Tilt of the Violin

May 13, 2016 at 01:03 PM · Wanted to ask people's experience and/or pros/cons of having a severe/moderate tilt to the violin. I'm struggling with my overall hand position and specifically in dealing with a shorter than average and inward curving pinky. Lately, I've been experimenting with this and it seems to help alleviate the need for me to yank my elbow to the right under the violin to get my hand/pinky in a good playing position.

A lot of great violinists following the traditional rule of keeping the strings as parallel to the floor as possible- Heifetz, Elman. But I also mark some of my favorites who have a strong tilt (mostly due to some padding/shoulder rest) - Zukerman, Perlman, Stern, Miltein, Menuhin. And Christian Tetzlaff, who almost holds it perpendicular to the floor!


From what I've read, the only real negative that's been sited is the fact that the shoulder/arm has to work more to put weight into the E string. I've just started basic shifting exercises so I know I have a lifetime of advanced techniques ahead of me and I have no idea if this would potentially cause problems later. And mind you I'm not talking about the height of the scroll; just the tilt of the face of the violin towards the audience.

Replies (19)

May 13, 2016 at 01:32 PM · Because of my short pinky, I have my violin tilted 30° (45° for the viola) and I have to bow the highest strings nearly vertically, but in any case I use much less weight (and more length) on these strings. I feel that my bow must "cling" to the high strings, rather than weigh down on them.

May 13, 2016 at 03:45 PM · With little tilt, my trills and fast finger are faster because energy is saved, by I am on the short side, so I struggle to reach around to the G string.

This also makes it trickier to hold the violin for me, as I use no SR but have a very close collarbone that drops the violin down 80 degrees without my left hand. :)

So, I ensure adequate reach across all strings by having a tilt of about 40-50 degrees while also holding the violin fairly in front of me so my arm can reach the end of the bow and I don't strain myself.

HOWEVER, because I have no SR, I shift the violin tilt and placing around for certain passages.

EX: High on G, tilt increases and violin to left so my arm can reach, high E becomes less tilt and violin a bit more in front etc. :D

May 13, 2016 at 05:23 PM · Less of a tilt makes for a more solid bowing surface. I generally adjust my shoulder-rest to try to hold the instrument more or less flat. You can tilt it slightly one way or another but broadly, flatter tends to be better.

Your problem sounds like a hand-positioning problem. Try to center your hand on the 2nd finger, not on the index finger. 4th finger shouldn't feel like a reach, even with a short pinky (I have small hands, short pinky).

May 13, 2016 at 06:38 PM · One advantage, perhaps unintended, of Tetztlaff's hold is that the sound from the back of the violin will radiate more to the side, where it can be heard better, than down to the floor or, with a sloppy hold, into the player's torso.

A.O. has also mentioned a good reason for not using a shoulder rest - it is easier for the player to move the violin around in two dimensions to suit the music.

May 13, 2016 at 08:15 PM · I don't use a shoulder rest precisely for this reason. I am able to adjust the tilt of my instrument so that rather than changing the relative angle of my bow with respect to gravity so dramatically when changing strings, I can make a fairly small rotational adjustment to the angle of the instrument instead.

Of course, you can still do this with a shoulder rest, it just requires larger body movements since the rest restricts the range of motion of the instrument relative to the body. Some of my colleagues feel that this is actually easier to pull off!

May 13, 2016 at 08:29 PM · Thank you gentlemen! :)

May 13, 2016 at 09:00 PM · Hi,

The angle of tilt depends not on the fingers, but the angle of the jaw in relation to the collarbone. The more square the jaw, the flatter the violin, the more angular the jaw, the more tilted the violin. Has also nothing to do with rests or pads, though these can help some in achieving the right angles for a particular body.

That said, the habit of rotating the elbow to the right rarely pays off for most people aside from adding tension because it is out of balance with the natural laws of gravity which are vertical.

If you are experiencing problems with your setup, then you need to find a chinrest and other things that work for your body geometry. What works for someone else, unless of a physical build similar to yours, may not work for you. The main factors are length of arms in relation to shoulders width, in relation to jaw angle and collarbone shape.

Hope this helps...


May 13, 2016 at 11:46 PM · Greetings,

just to recap on the elbow thing. The best postion for body parts is essentially neutral which in the cas eof elbow means hanging down toward sthe floor rather to the right or left. The basic rule of violinosition is the instrument adapts to the body and the other way round. Putting these two concepts together is the start point.



May 13, 2016 at 11:56 PM · Christian is entirely correct about jaw shape, as my rather tilted instrument not only helps reach, but conforms to my rather pointy jawline. :)

May 14, 2016 at 04:32 AM · In his last years virtuoso Ruggiero Ricci advocated a very extreme tilt of the violin - nearly perpendicular to the floor and stated he thought it may have been the secret of Paganini. He demonstrated this in a "master class" video set filmed at Bein & Fushi in Chicago and issued in 2004 ( http://www.worldcat.org/title/maestro-ruggiero-ricci-the-violin-virtuoso-of-the-20th-century/oclc/174964386 ).


May 14, 2016 at 01:26 PM · With respect to RR, he probably meant it to be understood that it was but one of Paganini's several little secrets.

May 16, 2016 at 01:43 PM · There are folk violinists - and folk violinists. I must admit that I have yet to see one with the hold that Krisztian has just described. The many I know - and I include myself when I wear my folk fiddle hat - mostly hold their violins in a manner indistinguishable from a classical hold (but sometimes a bit sloppily). A few don't use shoulder rests (I don't), and a rather smaller number don't use chin rests either (which I can comfortably do without if I wish).

What was known in the 17/18th centuries was the dancing master playing a fiddle in with the dancers. He would usually hold his violin at chest level, probably with a tilt about its longitudinal axis - which is what we're talking about in this thread - and the violin would likely be sub-size. The practical reasons for this would be so that he could easily see the dancers he was in the middle of, they could see and hear him, and holding the violin on a tilt would ensure that the bow would move up and down within his personal space and not be a danger to those dancing in the vicinity.

May 16, 2016 at 07:48 PM · Since Christian's post of May 13 I've been experimenting with increasing the angle of tilt. It works (for me). No longer necessary to swing the elbow to the right in order to get the fingers onto the G, the G is easier and more comfortable to reach with any part of the bow, no problems with the E even though the bow can be next to vertical, vibrato and tone are better. So, it all looks good, feels natural and is certainly worth further work.

May 16, 2016 at 08:00 PM · Here is some hack who obviously likes to swing his elbow to the right.

It seems to be holding him back.

May 16, 2016 at 08:38 PM · Dancing master's violin


May 16, 2016 at 08:57 PM · Seraphim, it's worth making the point that those who started learning the violin as children do have a natural advantage in acquiring flexibility that lasts a lifetime, as the "hack" doubtless did. For those starting the violin much later in life such flexibility is often not easily attainable (or perhaps at all in some instances), so altering the hold of the instrument to suit the limitations of such a player and facilitate access to the desired technique must be the way to go.

May 17, 2016 at 10:54 PM · I suspect from my own observations that if the violin is significantly tilted (i.e. about its longitudinal axis) then the sound from the f-holes no longer goes quite so directly into the player's left ear, but more across their face. If so, that's a little bit of good news for people who have problems with high decibels when practicing for a couple of hours.

It would be useful if someone could check out this provisional finding with proper decibel measuring equipment, which I don't have.

May 18, 2016 at 12:45 AM · Since I'm a returner, I can testify from first-hand (i.e., first elbow) experience that the one thing that I was unable to complete regain was the ability to swing my elbow to the right underneath my violin. When you start at something at the age of 5 you can gain such range of motion that you come to define "neutral" quite differently. My teacher says my elbow should just hang naturally and he demonstrates it, and his elbow hangs "naturally" in quite a different place from mine, but he didn't take 25 years off.

May 20, 2016 at 02:18 AM · I am 57 years old, and have been playing for two years. I have a terrible time getting to the G string without contortion and tension. I don't know if it is just tightness, my advanced age, my extreme height, or a technical issue. I have a good teacher, who is sensitive to the issue, but it is very challenging. I have no fear of dropping the violin - I just can't get my fingers to the strings. All I can do at this point is tilt the violin at a steep angle and try not to lock the violin into a fixed position. Any suggestions (including switching to the cello!)are welcome.

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