Assistance with a couple of No SR playing issues, please

August 22, 2015 at 04:12 PM · I have been transitioning to playing without a SR for a few months, due primarily to not being able to get a position that stopped the neck pain that has plagued me for a decade of learning.

On my own 7/8 it was getting better in that I could cope for about 15 minutes. I needed a chamois roll or 1cm sponge though, and I still had tension in my left hand.

I'm using a baroque bow, and have my luthier organising to purchase a nicer 3/4 or 7/8 in Europe over the next month.

I've been usin my teachers second violin for about 5 weeks. From the start I found it was very comfortable with no rest, in fact it's impossible for me to fit anything between me and it other than the chin rest.

But - I still have intonation weirdness happening where I find I get hesitant or put the brakes on shifting up or back - it's like my brain is saying don't go that far, you'll drop it! The neck is varnished so that's also causing some stick in the muddiness for down shifts.

Some days I have complete relaxation and don't notice my left hand at all. Other days - today - my left thumb hurts almost immediately. I can't work out how to soften it for more than seconds.

So I guess my questions are

- is there normally this long a learning period to transition, now going for about 5 months and still in progress.

- based on my posture below, is there anything glaring I'm doing/not doing that is contributing to left hand tension.

- are there particular left hand things I should do in, terms of exudes or exercises I guess, things to keep in mind to teach my hand what to do every time?

- just how do you stabilise to get back down from a much higher position eg top of a 4 octave scale, there is a delay while I rearrange and re stabilise on the way down, at the first hand shift eg A down to E is okay but then shifting back for D and downwards is poor.

I don't have access to my teacher at present, or in fact since February, due to both of us having life issues. I can talk with her when she's back, but she's been away essentially since May. I'm only getting a couple of practise sessions a week of around 30-40 minutes. I made the decision to focus on current material, thus a rehash of Handel Amajor, as I'm really trying hard to get back to memorising the way I used to. So, sorry in advance for repeating a piece here.

Replies (22)

August 22, 2015 at 05:31 PM · Hi Sharelle

On the strict understanding that I'm not a teacher, and this is learner to learner...

I hated the feel of a shoulder rest, and decided from the outset to learn to play restless. It took me a year to two to feel totally comfortable, but now it's very relaxed and natural. I'm glad I made the effort.

For me one of the keys was to find a chin rest that fitted, and with enough lip that I can keep the fiddle in place during down-shifts without having to squeeze down with my jaw. In my case it's the Berber that does the job.

It's a bit difficult to tell from the video, but as sometime yoga teacher I suspect that your left shoulder is raised a little and not fully relaxed.

The other rather obvious point is that your left elbow seems locked against your trunk. This must cause tension, I'd have thought.

I find Anne Sophie-Mutter instructive, because she plays restless and with shoulderless frocks that mean you can see what's going on. Here's a clip where you can clearly see the space between her trunk and her upper arm, and her free-swinging left elbow. It's something you might want to raise with your teacher when you next get the chance.

August 22, 2015 at 06:14 PM · I could be wrong about any or all of this, and I don't have experience working without a shoulder rest, but from a quick look at the video it seems to me like your wrist might be extended too far out in first position. Try bringing the palm in closer to the violin (just so the back of the wrist is straight, not farther) and see if that helps relaxation. Also, a glimpse of your LH thumb I got around 1:20 looks like it's straight or bending backward almost; if you try curving it or thinking of it as contacting the instrument with the side closer to the first finger instead of flat on, does that help? If you're squeezing with the thumb, maybe experimenting with resting the violin more in the base of the joint instead of higher up might help.

August 22, 2015 at 07:49 PM · I kind of successfully going from SR to without SR.

My advice is ... you hold the violin with yr head but turning yr head to the left instead of pushing yr head down to the floor . Another is hold the violin like sophie mutter or henryk szergny or aaron rosand; where yr chin will be at the edge of the right side of chinrest. Also becareful not to place yr violin too much to the left cos yr bow arm will suffer.

August 22, 2015 at 08:05 PM · Hi Sharelle, what Irene said: you are pushing your left wrist away from you, that is unnecessary. Another thing to try is to hold your violin more directly in front of you, instead of it pointing to the left. All the best!

August 22, 2015 at 09:45 PM · At least from the perspective of this video, it appears that most of the support of the instrument is still coming from the head/shoulder area. You won't get the benefits of playing without a shoulder rest until your left hand is handling the support of the violin.

I say this by observing your shifts down, where it looks to me like your thumb "disconnects" from the shifting motion. When this is the case, it's easy for the thumb to stiffen up since it's just sort of sitting there. You might have a go at playing this piece with your chin off the chinrest in order to see what role your thumb could play. It may find its proper place then, and the tension may disappear.

August 22, 2015 at 10:26 PM · Sorry, I won't be able to look at the video for a while. But yes, making the transition can take a year. It's quite a big rethink.

You definitely want to take the head, neck, shoulder ut the equation and ort the instrument with your left hand.

At the same time, try to focus on the idea that your hand is part of the arm which extends back over your shoulder all the way to your right kidney area. It is indeed a huge unti to balance such a featherweight object on. Check your awareness of what the umb is. As i think you know, the thumb is not the same as the fingers It's an incredibly ing unti that gone sall the way back to somewhere around the point where lots of people think the wrist starts. Spend time playing with it and feelings where all the bones and joints are.

One should put the violin up rather quickly , keeping in mind that the forearm rotates about the little finger which is the axis or piviot. Rotating around the thumb will imeediatley cause tension. It is one of the most common cause of tendinitis type problems for violinists.

If your left upper arm is touvching your body hat will be a problem.

Learning tolay without an SR requires quite a lot of work on rather longer shifts up and down individual strings. Technically this pays enormous dividends anyway. Here is a simple shifting exercise that is useful

A string.

1-14 b-fsharp b

down 4-41 b-e-b

1-13 bgsharpb

down 3-31 b gsharp b

1-12 b asharp b

2-21 b-c sharp b

1-1/ 1-1 b-b b-b

The rhythm is double dotted crotchet, semi quaver minim all in one bow. The revers egging down.

One of the things I found when I mad ethe transition was echoes in the old series of interviews with Clayton hallo that appeared here. When he was studying with Milstein he often note dthta Milstein didn't intellectualize too much but just thought what he wanted and did it.. I'm rathe rpraphrasing here. I mention this because my biggest worry wa salways that I couldn't shift with the same smoothness sand efficiency as someone who uses a rest. What I found after a while is although I do practice the shifting exercise in warming up everyday, those are good for you too.... and similar stuff in actuall practice it wa soften better not to worry at all about what is the shifting finger et etc. In reality one is on one note and has a clear mental image of where and when you go next and bang. You just arrive. Somehow this just happens with me although what degre eof prior technical bas eit requires I am still not sure about.

Best wishes,


August 22, 2015 at 11:57 PM · It took me a good year to play comfortably without the SR, it's a completely different way. The left hand must learn how to hold the violin, once it does large shifts are just as easy without the SR. Y. Menuhin has an interesting chapter in his book on 'left-hand movements' page 108.

August 24, 2015 at 08:42 PM · I like practicing restless sometimes (with no shoulder contact at all): it re-awakens dormant sensations.

But it does not suit everyone. Let's not make a sort of religious conversion out of it.

August 24, 2015 at 10:36 PM · "- is there normally this long a learning period to transition, now going for about 5 months and still in progress."

Each individual is different and learns at different rates. I've known students who have gone without a SR within a week flawlessly while others even after a couple years still have not felt comfortable without a SR. It doesn't sound like you have a teacher to help you out that is available so this can work against you if you're unsure what you need to focus on.

Not much time to look at the video I'm sure others have covered those questions.

August 27, 2015 at 07:31 PM · Thumb (again)..

When I have a "restless" session, my thumb has to be much more active and "conscious" than usual.

It has to hold the violin up rather than hold it tight, and it may have to curl, straighten, come forward, lean back, in new ways.

August 27, 2015 at 11:54 PM · Just got back from a first run-through of Beethoven 9 (the concert's on 19th September!). From where I was sitting in the Seconds, on the conductor's right, I had a clear view of the principal viola. His thumb rarely touched the neck, and then only briefly; and he had an arm vibrato to die for.

August 28, 2015 at 12:18 AM · @ Trevor: Details, please. Did the violist use a SR? If not using the thumb, how did he hold the instrument? . . . and so on. Thanks.

August 28, 2015 at 12:18 AM ·

August 28, 2015 at 12:35 PM · Sue,

The principal violist, in his mid-late twenties I believe, uses a SR, his chin is always on the CR, and the viola apparently being firmly but not tightly held. As far as I can make out, the manner in which he supports the instrument must be fairly tension-free otherwise we would not be seeing such a good vibrato and relaxation in other aspects of his playing.

The slightly unusual layout of the orchestra we're using for Beethoven 9, a layout specifically chosen because a choir and soloists have also to be accommodated on a platform that is barely large enough, is (reading from the conductor's left) firsts, cellos, violas, seconds. I'm seated on the inside 3rd desk of the seconds, so I had a good three-quarter view of the principal violist's left-hand technique, but couldn't really see much of his bowing technique.

August 31, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Thanks, Trevor. Just what I'd like to be able to do. Will carry on.

September 1, 2015 at 12:16 AM · Hi Sharelle,

You may have already seen it, but I thought that the Indiana University professor Grigory Kalinovsky had some really nice ideas for ways to practice being relaxed and increasing range of motion without a shoulder rest, in this master class:

See especially the first two videos.

September 1, 2015 at 09:51 AM · Sorry for the late reply to the replies, I've had patchy internet access.

Unfortunately at present I can't change the chinrest on this instrument. Firstly because it's my teacher's and this chinrest and placement is the style she likes, and secondly because the violin has had extensive repairs and because it is a fat little porker, this chinrest is THE one carved to fit and everything feels just very tensioned. I truly don't think I'd be able to move it even one mm due to the clearance over the tailpiece.

Thankfully, as my neck is very comfortable I'm sure I can get more relaxation in my left arm if I work on it (oxymoron).

I'm in Melbourne without the violin for the next week, but will do the exercises and try playing for a week or so removing my headroom the chinrest. That is something my teacher had mentioned doing, noemi reminded.

Shall check out that link thanks Laurie.

September 1, 2015 at 02:07 PM · Hi Sharelle.

I also play no SR, but have a CR.

What I do when I get some tension while playing (and cannot seem to shake it for a few days)nis to take the Chin rest off for 5-10 minutes and play a few scales and such.

It really helps because no CR means that you either have to find a relaxed way to put your head on the instrument (which I cannot do unless I use the right side of the tailpiece because I have a prominent chin), or you hold the instrument up loosely with the left hand.

Viva la no SR, and have fun! :)

September 2, 2015 at 12:26 AM · A.O., I also don't use a SR and sometimes like to take the CR off for a few days to relax. On a couple of occasions, for a personal bet, I've even gone as far as playing CR-less for a full orchestral rehearsal and concert (without disaster!) depending on the programme. If violinists could do it for centuries up to the 1800's ... it's always good for the sound, anyway. And good for the soul.

It's worth noting that violin music before the advent of the CR was written to be playable - no composer who wanted to make a living would hardly risk otherwise. If you look at a score of the period with this in mind you can see that there is always an "escape route" when descending from a high position - maybe a short rest, perhaps an open string or a harmonic, or just remaining in the position and playing across the strings. And, of course, there are the "walking" fingering techniques so that the violin is always supported.

September 2, 2015 at 02:52 AM · @Trevor: Sir, you are absolutely right.

Incidentally, it is possible to play any piece on the violin (even the Schoenberg Concerto) without a CR, you just have to have near ideal physical build for it so that your head can lightly hold up the instrument hands free. :)

I have yet to see anybody do it, but maybe Perlman could if he so wished.

Also, according to an old book by violin teacher William Crawford (found on, the CR was not extremely common when he wrote the book but students could still play Paganini's Perpetual motion with no CR at all. Here: a

lso says that playing no CR, the collar bone will eventually develop (I guess he means the bone will grow outwards in response to the weight of the violin?). Here is the book:

How I wish I could play without a CR (I can, but the violin goes too far to the left because my chin is on the right side of the tailpiece, otherwise I need a CR). :(

September 2, 2015 at 03:14 PM · A.O., many thanks for those links. They are most informative documents preserving knowledge which would otherwise be forgotten, or perhaps which is being rediscovered today.

Our "Professional Player" was William Crawford, full name William Crawford Honeyman (1845-1919), with a life and playing experience firmly placed in the 19th century. He was born in New Zealand of immediate Scottish ancestry (Crawford is an old Scottish name) but at a young age was brought to Scotland where he spent the rest of his life. He was an orchestral leader, composer, and (under his pseudonym James McGovan) also a well-known writer of police detective thrillers, which may have had some influence on Arthur Conan Doyle.

He also wrote a useful little book on how to choose a violin, in which he incidentally has a good go at "experts" and collectors(!), as befits a practical working musician. The Wikipedia article on William Crawford Honeyman doesn't list this book but I have today downloaded it from

Further links about William Crawford and his life:

September 2, 2015 at 09:54 PM · Sharelle, if you're in Melbourne this week and have any time to spare, check out the Mimir Chamber Music festival going on this week. I was there last summer and it was great fun. Frank Huang, newly appointed concertmaster of New York, will be there, as well as members of the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, and many others I feel lucky to count as colleagues. And what a great city!

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