March 25, 2011 at 04:45 PM ·

I will just re-post what I posted at the end of FAIL VLOG I as I'd like to know what others have to suggest:

I am a lot more confident than I was when I first started 6 weeks ago already, my violin  never slips away!  My shifts are always ok up to 7th position, it's only if I go higher that I need more experience/confidence definitely! especially if I do 3 octave scales, when I do them higher than D I am insecure in the last higher octave where I have to take my thumb OFF the neck and bring it to the side of the fingerboard if I have to keep all my fingers down, if I do this then I have to raise my shoulder and rest the violin on the shoulder just for the final 4 notes of the last octave, the only way NOT to raise my shoulder and not to take the thumb off the neck and to the side of the fingerboard is to raise my 2nd and 3rd finger off the fingerboard.

Generally I would never raise my shoulder when playing with no rest but I don't know how to handle the above as what do I do in future if I have to play a fast piece with those notes required? if I take my fingers off I might risk incorrect intonation, so what do I do? take my fingers off and play out of tune? or keep fingers on, raise my shoulder and get thumb to the side of the fingerboard all for just a few seconds?

 just to explain it again: I CAN keep my thumb UNDER the neck of violin and reach with my little finger all the way to the end of the fingerboard, my finger-span is NOT small, but what I CANNOT do is keep ALL my fingers down (1st/2nd/3rd AND 4th) at the very end of my 3 octave scale when I do my last few notes, in here either I just keep my 1st finger down and for the other fingers I play them one by one lifting each one as I go along and keep my thumb under the neck OR if I have to keep each finger down without lifting them, then I HAVE to take the thumb  OFF AND AWAY from under the neck and ROUND TO THE SIDE of the fingerboard.

Hope I have explained that well LOL

Replies (60)

March 25, 2011 at 06:22 PM ·

 yeah,,,first to post on this thread, yeah! :)

i think i know what you are saying.  i wonder if shoulder flexibility also plays a role here, to position or tilt your hand in such a way that allows more placement of all the fingers, instead of having to reach for the pinkie and letting go of the thumb,,,also, how about how much one can stretch between thumb and index finger,,,allowing rest of the hand to go with the index finger???  not sure.

anyway, here is my kid this morning doing another run on the E string.


March 25, 2011 at 06:25 PM ·

Silly question:  what does FAIL VLOG mean?

March 25, 2011 at 06:32 PM ·

 smiley, those 2 words are chinese symbols, ,man! :)

when i started that first thread, i was trying to experiment to see if she could switch to restless playing.  when she failed to like the restless playing in the first clip, i submitted the thread here, suggesting that we have failed to switch it.  but then with couple more tryings over the week, another direction developed so the so called failed vlog backfired:)




March 25, 2011 at 07:04 PM ·

Maybe it should be called FAIL VLOG FAILURE.  Since double negative equals positive, then that is the same as VLOG SUCCESS!  Yipee!! 

To see if your daughter is now in the non-SR camp, have her put the SR back on and see what she says.  You asked her a series of questions the first time around (does the instrument sound better, is it less restricted, etc).  You may find her answers have changed. 

March 25, 2011 at 07:34 PM ·

Wow, I wished I had such hand size to be able to have my thumb way under the neck like she does when she goes up!   A real gift by nature!!!   That she obviously exploits very very well : ) 

Best of luck to her and you... practice coach!

She adapted very fast...


March 25, 2011 at 08:51 PM ·

 anne marie, you mean to say that as a kid your parents did not after dinner gently yank your fingers to make them grow longer???  

smiley, good thinking with the double negative:)   i got the fail idea from this:

i remember about 2 weeks ago i asked her to put the shoulder rest on, she immediately revolted against it. :)

we are creatures of habits:)   

or incentives:  if i tell her computer game time can increase with shoulder rest use....

also, jo, take a look what milstein does with his bow hand in the first 4 seconds in this clip,,,does not solve the tuning issue, but at least give me some idea of supporting the violin when needed with the right hand

March 27, 2011 at 02:47 AM ·

That was a cool video Al -- lot's of funny stuff.

"i remember about 2 weeks ago i asked her to put the shoulder rest on, she immediately revolted against it. :)"

After playing restless for a while, you start to notice the sound differences and just how heavy a shoulder rest is.  As you said, it all depends on what you are used to.  If you used SR all your life, the violin will sound just fine, and doesn't feel heavy at all.  But after you play without one, you start to notice the difference. 

When I put the SR back on, it actually feels pretty good.  Nice and secure, and I can shift and vibrate much easier, but after a few minutes, my left shoulder starts to ache.  I must have really bad physique for violin, or I just have poor technique, or maybe both. 

March 27, 2011 at 03:20 AM ·

 "but after a few minutes, my left shoulder starts to ache. "

smiley, i know you don't understand this part....and neither do i, darn it!
you first feel comfortable with sr for a few min, then the shoulder starts to ache...  
if there is a super thin sr, i really want you to try it.
hey, while on this thread,  here is a question by jo on my youtube video which needs some inputs from you guys. 
hope jo does not mind since it is interesting.  talking about finger placement on high E string.  
"the problem is when I play 2nd/3rd and fourth finger, I cannot keep my 2nd finger down when I have to play my 3rd finger. When I play 3rd I can keep my 1st down but NOT my second, when I play my 4th I can keep? my 1st down but not my 3rd LOL, my teacher would like me to keep my 1st/2nd AND 3rd down when playing my 4th and I cant"
is this a flexibility issue or something else?
ps, i can't keep any down because my shoulder will hurt:)

March 27, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

 Hello, been at work ALL day :)

I have looked at my fingers high on E string and the problem is this:

first I was keeping my hand too low I think and the bout of violin was in the way so I raised it a bit and that helped, but then there is NO way I can keep my 1st finger down and reach the VERY END of the fingerboard with my 4th BUT I can reach the very end of the fingerboard with my THIRD finger :) so I think I will have to maybe use slightly different fingering for my scales 'up there in the sky'??? 

what do you all think? instead of finishing with say: 1-2-3-4-4 finish with  1-2-3-3-3 LOL or will that be too insecure and open to dodgy intonation? If I can't do that I'll have to come off from under the neck with my thumb and bring the thumb round to the side of the fingerboard which I can do no problem, I can do it and the violin is not slipping anywhere, I am fortunate enough not to have sloping shoulders and only a gap of 1/2 inch between violin and shoulder so my shoulder does not have to lift much at all when I do this.

March 28, 2011 at 06:32 PM ·

 Ok, it seems I am not the only one not using a shoulder rest who has to 'abandon' the neck of the violin with my thumb (from having it under it) and bring my thumb to the side of the fingerboard in oder to reach the very end on E string, in this video Anne Fontanella has to do exactly the same at approx 2:45 to 2:50 it's difficult to say but it seems she is using a first finger followed by 4th and then a third.

By the way, lovely video, I thoroughly enjoyed her performance, what a great musician she is :)

April 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM ·

 a little update:

recently my kid has been working on some passages with shifting among some high register double stops.  she felt her left shoulder region getting tired more easily.

upon discussion with teacher, my kid is back to using the sr with a lower chin rest.  teacher felt that my kid should learn a more solid double stop shifting technique first.

with the rest, this morning she did not feel any "tiredness", so for the time being, we will stay with the rest.


April 8, 2011 at 05:31 PM ·

 thank you for the update Al Ku, I for one don't know what to say as I don't do any double stop in high positions yet and I am not an expert in 'rest-less' playing yet either :)

But 'my update' is that I have met up with someone who is a little experienced in playing 'rest-less' and has learnt to play this way from a very experienced 'rest-less' teacher and she helped me a bit....she noticed tension in my thumb and gave me tips on what to do to correct its position and to loosen it...she also showed me what to do in the famous dilemma high up on the E string we've been talking about, I'll have to take photos and post them later as I can't explain in words :)

April 8, 2011 at 08:29 PM ·

In the very high positions (e.g., 4 octave scale), it is very difficult to play up there without some sort of support.  The problem comes when the thumb moves out from under the instrument to the side of the fingerboard.  You really need the instrument supported in some way so the thumb can be temporarily relieved of duty so to speak. I have not figured out a way of doing that without SR.

April 8, 2011 at 10:34 PM ·

 Hi Smiley, the only way I can go all the way to the end of the fingerboard is by 'swinging' the violin to my left, move the hand/thumb and end up with my thumb like in the photo here.  With the thumb under the rib of the violin I have a good grip of the violin so I support all the weight of the violin and the pressure from my fingers on the string and the pressure from the bow on the strings without having to keep my shoulder raised.  To get my thumb back under the neck I will have to very quickly raise my shoulder for a split of second just to give my violin some 'security' whilst the thumb moves across, but I don't know if that's because I am only just learning this and with experience I will not need to do it anymore.

I was shown this way of doing things by someone experienced in 'rest-less' playing who has offered to help me.

April 9, 2011 at 10:55 AM ·

 since my kid is still young and growing, her setup preferences may fluctuate more in the future, but for now, her issue, echoed by smiley and jo to some extent, remains and it seems that sr provides more support when the left hand is twisted over the fingerboard on higher register.  as i first started with this trial, it is meant to be open ended with nothing to prove.  in a way, at least my kid is currently giving fail blog its intended meaning:).  looking back, i think playing sr-less probably made her learn to shift better because of the thumb involvement.

funny to see how jo is using a centered mounted chin rest.  i just recently got one for my kid and she loves it.  the moment it was put on, she announced that she loves it.  as many have previously noted, some players, even with side mounted chin rest on the violins, make contact with the center portion of the side mounted chin rest anyway.  so she loves the new centered one, naked without the strad pad anymore, and with sr at the lowest height setting.  the one i got is rather flat, without the ridge that is meant to hold the chin.  my feeling is that the ridge, perhaps well meaning, often causes more irritation than comfort because the contour is not individualized.

one thing i have noticed with my kid is that when a setup works, she can maintain her scroll at a reasonable height longer.  conversely, when she lowers her scroll easily and frequently, it is perhaps a sign of tiredness or an indication that there is tension buildup and lowering the scroll relieves the tension.  IF i insist that she holds up the violin up, as a rhetoric used by everyone, when she does not feel like it, it is possibly a way to cause tension buildup and physical problems.

i suspect many people who develop chronic violin related muscular problems have gone through similar cycles, that they are told to do something that they are not comfortable with, or they have convinced themselves to do something that they are not comfortable with.


April 9, 2011 at 12:40 PM ·

 Al Ku, what you say about how your daughter tends to lower the scroll when she begins to accumulate tiredness and tension and if you insist on her keeping it up she may 'over accumulate' on tiredness and tension and 'maybe' that's why people end up with problems as they are 'pushed' in going against what they instinctively do...

that's very interesting....

I noticed that since I've been playing sr-less I mostly keep my scroll nice and up, strings parallel to floor, but occasionally my scroll will gravitate a little lower for a little while, not for a long time though, then it will go back up again.  If what you think is right, then it 'ties in' with my observation of what I tend to do, that sometimes my scroll goes down a little for say a minute or two then it will be up again for the next fifteen minutes, perhaps I instinctively do this to 'loosen up'? or I don't know, I just know I do it LOL  I have not timed myself I am just 'guessing' at the timing here, I do know my violin will be up almost always with occasional and quick 'down' :)

April 9, 2011 at 01:06 PM ·

 yeah, that is what i am suspecting, that instinctively, you both let the body take a breather and then knowing better:), you raise the scroll back up again.   the better the setup, the higher the tolerance to fatigue.

that is why, i think some body movement is advisable, because it allows players to remain in balance, but use groups of muscles alternatively, not wearing down one set too far.


April 9, 2011 at 01:41 PM ·

 I think you're right, but also you are right on the fact that movement has to be there for a healthy I think it is 'healthy' for the scroll to go a little up and down during playing anyway but not a sign that your set up is not right, obviously if it went down and down and down then up for a few minutes and down down down maybe yes too much fatigue LOL

(oh dear it's difficult to explain things well would be much easier to demonstrate LOL)  when I play sr-less I never end up with a very 'low scroll' I have to say, so when I described earlier that my scroll lowers it's only a tiny bit anyway and nothing like those 'drooling scrolls' you see on youtube LOL and I never end up with the violin resting on my shoulder either, so hopefully an indication that I really took off (so far anyway) to sr-less playing.  BUT am not doing thirds or double stops in positions higher than fifth position YET, hang on, how high do you go on wieniawski's legende??? Yes, fifth position....I am learning the first 2 pages of that and I don't go higher than 5th position, yes that's right with my octaves anyway the highest is on G/D I do my E octave at bottom of page 1 :) (though am not practicing that a lot these days erm....)

April 9, 2011 at 04:47 PM ·

 Good point John, but maybe this can be alleviated by those people who play with a really low shoulder rest and a very low chin rest? so that there is some 'free space' in between the instrument and the players' chin? mmmmhhhh maybe?  as I've seen people (not many I have to say!) using a shoulder rest really well, having it quite low, with a low chin rest and having good left hand technique, still using quite a lot of their left hand to hold the violin up, leaving shoulder rest just to help out on and off slightly at certain times like a 'companion' more than relying on it to support the whole violin all the time for them which I think it is an incorrect/unhealthy approach to using an sr in my opinion....

April 10, 2011 at 12:56 PM ·

 what does not help in our case is that she is getting taller and the music stand is getting shorter as a result:)  so that she often sight reads like a fiddler, bending forward at hip and spine to look at notes, with arm/elbow resting on the rib cage,,,ahhh, so comfortable.

sometimes i had to put the music stand on top of the coffee table for proper height.  looking wobbly and dangerous!

April 10, 2011 at 08:53 PM ·

Al, that's so simple to fix!  Put the stand on a chair. 

Most stands stay well on chairs and the whole thing is solid ennough to not fall off...




I have to do this because I have the same problem otherwise.  

I could be 6" 5 and this would still work find...


April 11, 2011 at 11:50 AM ·

 jeewon, our scholar, thanks for that list:)    why can't violin learning be more black and white? :)  

anne marie,  so you live dangerously as well? :)

April 11, 2011 at 01:58 PM ·

Hi Al,

Certainly not scholarship... just some observations made off of cheap (free!) video footage; hardly conclusive, but suggestive :)

 "why can't violin learning be more black and white?" 

In short, pedagogy: trying to fit dynamic, living beings into shoebox concepts. It's teachers' jobs to walk in their students' shoes, not to make students walk in theirs.

But once you drop preconceptions about angles and aligning things to the floor(!), things are often simpler than we make them out to be. Sometimes we have to forget what we think ought to be, and rather follow what is.


Hi John,

I can't say how much of it has to do with 'showmanship.' But basically you have two options: take your fingers and bow to where you want them on the fiddle, or bring the fiddle to your fingers/bow. I suspect each artist's choices are largely a result of what came naturally to him/her, which in turn is probably affected by proportions, stature, strength/flexibility, etc.


April 11, 2011 at 09:57 PM ·

@Jeewon, haven't seen you around lately.  Good to see you.

@Jo, I tried the trick you illustrate in the photo with thumb on the rib, but I am not so sure it will work in a fast passage.  You lose quite a bit of efficiency moving the thumb to that position, and moving back down is even harder.  Also, it is hard to reach the top of the G string.  I can get up to 8 and 9th position OK keeping the thumb near the button.  And right now, I don't have any repertoire that goes higher so for now it is not a problem.   But, for really high repertoire, I think the SR users have a distinct advantage.

April 12, 2011 at 12:43 AM ·

Thanks Smiley, it's been a while... how are your fingertips holding up? Hope they've recovered from Bach ;)

I just started reading some previous entries in more detail and am starting to realize what this thread is all about (including what fail vlog means :) So I assume there is a fail vlog 1 that I missed completely archived somewhere (I'll have to check that out later.) 

I think the trick to playing in high positions with a flat fiddle (i.e. with very little tilt angle) is to swing it over the left shoulder and turn the head to face the scroll (a la Heifetz.) In this position the chin is clamping down on the chinrest and the fiddle is sitting on the clavicle/acromion. This position is very stable but can tire the neck from maintaining the twist. It helps to assume a kind of archery stance (the left foot forward stance, which I think is now considered a bit old school.) This way of holding the fiddle also requires more twist of the arm under the fiddle, but because of the archers stance, the elbow remains to the left side of the ribs. (There are also some players who twist under the fiddle with the fiddle held out more in front so that the elbow is brought in front of the ribs; this action seems to coincide with the whole shoulder girdle being pushed forward.)

The other option, for those with a more neutral stance and symmetrical arm positions, is to allow the fiddle a greater tilt angle where the jaw is used to secure the fiddle. In this position the fiddle wants to slide diagonally and downward, rather than straight down. Simply let the neck fall into the 1st baseknuckle side of the hand, rather than supporting with the thumb. Shifting into higher positions, as the thumb leaves the neck and slides to the side of the button (or even fingerboard for smaller hands) the fiddle wants to fall into the thumb. Again, for greater stability, it helps to 'clamp' down with the chin a la Zukerman. This way of handling the fiddle lets you leave your arm more to the left. Even in very high positions, the arm can simply be folded into the body, elbow remaining at the side of the ribs.

Of course everything depends on context and these are strategies for playing in high positions with a secure fiddle, and can be released when no longer necessary. When playing high and fast, however, it helps a great deal to secure the fiddle (i.e. clamp down just enough) and just let the fiddle fall onto the shoulder (which will cause the angle of the fiddle to follow the slope of the shoulder, or follow the slope of a padded shoulder, or cause the fiddle + shoulder pad/rest to follow the slope of the shoulder/padded shoulder.) 

Having experimented with various ways of holding the violin over the last 6 months or so, for me, the single greatest cause of fatigue/pain in my shoulder is trying to hold the scroll up high (a.k.a. holding the strings parallel to the floor -- where'd we get that ideal in the first place? Oh yeah, that scary teacher yelling at us to hold the fiddle high.)





April 12, 2011 at 05:50 AM ·

 @ Smiley

Ida Haendel does the thumb by the rib cage too, in the video provided by JK earlier on, look here at 6:30       (watch it in full screen mode....)

I am sure with experience it can be done with no problems

Of course there is also people putting the thumb by the side of the fingerboard like Ann Fontanella in this video at 2:45 to 2:50

I guess I'll find what's 'right for me' as I 'develop' in time, for now I don't even play 'up there' yet LOL, I just play scales 'slowly' so I'll probably practice both ways and see what happens ;)

April 12, 2011 at 07:09 PM ·

 here is a video from this morning when she is working on the double stops.  

notice the music stand on a another level:)  but her natural posture is still with the scroll pointing downward.  my understanding is that she subconsciously allows her arm to be close to its natural resting angle, almost resting against the arm pit, to be "less tired".  teacher won't be happy, that is for sure, hehe.

April 12, 2011 at 07:19 PM ·


Thanks for pointing that out.  Very impressive playing.  The one thing I noticed, the violin sits on her shoulder so the instrument is supported when she does the downshift and moves the thumb from the rib back to the button.  In my case, I have a gap between my shoulder and violin -- not sure if it would be possible to do that maneuver while playing a fast passage.  It might be doable, but would require some practice to keep the violin still.  Or, maybe I'll just avoid repertoire that goes beyond 9th position :-)

April 12, 2011 at 07:27 PM ·

Hi Smiley, yes, that's what I meant in the first place when I posted my picture, my violin also just for a fraction of a second will rest on my shoulder too!

my violin normally does NOT rest on my shoulder and I also have a gap, but to move my thumb over to the side onto the body of the violin and by the rib I will swing the violin a little more over to my left and lift my shoulder so that the violin will be held in place by my shoulder just very briefly whilst my thumb 'moves over', once my thumb is in place I don't have to have my violin resting on my shoulder anymore, then for my thumb to return under the neck again I have to lift my shoulder to support the violin, let my thumb move over and down my shoulder goes again LOL :) 

April 12, 2011 at 09:10 PM ·

@Jo, I will give that a try.  I have a really big gap between shoulder and violin so it would require a very big shoulder shrug to keep the violin in place. 

@Jeewon, I read your post a couple of times and having a hard time visualizing your suggestion.  You are talking about playing without SR right? 

April 12, 2011 at 10:34 PM ·

 @ Al, by golly that girl can play! that's a lovely even sound she's getting there.

but her posture bothers me a lot - she look sto be stabilising a lot through her right side, and as you say holding her left arm really close - she can get that arm vibrato, but ultimately she is not in the lovely balance that she has when using SR.  Her left shoulder and in fact the whole of the left side look tense to me, and that isn't something I've noticed before in her posture.

April 12, 2011 at 10:35 PM ·

 the music stand is starting to be like an adornment on a multi tiered cake, how tall is she?

April 12, 2011 at 11:07 PM ·

Hi Smiley,

Sorry to be unclear. A video would help, right? :)

I'll try to clarify what I'll call the Z (for Zukerman) posture. Let me know if you want more detail on the H posture as well.

The main feature of the Z posture is that the fiddle is tilted enough that you can balance it on your first finger, without the thumb. 

Here's the catch: if you have sloping shoulders (if the sternal end of your clavicle is higher than the acromial end) and you stand properly, extending through your spine, with the fiddle balanced on your collar and left hand, it will want to lie flat. The left half of the fiddle is falling down the slope of your clavicle. Because the fiddle is lying flat you need both the thumb and the 1st finger (the 'v' shape) to hold up the fiddle with your hand. Now try shrugging your shoulders and balancing the fiddle. When you shrug you mimic what a person with square shoulders experiences. Now because the left half of the fiddle is supported by a level clavicle (assuming the fiddle is off to one side of the clavicle,) it will want to tilt to the right. Let it tilt so that the neck of the fiddle falls into your first finger. You should now be able to balance the fiddle on just your clavicle and first finger, and remove your thumb completely. Of course you can't play shrugging all the time, so you can also try hanging your head (Z style,) and now your head will tilt the fiddle onto your first finger. Many chinrests are not designed well to tilt. Most of them want to sit flat; and so you will see some players tilt their head sideways and forward to get the fiddle to tilt. Of course the other solution is to stick a wedge between your fiddle and acromial end of clavicle to tilt the fiddle. But I don't think existing equipment designers quite get the finer points of the mechanics and ergonomics of fiddle playing.

I know that using a shoulder rest to fill the gap can help stabilize things, but I'm trying to suggest that strategies for balancing the fiddle work with or without a SR, just as you can hold the fiddle in a rigid manner with or without a SR. I guess I'm also arguing against the 'fill the gap' strategy because I've come to believe that the gap is just an empty ideal, an artifical space created by the 'high scrollers' who insist that the strings be parallel to the floor (for what reason I still don't really know, except for looks.) If you don't have the right proportions, holding the strings level can cause you to lift the upper arm excessively, and often the shoulder as well. And as we both know, shrugging with the gap filled hurts after a while. It's less painful without a SR, but also less stable. But if you insist on holding the strings parallel, it's easier  to do, and more stable with the fiddle tilted like this:

Tell me if any of this makes sense. It starts off making sense in my head but...

I've been experimenting with: bare fiddle, sea sponge wedge wrapped in rubberized drawer liner, Viva La Musica Artist. I'm at a point where I can play with all three setups fairly comfortably with the tilted Z posture (fiddle sloping with my shoulder.) I prefer the sea sponge because I don't need to drop my head forward as much for rapid, high arpeggios. The shoulder rest starts out most stable but because of my protruding clavicle, it tends to slide away after a while and I compensate by shrugging if I'm not mindful. I think my fiddle sounds best with the VLM, but I haven't really tested for optimal sound. I still haven't found an ideal chinrest, which will probably help with the bare fiddle setup. 


April 13, 2011 at 11:19 AM ·


thank you for your concern.  although it is also my concern, allow me to explain a bit what i think is happening.

when standing in front of the music stand, if someone points the scroll horizontal and tries to read the score closely,  there is a good chance that once in a while, the scroll may bump into the sharp edge of the music stand accidentally.  this has happened to my kid often enough previously:)  possibly, to avoid hitting the stand, in combination with a less tiring hold, she eases into this posture of pointing the scroll downward as seen in the video.  of course, when the music stand is shorter, the posture is even worse.   the more carefully she reads the score--which does not happen often enough--almost subconsciously, the lower the scroll points.  sometimes her nose is inches away from the score,,,imagine that. :)

when playing without the music stand in front of her, she seems to be aware--or made to be aware through my hollers-- of the posture to be expected by the popular culture: to play with the scroll up, to show you are proud to share your music, dadada, lalala,  etc.   i know there is a way to stand with rotation to the left side so that the scroll is on the left side of the stand, but she never seems to get used to that.  perhaps she is fearful that now her bow will hit into the stand.:)

with her i don't think it is a spinal posture issue (at least not yet).  rather, it is settling into a posture of convenience and comfort, to the dismay of onlookers.  i think visually, it is more noticeable for a taller person to stoop over than for a shorter person.  she is about 5.5-5.6 feet (not sure in metric system where you probably use)

come to think of it,,,if you ever saw her very first video at age 4, she has already demonstrated her inborn talent of scroll pointing downward:).  nurture is having a tough time with nature on this one!


April 13, 2011 at 12:56 PM ·

Hi, my teacher has me put the stand in diagonal.  That way, I never bump my scrool in it!  It's a fantastic way to solve the problem.  + you put the stand on a chair if it's too low for you.

Look at this quartet.  You see the girl in front on the left side?  Imagine that she stays exactly as she is but that you bring the stand of the girl just behind her unfront of her and that you change nothing to the orientation of the stand.  The stand would be slightly diagonal to that player no?  Well, That's how I was taugh and I love it!

Ok she has a low scrool but that is not what I want to point!  One can play with an high scrool in this position too! 

Good luck!

April 13, 2011 at 01:58 PM ·

Hi Al,

I just read through fail vlog (I) -- very interesting experiment you put together! Whether she ends up going with SR or not, you've found a better setup for her with the new chinrest and a new sense of balance for her amazing neuromuscular system. Along with everyone else, I was very impressed with how quickly she adapted. I think it took me about two years to switch to cosmetic sponges (I mean to get fairly comfortable -- I actually went cold turkey 14-15 years ago or so,) and even then I often reverted to holding as if with a rigid SR for many years after that. One of the benefits of balancing more with the left hand is the increased freedom in the left shoulder area. I've observed that when a student is clamping with the left shoulder/head it causes tension in the bow arm as well, especially for fast strokes and large gestures. A simple way to free a 'jammed-up' bow arm is to completely release the head/shoulder clamp. But even then, it's still possible to restrict freedom in the shoulder girdle by flexing, tensing almost imperceptibly. Releasing the clamp, is also a good way to test for solid contact between hair and string for dense strokes -- without the head/shoulder clamp, the violin should rock back and forth with each stroke. 
Your daughter doesn't play clamped in any way, but she doesn't coordinate the left and right sides right now, i.e. she doesn't allow the left side to respond (in countermotion) to the right side. It's so much easier to show than describe, but to get a sense for counter motion you can mimic tennis strokes (i.e. like a newby tennis player who has no shoulder rotation.) When you swing a forehand the opposite arm wants to also swing into the body (when there is no shoulder rotation); when you swing a backhand, the opposite arm wants to also swing back. Of course in violin playing, you don't want to move the bow against the violin like an accordian, but if you leave the left hand in place and allow the upper arm to react against the bow arm, you'll quickly get the feeling of countermotion side to side. If you want to take countermotion to an extreme, you can learn to bow against the floor through your feet by experimenting with side-lunging motions. The other countermotion often used happens in the vertical plane, e.g. when playing heavy chords in the Bruch. To get a feel for vertical counter motion try clapping your hands vertically. To mimic vertical countermotion on the violin make small ellipses with each hand, left hand turning counterclockwise, right also turning counterclockwise, and make the ellipses collide so that you're clapping diagonally and on opposite curves. Again, while playing, there's no need to turn the scroll in an elliptical pattern, but the idea is to meet the bow with the strings of the fiddle, so there's some cushion on the left side as well as in the right fingers. Not everyone plays with these motions, but I think the freest players have at least an internal counter-response even if it's not clearly visible. On the flip-side the most visible form of countermotion can be seen in artists who do play clamped around the fiddle; they tend to move their whole torso, whole body against the bowarm -- but if you observe carefully (filter out the random motions) there is great coordination to these gestures also. Countermotion gives balance to motion (I guess by definition :) but also gives more freedom and control) and greater relative speed and force to bowing, with less effort. Feeling vertical countermotion is also very useful for slow bow speeds. Anyways, I bring it up because it follows logically after going restless -- another experiment you might want to try...
It's always a pleasure seeing your daughter play and progress! She's amazing... I loved it when she said, "I'm not other people." Priceless! She certainly has a strong sense of self, and I think she must have great violin instincts (in about a month she instinctively learned to balance the neck of the fiddle into her forefinger; in the early days you could see the fiddle sliding sideways.) Her posture is fine, after all we're not trying to balance a book on our heads as we play. We need a posture that's ready for action, more athletic, less like girls in finishing school. I often wonder if a boxer's stance is more suitable to violin playing than a ballerina's. Even if her scroll drops a bit, she doesn't hunch over.  I'd be more concerned about 'postural orthodoxy' than slouching. In her first video without a SR, in an effort to raise the scroll it looks like she was hyperextending her back, which is more rigid than slouching. I might be a lone voice right now in suggesting the violin should slope with the shape of the shoulder, but I hope it becomes more clear to teachers who suggest otherwise. In any case Al, judging by that random list of players I linked to earlier, don't you think your daughter's in good company? 
All my best to you and your daughter,


April 13, 2011 at 06:25 PM ·


Thanks for the tips regarding playing in really high positions.  I tried it last night and by golly it works.  It will take some getting used to, but I think it might solve the problem.


April 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

@ Al, yes! 

April 13, 2011 at 09:51 PM ·

 Smiley, it's great to hear you may have a breakthrough there!

April 13, 2011 at 11:02 PM ·

Hey that's great Smiley! I'm glad it made some sense. Keep us posted.


Hi Jo,

I was just practicing and it occurred to me that you might have a big difference in length between middle finger and pinky as I do. If that is so, there is an advantage in bringing the fiddle to your fingers rather than reaching up for the fiddle. Both a lower scroll and a greater tilt in the fiddle will help you get all the fingers down where you want them. A couple of other strategies: let your elbow and thumb always follow your pinky; place the pinky first to find the level of your hand, then place the other fingers so that the hand is as comfortable as possible -- this may mean curling your middle finger so that it's playing almost on the side of the string, and also placing the first finger more like a double stop (of course favouring the string you're playing on,) or using the inside left edge of your first finger. Your idea for using the 3rd finger at the top of a run works quite well -- rather than shifting, you can simply extend the 3rd finger; also, in very high positions you can finish a run with 3-4-3 where your hand stays in the position of 3 and 4, and the 3rd finger extends and slides through the 4th to the final note. Often, if I need more vibrato for the last note of a run using the 4th, I'll use my 'bailout' position where I completely open the hand and extend the pinky and just let it collapse. I understand the arguments for raising the scroll and flattening out the fiddle when playing on E string/high positions, but I've found the advantages for my short (and double-jointed!) pinky outweigh all others. Don't know if you want to experiment again just yet, now that you've found a setup that works, but it might be worth a try if things remain uncomfortable for your fingers. 


April 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM ·

 JK, you are amazing as usual.  you must write a book or something on your thoughts and ideas one day.   if you really read vlog 1, that is one hour of your life wasted:)

i really like your counterbalancing concept with tennis as an example.  i used to play tennis in college so i understand exactly what you are talking about.  incidentally, when we go on vacation and play some tennis, my kid seems to have a hard time coordinating her body with the 2 limbs--make it 4 limbs-on the court.  i will try to reintroduce this concept that you have made very clear, sort like playing accordion.

anne marie, really like the idea of tilting the music stand as you suggested.  better!

lets try it:



April 14, 2011 at 05:58 PM ·

 JK said:

Hi Jo,


I was just practicing and it occurred to me that you might have a big difference in length between middle finger and pinky as I do. If that is so, there is an advantage in bringing the fiddle to your fingers rather than reaching up for the fiddle. Both a lower scroll and a greater tilt in the fiddle will help you get all the fingers down where you want them. A couple of other strategies: let your elbow and thumb always follow your pinky; place the pinky first to find the level of your hand, then place the other fingers so that the hand is as comfortable as possible -- this may mean curling your middle finger so that it's playing almost on the side of the string, and also placing the first finger more like a double stop (of course favouring the string you're playing on,) or using the inside left edge of your first finger.

Thank you JK for taking the time to give me advice, I really appreciate it, very nice of you!

what you are describing above: it gives me a picture of what Ida Haendel does, am I right? :)

I'll certainly give it a go and see what what I feel better with: what I am doing now or the above.  But also if for some reason I decide to keep doing what I do right now, I will keep the above in mind because as I develop and progress and mature into a better violinist, the above might be suit me better in future as I become more advanced!  You see, I don't really play in positions higher than 7th right now and don't play anything too difficult, I am only an intermediate player and I only do scales 3 octave up to Fmajor only slowly and separate bows still....

what you described earlier for Smiley....the violin angle tilting and thus resting on the index finger (the 'z' position), I didn't realise but that's what I am essentially doing briefly as I move my thumb off from under the neck of the violin to the rib and back to under the neck.  I play in the 'h' position you see, but then as I have to take my thumb off from under the neck I will raise my shoulder and I didn't realise that what I essentially do by raising my shoulder is tilting the violin so allowing it to rest on my index finger and making it easy for my thumb to go onto the rib of the violin body! LOL  I only noticed this after your explanation for Smiley on this thread LOL  as by raising my shoulder I was filling that 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch gap I have between me and my violin!

By the way JK here is a photo of my left hand as you were wondering if my pinky was much shorter in relation to my 3rd and my middle fingers:



April 15, 2011 at 12:30 AM ·

You're most welcome Jo! It's cool that you're balancing as you experiment, instinctively. Some people may be shocked at the idea of shrugging to support the fiddle, but if you can control it to your advantage, then I say go for it! This has been my year of heresy, breaking free of violin orthodoxies that I'd merely parroted for too long. I've actually witnessed several amazing violinists shrug to support the fiddle. I don't quite remember the contexts (whether it was all the time, during shifts, for vibrato...), maybe because my puritanical violin instinct was too shocked at the time, but I distinctly remember a student remarking at how the violinist giving the masterclass shrugged a lot; I'd been after that particular student for months trying to get her to keep her shoulders down.  
Re. Ida Haendel -- yes, especially when she goes high on the G. It looks like she adjusts her hold quite a bit depending on context. Notice how her neck is bent to maintain a tilt, when she uses her chin to secure the fiddle. I wonder how she would have played if she had had a chinrest that allowed for a tilt with a more natural neck posture. Whatever the case, obviously she knew how to make it work.
Your fingers are proportioned exactly like mine. Very nice pads on your fingertips, I might add ;) At the risk of stepping on your teacher's toes, may I suggest a quick way to crash through the high position barrier? Forget about the concept of positions... Just play keys and intervals and don't worry about the rest of it. To start, you can just transpose everything up an octave once a day. Play scales jumping octaves for each degree of the scale (not just starting in 1st, jump from 4th or 5th too.) Play 3 octave arpeggios going through every key in succession, chromatically from open G to G an octave up (at first don't worry about the other chords, just work on tonic maj/min; the point is to cover the whole fingerboard everyday.) Play one finger scales, two finger scales... I think part of the difficulty we have with our interaction with the fiddle arises from incremental, linear learning. We get accustomed to how we balance and move at one part of the fingerboard and as we progress to the next 'level' it feels so foreign. But it doesn't have to stay that way :)
Cool Al! I hope we're not torturing her too much. She seemed much more natural about it near the end of the video after what you said. Sheesh she's fast! 
There are some people who teach the accordian thing, it's not a bad introduction to the idea of coordinating the two sides. But I find it's not really necessary for most contexts and for some can be distracting since the angle between string and bow is constantly being changed -- although it's important to be able to sense that and adjust. I like the word you use: counterbalance, which implies a passive response, rather than an active motion on the other side. 
To reduce the accordion effect, it helps to think of elbows counterbalancing, rather than whole arms swinging. Also, the countering happens at bow changes, or the beginning of a bow stroke and the follow-through at the end of a stroke, not so much during a stroke, especially not during a long, slow bow (some people actually turn the fiddle with the bow for long, slow bows -- don't know how effective that is.) If you want to get silly, try this exercise:
Hold arms in playing position as if playing at the frog, without the instruments.
a) pretend there's a focus mitt to your left, through the elbow; punch it rigorously (being careful not to dislocate your jaw with your right bicep :)
b) pretend there's a focus mitt to the right of your elbow; elbow it aggressively.
Watch how your left elbow/upper arm responds to the punching and elbowing
c) do one punch or elbow at a time, making sure the left upperarm is released to begin with so that it responds to the motion of the right. 
It's also possible to use a more active motion when playing slowly and/or softly, by bringing the string to the bow or moving the fiddle into the bow to begin the bow stroke.


April 15, 2011 at 12:48 AM ·

 JK, thank you for your astute observation and stopping me short of over-suggesting the concept to her.:)   i understand what you mean even more with that exercise,,,it is almost like a reflex infants have and eventually lose over time.  perhaps we are trying to awaken the lingering residue...

she loves stuff like this. anything that is not practice related during practice time is very much welcome by her:)

jo,  i just gave you a high 5 since you are asking for it:)

April 15, 2011 at 12:59 AM ·

I know exactly how she feels Al :)

It's interesting what you say about reawakening the reflexes. Maybe one disadvantage of starting to learn the fiddle with a rigid shoulder rest is that it deadens our sense for counterbalance. It promotes holding (still) as opposed to balancing in motion.

April 15, 2011 at 06:09 AM ·

 Thank you once more JK :)

I do already play one/two finger scales since nearly 2 years ago when I started with my new teacher but normally stop at 8th position with those, so now will start going higher ;) as for the 3 octave scales and arpeggios and other scales, it's only recently I started going higher than D major so I will have to sit and draw up a new practice diary (yes I have a practice diary I stick to daily, I am a bit of an 'ogre' LOL) and I will incorporate a 'plan' for positions above 7th ;) DAILY :)  a little each day and in a few months to a year it will feel like 'home' being 'up there' :)

Al: high five!!

April 15, 2011 at 01:29 PM ·

 hello JK, i agree with  your concern.

perhaps i am generalizing, but my impression has been that beginner children are taught to stabilize the violin and let the moving bow arm does the work.  so the left side is static and right side is dynamic.  some may be intuitive enough to tighten and relax on command the left side, others may take this stabilization platform into a framework of rigidity from which people may develop associated musculo-skeletal dysfunction.

for kids like my kid who are young, flexible and cannot wait to put the violin back into the case after min effort, they often do not have a chance to experience much discomfort even with bad techniques. but for pros like you guys who often have to perform under the gun, to prepare for high level competition or full length recital (not unlike high level athletes), it is not just a matter of mental will, but that of a truly fitting physical setup.

talking about the "freedom" with violin hold reminds me of another aspect of human physiology that i would like to point out.  for most folks, it has been determined that walking speed of 80 meters/min or 3 miles/hour on the average is the most energy efficient ambulation speed which is self selected and freely selected.  in other words, if we walk faster or slower than that, we use more energy.  this is interesting because intuitively, we may think that walking slower should save more energy but that is not true.

similarly, with the concept of counterbalancing as you have so well illustrated, i think it is worth exploring that having more freedom with the violin hold may actually save more energy, in the same model as ambulation.  to me, walking slower than the most efficient ambulation speed is analogous to having a rigid left side violin setup that is tiring and tight.   we burn more energy to make the violin hold look stable and static.


April 15, 2011 at 03:32 PM ·

Sounds like you have a great plan already Jo :) 

Not that you need sheet music to practice arpeggios, but if you need a visual aid for successive scales/arps. (i.e. if you want to associate visual with audio/proprioceptive) you might try using Sitt Scale Studies for working the whole fingerboard. Pretty soon you can work on 4 octave arpeggios, moving chromatically from G to B, and then you're done! You've got the whole fingerboard at your command. :D
Al, that's very interesting. I wonder if there's an expectation amongst the general audience, and perhaps even amongst musicians (subconsciously), to see a musician 'working hard' during a performance. If you saw a race-walker or marathoner working hard, you'd say that athlete has bad technique and is wasting energy. But perhaps many people see an efficient musician at work and think they are cold, or detached, or bored. I'm not suggesting it's anyone's fault; I think there are other expectations placed on an artist trying to convey emotion, whether musically or with physical gesture, than on an athlete trying to cross the finish line as quickly as possible. 
On the other hand, you get a self-taught genius like Emil Zatopek, who actually runs 'inefficiently' (at least to an expert) but ends up winning everything. By training with his awkward technique, he taught his cardiovascular system to be extremely efficient moving his body the way he did. Perhaps there's an analogue for musicians who seem to move inefficiently but who produce an amazing tone, who have perfected their unique technique (e.g. the phenomenal violist, Gerald Stanick.) 
Using a SR for beginners is certainly expedient. You probably get to make noise a lot sooner than if you had to learn how to balance (yourself, then the fiddle, then the bow, then the fiddle with bow) first, and you probably have much higher interest and retention rate. More fodder for the conspiracy theorists.



April 15, 2011 at 05:47 PM ·

 thank you for the 'sitt studies' link JK, my teacher gets me to look at Sevcik op 1 p3 for a visual stimulus for the arpeggios and scales, I also use the flesch scale system sometimes and galamian, but the more material one has at disposal the better :)

I have saved it to my computer :)  wish I had more time to practice!  I have too much material not enough time to look at it all :(

April 15, 2011 at 08:26 PM ·

 JK HELP!!!!

I suddenly have been STRUCK BY LIGHTENING!!!

you know how you commented on my 4th finger being so short compared to my middle finger!!!

it's FOUR YEARS I have had problems with my intonation especially in 1st position and ESPECIALLY on A string!! and ESPECIALLY when I have to do my sevcik op 1 p1 or anything on A string when I have to keep 1st finger and second LOW finger (so A and B natural) DOWN and then put 3rd down on D and 4th down on E, I just CANNOT DO IT without tension TENSION TENSION!!! and 9 out of ten my intonation goes to POTS! my 4th finger will be flat or my second finger will creep up and end up sharp so when I have to work my way down and 'peel' my fingers off and take my 4th  and 3rd off to then play a C natural again, my C will be sharp!!!

my teacher tells me off, NO YOU'RE SHARP! (with the C), NO YOU'RE FLAT (with the E),  or NO KEEP YOUR FINGERS DOWN!!! (as in frustration because of the pain/tension I instinctively take off my 2nd and 3rd finger).

what do you think?? I think it's because of my terribly long 2nd (middle) finger, compared to my 4th finger! or am I just an 'old woman' finding excuses for myself??? LOL come on, you can tell me so if I am!!! ;)

 This problem occurs on A and E string, on D and G I am ok


I have been 'experimenting':

as I didn't have a problem on the G and D stings I looked at my hand, what was different??? why didn't my low 2nd finger creep up and become sharp? and why didn't my 4th land flat on those 2 strings??  

I noticed on G and D strings my elbow was more out to my right and the palm of my hand was facing more flat against the neck of the violin rather than at a 45 degree and more towards me.... so I changed the angle of the violin....I swung my violin towards my left (at the moment I had it more in front of me Anne Sophie Mutter Style) and I ended up with it more like this guy here:

note he plays with a shoulder rest but I ended up playing the same 'rest-less' and VOILA', now my 'intonation problem' on A and E string 'disappeared'

Now, all is 'good and well', I can do my sevcik with good intonation, but what is this going to do to my overall playing I don't know!  I'll have to experiment over the next few weeks!  I am a little 'excited' right now, but I have been 'excited' about many things many times before and a day later I was disappointed to discover new problems would 'come out'

what do you think JK? does it look like 'trouble' my discovery?  I'll try it out....

April 15, 2011 at 10:31 PM ·

Edit: I wrote the following before your edit, but left it intact. It seems like you're figuring out relative positions and angles nicely! The video you linked to is very much like the Z posture. As you've already noticed the H posture, with a flatter fiddle requires your arm to be more to the right in general. If you also point the fiddle more in front, the arm needs to twist more in front as you swing the elbow to the right. That's the major difference between the ASM and H postures. In the H, the fiddle is swung far to the left, right over the left shoulder -- but that requires the head to be turned over as well, and it's also is much easier to maintain with the left foot turned out in the same direction as the head and fiddle. Also notice that ASM, along with others who hold a flatter fiddle out more in front, tend to push their shoulder girdle forward to help stabilize the fiddle. 


Hi Jo,

It's hard to be definite without seeing you play (do you have any video features on your still camera?) And it is a bit odd that it's only the A string that's giving you problems. But you might be compensating in different ways.
First you might want to hop over to this thread and see if using the 'steering mechanism' (or steerer) makes any sense to you. The idea is that you want to keep the same (or as close to it as possible) alignment through your wrist and within the hand on each string, i.e. you want the relationship between fingers for a given finger pattern to be consistent across strings. So the first thing to do is to see if you're twisting or bending your wrist for the A string differently from when your playing other strings. 
Try the steering mechanism idea by playing each finger on each string, i.e. play 1 on A, E, B, F#; 2 on B, F#, C#, G#; 3 on C, G, D, A; 4 on D, A, E, B. Once you're fairly confident that you are using the steering mechanism to take your hand across strings, not bending at the wrist sideways, you can then consider the shape of the hand.
Ideally, it'd be great to just plop the fingers down and have them fall into place, but that won't happen if the angle of the hand relative to the fingerboard doesn't allow for it. A good way to get a sense for the proper angle (of incidence) for each finger is to grab the easy setting of the hand: place 4-B on the E-string; 3-D on A-string; 2-F# on D-string; 1-A on G-string. Move your steering mechanism to the right so that you feel the least tension in the hand. Make sure your pinky is not too curved (i.e. make sure your base knuckles are not too parallel to the strings.) Make sure your thumb slides under the neck (i.e. it follows the rest of the hand rather fighting it.) Make sure your wrist is not bent out toward the scroll (if it is, straighten it by releasing the wrist, then pull it toward you by bringing your elbow closer to your body.)  If you can't get the first finger to stay on the A on G-string (if it keeps going sharp,) you'll need to lower the contact point of your first finger against the neck. When hands are smaller in general, and if pinkies are shorter, the contact point will approach the 2nd joint of your first finger (i.e. 2nd from the tip) rather than the root joint. This is called opening the hand; you're extending the root joint of the 1st finger (opening it) away from your other fingers -- sort of like doing the splits with your fingers. Since the first finger is on the G-string for the 'easy setting of the hand', it will also be right on top of the fingerboard for your pinky to have a good angle of incidence; if you play guitar, it will be like placing a bar-chord, so that the first finger crosses the other strings over it's length (although it stays curled to reach it's position on A on G-string.) Keep checking the alignment through the wrist, and make sure your elbow and thumb go where your fingers need them to be.
Once you're comfortable with the easy setting, you can place this same pattern, Tone-Semitone-Tone (TST between 1-2-3-4), onto the A string, TST between B-C#-D-E. Move the 4th finger (F4) first from B on E-string to E on A-string. You might have to move the elbow further to the right, slightly to find the optimal angle for the pinky on A-string. As you move F1 and F2 over to the A string, you might be able to release the steering mechanism back to the left. Make sure when you move the steering mechanism it rotates the hand with it; i.e. if you move right with the steerer, the side of your first finger will rise on the neck, roll over onto the fingerboard as your thumb slides under the neck; if you move left with the steerer, the side of your first finger will slide down the neck as your thumb slides up. (Of course in reality it's not this mechanical, and there's lots of wiggle room, your can just reset the hand whenever you want.)
Once you're fairly comfortable with this pattern, try sliding F2 from C# to C natural. If that's difficult to do, then you may need to open your hand even more. Move the contact point of the first finger from the 2nd joint closer to the first joint. When you uncurl or unbend anything in the hand or fingers, remember what they are connected to (finger joint connected to the base joint connected to the wrist connected to the elbow connected to the shoulder) and remember to move your whole arm; if your open your root joints, or straighten your wrist that will push your elbow toward your body, which means that your armpit will close, and vice-versa. So if you lower your 1st finger contact with the neck, your elbow might need to pull toward your body slightly, but also a little to the right. When you're done optimizing your hand position you might try tilting the fiddle to the right and see how that feels, as it will allow you to rotate your whole steering mechanism to the left. This might help you decide how you want to balance your fiddle in general.
The thing is, when our proportions aren't ideal we have to compensate by readjusting and realigning for different contexts. But if you follow the golden rule: move where your finger tips want to go, then you should be able to handle most if not all challenges. 
Hope that makes sense...
P.S. Re. straight bow. It is  possible to adjust the position of the fiddle for different contexts. For rapid left hand stuff, find a position that favours your pinky. For lots of bowing near the tip, favour a position for the length of your bowarm. If you need both at the same time, do the 'dreaded stoop'; bring your fiddle to your bow by bending your torso closer to your bow arm -- frowned upon? yes; effective? definitely yes! Other violinists simply bow crooked, 'bowing 'round the corner', so to speak, at the tip; if you do this just make sure to keep the sound point as consistent as possible. I guess I'm suggesting the 'do whatever it takes' approach.
P.P.S. The Flesch and Galamian are the cornerstones of complete technique. The Sevcik is very useful too. The Flesch and Sevcik progress through the scales according to the cycle of fourths (inversion of fifths) which is very important for the knowledge of chord progressions and give a basic understanding of harmonic progression (C is the dominant of F; F is the dominant of Bflat, etc.) The Galamian organizes the scales chromatically from open G, as does the Sitt. The Sitt is good for having all the scales/arps. on two pages, so that you can see them at once, and play them through at one sitting, which is a useful exercise especially when your getting to know the fingerboard.


April 15, 2011 at 10:48 PM ·

 JK WOW! you always write so thorough replies, you're great!! I'm going to munch through your reply properly tomorrow as I have been practicing for nearly 3 hours now and have to 'hit the bed' as I have a violin lesson tomorrow.

But yes, you're right, I am in the 'z' position now :), I have swapped my chin rest from the flesch to a teka and though my violin is not as radically to the left as the guy in the video I've posted (I could not bow all the way to the tip like that I think I need to get used to it or maybe I am just not used to it as it is a very radical change), I was more to the left than before and my violin was a little more tilted too (only slightly though)

My 4th finger (if I keep all my fingers down) can NEVER be curled, it is as flat as a pancake! the only time it can be curled is if my 2nd and 3rd are off the fingerboard!

anyway, will 'digest' your reply tomorrow and experiment further, I have to try out the 'z' position a lot longer to tell if it will work out :)

you're a star!

April 18, 2011 at 01:40 PM ·

 thank you john, that is a great reminder.  with better flexibility, i think a player can do much more than she/he thinks is possible, with more ease as well.  and less chance of injury since the areas to be stressed are warmed up.

my kid does some stretching before golf, esp when it is cooler outside.  with violin, she does not have a stretching routine yet.  but since she does golf daily, hopefully that stretch can carry over for the need of violin playing:)   i think she can use a mental stretching program before violin if anything:)

here are some simple ones:

April 18, 2011 at 02:32 PM ·

Hi Al,

How do you feel about latest research suggesting static stretching weakens them?

The latest buzz-word seems to be dynamic stretching, which I guess for violin might mean, range-of-motion exercises for the upperbody/neck and slow-to-fast long shifts combined with long bows.


April 18, 2011 at 03:24 PM ·

 JK, excellent point.  in fact, there was this "study" (not sure how seriously it was conducted):

and then, this trainer's interpretation, which mirrors what you are saying about static vs dynamic.

imho, i agree with this shift toward the dynamic model, preceded by a general warm up.  

but with violin playing, i am not sure if parameters like strength, speed and power can contribute toward better posture and possibly posture-related stamina.  

for instance, many adults, either due to aging or injury, have decreased range of motion in the shoulder joint.  on the left side,  an improperly rotated shoulder may lead to "funny" positioning of the wrist and hand, making attaining proper violin tech challenging.  similarly, on the right side, with a less mobile shoulder joint due to arthritic changes or rotator cuff impingement, bowing may be done with a different set of muscles as a compensation, leading to upper back or neck issues.  in general, when one part of the body has problem, with time, the part above it and the part below it will be affected because of extra load.

so, i agree violin players, those older than spring chickens, probably should do some light general warm up (more than rosining the bow:) before couple hours of serious playing.  but, for those with tight shoulders, i still think static stretching has a role in loosening the area.  to me, the benefit is better mobility and positioning, not dynamic muscle peak performance.

let's study it!  (my kid's favorite phrase since very young...after i tape each swing and play back in slow mo:)



April 18, 2011 at 07:02 PM ·

Hi Al,
Thanks for your take on dynamic stretches. Yes, 'let's study it!' :) Didn't M. Luther King Jr. used to say, "let's study on it..."
I guess it'd be difficult to measure correlation between warmup routines and 'performance' on the violin; what would we do, measure max. tempo and accuracy for Moto Perpetuo? :) So we'll probably have to settle for how we feel... hardly conclusive.  
Before I started exploring alternate setups and various work out strategies, my left shoulder started to droop forward and I became aware of how asymmetrical my alignment and muscles had become. Having tried various remedies (body awareness, weight training,  stretches, etc.), my latest change in setup has been the most effective at restoring range of motion in my left shoulder. Awareness of ROM has helped me a great deal in learning how to realign and change my setup. I first read about ROM exercises in a book by Pavel Tsatsouline, Super Joints. Then I started using Z-health, another ROM routine which seems a little more 'scientific' (probably all in the marketing.) I haven't done these in a while but I think I'll start up again (thanks John for reminding me.) 

P.S.  "...the part above it and the part below it will be affected because of extra load." So do you suppose 'overuse' injury is in some (many?) cases due to 'underuse' somewhere else, a fundamental imbalance in motion?


April 18, 2011 at 10:12 PM ·

 JK, i think it is great that you are able to recognize your own issues and search out solutions pro-actively.  we often hear and see people complaining when they reach the chronic stage.  i wish music schools can provide more engaging classes on these issues since they will invariably affect everyone and since student health services are generally lame:) 

in reference to that statement, i was talking more about the shoulder area.  for instance, if the shoulder area is not functioning correctly,  to compensate for this shoulder motion, the body will recruit the neck region above and possibly the scapular region/mid thoracic regions below (if i remember correctly, there are 27 muscles attached to scapula).  instead of bowing with the proper use of the shoulder joint, neck and scapular take on additional duties to assist the bowing motion.  the end result is often uncomfortable shoulder, along with myofascial pain in the neck and the scapular regions.  (similarly, if one has chronic knee pain, if left untreated, hip and ankle will give).   so when an affected person presents to a health care person, unless the patient is able to really chronologically present a clear history, misdiagnosis is often and common.  and people come home crying that no one seems to understand what musicians go through.  it is a 2 way street.  people have to help each other to find solutions.

to me, the term overuse indicates soft tissue injury that can apply pretty much to anywhere in the body (chronic tendon inflammation, myofascial pain with trigger points).  things that do not show up well on imaging studies but surely impair many folks.  since we are very handsy, chances are they are located somewhere in the upper limbs and upper body.  

underuse is an interesting term because if we are deconditioned, we are prone to developing overuse syndromes:)   our exertion tolerance will be lower and time to heal micro-tears will be longer.  since not many people can afford to sit around waiting for healing to complete,  we develop this modern day problem.  we pop some anti-inflamm meds but studies have shown that anti-inflamm meds actually interfere with proper healing of soft tissues. so another vicious cycle right there.

of course, aging does not help:)  case in point: i am underusing myself physically and not running around like a kid anymore.  went on vacation a month ago, slept on pillows that did not fit my neck height, still paying for it with a stiff neck! :)

my kid will turn around after playing a passage and says: what's wrong?  you look mad.

i say: it is not you.  it is me.  (should have said, it is both of us:)

December 15, 2011 at 01:30 AM · Hi Jo,

I also have similar problem you've described, I wonder if you have found a permanent solution after few months.

1. insecurity when the thumb has to go off under the neck if I want to keep more fingers down on higher positions

2. Longer middle & 3rd finger relative to pinky

Problem #1 is not too bad because I can just use a shoulder rest. Problem #2 is more severe because I still have yet found a comfortable setting for my fingers.

When 2nd & 3rd are comfortable, my pinky can't reach. When my pinky is comfortable, my 2nd & 3rd are playing almost at their nail and extremely uncomfortable.

Similar to you, while my hand is small, I don't have a "reach" problem. I can play fingered octave and reach 11th double stop. The problem is finger ratio. I feel like all I need is 3mm longer pinky or 3mm shorter middle finger.

My current workaround is to only keep 2,3,4 down if I want to play low 2. It's impossible for me to keep 1,2,3,4 down without having 2nd creeping sharp.

December 15, 2011 at 07:20 AM · Hi Nick Lin,

it is now months that I have been 'experimenting' and 'adjusting' (consciously and unconsciously) my playing position to help my technique overall and my intonation.

The 'thumb' now hardly every leaves the neck of the violin to be honest, I can stretch my fingers up on the fingerboard quite high, but also as I play with no shoulder rest I can 'manovre' the violin to my advantage and will change its angle to favour my hand/fingers so that my fingers can reach higher, if the thumb needs to leave the neck it will go by the bout of the violin, my violin is now tilted towards the front slightly when I play and as I go up to the higher position if I anticipate needing the thumb to come off I will tilt the violin forward even more with my chin so that its weight will go onto my index-finger/thumb and 'voila' :)

My 'third finger/pinky' ratio problem has also been 'fixed' too by what JK originally said in his very first advice addressed to me in his post in this thread dated 13th of April 2011 when he said:

'I was just practicing and it occurred to me that you might have a big difference in length between middle finger and pinky as I do. If that is so, there is an advantage in bringing the fiddle to your fingers rather than reaching up for the fiddle. Both a lower scroll and a greater tilt in the fiddle will help you get all the fingers down where you want them. A couple of other strategies: let your elbow and thumb always follow your pinky; place the pinky first to find the level of your hand, then place the other fingers so that the hand is as comfortable as possible -- this may mean curling your middle finger so that it's playing almost on the side of the string, and also placing the first finger more like a double stop (of course favouring the string you're playing on,) or using the inside left edge of your first finger.'

it's funny really as I used to play with a centre mounted chin rest and my violin the 'Heifetz' way and at first I could not see myself playing the way JK suggested....I then had too much going in my head and was experimenting with too many things, was going through a journey of 'self discovery' and am a little ashamed to say I had forgotten about the invaluable advice given here by JK! It was only by 'accident' during my journey of 'self discovery' that I then ended up switching to a left sided chin rest and adopting the above violin hold suggested by JK at the end and doing what he originally suggested to do!!!

I came back to this thread today prompted by your post and read JK's post and thought 'OH MY goodness, of course!! JK told me back in April to do what I ended up doing just now in November!!!' (yes it is only a month ago I started doing what JK told me in April LOL and it works REALLY REALLY REALLY WELL!!!)

JK: you are brilliant :)

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