General confusion with the left hand

April 20, 2015 at 11:13 PM · Hi everybody!

Lately I've been doing a lot of experimenting and trying to get the posture and method that best suits me.

I'm confused about a couple issues. These problems are pretty common debates that I just want to clarify because I feel like I'm missing some information. I realize that these debates are probably over-talked about, but if some one could help me understand, I would be grateful. :)

I've done my research and the consensus (actually there seems to be a lot of disagreement about these issues) seems to be that every player should experiment and decide that for themselves -- but I wonder what I should know about each possible method. So I thought of a way that we could discuss without bashing.

What I want to know are the benefits and disadvantages of each way of playing, instead of which way is better (unless there's a clear answer, such as the case of the NO COLLAPSING LEFT WRIST is pretty clearly decided already).

My first question concerns the gap (if there is one) between the shoulder and the bottom of the violin. The long neck/short neck argument comes into play here. I have a pretty long neck so that the width of the violin does not fill up to the bottom of my jaw. Some say that long necks don't determine whether or not you can not use a shoulder rest (which is what I'm doing because I like it for various reasons). However, others say differently. I also like to have my strings parallel to the ground, but doing this results in a space between the bottom of my violin and the top of my shoulder. So far, I've adjusted pretty well, but some people who have watched me play say that it isn't acceptable. However, I feel almost completely comfortable doing this after about 2.5 months of practice. My question is: what good or bad things result from this gap between shoulder and violin? Maybe there is some horrible effect of this that I'm not seeing yet? Should I just eat more and try to fill in that gap with a double chin? :D

Which leads to my 2nd issue -- left hand support. Those same people who have told me that the gap is not okay tell me that the violin should not be supported by the left hand as it will limit the left hand. Thus, using a shoulder rest to fill up the gap frees up the left hand to let it do what it wants. Is this true? To solve this problem without using a shoulder rest, it was suggested that I should lower the violin so it is naturally on top of my shoulder...which means strings are at -30 degree angle. Currently, I feel like when I play, I support 80% with my left hand but I also feel like I am playing just fine. But apparently, there is tension in my left hand (which I agree with, more on that later, but I think it is because I am not relaxed and used to this yet). I've examined my playing to see where it looks like I have tension. I've noticed that when shifting, my wrist pulls in the direction of the shift if I'm shifting down, and if I shift up over the body of the violin, starting from where the neck merges into the violin, the way my hand moves reminds me of an inchworm. Is that bad? Pros and cons?

My 3rd issue leads from the previous. High left thumbs that go over the height of the neck in a relaxed way. I've tried this since I've seen many violinists play this way with the violin deeper in their left hands. This style seems to fit way better with the left hand support. However, I'm finding it difficult to shift this way because the neck always feels like it is going to fall off because lack of support from underneath. Currently, i'm supporting the violin with my thumb underneath, which means my thumb joint is bent sideways like the hitchhikers thumb and I think it is leading to the tension and cramping I have in my left thumb/palm area. The cramping is getting better, but i still wonder if it is only a temporary transitioning issue or a serious problem. Pros and cons of having the thumb up above versus underneath?

My fourth issue is closely related to the left thumb issue as well. If I use a high thumb, my violin neck falls into the V of my left hand. I find this position quite comfortable, but vibrato is strange because i cannot use arm vibrato as well and I wasn't taught wrist vibrato. Also, this position can only be played in the 1-5 position because friction prevents me from getting a smooth transition over the body of the violin on high positions. Another problem is that my fingers have less height to hit downwards, especially on the G and D strings. Fingers are less curved and straighter downwards. Double stops are harder as well. What do you guys think?

5th issue -- High left hand knuckles? I watched a video of Jascha Heifetz performing the Intro and Rondo Capriccioso -- at the very fast ending area, the camera gets a shot of his fingers as he plays on the G string in 1st pos. I noticed that his hand was very rotated over the neck and the bottom joint of his index finger was actually above the neck of the violin. I was curious, so I tried it myself, keeping the knuckles of the left hand high. I found that it gave much more clarity to slurred runs and gave fingers more power and accuracy. However, this means that I cannot play with the high left thumb, low V position, because this way of playing needs a lot of height on the string-pressing-finger side. In addition, the knuckles at the end of the fingers are straighter and have a tendency to collapse. I'm sure the collapsing issue can be solved with strength training, but is do the straight knuckles lead to something bad? Especially since most "good" hand positions have fingers perfectly curved? And also, I know that all players have their own quirks, and I don't know I should base my hand position after this. (video of high knuckles) scroll to 2:41 and 2:54

6th issue -- Benefits and disadvantages of having index finger contact with side of neck? This one, I just don't know, because I think it is technically good to have the index finger not-touching the side of the neck. The thing is, this space requires the thumb to be almost completely under the neck. Is there a better way to do this? Or--what are the benefits or disadvantages of having the left index finger keep in contact with the side of the neck?

7th issue -- one last thing. Apparently one of the advantages to not using a shoulder rest is the ability to tilt and move around the violin to make it easier for the bow to reach the strings. When I play, however, it seems backwards. I play on the e string--the weight of the bow presses the e side down so that the e sound is softer. I'm confused as to how exactly the tilting works. the only way I can think of is either tilting with the hand or by the pressure on the chin rest. Tilting with the hand MUST mean I'm holding the violin wrong or something, because it simply doesn't work for me. I've tried tilting the violin with the hand, but the weight of violin + bow weight (since it has to tilt opposite direction of bow) means that I have to clamp the neck in my palm to tilt it. Maybe a different hand position is the solution to this? Chin pressure doesn't seem right either because if the pressure on chin acts as a seesaw (which is how I imagine is the only way it works), the chin must move around to press down on the right side of the seesaw or the left. How does the tilting motion work?

Sorry for so many questions in a single thread! I didn't know if it was better to create multiple threads for this many questions or cram these semi-related questions into one. :D

Thank you!


April 21, 2015 at 03:40 AM · Hi Katherine, you've indeed asked many questions here but there's no harm in that! You may get responses all over the map but you can always ask a followup if you want.

I'm going to answer just the questions that I feel can be answered quickly.

It is perfectly fine (I would say preferable) to support the violin with the left hand. The left hand doesn't need to be "free" to do whatever else it does. Supporting the violin is part of what it does!

Similarly, the index finger contacts the neck. You have to go out of your way for this not to happen. There is a misconception about this because one of the most common faults in left-hand technique is squeezing between the thumb and index finger. But instead of taking the index finger totally away from the neck, you simply monitor the pressure there. It will be a point of reference for you as you "map" the fingerboard.

As far as other questions about thumb, knuckles, etc. Every "rule" of left-hand setup is there so that the fingers sit well on the string. So a larger hand will have different rules than a smaller hand. Each of the fingers needs to maintain a curve going down and coming up. They each need to be able to move independently and without altering the rest of the hand. If you can achieve this without tension, you have a proper setup.

Hopefully this will be a starting point for other thoughts below!

April 21, 2015 at 07:08 PM · Quite a heavy post. Maybe I can offer my two cents about some of these things:

1)The gap between the violin and your shoulder is pretty much a physical necessity, unless you somehow have upward sloping shoulders. Here's my philosophy (distilled): The violin should have contact with your collar bone. The shoulder rest is for maintaining the angle of the violin, not for lifting it off your collar bone. The chin rest is to essentially "fill up" the space between your chin and the violin (and a well-made chinrest which suits you can also help with other things).

2) Breaking it down into two groups: with a shoulder rest, the left hand doesn't have to have any support role, so the violin is supported by the collar bone and the chin rest (shoulder rest maintains the angle and frees the left hand, but the fundamental contact is at the collar bone). If you don't use a shoulder rest, then there must be support from all THREE points: left hand, collar bone, and chin rest. Which is better boils down to schools of playing. Things like vibrato and shifting are certainly different depending on your support system.

3) "High thumb" usage depends on your hand structure. But in any case, remember that the violin shouldn't be resting in the web between your thumb and index finger. If you are supporting with your left hand, it is then especially important to remember that the higher you go, the more your thumb will *probably* need to come under the violin. Again, all hands are not made the same, and this is easier for a teacher to show than to describe in this forum.

4) Like I said, it shouldn't rest in the web of your hand. If you have trouble finding a good position for the violin in your hand, try putting the violin in the normal position on your thumb, and then rotate the whole hand ever so slightly along the axis of the violin neck, so that your thumb is slightly farther under the violin, and your knuckles are a little higher. It will require you to bring your elbow under a little, and might give you more stability. Remember, a very small change can have a big difference, so don't go pushing your elbow super far under your instrument! :-)

5) You made some good observations about the benefits of high knuckles. It's at odds with your "high thumb" principle, though. But if you're looking for a more relaxed thumb without necessarily using the high thumb, look at whether your thumb is locked straight or not. For example, I play so that the thumb is just bent enough that it isn't locked. I don't press on the violin, it rests nicely on my thumb. But it did require developing my thumb muscles a bit, and was quite fatiguing in the beginning. A good teacher could show you more about this.

6) I'm with Nathan on this, I have nothing to add.

7) I really don't have much experience doing this besides some experimentation in my baroque violin playing. I found it requires a very developed left thumb (something you will clearly be working on now, I imagine), and may be best left until later for you. But maybe someone who subscribes to this tilting can contribute more...

April 21, 2015 at 07:13 PM · There seems to be two different schools of violin playing, left hand support and not. I too have encountered people saying that the left hand must be free, and the best I can figure is that they're simply uneducated about playing with left hand support.

After endless fiddling about, I've never managed to free my left hand without putting tremendous force with my head, which is probably what ultimately made me give up trying to use a shoulder rest.

I finally have a chinrest that fills the gap you're talking about. It makes me not have to reach for the chinrest and put my neck at bad angles, but it doesn't free my left hand.

I keep my the violin balanced on the middle joint on my thumb, but I don't do have to do anything with my thumb joints to do this (though perhaps my arm and such). It sounds like what you're doing is bad/tense.

I found that I could slide my thumb under the neck in preparation for shifting over the body (maybe the inchworm thing you're talking about), but now I just let my hand fall towards me to play the higher positions, which is necessary due to a tendon injury. My teacher says I can probably get away with this due to having sufficiently large hands.

My teacher at some point said I play too much on the tips of my fingers and should flatten them and use the pads more. Of course, hands are different.

Personally, I find it to be impossible to support the violin with my index finger and still be able to do vibrato. I haven't found any other way than to rely on the thumb for support. But I still keep my index finger in light contact with the instrument, which is supposed to be helpful for feeling your way around, and reduces the distance your fingers have to reach.

April 23, 2015 at 07:16 PM · Freeing the left hand means freeing it from having to support the violin, given the context.

April 23, 2015 at 07:38 PM · Also, I'm perplexed by the first sentence.

I've heard this said as a gender difference, but I can not see why. Men and women alike share things to get something out for support and understanding, or for pragmatic solutions. How could anyone disagree with this?

I also can't see why this was brought up.

April 24, 2015 at 12:14 AM · Hey everybody!

Alright, so I just came back from my lesson with the teacher. Time to confess!

I tried playing without a shoulder rest, and I really like playing this way, but the thing is my teachher doesn't agree -- she believes I should use a shoulder rest because I don't have upwards sloping shoulders (haha) and that my shifts make the violin move. The gap between the edge of my shoulder and the back of the violin bothers her. But my collarbone is in contact with the's just that my shoulder slopes downwards. Therefore, if the back of my violin is horizontal, then there's a slice of air there (maybe more than a slice...) that is not filled up with anything. I find shoulder rests restricting for me personally -- I realized now that before as I used the shoulderest, my violin playing was getting more and more weighed downwards as if I use my shoulder ONLY to clamp the violin, it slants towards the ground, and as a result, I used my chin to clamp down on the violin to counter the weight of my FINGERS because as I played, they pulled the neck to the ground. I realize now that before, I had been playing with my left hand pulling the violin down. Another reason that I want to avoid the shoulder rest is that my left hand will weigh down on the violin again.

My violin teacher today has again reiterated that I should use a shoulder rest and that the left hand should not be supporting the violin. Now that I have read all your posts and that there seems to be an agreement that the left hand SHOULD support the violin, I am in a dilemma. What should I do?

It seems that left index finger contact is definitely not necessary. Thanks for clarifying that, everybody!

It also seems that the high thumb theory is not super great and that a thumb that is more balanced BELOW the neck is more feasible for smaller hands (is that right?). So I will just go with that. According to AJ Marini, it might take some muscle development for me to feel comfortable with the thumb position? I will go with the low thumb then. :)

As to tilting of the violin, I still don't understand how exactly it is done. What is done with the left thumb? Anybody who has more of an idea -- please explain in detail? :) Thanks!

Horizontal strings are a fad? John, I thought that holding the violin at least parallel to the ground meant better tone quality and sound projection.

As to the gender differences -- maybe I wasn't clear, but the reason I posted these questions was not for sympathy or understanding, and also not solutions, but different perspectives from those who know more about the violin than I do. Experiences that they have had with the issues I have posted that could possibly benefit somebody else in their choice as to what they should do to improve their technique. Honestly, I don't know how this came into the discussion? I've also heard about that idea and I strongly disagree with it.


-Katherine Li

April 24, 2015 at 03:36 AM · John's being silly, he's trying to get your goat.

The main reason to have good technique is to prevent injury, or it should be the main reason. Don't worry too much about projection unless you own a 50 thousand + dollar violin and playing in a grand hall.

Injury can happen at any stage, but poor technique can start showing signs of injury (pain, numbness tension etc... ) around the 4 year mark of playing. The GREAT thing that comes from selecting techniques that are injury prevention oriented, is that they will increase speed, accuracy and ease of play. Basically you will learn things quicker with less effort.

Signs or rules of injury preventing techniques (IPT):

1)prevents excessive finger and hand movements

2)prevents 'constant' tension

3)minimizes hand muscle movements

4)increases flexibility and dexterity

5)prevents 'constant' use of shoulder, arm and hand muscles

6)puts the bodies health first, not the instrument's, or speed, accuracy and projection dogmas first

7)doesn't restrict blood flow

8)follows basic rules of posture: ears, shoulders, hips and ankles need to be aligned

9)prevents fingers from pressing too hard or coming down too hard (thumping or banging noise is heard).

---List of techniques: the Good, the a bad and the ugly:

-Left wrist constantly bent forward(pizza pan hand): breaks rules 7,4. Considered poor technique.

-Left wrist constantly bent away when playing on A or E string: breaks rules 7, 5 also an indication that violin is to large or holding the violin to far to the left.

-Left wrist straight when playing on A or E string: uses rules 7,5,4.

-Index finger facing you or facing down fingerboard when used on E string: uses rules 1,3

-Index finger at an angle when used on E string: breaks rules 1,3,7. considered poor technique.

-Index finger is away from violin's neck and thumb supports violin: breaks rules 2,5 -thumb and shoulder muscles in constant use.

-Fingers too high from fingerboard: breaks rules 1,7 (causes inflammation),9

-Fingers low (1/4 -1/2 inch) with a light touch will prevent many injuries.

-Elbow staying in one spot under violin and not swinging forward to guide fingers to lower strings: breaks rules 1,3

That's a few example of the basic techniques to give an idea to what to look for when choosing healthy techniques that will make playing the violin more enjoyable.

April 24, 2015 at 09:00 AM · I'm struggling with many issues here as well.

I've found that a tall (sometimes VERY tall) chinrest is key to comfort for long necked people.

As has also been mentioned: to get the thumb to provide more support comes from getting the left elbow more under the violin. I have an old snowboarding injury to my left shoulder that makes me naturally want to have my elbow too far to my left, which causes problems with this. I'm still working on it.

April 24, 2015 at 11:28 AM · That's why I recommend people to learn from teachers who have played baroque violin for at least a year.

You can always go back to a shoulder rest if you need to. But if you have never figured out how it is possible to play without a shoulder rest (and a chinrest even), you haven't figured out what balancing the instrument means. Paganini played without either. How on earth did he do those crazy leaps? There must be a way and it can be done. Of course, it helps to have a big hand when playing Pagnini without a shoulder rest or chinrest but the fact is it is possible to negotiate shifting without the shoulder rest.

Also, if you ever play a 15.5" viola or bigger, you will quickly find out that it is not possible to clamp on the instrument with a totally free left-hand for longer than a few minutes. You will get injured in no time.

April 24, 2015 at 04:10 PM · Yes, important to remember as said above that you can still use the left hand for support when playing with a shoulder rest!

April 24, 2015 at 04:40 PM · And one could also clamp without a shoulder rest.

April 24, 2015 at 06:34 PM · Was it the pillow he had sewn into the lapel of his sport coat that held up the violin?

April 26, 2015 at 01:56 AM · Hi Katherine, it sounds like you are going through what I went through several years ago. I also have a long neck, and a rather flat collarbone that the chinrest clamp has a habit of digging into. It started with being uncomfortable in various ways when playing for extended periods... so I experimented with absolutely everything. And this is what I found:

1. Ignore John Cadd. He rarely has anything useful to say and mostly serves to confuse. Not starting a fight here, just saying it like it is.

2. A playonair shoulder rest (you blow it up to the desired height) which you can also purchase a bracket for to add height or use on its own. It allows the violin to follow the natural tilt from the shoulder to the collarbone.

3. A tall-ish chinrest. Experiment here until you find what you need. The idea is the head should drop very slightly to rest on it, and then become a natural weight to hold the violin mostly parallel. Don't push down, the weight of your head alone should do it. This frees up your left hand somewhat from support mode.

4.My teacher actually taught me to slip my thumb under the neck and keep it there. Nice and straight, not all bent and cramped. Just slide it along as needed and you'll find yourself more easily reaching the lower strings. It can support the violin too, but you'll probably find it unnecessary.

5. This then allows you, with practice, to move the base of your index finger away from the neck. You don't need it there to know where to shift to, simple arm muscle memory does that nicely, so does your ear.

6. Eventually you'll find yourself playing lightly and easily without becoming tired. Make sure your fingers and thumb don't press together hard, that just slows you down and makes you tire.

7. I have a gap between my shoulder and violin, and the violin is parallel to the floor. My teacher insists on that. I have had many comments from others on my 'good posture' during orchestra practice. Don't know why but it must look ok.

I can't comment on your other issues but good luck sorting it all out.

Cheers Millie

April 26, 2015 at 06:06 AM · "Ignore John Cadd. He rarely has anything useful to say and mostly serves to confuse. Not starting a fight here, just saying it like it is."

This is not only downright rude, but arrogant. John often explores many aspects which many of us "experts" simply fail to see, our minds and muscles deadened by habit and self-esteem.

Millie's succeeding points are really helpful, otherwise her post should have been "flagged".

Edit: I have removed the words "and stupid" after "arrogant".

April 27, 2015 at 01:08 AM · Which is the correct way?

There are different paths, so does that mean there are no wrongs? Whatever works for you? So and so does it this way, and he plays well; therefore should I do it in the same way? My teacher says to do it this way, should I not question it?

---The GuRu and the Four Auto Mechanics---

John went to see his teacher, Guru, on the mountain top. GuRu said to John, “I want you to take four different paths here next week, one path for each day. This way you will learn.”

John received his orders, but he first had to put new tires on his truck. So that day he took his truck in to get the tires replaced.

They had a different auto mechanic for each tire: Ipac, Vise, Stan and Torq.

Ipac used an impact wrench to tighten the nuts. The impact wrench over tightens, so therefore the tire will never come off.

Stan used a standard ratchet to tighten the nuts. He guesses from experience on how tight the bolts should be.

Vise gets out a pair of vise-grips and tightens the nuts as much as he can.

Torq puts the nuts on first with an impact wrench, and then torques the bolts on with a torque wrench.

John is very happy with the service; he thanks the mechanics personally for their great workmanship and then goes on his trip.

On the first day John is happy to be learning new things and experiences. Shortly into the trip he notices a tire rolling ahead of him, and loses control of his car and almost hits a tree. John prays and thanks GOD for sparing his life, but sees that there is damage to the truck. John comes to notice that the tire was fine, but the nuts were missing .He walked down the path and found the missing nuts, and puts the tire back on the vehicle and continues his path. John thinks back, and remembers that Vise put the tire on. John isn’t happy with Vise.

On the second day John is happy to start his second path. Shortly into the trip John hears some noises and has trouble steering. John pulls into a gas station and they tell him he is missing nuts on his front tire and this caused the rim to be warped. After some time and cost they repair the tire and John continues on his journey. John remembers that Stan put that tire on. John isn’t happy with Stan.

On the third day John is happy to start his third path. But shortly into the trip John hears a loud noise. He pulls the truck over and noticed one of the tires is blown. No problem, John can fix that. When John tries to take the nuts off the tire, he is unable to do it. They are on too tight, so he puts all his force into it. The tool he is working with breaks and John smashes is hand. John calls for a tow truck and the truck operator loosens the bolts and replaces the tire. John also had to go to the hospital to get aid for is hand, and then he finally continues on his path. John thinks back and remembers that Ipac installed the tire, John isn’t happy at all with Ipac.

On the fourth day John is nervous to start the fourth path. Surprisingly nothing happens and he finished on time. John is happy with Torq, because his tire repair worked without fail.

After the trip John goes back to the garage and talks to the manager. He asks the manger why the bolts for the tires gave him a hard time. The manager says that the mechanics use different paths to achieve the same goals, and the basic principle is accomplished. The tires are on and they work fine. “Really” says John. John hands him the bill for the damages to the truck, time lost, towing and garage expenses, and medical expenses.

The manager is very unhappy, and fires the 3 mechanics, but keeps Torq on because he was the only one that learned from his mistakes.

John now goes to see his teacher, GuRu, on the mountain top. GuRu says to John “What have you learned.” John says” there are many paths, but only a few that don’t cost you time, injury and wasted money. I know now to asks many questions and not blindly trust others."

April 27, 2015 at 02:37 AM · This kind of BS is also blatant aggression and really has no place on this board: "Katherine since you are a lady I have read that no matter what the problem is ,we should give you lots of sympathy and understanding but avoid giving you solutions. How does that sound? " Ignoring your flag. Millie is spot-on in her reaction. You can dispense whatever advice you wish to dispense without the ridiculous and transparent misogyny.

April 27, 2015 at 04:15 AM · Laurie, I had read John's "misogyny" as gentle irony! (We were both brought up to give up our seat on the bus to a "lady"...)

But we Brits have to be careful with our humour.

(I even have to be careful amongst my French friends, who can be equally sarcastic, but not always about the same things as me!)

And I'm not sure Millie was reacting to any misogyny, but rather to John's tendency to examine a question from all angles at once.

I wouldn't want her valuable post removed, but maybe the Point No.1 could have read "I find John Cadd's posts confusing".

April 27, 2015 at 12:51 PM · Charles, the issue with overtightening nuts and bolts isn't that they're hard to get off later. It's that it's likely to cause the bolt or stud to break, or cause damage to something else.

Also, I've stood and bounced on normal, short socket wrenches loosening tight bolts. I don't think you're going to break one turning a bolt by hand.

April 28, 2015 at 02:29 AM · I think I've pretty much had enough of the boys club B.S. It's not funny, it's not cute, and no one enjoys it. She didn't find his posts "confusing" -- like the rest of us she finds them to be not useful and quite often, offensive. Really, enough. I've deleted them all, and his account.

April 28, 2015 at 04:24 AM · Hi everyone!

In all honesty, I didn't post earlier than right now because I didn't know what to say. I didn't know whether or not to take offense, or take it as a joke...Personally, I wasn't SUPER offended, just a little taken aback what people were saying. However, I can say that that kind of humor is taken as offensive by some, and even if it is meant to be a joke, it probably shouldn't be said. I asked a friend whether or not she would have been if she had been in my place, and she said that yes, a post like that would have offended her and made her angry -- she also said that "that's not really something to joke about...". I was ready to let it go, but I am glad that the rules are so strictly adhered to and that this is such a safe forum. So, thank you Laurie for sticking to your ethical code.

Anyways, to continue on the original topic, I was wondering how chinrests are accepted as a way of filling the gap in the neck, but shoulder rests are independent of whether or not you have a long neck. Aren't they both just support structures added there to prop up the violin better? The chinrests by hooking under your jaw, and the shoulder rest by hooking over your shoulder?

And another update: yesterday, I had my audition to get into first violin in my youth orchestra! My teacher asked me to ask him (the conductor, who was the one who would judge me) whether or not he believed it was okay for me to not use a shoulder rest. My teacher typically teaches students to play with one -- that is probably why she is so adamant about me playing with one as well. But the conductor is a strong believer of the non-shoulder rest. He took a look at my neck and said that yup, it was okay to play without a shoulder rest. So I really don't know. I guess what I'm trying to ask is -- I want to play without a shoulder rest, but I'm afraid that I will regret having not listened to my teacher before. So what are the chances of me regretting this decision to play without a shoulder rest, based on the opinions of the conductor who analyzed my way of playing, but is a strong supporter of the non-shoulder rest (but I don't know whether or not he has tried the shoulder rest), my teacher who watches me play once every week but is a strong supporter of the shoulder rest (but I don't know whether or not she ever tried the way of the non-shoulder rest), my long neck and low shoulders, and your own experiences?

That was a long sentence-- basically, will I regret this decision? Based on the conductor's opinion, my teacher's opinion, your experiences, and my physique.

I do actually need some perspective on the many different ways that the violin is held. That is why I asked for pros and cons of different aspects of the left hand.

I hope that clarifies my original post and my intent.

Thank you all for being so helpful and supportive!

-Katherine Li

April 28, 2015 at 06:06 AM · Katherine, your physique rules! Collarbone, shoulder width and slope, neck height, jaw shape, but also left hand width, base-joint curve, thumb shape, finger length, forearm rotation etc all come into the choice of violin support.

But I do feel that a conductor can give advice, but should not interfere with the teacher's work.

Type Shoulder Rest in the search box, and you will find hundreds of posts, some thoughtful and useful, many dogmatic and arrogant, for and against.

April 28, 2015 at 08:35 AM · Okaaaay, a few days away and look what happens on! Certainly not my intent to cause that final result, but the words ‘straw’, ‘camel’ and ‘last’, come to mind here.

Now down to business. Adrian, I applaud your attempts at making me see the error of my shocking outspoken ways but I have this problem you see. It’s called an honest opinion. Which, believe it or not, is mostly kept to myself. Whilst I’m not given to making regular remarks about people undeservedly, point one in my list was actually an intended method for saving lots of time. Over the years, I’m not the only one to have written ‘ignore John’ to a confused newbie struggling to make sense out of multiple posts that hardly contain any. There has been a history (now invisible) of occasionally funny but mostly confusing, irritating and sometimes condescending posts, hijacking almost every thread to the point where I tackled him on it once before. From then on I stopped reading his material and skipped over many of his undaunted posts and eventually it was one of the reasons my attendance on slowed up. I suppose when you get to the stage where you are annoyed to the point where you’re prepared to shout it from the rooftops, even the dreaded ‘flag’ is no deterrent. You were partly right, though, I was as much referring to “John's tendency to examine a question from all angles at once” as well as his rather inappropriate comment from earlier on, which I didn’t for one minute see as ‘gentle irony’. Also, thank you for your suggestion for smoothing over my hideous mess but I was anything but ‘confused’ and chose the original wording I wanted to use all by myself. I mean that ever so nicely:) Laurie was also right.

I can see how my comment may have seemed to come ‘out of the blue’ and therefore may have startled some people and for that I apologise and hope the above explanation now sheds some light. I’m not in any way against lateral thinkers and those wanting to share new ideas. Let our minds not be deadened. However my self esteem is still intact safe in the knowledge that the freedom of speech so valued by some in John, is also afforded the rest of us.

So the appearance of propriety now being fully restored, I hope Katherine will forgive me for instigating a slight ruckus on her thread, and that everyone can continue in peace to help her pursue a better tyre/violin method mechanic. In light of recent events, Charles’ analogy can be applied to more than one situation, it seems ;)

April 28, 2015 at 10:15 AM · Hello Katherine and welcome to the board! :D

Speaking as a non-shoulder rest user, make sure your collar bone can support the instrument properly before attempting to play.

Ex: My chin is a bit pointed and juts out a bit (what you would call a strong jaw) but my collarbone is very close to my neck.

This means that the chinrest is easily held if it is the right shape for me, but that it MUST be tall enough to properly reach my chin. If not, the violin keeps slipping away from my neck and causes a hickey if I attempt to constantly push it in place with my hand to counteract the slippage.

Comfort comes first every time. Or, you can do as Adrian does and play the viola. :)

April 28, 2015 at 10:23 AM · Laurie, Katherine, Millie, this is all very sad, and just a little worrying (English understatement..)

I have occasionally had to defend John, and myself for that matter, against what I felt to be nastilly worded comments from qualified posters who know a lot and assume they know everything. (I am not thinking of you, Millie!)

Both John and I have both occasionally reacted aginst posts containing what I called Spotty Schoolboy Humour (= "Boy's Club BS"?) which has absolutely no place on this forum.

The apparently very British tendency at self-mockery, and trying to cope with serious matters by making jokes about them, is rarely understood in the wider world. Hence what I called "gentle irony" came over as gross impropriety. It is for us Brits to remember this.

I'm not a personal aquaintance of John's, but being another Older Brit myself, I've always seen through his unique style to a charming, caring, and thought-provoking gentleman. I read the Offending Remark as simply an ironic warning against simplistic answers to complex questions; the offensive side never occured to me.

Also it was a remark of his which encouraged me to use "may" instead of "will", "often" instead of "always", and "I have found that.." instead of laying down the law in my posts.

I try to be concise and precise in my own posts, which can still be misunderstood. We all read into a text according to our own very varied experiences and background.

I hope all this is not offensive, and I hope John reads it too. And Millie, thank you for not flagging my personal attack on you!

Right, back to the left hand!

April 28, 2015 at 10:40 AM · The chinrest and the shoulder rest do not fill space in the same way. The former makes the violin lower while the latter makes the violin higher. IIRC, I read a post many years ago (by Buri?) that if you're doing to fill gap, fill it with a higher chinrest. Having the violin lower can save your bow arm troubles down the road.

I started learning the violin with a shoulder rest. Then took it off after my second violin teacher said Heifetz and the like didn't play with a shoulder rest. And put it back on after struggling with shifts. And now I don't play with a shoulder rest after getting neck and shoulder pain using one (probably because I have a relatively short neck.) Playing without a shoulder rest requires some changes in the way you play (especially shifts). But I find the lightness of a violin without a shoulder rest to be incredibly liberating.

If I end up using something underneath the violin, it'll most likely be some sort of sponge. That's what I use when I play the viola.

April 28, 2015 at 11:16 AM · I'll just say what I do personally, (but which I do not not impose on my students!)

I have a high, re-carved, Teka-style chinrest, which tilts the viola at 45° to the right to allow a decent vibrato with the pinky on the lowest string.

I use a high Kun shoulder-rest on my broad but sloping shoulder. It is definitely in front of the collar-bone, and takes the whole weight of the viola, which is then balanced, not gripped, by the weight of my head, see-saw fashion.

At 66yo, no cramps, no hickey. I can use the the left hand as I want. Sometimes it supports the viola while I glare at my desk partner after I play a wrong note (English humour..) No sore spot on the collar-bone either.

Hands, shoulders and minds are as different as noses.

P.S. Why should the fiddle be horizontal? Cellos are rarely horizontal, and they sound o.k. (English humour again.)

April 28, 2015 at 01:51 PM · I'd like to protest against the deletion of John Cadd's account. I am in full agreement with what Adrian just wrote about him. I am convinced that John is not evil; on the contrary, to me he has always seemed a very kind old Brit handicapped by a very unclear writing style.

When he says something jokingly he writes it matter-of-factly so that his posts are very easily misinterpreted. But I challenge anyone to produce a past post of his that was willingly obnoxious. (That challenge is now a bit unrealistic since at this point all his posts have vanished.) The one he posted here about "since you are a lady you don't want to hear..." was so obviously a joke: indeed he contradicted any possible misinterpretation right away by giving useful suggestions to Katherine! Then in response to Laurie he tried to make clear that he had been parodying one of those relationship advice ads that pop up in Yahoo. It was still not enough to save him.

John is essentially being deleted from this forum because of his poor expository skills. I guess that might make sense for a forum, but in this case I find it unreasonable.

April 28, 2015 at 03:38 PM · Katherine,

I'm convinced that spending time getting comfortable with left hand support technique is beneficial regardless as to whether you stick with it.

I don't see why having long neck should make a difference, except that you should fill the gap with a chinrest to avoid reaching for the violin with your head.

I like having the violin resting on my body. As Kevin said, using a shoulder rest to fill the gap does make you have to reach up to the violin. It also tends to make a seesaw.

Here's something on supporting the violin that was previously linked to me, if you need such an introduction:

April 28, 2015 at 03:47 PM · Mathew, I actually advocate the "see-saw" to replace any clenching or gripping. And I never use a shoulder rest to raise the instrument, but to bridge the gap between a horizontal fiddle and my sloping shoulder.

Raphael Klayman's article is well thought out, but if I follow his scheme I have my left shoulder considerably raised under the fiddle most of the time. In my scheme, the shoulder remains relaxed. And I find my left hand much freer for a varied vibrato and shifting.

Each to his own.

April 28, 2015 at 04:18 PM · I wasn't intending to be dogmatic about it. I personally don't like it see sawing is all.

I would think that the shoulder rest would need to raise it a bit above the collar bone though in order to make a see saw though?

April 28, 2015 at 04:22 PM · Yes, a little bit. But it is not a substitute for a high chinrest.

April 28, 2015 at 06:30 PM · I am a shoulder rest user (prefer the Mach 1) and also an advocate of the weight of the head being the main support of the violin, freeing up the left hand. This has worked well for me so far in 30 years of a professional career.

In a completely unscientific study, I look around my orchestra and the vast majority of my colleagues also use shoulder rests, as do the vast majority of our guest soloists.

Pinchas Zukerman is perhaps the most outspoken anti-shoulder rest soloist we've ever worked with, and it obviously works for him. Those of my colleagues who don't use shoulder rests typically have a small foam pad (like a cosmetics pad) on the back of their violin, held on by a rubber band, providing friction to help the instrument stay in place.

I do agree that if the OP disagrees so strongly with her teacher, perhaps it would be better for all concerned if she finds a teacher with whom she is in closer agreement. From my perspective, if I perceive that my student would be better off doing X and my student insists on doing Y, lessons become unproductive.

April 28, 2015 at 07:06 PM · Greetings,

I get the impression the Mach 1 is so much more natural than the big name maker so many people use. Tge wolf forte seconds is often a good choice too. it seems a little out of fashion these days.

I think there are two issues in what Mary is saying. If a student really doesn't want to do what the teacher wishes then I agree things may become unproductive and the student needs to be ready for this. on the other hand I think teachers should sometimes be more flexible and perhaps even explore the issue together with the student.

the other issue is that it is often easier for a non rest user to learn with a no rest teacher. it's not impossible but the transition is easier. Perhaps nowadays there is enough information on the Internet to ease this situaction like

I have an average neck and well padded collar bone shoulder area but I cannot really say having absolutely zero, ie t shirt or low cut gown is the easiest way to play. The fact is that all non rest playears had a little something . those jackets with the lapel turned in or some extra tailored padding. So for me a 1 cm or so piece of foam under the jacket is the best of both worlds and I have found this to be true for most of my students.

There was/ is a guy from Singapore on this site whose neck was so long he clearly needed a forte primo, three ham burgers and a dead ferret to keep things up. but that's another issue.

Tall chin rests

and sr are completely different. tcr allows all the kinds of movements under the violin , allowing the instrument to rest comfortably on the collar bone, shoulder area. keeps the instrument low so the bow arm is not affected. Perfect solution ??

Not always. finding one that works can be a prolem, and as always , it is not so much the set up as what you do with your body. Incorrect use of the body to begin with and none of the above options are ideal.



April 28, 2015 at 07:21 PM · Mary,

My teacher has mentioned the same thing about the majority of violinists using shoulder rests, and it has made me wonder.

Of course shoulder rests can be used in very different ways. And there's no reason for instance, to associate no left hand support with shoulder rest use.

It doesn't seem unlikely to me though that the vast majority do also exclusively use head support though. But this would make me wonder why and how.

Head weight keeps my violin stable with left hand support. But I couldn't figure a way to support the violin with my head without using a tremendous amount of pressure.

I can only conclude that they either know something I don't (in which case I'd really like to know what), have something different about them physiologically, or just don't know how much they use the left hand to support the violin.

April 28, 2015 at 07:40 PM · If you're requiring a lot of pressure to support the violin with your head, you're doing it wrong. It is the weight of the head, nothing more. But it does require attention to both the chinrest and the height of the shoulder rest in order to have the right setup.

If a student tells me he wants to play w/o a shoulder rest and he can do so without excess tension in the neck or shoulder, I am fine with that. In 30 years of teaching, such students have been very few but they do exist. However, if in my opinion a student is NOT one of those who can forego the shoulder rest without added tension and that student insists on continuing in his preference to go without, I really don't know what I could do other than help the student find a sympathetic teacher who might be able to work with him.

April 29, 2015 at 05:49 AM ·

April 29, 2015 at 06:06 AM · An inflatable pad may automatically adapt to the space under the violin, thin near the collarbone, thicker on the shoulder and chest. A sponge may have to be shaped. I put my Kun rest a little further from the collarbone than many folks, to permit my seesaw action.

It can be difficult to really release the weight of the head while playing, but I had proof that this weight is sufficient when I actually dropped off for a few seconds (white nights plus a hot room), and the permanent muscle-tone swithed off for a moment. The violin stayed in place!

Contrary to much conventional wisdom, I use a shoulder rest to reduce tension.

But as I said earlier, to each his own, including my students.

April 30, 2015 at 01:29 AM · Katherine, I'm not trying to discourage you from going restless, but I have to ask what is the main motivation behind it? None of us is in a position to help you with your specific needs over the internet. But if you don't have an ideal body type for violin playing, the shortest path to advancement is to find an optimal setup with a chinrest of appropriate height and angle, and a shoulder rest which positions the fiddle in the best place for your proportions. (Trouble is there might not be a lot of stock equipment out there that work off the shelf, so you might have to go custom.)

The reason most professional musicians use a shoulder rest is that rests make it easier to play, period, even for those with more ideal proportions, especially for the type of rep. we usually play. Soloists with orchestra have it the easiest, physically. They get to stand, have plenty of space to move about as they please, and never have to repeat the same type of motion for long or play for longer than about 10 min. at a time without a break, and about 30 min. total per concert on average, albeit pushing the envelope for most of that time. Recitalists and quartet players have it the next easiest. Then symphony players. Then pit musicians. Some of the most physically taxing music is second violin for long Mozart operas, long Wagner operas obviously, and Les Miserables, believe it or not. I've known adamant shoulder rest less players change to using during a run of Les Mis (Viva La Musica Diamond seems to work well for people with square shoulders.) All things being equal it takes less effort to play with a shoulder rest for everyone, provided the setup is optimized and technique is efficient. I do believe experimenting with rest less playing is useful for learning interaction with the instrument, but I do not believe anyone needs to play restless to learn efficient technique. So what's the main reason you want to go restless?

P.S. How long does a conductor need to hold up a fiddle on average?

April 30, 2015 at 01:52 AM · Greetings,

I was very impressed with the Viva Diamond. My only question is can the average pit musician afford it?




Conducters have been holding up whole violin sections for years.

April 30, 2015 at 02:08 AM · touché Buri!

P.S. That's why conductors have such big heads. They need the leverage.

April 30, 2015 at 02:15 AM · I'd say I just like the feel of it and the space I have. Yesterday, I put on my shoulder rest for 5 seconds because i was just curious as to what it felt like. It kind of felt as if I was being muffled and felt stifling. Also, I think this got kind of confused along the way while people were responding.

The reason I don't want to go back to shoulder rest playing is because in the months leading up to my change, I noticed that my shoulder was getting super tense. My shoulder actually felt like it had to raise to fill up a gap under my shoulder. So I guess it wasn't high enough for me to relax and let my shoulder do the supporting.

Alright this is hard for me to explain. The thing is, when I was using the shoulder rest, it got to the point where I was raising my shoulder because I felt like my shoulder rest was not supporting enough. Also, The violin kept point downwards not because i was trying to use head pressure, but because I was DRAGGING my left hand down when I played, so my entire scroll-end was weighed down by the weight of my hand. That was why my head began clenching.

I tried playing without a shoulder rest because I read that it may force one to play in a relaxed way. At first, I could barely play at all, because my left hand was so used to dragging down, and now, it is forced to support the violin completely. I knew the danger of letting the shoulder come up to support the violin, so I specifically tried to relax myself.

I assimilated myself by playing without shoulder rest for 5 minutes at first, short periods where I just took off the shoulder rest on a whim. Afterwards, I got more and more used to it. Eventually, I decided to make myself brave, and played restless in an orchestra concert, where I couldn't change back to a shoulder rest. Surprisingly, I had very little trouble. I did tense up a bit, though, so I backtracked a little and slowly became more and more used to it.

I really like it now because I am forced to play without clenching my shoulder, because there is absolutely nothing but air between my shoulder and my violin so it is very obvious if I am raising my shoulder. As of now, if I concentrate, I can take my head off the chin rest while I play restless and do shifts. Basically, the only point of contact is my collarbone and my left hand. When I downshift, the violin moves a ton and obviously I would not really play like this, but it feels really nice. I won't lie -- I am actually really impressed with myself (haha) for being able to play without a shoulder rest and without my head touching the chin rest at all! :)

But maybe that isn't good enough? I am just reluctant to go back to a life of shoulder rest playing after playing restless for this many months and accomplishing so much.

First off, I don't really understand how my shoulder rest works. Maybe it is my setup, but I don't see how it can be. The problem with my old shoulder rest was that I always felt like it was too low, and was making me raise my shoulder. This was invisible and undetectable until I noticed it one day, along with the soreness in the shoulder that accompanied playing for about 10-15 mins. The thing is, however, if I imagine getting a higher shoulder rest, I feel ask if I cannot move my arm at all. Of course, this is only imagination, I have not tried it yet. But I feel as if this current shoulder rest, as low as if feels, is already too wide and is immobilizing my shoulder.

Another thing I don't understand about shoulder rests anymore and that my teacher doesn't seem to understand what I am talking about is that the shoulder rest feels as if it is not high enough, but a low shoulder rest doesn't work either. i told my teacher that the shoulder rest feels uncomfortably thick and restricting but could not fill up the gap between the top of my shoulder and the bottom of the violin, and she said that I should just try a lower shoulder rest. The thing is, the way I imagine it, is that if I use a lower shoulder rest, there will be a bigger gap that I will have to fill up by lowering it onto my shoulder. When I imagine it, I feel my left hand weighing the violin down. When I lift the violin up, however, I feel the gap between the bottom of the SHOULDER rest and the top of my shoulder. So there really is no point in the shoulder rest then, since it is not filling up the gap completely and only weighs the violin down more.

My teacher says that at least some of the gap is filled, but I cannot imagine how that is useful, since the rest is attached to the violin and not to my shoulder, and therefore if there is a gap, it is attached to the violin, which will not be supported by a floating structure.

Sorry this is confusing and I wish I was more eloquent. A picture is really worth a thousand words -- maybe I will upload a video explaining all this.

My thinking does not seem to match up with the principles that everyone else has about this, so I think my way of thinking is wrong, or I am missing something. But I cannot see what, and I don't feel comfortable with going with the shoulder rest if I cannot understand or feel that it even works. Like Charles said with the mechanic nuts/bolts analogy, I don't feel comfortable blindly trusting when I haven't seen evidence that it helps me personally.

Thank you for all the help and concern!

April 30, 2015 at 02:21 AM · Woah that took a long time to type up.

April 30, 2015 at 02:24 AM · This is the point at which a video of you playing would be really helpful. I cannot figure out what is going on from your description, which I am sure makes perfect sense from your perspective but which is not at all clear to me.

April 30, 2015 at 02:26 AM · Yeah I was thinking that it is getting very confusing. I will upload a video of me explaining in person tomorrow after I get off from school? :) which is about 18 hours from now for those who live in a diff time zone.

April 30, 2015 at 03:44 AM · Great answer Katherine!

"I don't feel comfortable blindly trusting when I haven't seen evidence that it helps me personally." That mindset will take you all the way to an optimal setup.

In your video, if you could, please include a 4 octave A maj. arpeggio (it doesn't matter how fast or slow) or the opening arpeggios in Paganini Caprice 5 would be useful. It doesn't matter whether you can play it or not, whether it's in tune or not, what we need to see is how you get from first position to the top and back down. Also, a two octave scale or arpeggio up the G-string would also show a lot.

To achieve an optimal setup you need to tweak things while covering the full ranges of motion on the fiddle. If you've adjusted your setup a bit at a time, if you've learnt technique too incrementally, you might have adapted to a less than optimal setup for higher technique. As you explore your setup needs I would suggest a daily regimen of 3 and 4 octave arpeggios, rapid runs up the E string, 2 octave arpeggios up the G string, octave shifts over all strings, using all fingers, 1st to 7th position as the starting, lower pitch, and etudes and passages which include such ranges of motion.

In your restless experimenting so far, you've already uncovered a lot of things you shouldn't do while using a rest. That's precisely the kind of info you can use, should you decide to experiment again with a rest. As you've discovered, if you completely support with left hand and collar, you can completely drop your left shoulder. But can you cover the full range up the fingerboard and back down on all strings this way? If you can, great, you're done. If you can't, you need to start working from the two extremes to find a happy middle ground. There's no reason you can't have different strategies for different contexts. I do this all the time (as do many others.) But as a teacher, my biggest concern would be training accuracy, or inaccuracy, with constant change. Most proponents of restless playing will invariably bring up the benefits of having mobility between fiddle and shoulder. What they don't know is what too much mobility, a.k.a. instability, feels like (recently I challenged such players to attach a 2x2 cm rounded block to their clavicles and play restless... so far crickets...) When the fiddle is unstable, it becomes a moving target for both left hand and bow, and accuracy suffers, to understate.

The primary purpose of the shoulder rest is not to fill the gap, but rather for optimal placement of the fiddle. (Filling the gap is tiring and stifling, kind of like holding onto heavy luggage with a handle too thick for your grip.) In my opinion, optimal placement allows you to play with all fingers in first position on the G-string with the elbow pointing straight down, with the least supination possible when placing the pinky, and with the upper arm to the side of the left ribs (not the slightest bit in front of the ribs) and the palm opposite the centre of the shoulder socket. That's what I call neutral position. From there, there are many strategies to move about the fingerboard, but if first position G-string is already strained, everything else will be even more strained, but worse, there will be no neutral position to return to, no release for the shoulder complex.

For a lot of violinists (I would guess for most professional violinists) that's not much of a problem. But if you have any difficulty finding that neutral placement, you gotta start thinking out of the box, start thinking in all dimensions, rather than just left/right, up/down.

If you don't have an ideal shoulder complex, shrug your shoulders and place your restless fiddle on the clavicle. That's the stability you're trying to achieve. It goes without saying, don't play like that... but with your shoulders down and neutral, head off, the fiddle should sit at an ideal angle and tilt angle, stable and not wanting to slide anywhere, i.e. it should be at the best place for both hands for most situations.

Some further thoughts:

If you find your bow arm feels too high while playing at the frog or on the G-string, try playing like a fiddler, with the violin sitting below your clavicle to see how comfortable it can be. Your clavicles might be too high-set relative to your shoulder sockets to be truly comfortable. You might need to place your fiddle below the clavicle, rather than on it (I once came upon an article in which Gingold suggested this--I'll try to relocate it.) Of course, there's the problem of the fiddle being too forward, which might make you crane your neck forward. Customization?

If you have trouble reaching D, 1st pos'n, on G-string with the pinky, you might need to increase the general tilt angle. If you have a chinrest cup which is high on the left side, any pressure from your jaw will flatten the fiddle. You might benefit from a chinrest which tilts down to the left. Custom fit might work best. Also, note that the more your fiddle tilts, the more you get an oblique cross section across the ribs (relative to the plates.)

If you find your forearm is supinated too much most of the time, you might need to rotate the fiddle so your chin is over the left side of the lower bout, rather than over the tail-piece.

Finding a more optimal placement will immediately make it easier to play without gripping with the shoulder.

If your clavicle protrudes, most shoulder rests will tend to slide off. Add to that a chin rest which rises toward the front away from you and you have a perfect wedge that is easily squeezed out with even minimal pressure. Try finding a chin rest which angles down away from you so you can tuck your chin over it, head going 'forward and up' in Alexander Technique terms. A shoulder rest closer to right angles with the clavicle may slide less, closer to parallel will slide more, unless it's completely parallel and sitting just below the clavicle.

More later...

April 30, 2015 at 04:10 AM · Greetings,

it's interesting and praiseworthy how you are ging about this. Jeewon makes at least half the oint I just want to add. Very often it is how we conceptualizer things that causes problems. So is the above post points out, thinking of the shielded rest in terms of filling the gap is erroneous. In the same way,under no circumstances raising the shoulder for a restless users obsessive mantra is saying the same kind of thing from the opposite direction.Ie thinking in term of immobility as an ideal. Good rest users are quite comfortable letting space in and letting the instrument move as appropriate. Slightly raising the shoulder to facilitate a shift is not an issue as long as it goes back when you are done. (I was taught this by Gruenberg for what it's worth) A lot of the time the solution to this kind of problem needs to be addressed indirectly through something like Alexander Technique that addresses the use of your whole body.

Keep exploring but don't forget that it is the instrument that must adapt to the body , not you forcing yourself to adapt to the instrument one way or another.

Along the same lines there is an interesting issue that I don't raise too often here because it tends to annoy a lot of people for some reason. Or at least it use dto.... That is the question of habit. Your habit was 'raising your shoulder.' You correctly identified this as a problem and I am guessing so correct me if I am wrong, yu then approached this habit as something to be erased by positing the alternative habit of 'not raising the right shoulder.' If you like 'stop doing that.' This approach actually is a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of habits. One cannot posit the opposite habit and assume that will some how erase the groove you have already cut (see a habit as a pathway or groove in your body). Once a pathway has Ben cut it cannot be erased. You have to live with it. Therefore, when you set up an opposing pathway you are actually, at a very deep level setting up a further point of tension. This is absolutely inefficient yet it is pretty much the way musicians go around solving problems. What you actually need to do is set up a brand new pathway that has absolutely nothing to do with your previous groove. As an example, in a typical Alexander lesson the teacher may begin with standing and sitting. For reasons too complex to elaborate here, almost no westerner sits as the body is designed to work. so in order to at least begin to sit in a healthy and functional way , the student simply stands in front of a chair and is told to bend their knees . This is seemingly unrelated to the idea of sitting down so the surprised student does something completely new that is actually a correct use of the body (that is also assuming that the AT practitioner is adjusting the persons head and neck relationship) One of the simplest ways to apply this idea on the violin is to to abandon all expressions like 'stop tensing up' and use the expression 'Do less.' aimed at the area in question. The reason Alexander technique would stop you inapprpropriately raising your shoulder is that it would be in conflict with the correct use of head and neck which you would be taught to focus on. It's all indirect.



April 30, 2015 at 10:37 AM · I think what Buri raises is important and crucial to effecting change for oneself. But to me it seems, rather than give the opposite command of "keep shoulder down," what Katherine has done is precisely what Buri recommends, i.e. to give a new command, "hold up the neck with left hand," and quite successfully has made a paradigm shift in her set up. The question remains does the new setup allow full mobility and enough stability for accuracy.

As for raising shoulders, and possibly with many apparently bad habits, squeezing the neck or bow, clamping with head, etc., along with erroneous preconceptions, I'm convinced it has mostly to do with reflex, a reaction to instability. One of the great advantages of left hand support is the sense of dynamic balance one gains, finding stability in mobility. But it does take extra work to learn and doesn't quite make up for an ideal shoulder complex.

April 30, 2015 at 11:38 AM · Switching from using a shoulder rest to no shoulder rest does not happen overnight. Not even a month I would say.

I think it would be really beneficial for the OP to work with someone who really knows how to play without shoulder rest. A baroque specialist would be even better!

April 30, 2015 at 12:28 PM · Or, work with someone who knows how *others* can play comfortably with one. Either way that's rather the crux of it, being able to analyze and understand the other's point of view.

I've learnt a lot from Baroque players and from the few lessons I've had in period playing. But Baroque technique had no real solutions to my setup issues. If I were a period performer then maybe...

Also, I don't get the sense that Katherine is looking for quick fixes (she's already, successfully, made the switch.) Quite the contrary, she's looking for advice on how to make important, and possibly, consequential, long term decisions.

April 30, 2015 at 05:31 PM · Greetings,

`what Katherine has done is precisely what Buri recommends, i.e. to give a new command, "hold up the neck with left hand," and quite successfully has made a paradigm shift in her set up.`

I agree as long as it is consistent.(The directive)) A new unerstanding from tthis poit might be that the left hand actually doesnt hold the violin up. It is just the point of contact with the instrument. It is the whole integrated body -via- the lft hand which is balancing the violin.



April 30, 2015 at 07:49 PM · Greetings,

whether or not the shoulder approach is more eficient than supporting the violin with the left hand is opening a much wider debate I think. In my case it isn't true and whereas I could sit through 8 hours a day Wagner reruns (as opposed to Friends) I couldn't do it with a shoulder rest.

As far as playing without a rest is concerned I still think attention to what exactly is meant by this is important the most recent reiteration of the point was made a few messages back by Mary , that the restless pros she knows use some kind of small pad or padding. And as other point out, Rosand, Stern, Kreisler, Oistrakh, et al, do in fact have quite a lot of available support from sponges, padding or even just flicking the lapel of the jacket back. How many people do actually play with zero aid? There is a certain kind of physique it works for us ch as, I suppose, ASM, but they are few and far between.

Having finally escaped from my difficulties with shoulder rests (like Gitlis said on his documentary 'I just can't make them work') I learnt to play efficiently using the left hand and no extra support either above or below the violin (there hasn't actually been much discussion here of pads on the chi rest itself) and have concluded finally (at least for now, that it really isn't the best option in most cases) and from what Katherine says it probablyy isn't in hers either. The use of foam padding works out as the best solution for me , and most of the time for my students. Those that can use a shoulder rest are lucky...;)

I would also reiterate Jeewon's crucial point that the palm of the hand is facing the shoulder joint. It is that natural line of arm hand and fingers that is the ideal basis for efficient technique. It is surprising how often even very advanced players are off from this ideal .



April 30, 2015 at 08:14 PM · Just on a side note, perhaps also make sure your music stand is raised to the correct height (eye level) and have your scroll also near that level. That will help to keep your instrument more horizontal in a subconscious way. That applies sitting as well as standing. It's surprising how many players I see during orchestra with the stand only as high as their chest, and then bending forward with scrolls pointing downward to try to see the music. I had a conductor for a while that insisted music stands be high, and that way the conductor is only a short glance away. It suited me fine as I also have a long back which hurts if I have a short stand partner who likes it lower than I do.

April 30, 2015 at 08:45 PM · Yes, Buri, I too have noticed that all the Restless I know or have watched use support from the shoulder (with or without some padding) some of the time.

With my own "seesaw" mode, I often let my left hand take over, leaving my head free.

April 30, 2015 at 11:07 PM · Buri mentioned pads on the chin rest ... a year ago a teacher at a camp showed me a nice trick. My chin rest had a lip that was too high and I was actually planning to carve it down when he suggested I put a small piece of molefoam inside the cup of the chinrest, and it accomplished the same thing much more easily. I once tried one of those "chin comforter" things that covers the whole chin rest uniformly, and that did not help at all. I gave up my Kun for the PolyPad which is a shaped piece of foam.

April 30, 2015 at 11:39 PM · Hey guys!

here are two videos.

The first one is me explaining posts and playing some scales and arpeggios very out of tune

(my excuse is that I didn't practice them beforehand and didn't know the fingering. Sorry! :) )

The second is me playing kreutzer 12, since it has a lot of shifts. Although it doesn't have down shifts, I added it anyways because I thought it might have value.

I took one look at the paganini caprice 5 on imslp and nope. Can't do it. :P I haven't been assigned one ever before, and I'm currently working on kreutzer. So I don't know if I can pull that one off haha.

And yup. Thank you all for the help!!!!

-Katherine H. Li

May 1, 2015 at 12:02 AM · Hmm my thumb is not long enough to quite go around the neck when I am in the very very high positions. In the video, I often raise my shoulder to stabilize the violin. Is that okay or not okay? I just noticed from the video.

Kevin, would you say 4 months is enough? I weaned myself off the shoulder rest over a period of... a long time. More than a month, less than 6 months.

Buri and Jeewon, I don't understand the palm facing body thing. What if one has a short pinky? Wouldn't the palm then face to the left more so that the pinky finger is closer to the neck?

Millie, actually, that was a huge point that my old choir conductor insisted on. We were required to hold our music eye level so that we could watch him at the same time. I still do it. However, how is this done in orchestra? If the stands were eye level, it would be very high compared to everybody else's. Normally during orchestra, it is low, but tilted upwards so we can see it better. But doing this still cranes the neck. what would you suggest?

Thank you!

-katherine Li

May 1, 2015 at 01:53 AM · Greetings,

Katherine, if you exaggerate it to grasp the idea ,

leave the scroll about where it normally is and move the lower bouts end of e violin so that your jaw rests to the right of the tail piece. Can yu see that yu have angled the fingerboard away from your little fingerlike In orde rtwo play on the g string you now have to really screw everything around. Now go in the opposite direction so that your jaw is a little mor ego the left of the chin rest. This brings the fingers closer to the fingerboard..

The palm points not at the body but the should've socket. You might need to check where that is.

The raising of the shoulder is not necessarily wrong . As I indicated in a previous post, some very knowpeDgeble people recognize this. What you will have to decide is whether it is u

timately the most efficient way to play. It's why I keep jp lugging the sponge......; )

Hi Jeewon

'raising shoulders, and possibly with many apparently bad habits, squeezing the neck or bow, clamping with head, etc., along with erroneous preconceptions, I'm convinced it has mostly to do with reflex, a reaction to instability. '

I agree but also I think they can be reactions to emotional responses, or the idea that one needs to do more to get more. Perhaps even misinterpreting the way a great player produces a huge sound from the instrument. Perhaps also a correct squeeze that has failed to be answered by the equivalent relaxation. The thumb returning to the heel springs to mind in the last case.

I find that often really musical students may suffer from this more than less expressive people so that their talent becomes submerged. Deat by over desire.



May 1, 2015 at 03:14 AM · Hi Buri, yes I see your point and agree completely but I guess I'm thinking at a much more basic level of inadequate setup and discomfort for pretty far out body types. Having considered the issue you raised regarding efficiency I'm on the verge of retracting what I said about why most pros are users. But I have to consider it a little further before proceeding.


Hi Katherine, I glanced at your videos. I'm a bit busy until tomorrow evening so I'll have a closer look and respond in more detail then. I didn't mean to overwhelm you with the Paganini 5. My main point was that you need to consider the full scope of what you need to be able to do before deciding whether your current setup is sufficient. If you limit yourself to what you can already do and get comfortable at it you might think it's all good. But when you're faced with the next big leap (whether technique, or duration, or type of music) you might find yourself struggling again. Not that it's ever an all or nothing, now or never kind of thing--we're constantly evolving and adapting--but to truly get comfortable on the violin means to consider all it's possibilities (unless you deliberately want to limit yourself to a subset of styles or genres.) Also, I wouldn't normally interfere with your rep. assignments, but the opening of the Pag 5 is just A min arpeggios and descending scales, put together in a certain sequence. So I encourage you to give it a go and see what happens.

If you walked into my studio with no shoulder rest I would not bat an eye. As in my exchange with Buri, I guess I was picturing something much more extreme. To me it looks like you've worked hard and have already achieved some good facility. It seems you have good instincts, especially considering it's self taught. As Kevin suggested, you might benefit a great deal from a Baroque specialist given your shoulders and current setup. That's not to say it's optimal, and I might still suggest some kind of pad or wedge, and if you want to fork out 70 bucks, experimenting with the VLM Diamond, but more later.

May 1, 2015 at 06:35 AM · Greetings,

Jeewon, since we are not dealing with an exact science my small minority that falsifies (hah) the theory is probably not enough to justify a retraction.. sadly it's too late for me to find out why I can't use a rest other than assuming it's the residual scars of many hours practice as a child while doing everything wrong.

I am extremely interested in the actual state of orchestral player sin general and what is going on in the background but that would mess up this thread so I will pursue it at another time.



May 1, 2015 at 10:48 AM · Hi Katherine,

I just looked at your videos on the shoulder rest issues and you appear to be going through the same journey I had awhile ago. Here is how I resolved the problems.

My left arm has a "natural" position where it will hang relaxed. If I turn my head a bit to the left and position my left palm so I can see it at eye level, I then let the entire arm drop until the space under my arm pit essentially stops the arm from dropping any further. The arm is just hanging there with very little tension.

If I repeat it with violin in hand, the scroll is going to assume a position which may or may not be at the "correct" level according to various pedagogues. But the important thing to remember here is that many great violinists had scroll positions dramatically different from each other. The secret, IMO, is to find that natural, relaxed position of the left arm and let the scroll fall where it may.

Now for the shoulder rest. Once I found my natural arm position, the challenge was to position the SR so that it took up some of the space between the violin and my shoulder without forcing my arm into an unnatural position.

I think what you are experiencing is your shoulder rest forcing the scroll end upwards while your left hand wants to naturally position the scroll further down. If you can position an SR so that it fills up the space between the violin and shoulder without altering where you want your left hand to naturally be, then it will free up your left hand from most of the sensation of holding up the violin.

The SR does three things for me:

1. Fills up some space between the violin and shoulder when my left arm is hanging in a relaxed, natural position. By taking up some of the weight of the violin, it gives more freedom of movement to the left hand.

2. Provides support against the violin sliding sideways across the shoulder. In effect, a properly positioned SR relieves the tendency to clamp down on the chin rest to stop the violin from sliding. I barely notice my jaw against the chin rest and can comfortably twist my head to look in any direction I please.

3. It angles the violin towards the front and makes it easier for me to reach the G string with my bow and fingers. It took a lot of experimentation to get this effect without messing up 1 and 2 above. The G string can be a very uncomfortable string to play when just starting out.

That said, I can play without an SR and even a chin rest. But now *I* have the responsibility for stabilizing the violin position that a properly positioned SR does so effectively, while still avoiding tension in my arms and hands that can cramp my playing. That takes practice, and I would rather spend my practice time focusing on intonation and dynamics.

If you are willing to put in the practice to learn how to balance the violin without an SR while still maintaining freedom of movement of your left hand, then do not let people discourage you.

OTOH, if your problem is an improperly positioned shoulder rest, then you might want to experiment a bit more. Figure out where you want your left hand to be. Then adjust the SR to conform to your hand, not the other way around.

May 1, 2015 at 03:15 PM · Katherine,

The shoulder rest is the right height if it allows your arm and the scroll to be pointed where you want it with the rest resting on your shoulder.

It would seem to me that with the rest resting on your shoulder, your left hand could either be dragging the violin down, completely neutral, or slightly supporting the weight, but not enough to lift it up.

Maybe it would help to play chin off, but with the shoulder rest off, to find this balance?

In any case, you should let the hand/thumb absorb the pressure from the fingers, not your head.

As you mentioned, you seem to be raising your shoulder. You're also pulling your head pretty far down to reach for your violin. It gives the overall impression of clutching the violin for support (exaggerated, and you do seem more relaxed by the second video).

The goal should be to feel secure with the violin resting on your relaxed body. Then you turn your head comfortably to the side as if to glance at something, and nod as if to say hello to find your chin rest.

May 1, 2015 at 06:51 PM · Greetings Mathew is making a very good bservation. the way you adapt to the sr set up is indeed horrible. There are two different kinds of vertebrae at the top of the spine. one is concerned with side to side movement and the other with up and down. like a lot of players you are combining these two movements which is corkscrewing them and putting you in a less than optimal state before you start. Like Mathew said, turn the head to the left without any dropping so that you may not even be touching the chin rest. then allow the head to drop.

Actually I think you are well on the way to playing without a rest and have done really well.. Your shoulder comes up a bit but actually is not too bad. spend time when you ar practicing with the head compete lefty off the instrument. have it so free you can look to the right and so on. Play with that idea.

More later,


May 1, 2015 at 11:20 PM · Greetings,

g my opinion is that your violin needs to be a little more round in front of you. Aim for some kind of line with nose, scroll, palm of hand. .once the violin is up experiment with holding the bottom right with your right hand and just completely drop the left arm to your side.. then practice swinging it up rotating around the little finger, kind of like you'd throw a ball underarm.

Your left hand is lacking legato. that is, you remove the finger on the plower string as soon as you start the upper. it should be released later . Practice slowly and work out how to keep fingers down as long as possible. the Simon Fischer scale manual is invaluable in this regrad.

You can increase your facility and accuracy by using the minimum finger pressure. practice the first phrase of the kreutzer with the fingers just touching the strng. the sound will be horrible. do it again with a quarter of the require dinger pressure. Then fifty percent then three quarters which is where the notes will start to have good tone. This is the kind of finger weight you are aiming for. Use this practice method -a lot- when you practice. Write yourself a poster about it and stick it on your bedroom wall.

Your bow needs to anticipate the next string it is going to play on , so again practice slowly and make your string crossing an actual double stop so the bow and let are always a sefficent as possible.

I think you have can definitely play without a rest but you will need to practic e a lot of shifting up and down the violin. To start with I would add mthe Kreutzer e major shifting etude, baggfe baggfe.... That one. use dotted rhythm patterns on the triplets. the sevcik opus 8 with dotted rhythms is also good.

Also you need to get into some kind of systematic scale routine a littl emir eI think. Anyway here is a useful exercises.

one the g string:

the note is followed by the finger

a1 e1 a4 a4 d4 a1

a1 fsharp 1 a3 a3 csharp3 a1

a1 gsh 1 a2 a2 b2 a1

a1 a1 a1 a 1

The rhythm

for the above is dotted crotchet quaver .go up in one slur and down in one slur.Lighten the finger completely on the shift and slow down and lighten the bow in order to make the shifts as quiet as possible.Gradually decrease th elength of the quaver while maintains the overall tempo.

a major scale on g string







1314 and back



broken thirds

13241324 etc.

Start the whole routine again on b flat first finger , then b , c and so on.

Go as far up the violin as you can.

Do a different string each day.

Also one finger scales one string scales are cucial. Always imagine the next note you are going to play befor splaying it.

By the wya, you drop the violin very slightly when you shift. Especially when shifting into high positions without the rest you should actually move the violin a little up and to the left. Easier when you have e violin a little more in front of you.



ps I leave in the reference to splaying in one finger scales because it amuses me.....

May 2, 2015 at 10:05 AM · In your original post you mentioned growing a double chin to help you hold your violin. Trust me, it doesn't help. :)

May 2, 2015 at 10:18 PM ·

New chin rest required. Nuff said.

May 3, 2015 at 03:53 AM · I can see why you couldn't play comfortably with your former shoulder rest; it is a brick. If you do ever want to try playing with a shoulder rest again, I strongly suggest getting a Mach One.

It looks as if the restless playing works for you but I recommend getting one or two round foam pads, of the sort used for cosmetics or the like, to attach to the back of your fiddle. This is what my standpartner does, using a rubber band. Bonus entertainment is provided when the rubber band shoots off during rehearsal. I think you will find it much easier to play with a little additional friction underneath the violin.

And finally, your chinrest is remarkably flat. You might want to try getting one with a large plate that is raised more and slightly angled towards the tailpiece.

May 3, 2015 at 04:06 AM · Hi Katherine, still haven't had time to respond in any detail, but I have a few more questions.

1) are you willing to use a pad or sponge of some sort? If not why not?

2) why do you feel the need to pull down the scroll when using your shoulder rest (Everest), but lift the scroll when rest-less?

3) why do think you should lift the scroll at all rather than letting the fiddle rest on your collar/shoulder when shifting?

4) are you experiencing any fatigue anywhere in your shoulder area with your current rest-less setup?

5) what does your teacher think of the way you shift, more specifically how your thumb and hand work together in positions 1 to 5 and your "inchworm" or crawling shift?


Mary Ellen, are you recommending a chin rest which is lower at the tail piece and rises to the left?

May 3, 2015 at 04:18 AM · I'm suggesting something like this:

(Hill style clamps not necessary)

I only watched a little of one video so it's possible that I didn't get an accurate picture of Katherine's chinrest but it looked a bit low to me.

May 3, 2015 at 05:57 AM · It's so hard to tell on video. The rest looks a little low to me too. But it might be that Katherine has high set clavicles (also very flat) and so the chinrest has enough height. She does get her chin on it without craning or curving the neck forward/down. Her chinrest seems to have a nice cusp to it, which a lot of stock rests lack. Also it's flat and doesn't flare up to the left. Many stock rests have that flare which some think is good for leaning the jaw against, but unless there's support on the other side (a rising clavicle, shoulder, or shoulder rest) it only serves to push the fiddle flatter. I think Katherine might benefit from a rest which angles down to the left (left side lower than right.)


Katherine, you can experiment with height by getting your luthier to add cork to the feet of the chinrest as a temporary measure--you can even change the tilt angle, though you may need to use a longer barrel on the higher end; if you find a better height/angle you can then get permanent risers made in matching wood.

May 3, 2015 at 05:58 AM · Double post

Don't want to waste a post so I'll just add that the gap doesn't necessarily need to be filled, but rather the shape/angle/size of the clavicle must be compensated for if not ideal. So I agree with your teacher to some extent. If you, or maybe she, insist/s on maintaining a certain arbritary level (e.g. strings parallel to ground) and thereby a gap is created, then it must be filled, or, a better way of looking at it, the fiddle must be stabilized. Of course you could just close the gap by letting the fiddle sit. I think tilt angle is more important if you don't have a long pinky (many players with ideal finger proportions still play with quite a steep tilt angle.) High scroll has more to do with a certain aesthetic.

May 3, 2015 at 06:44 AM ·

Your chin is over the tailpiece, this is a good thing. Now you just need to buy a center chin rest.

May 3, 2015 at 06:47 AM · Center chinrests are very different from using the bar on a Guarneri style chinrest. Not that simple. Placing the chin over the tailpiece is neither better nor worse than placing the chin on the left side, just different, with different consequences.

May 3, 2015 at 09:22 AM · I agree with Jeewon. I tried a centre chinrest and hated it.

May 3, 2015 at 11:22 AM · I loathe the centered chin rests for myself but I suggest them for students whose chin naturally falls over the tailpiece no matter where their chin rest actually is. I didn't see that in Katherine's video.

May 3, 2015 at 11:35 AM · I don't see any problem with *trying* a center chin rest except that a standard hump-style Flesch chin rest is MUCH higher than the bar on a Guarneri style chin rest, it really jacks up your chin. As for the pad or sponge idea, I really like the PolyPad, you can get it from Johnston String I believe. The problem with "just a little sponge" is that it is not contoured and will often not stay in place. The PolyPad is countoured. You can use the "medium" one or the "large" one and if the large is too big you can cut it down with a knife, and it's not that expensive if you ruin it. The chin rest that you showed in your video is the Everest, and I agree with Mary Ellen, that particular chin rest is very high and rigid (I believe Mary Ellen called it a brick).

May 3, 2015 at 11:54 AM · HI again Katherine. Re your question about the music stand height during orchestra, you can do two things. Insist on having it as high as you can without impeding the view for others, and perhaps seek out a slightly lower chair that is foldable and comfortable for you to bring along. Posture is important and being all cramped up and stooping forward for many years will only bring trouble.

By the way, I use a centre chinrest and for me it's really comfortable. It has the added benefit of moving the placement of your instrument over to your shoulder a little more therefore flattening the instrument a little too. I use a Berber style chinrest which already offers extra height, but there are many others to choose from.

May 3, 2015 at 04:04 PM · My daughter uses the Berber chin rest and the medium PolyPad. We chose it for exactly the reason Millie mentioned -- it moves her violin a little more onto her shoulder.

May 3, 2015 at 06:09 PM · Greetings,

Paul. The Poly pad may well be great, but I am not sure why a piece of sponge actually needs to be contoured. it simply changes according to the pressure placed on it. Keeping sponges in place is e timely easy for a man because we tend to stick things unde shirts and jackets. however, intelligent use of rubber bands or elastic solves anything. Miriam fried is a nice example.

I can't see the point of a center rest either. The Berber may well be a good choice.



May 3, 2015 at 06:42 PM · I'd imagine the parts of the sponge that are more compressed would have less give than the less compressed part. And would also exert more pressure from springiness.

I'd also imagine that if it's a firmer foam, there's more need to be contoured.

May 4, 2015 at 05:30 AM ·

Too many chiefs in the kitchen

May 4, 2015 at 06:04 AM · Greetings,

there is a big difference between this site and a one on one lesson. I am sure most posters realize that they are going to get a wide variety of opinion which they may or may not find helpful in making their own decision.

I was very interested in your `nuff said.` post. Presumably the implication was that your idea was the solution and that any further discussion would be superfluous? Perhaps we should have all apologized for carrying on with an interesting discussion regardless?


Buri sous chef.

May 4, 2015 at 10:46 AM ·

Why write a novel of overcompensation techniques when you can point the person in the right direction with a sentence.

I like this one, its going on facebook

May 4, 2015 at 11:13 AM · What would that sentence be? GAFT (get a fine teacher)?

May 4, 2015 at 11:31 AM · The problem with solutions is the problems they create. Unless you have the ideal physique, the "right direction" can only be found through trial and error, a series of compromises. Teaching by decree only works on those who can already play, who summarily ignore said decree.

Holding the violin over the tailpiece (or to the right of the tailpiece) centres the violin on the collar and provides side-to-side balance, but supinates the forearm (rotates clockwise from birds-eye-view,) causes external rotation of the upper arm (pushes the elbow right,) and pulls the shoulder girdle forward. It encourages the fiddle to stay flat, making it a little easier to bow using gravity, harder to bow on the G-string, easier on E-string, and makes the left fingers and arm have to reach further for the G-string (i.e. it makes the upper arm have to rotate further from an already rotated position.) It raises the fiddle which makes it easier for playing in the upper half of the bow, but that also raises the strings relative to the shoulder sockets, making it more difficult to play in the lower half of the bow.

For those with high set clavicles relative to shoulder sockets, having the fiddle sit high on the shoulder is, I believe, the main reason for the tendency to shrug both shoulders, and for the left hand to want to drop to a more comfortable level (droopy scroll.) Also keeping the upper arm raised by those few extra degrees can be that much more fatiguing.

Holding the fiddle centred also makes it louder under the ear.

Holding the violin at left bout encourages the fiddle to slide off the collar without some friction from the chin, but allows for more neutral rotations in the forearm and upper arm (elbow can stay left,) allows the shoulder girdle to stay neutral, and encourages the fiddle to tilt more, which requires more leverage from the bow, makes it easier to play on the G-string, harder on E-string, and makes it easier for the left fingers and arm to reach over. It makes it more difficult for UH of bow, easier for LH of bow, lowers the strings relative to shoulder sockets.

Holding the chin over the bar allows the tip of the chin to hook onto the bar, a useful tactic for those with protruding clavicles.

Here's a glimpse of Miriam Fried's solution:

May 4, 2015 at 03:19 PM · ah, the power of the ubiquitous facebook. A thread longer than a sentence is now considered a novel. I think I may start writing in the style of Austen in future.

I enjoyed Kevin's short story( GAFT). We can even make up our own content. Something morbid like Gold fish Annoying Fidler is terminated. I am looking forward to War and Peace being reduced to an interesting acronym of less than 8 letters.

Hope none of this gets confused with the dumbing down thread.



May 4, 2015 at 04:40 PM · To add to my "seesaw" eccentricity, my jaw is further to the left of the tailpiece than usual (common in violists), and with 45° tilt, it's my right eye that looks straight down the lowest string.

Later on, I may even adopt a Viola da Spalla position (like a guitar but with the pegbox pointing downwards: rather vertical bowing, and a strap round my neck).

May 4, 2015 at 07:04 PM · Hi Katherine, it's really difficult to properly assess what's going on through video, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But here are my observations and suggestions.

There are many contexts in which you can 'float' your fiddle off of the shoulder area; a passage with scales and arpeggios or big shifts is not one of them. Instead of thinking of where to place your scroll (high v low, or go restless v pad v shoulder rest) think of how to facilitate the movement of fingertips along and across the strings. Some people advise raising the scroll to get to high positions. I find it easier to lower the scroll to accomplish the same thing (bring the string to the fingers, because of my high set collars.) Either way the goal is not where to place the scroll, but how to 'clear the path' for the fingertips, so to speak, whether the obstacle is the fiddle itself, or your own arm, hand or thumb. If you choose to raise the scroll, you mustn't create a bigger gap under the fiddle by doing so. This is an instance where you would raise the shoulder girdle temporarily. The theory goes, by raising the scroll you allow the fiddle to fall into your neck with gravity, making it easier to support the fiddle, after which it's just a matter of bringing your hand closer to you. But if by chance your thumb slips the fiddle must be on something, lest it fall. But if your shoulder is already raised a little by default, depending on your build, even temporary raising beyond that default might cause too much fatigue. You should monitor your shoulder fatigue carefully over the coming weeks and months.

Your fiddle is too flat for your proportions. You need some kind of support underneath to allow the fiddle to tilt to an angle great enough for your fingers to play high on the G string, and high positions in general. If you take a survey of rest-less concert violinists there are very few (perhaps only one ;) and none living today) with as flat a fiddle as you; and I would guess that most of them have a more ideal hand shape and shoulder complex. Most players have a setup such that when facing more to the front or right, the fiddle tilts more; when facing the scroll, or left, the fiddle flattens. It seems you always face slightly left/front with the fiddle staying flat in all contexts.

If your pinky is short you can't afford to leave the thumb hooked around the crook of the neck. It will need to slide to the right side of the neck, even fingerboard for those with very small hands. You can't do that unless the fiddle tilts down to the right, so that the fiddle falls diagonally down and right into your left hand. This is where side of finger contact becomes very important. With the fiddle so titled and a finger placed on a note, the friction of the placed fingers keeps the fiddle from sliding diagonally. You need a pliable hand so that when all fingers lift the side of finger contact is there to support the diagonal fall of the neck. At the bout the palm takes over, fiddle still falling diagonally right, at which point you can more easily slide the thumb to the right side.

Buri noted that you tend to drop the scroll slightly when you shift. I think your fingers and thumb are creating some of the instability. Your thumb needs to learn its support and sliding function. Right now it looks like it presses and lets go, but doesn't quite know how to release and slide. You can practice sliding on the thumb, the 'v' between thumb and side of finger, and, when you sort out the tilt angle, just the side of finger. But more fundamentally you need to develop a thumb which knows how to provide a platform, rather than as the other pincer, which pinches into the neck in response to the moving finger--more on the thumb later. Sometimes your fiddle is actually pushed down by your finger placement; you can see this in your video when you're in high positions. You need to adjust your finger pressure in general, but also the level at which your finger action "bottoms out." Practice Mimi Zweig's elevator exercise.

I've mentioned it a few times as have others:

Try these exercises for building stability:

1) Play with your fingers on one string while bowing on another. The sound should not be disturbed by any motion in the left hand, whether placing, lifting, sliding or shifting. Do this with scales, arpeggios, big shifts.

2) Play trills while doing a glissando (incorporate 1) above); start with small intervals and work up to octave shifts

3) Play trills which don't leave the string, a pulsing exercise; pressure exercise like in the elevator exercise, but faster

3) Play actual pulsating gilssandi (which is an audible slide with a vibrato like motion which makes the sound wobble as you slide, like in Zigeunerweisen.) To develop this practice a one finger chromatic scale, but start by pulsing on each pitch 4x/pitch, then 3x, 2x, 1/pitch. This pulsing exercise is the beginning of developing what some call an impulse vibrato, which I think is a better default vibrato for rest-less playing than a vibrato which swings away from you

Impulse Vibrato

Also think about how to balance your fingers better (mentioned in one of the threads above I think and elsewhere on Your second finger tends to over power everything, even your wrist.

Regarding crawling, or 'inchworm' shifting:

It's most impressive you've taught yourself to shift by pivoting and crawling but 1) it's inaccurate and 2) you still need to develop whole arm shifting and learn your positions. Even the biggest proponent of pivoting and crawling, Ruggiero Ricci, uses whole arm shifts up to 5th position. Practice your classical shifting, including all guiding notes. To increase accuracy you need to slide slowly enough, with no pressure, so you never overshoot a slide, big or small. Hear the pitch in your head and feel the slide with the finger, hand, arm. To ensure you do this practice all slides rhythmically. I.e. count everything out. If you can count a semitone slide over 8 counts you will begin to notice what you're actually doing. Count all your slides. Actually count everything you do. Notice when you use a classical shift and when you pivot, and organize, choreograph your shifting. Practice every shift as a classical shift before practicing it as a pivot shift. This will help you develop a good posture for all positions. Of course you don't need to always use 'proper' position posture in performance, but it makes for good practice. In particular, your thumb needs to learn where third position is. It seems like it knows 1st position (kind of) and 5th position (thumb in crook of neck near the bouts.) Watch Ricci on YouTube; there are a lot of great videos (why's there so much bootleg of Ricci? It's so awesome!) But even in pivot shifts, if you can't reach everything from 5th position, the thumb needs to learn to slide to the right side of the neck, as mentioned above, and so even pivots have 'positions' of sorts if your hands aren't big enough. Measure your shifts and extensions by filling in the missing scale notes (that's what 1 finger scales are for!)

More later if I can think of anything else.

May 9, 2015 at 05:32 PM · Hi everybody!

Sorry for the late reply! But I wanted to respond to the advice that has been given.

Jeewon Kim,

Ok, I will try out the Paganini 5 -- I usually do try out rep that is WAY beyond my level -- I just don't do it online haha.

1. Yes, I am fine with using a sponge or pad. However, I don't really see how it works either -- isn't a sponge or pad even flatter than the shoulder rest? Is it supposed to rest on the shoulder? Because I don't think it is thick enough to bridge the gap, unless it is somehow cushioning the base of my collarbone where the gap is the smallest.

2. When I last commented on pulling down with the shoulder rest, I was imagining it and couldn't really imagine using a shoulder rest but not pulling down. Today, I tried playing with a shoulder rest and not pulling down with my LH, and I think the reason I couldn't is because when the violin is supported by my shoulder, my left shoulder is being pressed downwards, so my left hand also is dragged down and drags down the violin as well, which makes me clamp my chin to stop my violin from popping out from underneath my chin, which makes me tense even more.

Shoulder pressed down --> hand dragged down ---> violin dragged down.

It's not really that my shoulder is being PRESSED down, but more angled downwards so that my left arm is lower as well. Playing without a rest forces me to use my left hand.

3. Hmm, I would say I don't want to rest the violin on my shoulder because if I do, then the violin is super tilted downwards, and I would have to consciously lower it a lot to shift. Then my violin would look like the minute hand of a clock manically moving between the numbers 9 and 7. :)

Unless you mean I lift the shoulder as well, which I guess makes more sense :)

4. Yes, a little. Sometimes when I play for a very long time, there is soreness around the muscle of the shoulder joint. I assumed it's just because I am not used to playing for such long intervals of time, and need to get more acclimated to the arm support. Is it something serious?

5. As for shifting, my teacher believes that my left hand is dragging the violin along with it because there is no shoulder support. Between 1-5, she says that my violin is moving around, which is not a good thing. I don't think she minds the inchworm shifting at all, actually.

For the "clearing pathway for fingers", I never thought of it that way. I will make sure to think in that more direct way in the future.

And by practicing classical shifting (whole arm shifts?) it's when the thumb and fingers move in exactly the same shape throughout the shift?

And also, the exercises you've listed here are GENIUS! I tried them and will definitely be adding those to my daily routine. :DD


Making the poster now. :D I've "finished" the shifting etude and never thought to go back and try it again. Now that I have, my shifting has improved so much! Thank you!

And yes, I need to get into a good scale routine haha. I started late on violin, so I haven't even gone through all the 3-octave scales yet. As of now, my teacher assigns my one 3-octave scale and one corresponding arpeggio and I practice it until it is smooth, even, and in-tune, and I am able to play the ascending, then descending in one bow each. I am also practicing some basic scales on my own to make up for lost time. I practice the schradieck just to get used to the diff hand positions for all the keys. I play one (chapter? section?) at a time. I start with the first two scales, which is G Maj and G min, and play that on the first day, making sure I know it well. On the second day, I play the G and Ab maj and min scales. On the third day, I play the G, Ab, and A maj and min scales, and so on.

I've recently finished the Roman numeral I section and am starting to pile up the scales again on Roman numeral II, which is a scale across the strings and then two notes above. Then descending.

I am also practicing the Flesch scales one key at a time, numbers 1-4.

In the process! :)

Jeewon and Mary Ellen,

Now that I look at my chin rest, I completely agree that it is very low. I never noticed it before. After experimenting around some more, I realized that my rest-less violin rests more on the shoulder to get height, rather than how old-time rest-less players play, which is by anchoring on the collarbone (as far as I can tell from pictures). I think I will try a higher chin rest as well.

Thank you all so much for the great advice! I've only just begun trying some of the exercises listed here and I've already seen hugeeee improvement. This will be my go-to thread for guidelines on the left hand position and shoulder. I think I will continue to experiment on the ideas mentioned and see what is the best for me. This has motivated me to go practice! :D

-Katherine H. Li

May 9, 2015 at 08:31 PM · Katherine,

Have you tried playing chin off, shoulder rest on (with the violin resting on your chin, and the shoulder rest resting on your shoulder)?

Obviously there'd be no way to clamp down. Theoretically you could then add head weight once you were comfortable with it. And then drop your left hand to your side and feel no difference (though I remain a bit skeptical).

I'm not sure why you were discouraged from the center chinrests. I think the flesch center mounted chinrest might be a good idea. It adds height that you seem to need, and puts the cup where you seem to want your chin.

May 10, 2015 at 12:38 AM · Hi Matthew,

Yes, I have. The problem with that, as far as I could tell, was that my violin ends sliding off my shoulder because my neck/shoulder is sloped. Then, I have to use my left hand to push towards my neck to keep it in place, and then my left hand can't play because its pushing towards the base of my neck. It's just weird.


May 10, 2015 at 11:36 AM · Hi Katherine, glad to hear you're making progress.

Paganini 5 is revealing because you can't just get to the top by pivoting your hand forward. To play the descending scale, you have to be in position, and that will expose any inadequacies with your setup in very high positions. Even if you end up never really playing this kind of repertoire (like most professional violinists, after finishing their studies) I think it's useful for finding a comfortable setup. If you can be reasonably comfortable playing the extremes on the violin, you'll be that much more comfortable the rest of the time. The same is true for your tilt angle. Play 10 minutes straight on the G-string, low positions, high, slow, fast, scales, arpeggios, large shifts, etc. (Or try out Paganini's Moses Variations.) And see what that feels like for your left shoulder, but also your bow arm.

Yes you should monitor the fatigue in your left shoulder. I'm not saying there should be no fatigue after lots of playing. But if you get tired very quickly, say within 5-10 minutes of general playing, or if the shoulder feels tired even after resting, or if there's any kind of constant fatigue or weakness or tingling anywhere in your neck, upper back, shoulder, arms, or pins and needles in your hand or fingers, then you need to improve your setup (and may require additional movement training, massage therapy, etc.)

The pad or sponge, or shoulder rest, can help tilt the fiddle to make it easier to reach the G-string. The trick is to keep it close to the clavicle. So if you use red cosmetic sponges and place them on the left side of the clavicle, that will tilt the fiddle. Some people use stacks of red sponges, or very tall sponges, to fill some of the gap. Filling the gap with something pliable is closer to having nothing there, since there's no rigid surface your shoulder clamps onto. But you can try using your Everest as a wedge by placing the left foot very close to, even on, the left end of your clavicle. Of course you'll have to lower the left foot all the way (which might still be too high) and might have to lengthen the right foot all the way (which might be too low) but that's the shape of the sponge Miriam Fried uses in her video. I think you have to experiment to really find what you're looking for. Keep in mind though, if you tilt the fiddle more, you're holding the ribs at a diagonal, not at its height (perpendicular to the plates) and so you have a little more thickness provided your chin rest/shoulder pad allows the fiddle to stay tilted. Also, if the fiddle tilts you can take advantage of the side of finger contact, rather than relying solely on your thumb. Being able to switch between thumb support and side of finger support is a great advantage for stability, if you support with your left hand. Also, tilting the fiddle allows your whole left arm to remain internally rotated, elbow pointing out to the left, which I find much more comfortable than the traditional elbow pointing right. It is an advantage if you have a short pinky, since the tilt brings the strings to your fingers, instead of you having to rotate externally to reach the strings.

I see what you mean about pressure on the shoulder (deltoid) pushing your whole arm down. That's another reason some people try to place the shoulder rest on the clavicle itself, even if only at it's left tip. The problem of course is finding a shoulder rest which will stay there (most shoulder rests slide off of my clavicle.) Surprisingly the Everest, with it's very cushy and grippy cushion is one of them, but I couldn't adjust the feet to place the fiddle where I want it. It has it's own particular problems, but I've been using the Wittner Isny and have it sitting just below my clavicle, not on the shoulder at all. It's not perfect but it does the job for now.

The super-tilted-downwards-position does feel weird if you're not used to it, and I know most teachers will reprimand you for it, but it does provide stability, and if you watch carefully a lot of rest-less concert violinists use it because of that (even those with more ideal shape and proportions.) I'm not suggesting you do it (you can use some padding to support instead,) just saying you need stability in those contexts I mentioned above. If you are able to adapt the position successfully, there's no reason you can't go back and forth between super-tilted and scroll raised for different contexts (although that complicates things for the bow arm.) A part of achieving facility involves figuring out how to navigate different situations.

Try taking a straight stick and place it on both clavicles. Look at where the stick crosses your shoulder sockets. Is there any space between the stick and the top of your shoulders? For me, the stick is more than an inch above the shoulders. That's what I mean by high-set clavicles. I think for the average violinist the stick would be sitting on the shoulders.

For some the stick is an inch below the top of the shoulders, ideal for rest-less playing. If you do have high-set clavicles and you want to play rest-less (with no extra support,) I don't think you have much choice but to let the fiddle super-tilt downward in certain contexts.

Yes, classical shifts preserve the frame and the relationship between frame and thumb. Your hand needs to learn when it's in frame and when it's out of frame, and by how much, to be accurate.

Regarding the thumb, you can apply a kind of 'inchworm' movement which will help it to get under the neck. Before a shift curl the thumb so it's tip gets lower on the neck, launch the shift by straightening the thumb and pushing off its tip. You use the thumb to slide along the neck for a pivot shift. Make sure the movement of the thumb is independent of the first base knuckle. I think you sometimes hyper-extend the first base knuckle, thereby pushing its palm-side into the neck in response to thumb motion, i.e. you squeeze the muscle between thumb and forefinger. The base knuckle should extend (and flex) only to move the tip of its finger, i.e. to change pitch, or it's relative opposite motion, for full vibrato.

Ultimately there are no rules for the left hand except play in tune and don't injure it (but it does require organization.) So even a pancake hand (which Ricci uses a lot) isn't a problem. You can practice getting out of the pancake hand by flexing your wrist slightly, while simultaneously dropping the upper arm in response. You can practice getting the neck out of the webbing between thumb and finger by 'inchworming' the thumb. Learning mobility and coordinating between parts of the arm/hand/fingers solves most problems. But just to add a bit more about clearing the way for the fingertips, often stronger parts of the hand or arm have yet to learn to yield to the movement of the fingers (like the response of the upper arm to the wrist in getting out of pancake hand.) Often the thumb pulls this way when the fingers need to go that way. The upper arm gets stuck and prevents mobility in the hand. For instance, if you need to really hammer down a finger in a higher position (not sure why you'd need to do that but...) you might find the force of the finger pushes the whole fiddle down. But that only happens if your upper arm is stuck and refuses to respond to the action of the fingers and wrist. If you simultaneously lift the upper arm as the finger slams and the wrist flexes, the finger tip bottoms out without pushing the whole fiddle down. There are a lot of such relative motions we need to train for both arms.

Good luck with it!

P.S. What I meant by palm facing shoulder socket had more to do with how high you raise your upper arm than supination. I used to play with red cosmetic sponges, with a flat fiddle like you do and kept the scroll fairly high. With that setup my palm is raised so that it's at the top of my shoulder. It became quite tiring, injurious in fact, and I've discovered lowering the upper arm (perhaps this is what Carmen meant by letting the arm sink to a comfortable place) is much much more comfortable. But I agree with Buri's point also. That's what I meant by finding a neutral rotation for the forearm. If your rotation is too supinated by default, it will be that much more taxing to supinate it further when necessary, but worse, your general rotation will be much more fatiguing. Better to have a generally neutral rotation. Both physically and technically, I've found it is just better to adjust my setup to my proportions than to ideals of violin posture, which change over time (by the time Leopold Mozart wrote his treatise, a debate over whether the fiddle should be held with the chin or balanced somewhere below the collar, had been raging for over 100 years! Always the diplomat, Leopold acknowledges the old way with a sort of backhanded compliment, it looks nice, but it doesn't work...) I think the general attitude is finally changing away from dogma, perhaps influenced by Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, and others.

June 25, 2015 at 12:10 PM · It is ABSOLUTELY NOT the case that supporting the violin with the left hand inhibits the left hand in any way. This is simply not true. Here is a gallery of TWO DOZEN great violinists not using a shoulder rest:

I selected videos that are shot from the violinist's left side where possible. See in particular Spivakovsky if you really want your mind blown!

Enjoy! I also created a series of videos on how to do this here:

As for your long neck: you are only "filling up" the inside space. That is, against the neck itself, from the inner point of the collarbone (nearest the larynx) and the underside of the head. When you nod the head gently downward, this space is almost never greater than the height of the violin. A common misconception is measuring from the chin to the collarbone with the head held up (instead of gently nodding). This can be a difference of a couple of inches.

June 25, 2015 at 01:44 PM · Alex, I watched your videos of soloists viewed from behind with genuine interest. All of them show a raised shoulder under the violin from time to time. Except Ms Mutter, but there are other images of her raised shoulder.

Your own demonstrations are thought-provoking, except for your finger-initiated vibrato, which is quite unlike any vibrato I have heard or seen. Perhaps you could do another video with a real audible vibrato?

I like to practice with only left hand support from time to time, but neither I nor my small-handed students can do all we need without occasional support from shoulder.

Every single non SR user I know or have seen, (in romantic or modern repertore) raises his/her shoulder at crucial moments, (even if they hotly deny it!)

Please help us with these issues, as your are evidently a thoughtful and open minded violinist!

And neck length and collarbone prominence vary more than you suggest. (at least in my 40-odd years of teaching..)

Edit: Alex, I have just realized that the video series you used to put on U-Toob now costs money!!! in a website ( that reads like a promotion for snake oil. So perhaps you have indeed improved them?

Smiley Hsu's videos are very clear, too, and he admits what becomes more difficult without a SR..

Edit-edit. It would be a shame to round off this thread with a SR fight. Just to say (again) that collarbones, necks, jawlines, thumbs, pinkies etc are a different as noses.

Confession: I play viola, which accentuates the problems, e.g. the necessity, in the higher positions, of bringing the thumb round the edge of the upper bout, or even along the side of the figerboard.. without dropping the viola.

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