·

A downward lean to the left  ( like the way one might try to cradle the phone receiver between the shoulder and jaw)  is certainly not a good idea if that is what is meant by resting the cheek into the chin rest. But, it can be observed that turning the neck too much  while keeping the head straight is not a good thing to do to your neck either. This is exactly what I observed in the Stephen Redrobe tape which alarmed me. The voice became strained and a lot of tension could be seen in the neck.  Is not the most neutral and relaxed position from which to move in and out of,  the position in which your head is straight and lined up above your neck which should  have a gentle curve in the back  so the area below the base of the brain feels soft. Is this not the position you would be in if you were facing someone straight ahead talking to them or the position you are in if you bring food on your plate, set in front of you, up to your mouth?  How crucial is it to face the fingerboard?  There is a bit of an optical illusion, perhaps due to the curve of the bridge, that may fool the eye into thinking the bow is straight or in judging distances visually. Does not one mostly need one's sense of touch and hearing - a number of violinists, play for long stretches with their eyes closed. Perhaps for them, the visual distraction of looking at their violin would cause them to mess up with their fingering or bowing and relying on their sense of touch and listening to their sound feels more natural and appropriate?
 Also,  I believe you can still see your left hand and bow peripherally  but you can also turn when you feel the need to but I would not remain with head turned.  It may mean a slightly different positioning of the chin rest, or a change in height of the chin rest.

One must consider to what extent the equipment forces the player into a particular position and through ingenuity and the ability to get used to a position over time, especially if it is one your body adapted to as a flexible, malleable child,  you assume it is the most comfortable and sensible position to be in when it is in fact, in the long run, not the healthiest, or ergonomically sound position to find yourself in.

Were there really any centered chin rests back at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century- did all players just learn to turn to the left with their heads because that's the way chin rests were made and it predisposed them to moving in that direction? I forget which thread it was in, but someone noted on this site that  most violinists they had observed using the Guarneri chin rests tended to still have their chin past the tailpiece and did not use their jaw to fill up the space for it over to the left side but gravitated towards a more neutral position, perhaps out of instinct for what would be more comfortable.

I cannot speak for others, but I have found my most comfortable flexible position to be one in which I don't have to permanently turn the neck or head to the left though I don't freeze my head or neck either in that position.

  As for John's question about whether the thumb can stay on the side of the neck while reaching to the fingerboard I can only suggest that by bringing the palm of the hand up and over the right bout of the violin with the scroll of the violin positioned a bit leftward, you can gain distance in being able to play in the highest positions. It helps to have a flexible webbing between the thumb and first finger to expand your reach and to have a violin whose bout is not particularly wide and broad, but  I've seen people with relatively short fingers and hand breadths do it so it is a  technique that is worth practicing.

July 7, 2010 at 01:34 AM ·

Personaly, try avoid treating the fingerboard as positions .. As long as you hit the correct intonation I don't think it matters too much; but thats all on perspective, some can view it as a matter of orginasation or not... anyhow;

when playing up high, I can't stretch very far with my thumb - it will hold my other fingers back, so to get around that, I have to 'pivot' my thumb by sliding underneath the neck so that my thumb is actually on the right-side of the fingerboard (whilst you are holding the instrument up); and its placed under the corner of the rib-cage (I think its called that) and the fingerboard to provide additional support.

It of course helps to have a properly fitted chin-rest.


I hope I don't have my left and rights confused up! ... the right side being when you are playing the instrument - just to clarify :P ... usually the opposite side of when you are playing first position ..... Ok I'm confusing myself!

July 7, 2010 at 10:56 PM ·

Maybe its time to get the chin-putty out ...


A thumb as long as your index finger ..


incredibly scary thought.

July 8, 2010 at 03:43 AM ·

 actually the thumb is as long as the index finger, it's just attached much lower down.... 

(I knew what Dimitri meant by the way...)


July 8, 2010 at 06:34 AM ·

Should I have thumb envy? I think I'm small..

July 8, 2010 at 08:27 PM ·

>Jo - if you are in 11th position on the E string, your fingers are clearly on the wrong side of the bridge.  You need to be on the side with the fingerboard, not the tailpiece.  Once you change sides, you will find that the advice given in previous posts is right on.<

LOL Tom.  You're a complete nut case :-)

July 8, 2010 at 10:50 PM ·

No silly - 11th position on the E string is with your index on the B at the 19th note on the E string. I like to play up there alot but I can only reach it with a shoulder rest.

July 8, 2010 at 11:41 PM ·

I dont egt why some people bother to count positinos up that high? Isn't it easier to just hit B  (or whatever it is )instead of going into 11th?

July 8, 2010 at 11:57 PM ·

>I dont egt why some people bother to count positinos up that high? Isn't it easier to just hit B  (or whatever it is )instead of going into 11th?<

I agree.  I know what position I'm in up to 4th, but after that, they're just notes.  Who cares what position you are in as long as the notes are right. 

July 9, 2010 at 12:12 AM ·

The way it works is in my head is that if my 1st finger is on E then my fourth finger can hit A

So maybe it is similar to position labeling? Just not in numbers

July 9, 2010 at 11:31 AM ·

Thanks, Smiley.  That's the best compliment I have received all week!

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