Looking over your right shoulder

August 7, 2012 at 05:04 PM · Why is Leopold's subject in this picture just about looking over his right shoulder? Any serious theories?

Replies (37)

August 7, 2012 at 05:26 PM · He has his jawbone on his violin, is sitting to the left of the music. If you look, he's really looking only slightly right of his body's center.

Before chinrests came about, people's heads weren't as stuck to their instruments as now. They could look around more.

good pic.

August 7, 2012 at 05:41 PM · This is another.

August 7, 2012 at 09:34 PM · These both appear to be engravings, basically drawings that were made into prints. Artistic license, stylizations common to the time, and presence or absence of drawing skills also have to be factored into any discussion. If done from a model, it's quite likely the model knew nothing about playing the instrument, and neither did the artist. If not done from a model, the artist's memory comes into play. Don't read too much into it.

August 7, 2012 at 10:44 PM · Good points, Lisa, although I must say that Bud's second link looks a little more like the real thing.

Good point also, Marjorie. I've long been of the opinion that if a player feels unable to take his chin off the chin rest most of the time when playing and look around, then there's something that's not quite right in posture and hold and an inherent lack of complete relaxation. I think there could be consequent physical problems for such a player waiting down the line.

August 7, 2012 at 10:49 PM · Both are pictures showing the exemplar holding position from Leopold's Violin Tutor. I wouldn't think he'd allow much license from the engraver. Anybody have other pics to share from the 18th century?

August 7, 2012 at 11:23 PM · Wrong topic...

August 8, 2012 at 01:53 AM · Wish the second pic could be bigger; I'd like to read the caption, looks like Latin; it may explain something in the illustration.

What section of the book do these illustrate?

August 8, 2012 at 03:11 AM · I think he spotted little Wolfgang running up to snatch his violin away from him!

BTW - I would seriously recommend reading his book. I found his sarcastic asides to be very funny!

August 8, 2012 at 03:44 AM · These pictures that you posted are posed. The single goal was to look elegant.

Some time ago I did a detailed study of bow holds and I created a PowerPoint called "Bow Holds of the Masters." Using Google Images I looked for images of famous violinists having sufficient resolution to see the bow hold clearly. It's much harder to find "action" shots (violinist actually performing) because the bow hand is often moving too fast and the pictures are fuzzy. In posed publicity photos, you see lots of textbook Franco-Belgian bow-holds with perfectly poised index fingers. In the action shots, you see just about everything, although there are a few well-known violinists who do maintain the "textbook" bow hold quite reliably while playing (e.g., Perlman).

August 8, 2012 at 06:56 AM · He's a second violinist, and he's looking at the cute concertmaster.

Head mobility is a must for good technique. And for scoping.

August 8, 2012 at 09:39 AM · A really thoughtful teacher said to me one time (paraphrased):

"If you want to create a hundred different kinds of sound, you need to come up with a hundred different ways to hold the bow."

His point was that a bow hold is not static; rather that players need to find a satisfactory starting or neutral position and then seek out all the different ways that weight and finger position can achieve different sounds (in addition to considering things like bow speed and point of contact).

August 8, 2012 at 03:58 PM · Gene I totally agree. That's why a posed portrait only poorly reflects how an instrument is actually played.

August 8, 2012 at 08:43 PM · I'm really not getting this thread. Lot's of violinists move their heads around when they play, sometimes looking left, sometimes looking right, and sometimes looking straight ahead. Looking over the right shoulder is not the most common position, but I think many great violinists do it from time to time. Or maybe I'm just off my rocker.

August 9, 2012 at 01:21 AM · Well, in more modern publicity photos, if the violin is being held up as if to be played, then usually the violinist is posed in an idealized playing position too -- chin nicely over the instrument, bow arm poised, etc. In these engravings, the pose seems intentionally otherwise. From an art-historical standpoint that could seem mildly interesting.

August 9, 2012 at 03:43 AM · I am a little confused as well. Having only 5 years of Suzuki instruction, I was always taught to keep my chin square and centered on the chin rest, with my nose pointed toward the scroll, and no place else, or it would affect my posture and sound quality. 30 years later, I am watching YouTube videos and see 95% of the players with their CHEEK cradled on the chin rest instead of their chin. What is the deal here? Was I instructed wrong? And how exactly would it cause problems down the road if I always played with my chin not moving? I have yet to have any physical problems from keeping my chin in place.

Please advise.

Thank you.

August 9, 2012 at 07:56 AM · The head should be completely free and off the instrument a lot of the time. Holding the violin with the head and chin is wrong and leads to all sorts of tension problems. Suzuki and lots of other bad teaching is responsible for so many of the problems we see in string players these days. So five years will have given you extreme damage.

Ruggerio Ricci talked about this a lot in his book "Ricci on Glissando" and advised that we had taken the wrong direction in the 20C by relying on the chinrest too much and losing the freedom 18th and 19C players had - and in my opinion the misguided teaching of the 20C and worst of all in my opinion, the arrival of the Suzuki method.

August 9, 2012 at 09:08 AM · Hi Peter,

thanks for the info. Never really knew about all that

The pictures remind me of David Oistrakh. While his sound was so brilliant and intense, he would look slightly bored and move his head around where his chin never touched his violin.

August 9, 2012 at 10:09 AM · Hi Steven

Thanks for your response.

Yes, there are lots of posts about chinrests on this forum, and about having special ones and even personally modified ones.

It's a bit like rosin, only the chin rest we could do without. I have one - but I hardly use it.

August 9, 2012 at 11:11 AM · Peter, perhaps you can post a video of you playing with your chin off the chin rest and using gobs of vibrato and shifting from 3rd position down to first. If you do that, I'll eat my rosin.

August 9, 2012 at 11:35 AM · Yes, re Oistrakh, Menhuin expressed his admiration for O's ability to freely move his head around.

In my approach what I do is:

1. Not use a shoulder rest - just saying - not to open that boring Pandora's Box again.

2. I use usually (I have a number of fiddles) a Kaufman chinrest, or something similar to it.

3. I use a little invention of my own that helps me a lot - a sheet of suede about the size of a hankerchief. In the middle is a pocket open on either side where I have a very thin - 1/4" - piece of foam that will lie on the collar bone. Suede is slip-resistant. I use this both on top of the chinrest and underneath the back of the fiddle like a hankie. This simple device gives me a lot of ease and security. I won't say I can take my chin off completely at all times - and why should I? But using this suede I can do any sort of shifting with almost zero pressure from my chin or shoulder.

August 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM · Smiley, eating rosin is no big deal, I have it on salad every day...

I said I mostly had my chin off the rest, but unfortunately I've put the fiddle away for good so that's at least one bad habit I've given up. So I can't test the 3rd to 1st position shift, but I would imagine its quite possible. (By the way, it has to Baker's rosin you eat or it doesn't count!)

August 9, 2012 at 12:54 PM ·

The question of how the violin is held (whether with the cheek/jawbone/chin against the shoulder or collarbone using a shoulder rest, or whether a shoulder rest should be used, or whether the violin should somehow be "floating" or "balanced" on three points -- collarbone, thumb, first knuckle of index finger) -- is one that will never be answered unanimously.

But if Cara's teacher meant to give her "Suzuki instruction," then (s)he did so incorrectly. The pictures in Book 1 show a much different way of holding the violin from what Cara describes in her post.

August 9, 2012 at 01:21 PM · Peter,

Of course Bakers. That is the most nutritious rosin on the market, quite flavorful too. That's why they package it the way they do -- so you can lick it like a lollipop.

August 9, 2012 at 03:01 PM · Holding the violin and playing it are different. As you play, if your body is relaxed and balanced, at some split-second moments, you hold with your head, others, equally short, with left hand, some balanced on shoulder. Point is, it's not static, it's not always the same, and it's a mater of many micro-movements.

Who was it who quoted someone playing next to Heifetz who said his 'grip' on his fiddle was so light that the speaker feared the lightest breeze would waft it away? that's the sort of 'hold' to aim for. I think it's only possible for someone who is totally relaxed--hard for most of us who aren't Heifetz.

August 9, 2012 at 06:21 PM · or we could all just grow triple chins!

August 9, 2012 at 09:40 PM · Marjory - that was probably me quoting Erick Friedman re Heifetz.

BTW, a while back there was a long discussion re the angle of the head, facing the fingerboard or not, that I posted enough on. Don't remember the name of the thread.

August 9, 2012 at 11:35 PM · An anecdote about Milstein comes to mind. He demonstrated the Scherzo Tarantella of Wieniawski with the violin on his chest. Obviously head neck and chin not involved.

August 10, 2012 at 03:27 AM · Yeah there's the guy on YouTube who plays the violin like a cello. Those are just parlor tricks, they don't really teach us anything about how we as individuals (read: students and amateurs) should approach the violin.

August 10, 2012 at 09:39 AM · It is instructive to watch videos of good baroque violinists in action, to see how they cope sans the add-ons. One of my favorites in this respect is Amandine Beyer - see for example on YouTube her live performance of the Bach Suite in D minor.

I would also say that I do not recognize Cara's experience of Suzuki learning in my own case. My teacher was taught by Suzuki himself, analyzes problems in depth and comes up with good solutions. She is a professional performer in her own right.

August 10, 2012 at 12:33 PM · How to play without a chin rest (or without the chin touching it) and successfully manage shifts, vibrato and so on - all explained in Stanley Ritchie's new book. Good stuff in it. For details see http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=22811.

The only drawback is that the book has no diagrams or a DVD, but use it in conjunction with careful observation of videos of baroque performers (perhaps in slow-mo) and I think you will have all you need.

If you've never tried playing baroque style be aware that there will be a learning curve of at least a few weeks (I'm still on it) before you can safely "forget" modern violin holding technique.

It would be ideal if a teacher were to teach a brand new beginner from scratch without shoulder rest and chin rest, perhaps using Geminiani as a source. There would be no modern violin-holding technique to unlearn - but it would be a brave teacher who would go down this route in today's world!

August 10, 2012 at 01:24 PM · It's my recently acquired Stanley Ritchie book that's started all this off.

August 10, 2012 at 02:27 PM · Trevor,

Amandine Beyer is certainly a marvelous musician, but she plays baroque music in the baroque style, which involves virtually no vibrato and minimal shifting. When she does shift down, you will see her chin contact the instrument to keep it in place. For modern repertoire that requires lots of vibrato and shifting, I would contend that you need something to keep the instrument in place. For most, that involves a shoulder rest and chin rest.

August 10, 2012 at 03:47 PM · From Cara Krzyzanowski

'Posted on August 9, 2012 at 03:43 AM

I am a little confused as well. Having only 5 years of Suzuki instruction, I was always taught to keep my chin square and centered on the chin rest, with my nose pointed toward the scroll, and no place else, or it would affect my posture and sound quality. 30 years later, I am watching YouTube videos and see 95% of the players with their CHEEK cradled on the chin rest instead of their chin. What is the deal here? Was I instructed wrong? And how exactly would it cause problems down the road if I always played with my chin not moving? I have yet to have any physical problems from keeping my chin in place.

Please advise.

Thank you.'

Hi Cara, you bring up an excellent point. There are some well known professionals that hold the instruments with terrible positioning/posture in my opinion (especially many who use shoulder rests). If you rest your cheek on the chinrest, your neck will go crooked over time. If you look at someone with ideal posture who has played for many years at a high level such as Aaron Rosand, Jascha Heifetz, and Nathan Milstein, these players have held the violin so that the scroll is in line with their noses with their jaws resting on the chinrest. Why should the scroll be in line with the nose? Well if your face is looking away from the scroll, you can't see what you're doing with the left hand and bow.

As Gene wisely pointed out earlier, violin playing is not static, and that pose captured in the portrait of Leopold Mozart was most likely just that, and not a representation of how he actually held the instrument.

August 11, 2012 at 10:26 AM · Many years ago an orchestra I had joined as a cellist had an elderly leader (early 70's), an excellent and fluid player but he played with the violin resting on his shoulder and his cheek was always in contact with the chinrest. Away from the violin his left shoulder was always raised and his head permanently leaned to the left.

A few years later Ken bowed out from the leadership and played happily at the back of the section, still with his distinctive style. He must have been in his early 80's when other problems caught up with him (he had been a Japanese POW); he hung up his violin and bow and passed away quietly a month later.

August 11, 2012 at 10:26 AM · [Edit] duplicate post deleted

August 11, 2012 at 01:02 PM · It is an interesting facet of our modern world that we don't approve of physical changes that mark our careers. Trevor's post highlights that shift: many people of my grandfather's generation (i.e., born 1880s and earlier) wore the marks of their 'vocations' proudly. Of course those marks were twisted body parts or over-developed muscles, and I'm not saying we aren't more comfortable as we do things now, BUT it is interesting that we challenge the 'gravity' of age and physical experience so intensely.

August 11, 2012 at 01:26 PM · When Aristotle was asked to justify slavery he said 'Just look at 'em!'

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