My teacher has told me a few times about how he got the privilege to watch Issac Stern teach a class of professional violinist. He said that about all Mr. Stern did was gently lift the scroll as they were playing. My teacher said it improved the tone greatly.
I've tried tilting upward and downward...and haven't been able to distinguish any difference in tone quality. As for holding my violin upward, I get tired much faster and don't see how one can keep it up for any length of time. For one, I don't know how one could hold it like that with just their chin and not use their left hand too.
Has anyone else experimented with this sort of thing...and what did you find on it? What is your opinion about the position the violin is held?
Isn't this also about "squeezing" the violin and bow together, effectively using both side of the body, rather than just plonking the bow down on an instrument that is "giving way" to it?
Buri- you have some good points. I practice in front of a mirror almost all the time. I personally hold my violin pretty level (horizontal) but have tried holding it higher and I tested out holding it lower...which I'd say didn't work very well. I have a good shoulder rest and it doesn't allow for much other than horizontal.
Eric Rowe- I'm not quite sure what you're getting at.
Mainly, I was wondering if anyone else has tried out on this...does lifting up the violin really improve the tone? Does anyone else play regularly with the violin held higher?
The point was that it is more efficient and tone is improved and easier if both sides of the body come into play by essentially pressing bow and violin together, rather than bow into a passive violin. There was a master class somewhere on you tube that discussed this well.
there is always a lot to be said for 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'
My own two cents on shoulder rests is that people lse track of the idea that stable immobility s generally tense and a certain amount of movement is tension relieving. As far as I am concerned, the huge rests which seem to embrace so much of the body are on the wrong track. in general one should aim for the smallest possible rest and if the violin is slipping away from you then crank it down, rather than up which is a huge mistake. that is why I recommend very stable rests like the Menuhin because one can move the violin around without it falling off. If one can then incorporate a certain amount of support from the left Han at times, some appriatte rising of the instrument and even rotation along the violins longtitudinal axis then one has the best of both worlds.
The violin supporting the bow can be a very helpful concept and I usually teach that in chords about ten percent o f the sound is made from the violin playing the bow rather than everything being the bow pressing down.
If I remember correctly, Simon Fischer also points out that holding the violin up helps to maintain the corrrect point of contact between the bow and the strings. Letting the violin droop downwards can cause the bow to slide away towards the fingerboard.
I do use a shoulder rest but I prop the violin up with my left hand (neck resting on the first knuckle of the thumb) as much as possible so that the violin fingerboard is horizontal....or I try to keep it that way.
I very recently watched the video of numerous violinists playing on the Bell Telephone Hour and was struck by the number that seemed to have the violin lower than what we see today and more "nose pointing to scroll." This included Rabin, Stern, Francescatti, Elman, etc. Menuhin held his higher. This is just an observation, by the way.
Buri's observations are right on and his reasons are correct. I might add that if you take a deep breath in as you hold the violin, what I call the support muscles in the back are activated and the balance Buri talks about takes place.
It's another of these controversial issues like shoulder rests, but just to alert you that there's a school of thought that says you don't need to hold the violin up with your chin. I'm personally very wary of the idea - the neck isn't constructed to exert downward pressure, and I feel it's a risky movement in terms of injury. It's also a potential source of tension.
The alternative is simply to hold up the violin with the left hand. As Vcomer Nate Robinson put it: Luckily there are no pieces that require me to play the violin without the left hand!. It does involve holding the instrument with better balance, particularly if you play restless, but that's no bad thing in my experience. You'll find this discussed towards the bottom of this fascinating thread.
You mentioned getting tired, and I'd like to suggest keeping your practice sessions short and focused while you are developing the muscles and stamina to hold your violin properly. My beginners, especially younger ones, get tired during lessons, and we don't even make it through the half hour without taking several breaks to let tired feet and arms rest. We keep learning throughout the lesson by studying the rhythms and notes, reviewing theory and lesson topics, and singing/ear training.
Be patient, and be consistent, and you'll have a good habit before you know it!
take a look at this link of Zukerman teaching.
Zukerman teaches holding the violin with the chin and shoulder and not with the left hand, I was rather surprised by this, if I did what he advises I would be in a lot a pain, that is how I got my upper back injury to begin with which took me nearly 3 years to get rid of by working hard on alexander technique, posture improvements (including learning to hold the violin wit my left hand) and myofascial release therapy.
Zukerman teaches this here:
go at 0:32 that's where he talks about it.
He even says he does not hold the violin with the left hand and 'who plays like that?' at 0:34:55
After the above bit he goes on to teach the next girl to hold the violin up with a bit of sponge in between her and the violin and no hands.
What do you think?
Oh boy, I think he said "he plays like that" on Perlman.
and the video I meant was this one
from 9 minutes in.
Whenever I'm confronted with contradictory teachings, I ask myself: what is safe, what is natural, what is stress-free?
In this case, the answer to me is clear. The arm is made to hold things up. The neck isn't made to press things down. Zukerman talks about "gripping" the violin with the left hand but this is a straw-man argument - no one recommends that! It's just a question of gently nestling it in the V between the thumb and first finger. I find I can move freely up and down the fingerboard this way, so why risk an unsafe method?
If your violin is already horizontal then you are probably holding it at the right level. Thus unfortunately you are unlikely to realize a dramatic improvement in your tone by raising or lowering your scroll. Back to bowing studies along with the rest of us mortals. :)
Down-slanting violins (and violas!) upset the observer more than the player! After all, even with a "bent" spike, 'cellos are rarely played very horizontally..
I just tell my students that the examiners just love horizontal strings i.e. with the violin pointing slightly upwards.
Thanks for directing us to the Zukerman videos. It's quite amazing how he is able to get the students to get just as ugly a sound as his, using his negative approach!
- Zukerman's "ugly sound" comes mainly from a very close microphone (maybe of the tie-pin type) being grossly overloaded.
- Master-class candidates have often come a long way by working very hard, but they may have accumulated various blockages through negligence of "basics"; the "temporary" teacher will often show things which the main teacher has been wanting for years..
Just for the record, I use a SR precisely to avoid clenching, but rather as a fulcrum on a relaxed shoulder. I certainly haven't Mr. Zukerman's square shoulders.
the reason I pointed out that particalr Zukerman video is that he continually demonstartes keeping the violin somewhat higher and keeping the right shoulder down.
Holding the violin with just chinh and shulder can be done by people with a certain kind of short necked , fat physique. I can`t do it. Menuhin couldnT do it and said that for most people if one is relaxed then wirhout the left had the violin would actually be hanging down with the scroll pointing at the floor.
I support the violin with my left hand. he othe rplayer who does it is milstein. I am quite reassured by this.
I have heard that Zukerman actually has neck pain and takes aspirin regularly for it but that may just be heresay. It was discussed a while back on this site.
Sure, if I use a sponge the violin can sit there all day while i do other things....
A friend of mine, a student of Dorothy DeLay, participated in a master class with Nathan Milstein. While working with her, Milstein offered to demonstrate a passage that was technically difficult and interpretively challenging. She decided to face the audience while he demonstrated in order to better follow his interpretation.
The audience was primarily made up made up of fellow students and as Milstein played, my friend noticed jaws dropping throughout the room. Afterwards, she asked one of her friends "what was going on?" The reply was, "Milstein never put his jaw on the chinrest the entire time he played."
Thanks everyone for the replies!
So now, I have a totally new idea to think on...I was always told from a young age NOT to ever hold the violin with my left hand so that it is free and relaxed for shifting; so that the violin doesn't feel like it is going to fall off the shoulder. I've played that way for over 10 years! I will give the other way a try. On the side, I have never had neck or back pain from it, but sometimes I have had a problem with clenching my jaw.
This has turned out to be more interesting than I imagined! :)
on the other hand, if you are using a rest, you don`t needd to do it.
What you might consider, is practiicng for a short time without a rest. This doesn`t mean giving it up, ut it does for example, teach natural movements of the hand, thumb etc in long shifts which can shed a lot of light on what you are doing when you go back to the rest and breathe a sigh of relief. or not.
I might be a rather tense personality in general (I prefer to say intense), but my left hand does not suffer any tension from being a support for the neck of the violin. You simply let the violin rest there, and you're free to go about your business, so long as it's properly balanced. There is to be no squeezing of the left hand, no contact with the left shoulder (collar bone only), and barely any need for the chin, either, other than to offer further stability. The trick is learning how to balance the violin, regardless of shifting or string changes, and then learning to trust this balancing act. It's quite amazing how much you can be at ease when playing this way. I'm pushing upper 30's, practice six hours a day, and am completely pain free. And yes, holding the scroll high is part of the trick.
(I learned most of what I know today about good setup from what I gleaned from violinist.com, by the way!)
I don't understand this idea of not holding the violin up in the left hand.
First off, the left arm has to be held up to the level of the fingerboard anyway, wherever that level is chosen to be. Then, if you are not actually supporting it, perhaps you may actually be pulling the violin down with the left hand instead, essentially transferring some arm weight to the neck/head? How many people are actually doing this? Finally and related to the previous point the thumb is meant to oppose the finger action and this would seem to be facilitated by supporting the violin and feeling some of its weight on the thumb.
If I tried to do a Zuckerman (he has a big square jaw), my violin would end up smashed on the floor and/or my neck broken and besides in the video Buri posted he does clearly raise the violin in his hand.
Eric Rowe - I was always told the opposite. I've always thought it was wrong to support with the left hand. It's a totally new thought to me... I've played years this way and can shift just fine and can play in 7th, etc., but I'm going to give the other way a try now, too. It has really surprised me that so many do it the other way and I had no idea!!
Buri has a good suggestion : take the shoulder rest off FOR A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME !
If I am having a bad/clumsy day then I take the shoulder rest off for 10 minutes. When I put it back on then things are much better. Doing this helps eliminate the 'squash it between your chin and shoulder ' syndrome and forces you to use the left hand more to support the violin.
JUST FOR TEN MINUTES ; I do not want to start an SR debate !
A fair amount of a violin's sound comes from the back plate. If the violin is directed down then some of that sound is going to be directed at the player's torso, and so lost. Holding the violin horizontal will therefore release more sound.
I too remove the SR from time to time, just to re-awaken the various sensations, and like Eric or Smiley Hsu, there is no way my shoulder can meet the violin.
With my long-legged Kun on a relaxed shoulder I can raise the violin or viola with my left hand, or even raise my head, the fiddle resting on the shoulder and left hand. Hence the name "rest"...
So I think the issue is using support from the shoulder (a)never, (b)sometimes, (c)always.
Personally, "never" prevents me from getting around my viola; "always" induces dangerous gripping; "sometimes" allows choice, balance, stability, and freedom.
I do believe it is a question of balance and isn't it better to balance at least at two ends rather than at one end? If you do not let the violin neck rest in to the the index finger by its gentle slant rightward ( I don't think anyone really plays with a totally flat violin so there is usually some slant to begin with) and you don't have the thumb resting on the other side, than the support must come at the head/neck end and collarbone and possibly the shoulder area closest to the neck.
However, for some people, the gap between their shoulder/collar bone area and the underside of their neck where the jaw and chin are is so narrow the violin seems to fit in between that space without much support. Some violinists, like Anne Sophie Mutter, seem to have the violin back touching the area of the shoulder nearest the neck while using a centered chin rest. Again, one does not see a sloped shoulder but a squarer look that seems to allow for a fit without gaps and the need for any other support at that end. Still, I would venture to guess that in her case and others the violin neck is resting between thumb and index finger to provide whatever support, without clenching is needed.
For others, that gap needs to be narrowed by a properly fitting chin rest so one is not having to either raise the left shoulder or drop the head down so much to meet the chin rest. A general principle I have found helpful is that the violin rest on the collarbone and that the fit of chin rest to gap in neck should be such that you feel about the same degree of looseness in the back of your neck between skull and upper spine as you do in front in your throat. If both areas feel loose and you don't force your neck to twist to the side, you are well on your way to achieving comfort and balance at that end.
But, why put all the responsibility at one end when it can be shared? With the violin slightly higher at the scroll end than at the chin rest end, weight moves toward your center of gravity rather than out to the hand thus minimizing the support the hand needs to give but it is still there to share in a balanced hold of the instrument.
Milstein's ability to sometimes let go at the chin rest end without the head lowering to let the chin/jaw rest on the chin rest is I think the result of his acute sense of balance and working very efficiently using only the muscles needed at any given moment for support. I believe he was 84 when he recorded what was to be his last violin recital( he broke his arm shortly after that)and the ease and facility with which he could play Bach Chaconne, Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata and Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella which goes over the whole range of the violin is testament to the fact that he knew what he was doing regarding balancing the instrument and playing so efficiently with such ease.
Whether or not you use a shoulder rest, a shoulder pad, a thin sponge, handkerchief, or nothing at all- whether or not your shoulder is involved in the violin's back resting on it, or whether or not you use a side cupped chin rest or a centered one, the thing to practice is balance. This includes balancing the elbow below the instrument in such a way that as you shift and move up and down the violin does not wobble or feel unstable and not relying on your hand to clench in any way to hold up the violin nor press down firmly with the chin and jaw to do try to do the same. It may feel a bit scary to not force stability but it really is a matter of balance at any given moment. As yet one more example, consider playing in fourth position- because of where the hand is likely to rest, you can probably take the chin and jaw off the chin rest and find that your left hand does not feel a need to hold on tighter because there is a way to feel the balance quite easily in that position. It is your collar bone and hand that are now balancing the violin. The position of your thumb under the neck of the violin also can assist in the way the violin balances without the chin/jaw resting on the chin rest.
I guess what I am saying there a number of factors that are in a dynamic relationship so that your "hold" of the violin is a matter of balancing these relationships and not depending on only one thing or one area to support the instrument.
Ronald in my opinion is right on. I had the opportunity to observe Milstein close up an entire semester when he gave a series of masterclasses at Juilliard in the early 1970's. When he played, it looked almost as if there was no violin in the way. He did not allow the violin (and bow) to dictate how he held it. He shoved the violin around so that it was convenient to manipulate it in whatever way he wanted.
Milstein said in one interview that Anartist tried to paint his portrait in playing position, but he just couldn't keep the violin in one position long enough.
The most important thing about holding the violin is knowing which side faces up! I used to bow on the back plate, rather than the strings, and couldn't get much sound at all! I just found out about a week ago that you should bow on the strings! ;-)
OK, seriously: most advise to hold the violin level to a bit above level. The only great fiddler I can think of who advised to hold it low was Ricci, following the example of Paganini as he was depicted in pictures. Ricci was a maverick who did some unusual things, and you can't argue with success. But gravity plays a role here, too. If you see Ricci's Pag. caprices, his bow generally is well into the fingerboard area.
For my own approach to holding the violin, please visit my website, http://rkviolin.com Go to "writings" and "fundamentals" I hope to make a video version of my fundamentals in the coming season. Stay tuned!
Raphael - if you look in Auer's brief book he instructs (its as strong as that) that the violin should be held sloping up to the scroll.
Menuhim would hold it like that without his hand and without an SR (look at the 'seven lessons' videos). I suspect he had a violin shaped slot cut into his neck...
Elise, I know. I studied with 2 Auer pupils. As I said, most advise level or a bit higher, and Auer was in the higher camp. Photos of young Heifetz show him holding the violin like that. Later in life, he held it still fairly high, but more level.
Or maybe one player holds the violin; the other, the bow! That actually happened on the set of the 1940's movie "Humoresque". John Garfield played an aspiring violin virtuoso, Isaac Stern played the soundtrack. They kind of strapped a violin around Garfield's neck for certain scenes while below camera view, one violinist fingered, and another violinist held the bow. Then both violinists had to coordinate to Stern's soundtrack and to each other. And we think WE have challenges! Oscar Levant played the piano as well as pretty much playing himself. At one point he suggested that they all take this act on the road!
One might say it's irrelevant how one holds the violin, but it is very important to understand how one's body relates to the violin.
I'm going to agree with Raphael et. al. -- the violin should be level, or preferably above level.
To clarify -- I think by "above level" we mean that the strings are closer to level, which makes the violin look like it's slightly inclined.
When I was a kid, I was the pupil of a teacher whose teachers' teacher was Auer (does that make me a great-grandpupil of Auer?) That whole lineage advocated the level to above-level approach and it has worked well for me and colleagues.
Are there violinists great and no-so who hold it below level? Of course!
I'll try to clarify in a different way:
Imagine holding the violin and standing opposite someone about your height.
level = the scroll is pointing pretty much to their chin.
above level = the scroll is pointing more or less to their head
below level = the scroll is pointing more or less to their chest
Food for thought:
Consider whether you sense that the muscles that support the shoulder blade are involved in helping give support to the forearm extended out in the lower positions of the violin and whether or not the manipulation of the elbow moving both out to the right and forward to your rib cage and then back again as you travel from finger 1 up through finger 4 and then back to finger 1 on the same string or doing this same kind of movement as you cross from, for example, finger 1 on E to finger 1 on G and back again mitigates against the arm getting tired as it is held "out there" in first position. It is understandable that it would feel easier to feel less fatigue as the arm gets closer to the body as in fourth position, but I still think one can experience very little
tendency to drop the violin down, out of fatigue, to the scroll at chest level, as Raphael describes it, if the elbow is playing an active role in the aligning of the fingers on the different strings or back and forth on any given string. It is not unlike people their weight from one leg and foot to another as they stand in line for a long time.
So the continual use of this elbow movement used to align the fingers over the strings has a side benefit of not letting the arm get tired.
I should be clear that the elbow is not doing an outward movement that changes its pointing toward the floor. This is not a twisted contorted lift of the elbow which would look and feel awkward and possibly lead to pain and injury over time. This is a mistake many make in swinging the arm around in an attempt to reach the higher positions.
Also, there are publicity photos of violinists in these positions to give the impression of conquering the instrument with absolute mastery looking very serious, authoritative and imperial, but they are a distortion of the normal look and position and cannot be trusted to indicate how the player actually looks when moving from one note and one string to the next. Frozen in time they cannot be considered to be the "truth" of how one holds the elbow.
This link explains Galamian's ideas about the posture of the left arm:
I went and asked some virtuosoists and professional violinist that I know and asked their opinion on the topic of holding the violin with chin verses left hand and was advised to keep playing as I already am. I did give the other way a try, but didn't even last the 10 minutes. It caused strain and stress; I did not find it comfortable and was not able to relax. I'm not going to recommend holding the violin with the left hand to anyone, ever, but I'll not hold it against anyone who finds it the best way for them.
I appreciated everyone's input on this topic, but the original topic (IMO) had nothing to do with chin vs. left hand. It was about what level the scroll should be. Mine is generally level (horizontal) but I find holding the scroll higher difficult.
Does anyone else (besides Issac Stern) play holding their violin with the scroll pointing upward? This was what I was wondering.
I already mentioned that Heifetz did have his scroll pointed upward as a youth, eventually transitioning to a high/level angle. And many change the angle higher or lower at times. We're not statues or robots - or shouldn't be - when we play.
A neglected aspect of this topic is the CHINREST. That affects how we hold the violin as well. Look how much to the left Milstein held his violin and how Mutter holds hers a bit right of center. Now look at their chinrests: Milstein used a Guarneri model, which is very popular in one variation or another, but which I don't find comfortable at all, unless I get one with a low, flat ridge over the tail-piece. Most players, consciously or unconsciously, like to be pretty centered. If you like to be centered and use a Guarneri model, you will be in contact only with the narrow ridge, which really protects the tailpiece more than it supports the chin or jaw. You can see many players with the cup completely un-used. Milstein really used that cup and stayed to the left. It looked like the violin's back barely touched his collar-bone, let alone even came near his shoulder. It seemed like the violin could easily slip off at any moment - but it never did. Mutter uses a Flesch model, which is somewhat high, and centered over the tailpiece, and the back of her violin touches her shoulder. (Neither used a SR. Not to start that tired, boring argument again. It's just that in these cases you can see what they are doing in a different way.) I've used both types in the past, but for many years have favored the Kauffman model, which, depending on the individual chinrest, is next to the t.p., but extends the cup a bit over it. I find this a comfortable mean between the above extremes. Many greats, from Heifetz to Rosand have used this type, or one similar to it. I do intend to try a Zitman eventually, which looks a little like the Sverdlick, but is a fraction of the price. But a chinrest does not only have a lateral effect. It depends on how we come to terms with it. If I just put my chin on the Kauffman, I play pretty level. but if I kind of slope it to my chin, the violin angle is higher.
Finally, I strongly feel that the seeming hand vs chin dichotomy is a false choice. In my approach at least, we don't hold the violin so much as we BALANCE it with the chin/jaw, shoulder/collar-bone areas together with the hand. When we're doing it right, it shouldn't feel like we're 'doing' anything. We should be able to freely leverage it a bit vertically and horizontally. It should almost feel like it's floating, yet secure.
Thanks for your reply; I think you put it just right in your last statement:
"Finally, I strongly feel that the seeming hand vs chin dichotomy is a false choice. In my approach at least, we don't hold the violin so much as we BALANCE it with the chin/jaw, shoulder/collar-bone areas together with the hand. When we're doing it right, it shouldn't feel like we're 'doing' anything. We should be able to freely leverage it a bit vertically and horizontally. It should almost feel like it's floating, yet secure."
As I recall, my inspiration for using the word, "balance" came from Joseph Silverstein. Of course we shouldn't be afraid of using words, and there isn't - at least for me - an issue of political correctness here. And yet, words can influence how we think about and do things. Take the expression "bow grip". My gosh, an average bow weighs about 60 grams, or about 2 ounces. And it rests on the string as we pull it across. And we're talking about how to grip it??
Buy Simon Fischer's "The Violin Lesson" it has a great section detailing the various angles one can use to hold the violin to best fit the violin to your body. The way having your chin centered over the tailpeice, or to the left affects left finger placement, as well as affecting the bow stroke. He covers just about every concievable axis of rotation, shift, pitch, roll and yaw.
The way "SuperStar X" held his/her violin probably won't matter a lick in any of our cases, unless we had the same body/neck/finger/arm length as they did, right?
Cheyne Winterthieme, now that we have decided it is not about "holding" but " balancing" we still have to decide whether the left arm is up or down and do we hold (i.e.maintain) it so or just balance it or (horror) do we hang it off the neck of the violin?
If all else fails, we can always fasten it to our necks with a nail gun! ;-)
Do you need longer nails if a shoulder rest is used?
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July 5, 2013 at 11:33 PM · Greetings,
a simple way to determine the height of the violin is to stand o the scroll is pointing at a mirror. as you raise the instrument there comes appoint where the fingerbad is no longer visible lengthwise. That s about right.
technically and to nally the violin is much better higher rather than lower. the low position causes the weight of the violin to fall away from you . in essence, you are fighting gravity. higher, he weight of the violin drops into the body amd the lleft hand becomes freer. the low violin also causes he bow to slide requiring greater tension in the right hand. there is no need for excess, but if you can't hold the violin up at an efficient height then how you put he instrument up and hold I may need a lose examination.