Holding the Violin

June 12, 2004 at 05:12 AM · Does the left hand give any support to the violin? Especially when in the lower positions?Actually after having a hold of the violin over the collar bone by normal headweight I have been faced a problem,that is often the weight of the left hand tends to lower the violin.

By giving a little support upwards by the left hand I am feeling much relaxed. Now my question is,'is it the correct way of holding the violin?'

Replies (30)

June 12, 2004 at 05:23 AM · Yes it definetely is. The left hand is commonly forgotten about but it does have a purpose, to support the violin as well, just as the head supports the violin. One cannot have an all head hold of the violin, and one cannot have a all arm hold...there must be one magical thing...BALANCE :) The balance should be 50:50, as in one's head supports the violin 50% if not a lower rate and the left hand supports the violin 50%. I believe this to be the key to achieving balance, ease and a rich fat tone with minimal effort.

June 12, 2004 at 12:35 PM · Greetings,

you are absolutely right at first and then er,... wrong.

Adam has quite righly picked up on the correct bit. But, there is not -correct way to hold the violinand a number of differne tschools of though between "using all the head with the left hand completley free' to 'support the violin primarily with te left hand (a laMilstein)' . The idea of a correct way to hold the violin is fundamentally misleading which is why Adam uses words like balance becuas ehe udnerstand the point ablout constant movement and change.

But if the vleft hand , actually you are referring to the arm and the way it relates ot the body as well, then that is not helping you and you seem to be getting a better solution Hold the violin a litlte higher, be conscious of the touch of the base of the ndex supoorting the violin a little (it depends what rest and chinrest you are using) and see what happens.

The violin has to be angled up to keep the strings flat anyway. Think about it, they actually slope away from the bridge...



June 12, 2004 at 03:08 PM · Buri, I tend to agree more w/ the "alla Milstein" view because when the left hand releases the violin, the shoulder rest tends to act as an auto shock absorber does in a car, i.e. it immediately raises the violin to a height that depends arbitrarily on head weight. This is inconvenient. W/out the shoulder rest, gravity keeps the violin always down, resting on the collarbone. The head just has to fit in well into the chin rest to prevent slipping during downward shifts. There should not be any clamping or attempt to keep the violin up w/ the head. So it can't be 50-50 as Adam says WHEN YOU PLAY ALLA MILSTEIN (I agree w/ Adam's 50-50 if you play w/ a shoulder rest).

June 12, 2004 at 06:47 PM · So what does Mr Milstein do when playing in eighth position?

June 12, 2004 at 09:10 PM · Greetings,

Tristan, that is the view I hold too. Had Adam not added '50% OR less' I would probably have got on my soap box about coming up with absolutes that mislead. As always in the shoulder rest debate I poiint out thtas t eleft hand does not really hold the violin up becuase it is connceted to the arm which is connceted ot the body and thw whole thng works in tandem.I cannot use a shoulder rest any more period! But some of the best players around do....

What does Milstein do in 8th position? His thumb is still upporting the violin at that point . If hewas moving down out of it then he would use amicroscopicic amount of head weight. The violin can seem very insecure in higher positions than that but the insecurity can be traced back to tenson and misalignment of the left shoulder,



June 12, 2004 at 11:15 PM · That insecurity is actually freedom of movement. There is a major misunderstanding in this whole issue. I have an upcoming community orchestra concert and will play w/ shoulder rest, but this jumping up or even out of the hand is a nuisance. The shoulder rest creates an axis like a see-saw.

June 13, 2004 at 07:34 PM · Could it be that because you don't usually use one you're not accustomed to judging the correct head weight for what you are playing? Sounds as if your application and release of head weight is abrupt, which would indeed make the violin jump about.

June 13, 2004 at 09:13 PM · Hi, Sue, I play both w/ and w/o a shoulder seesaw ;), depending on the left hand exercise.

June 13, 2004 at 10:00 PM · Ah, you swing both ways;)...

June 14, 2004 at 12:05 AM · Sue, you are jumping to conclusions (unwarranted, I must add).


PS (we have limited msg # per thread so we better use this resource wisely). Sue, I'm not offended. I guess I should have typed a smiley or something? I'm "multitasking" now, so it's easy to forget to add them.

June 13, 2004 at 11:24 PM · Apologies. I was joking.

June 14, 2004 at 12:02 AM · I must say that holdinging without a shoulder rest is severly limited to those who posess shorter necks.

June 14, 2004 at 12:28 AM · Sum, I assume you mean a longer neck. This is part of the misunderstanding. I think we are misled by language here. We say "playing w/o a shoulder rest" (a negative description), but we should say "playing w/ a high chin rest" instead. This prevents a situation in which the burden of proof is on the side of the high-chin rest proponent. (A similar thing happens in discussions between "atheists" and "theists": most people believe in some God, so the atheist must be mistaken. Today, most people use shoulder rests, so ...).

June 14, 2004 at 01:06 AM · Greetings,

Sum, I had alittle trouble getting your meaning too. Do you mean that going restless is limited to people with short necks? I am assuming this is the case.

You know by now, I hope, thta I always try to present both sides of this case and I never force one option or anothe ron my students. However, I know from a great deal of experience and exmaples that what you say is actually untrue. It is untrue in the sense that any staement put forward and claimed to be a fact ceaes to be correct when counter examples are provided...

I have a medium to long neck but I cannot use a rest, because it disturbs the shape and flexibiltiy of my letf shulder. I can play with greta freedom and (pretty good) tehcniqu without one. Any problems with shifting ave nothing to do with not using a rest but failings in the way I use my neck which are masked by using a rets but still limiting a perosns playing.

Mor elater,


June 14, 2004 at 01:27 AM · Sorry about the above reply, was literally shoved off my seat by a family member.

Now about the long neck/short neck theory.

For a long neck, I hereby define it as "the ability to comfortably hold two or more violins in place of one"

I can safely say I can do a minimum or two violins under the chin, and three if you want it to be snug and cosy.

Also, milstein used left hand support only when he actually played, when he wasn't it was 100% head preassure. The pauses in his bhrams concerto video will give you a graphical representation.

So, in my personal case, a standard bath towel, folded and draped over my shoulder, would suffice as a shoulder rest. A more comfortable solution are secondo shoulder rests offered by wolf. Loosed all the way with a little oil. This way, I still have flexibility, without having a stiff neck after a practice or performance session.

The stiffness of the neck comes from playing wrongly without a shoudler rest i do believe, but sadly, try as I might, I still return to the shoulder rest inevitably.

Of course unless i expand the double chin that I already have grown. Then the shoulder rest would definately be discarded.

June 14, 2004 at 02:04 AM · Greetings,

I was going to continue with the oint that there are some neck thatare so ludicsouly long that even with a very high chinrest it isn`t worth the struggle. Mullova springs to mind.

But the key point is not really rest or restless (those are just two differnet approaces to the instrument) butrather efficient use of the body which is why some people play beautifully with rests.

I wa salso going to give you another example. About two months ago the concertmaste rof a semi pro orchestra caled me becase he was getitng some grumbling about what he was doing in orchestra and couldn@T find the problem. So I sat at the back of thesection for a rehearsal and could then point out to him afterwards that he was giving so many diffenret signals with his head, his arms and his butt that he was impossible to follow. I think some of the mor eattractive females (and posisbly males) in the section were quite attracted to the buns stuff but I pointed out to him that all these excess movements were occuring in response to his raised should and tight grip cause by bad use of the shoulder est. Instead of changing the rest he decided to go nude, as it were. I came back two weeks later and everythign was clear as a bell. His leads were spot on and he looked as solid and technically stabble a sone could wish. And this is a guy who could slot about six viloins between his chin and shoulder if necessray.

Alas, two weeks later he was back on the rest again. I think he could not live without the botty adulation.



June 14, 2004 at 02:22 AM · Good point, sad it is that most people don't learn the effecient use of the body, and never really break out of a bad habbit on the violin.

Particularly in orchestras, the ammount of peer preassure on people who do not use a shoulder rest is phenominal. It is often considered a statement by one's muddled peers that playing with or without a rest is a symbol of one's technical prowess.

Your concert master story does prove the point though, that however well we can play without a shoulder rest (and make kun go out of business doing so) those who live with the neck of a girraffe tend to get them stiff, from not using a rest.

alas, this is my fate too.

June 14, 2004 at 03:04 AM · Greetings,

I tried to take out a patent on tying a piece of string to the scroll and then wrapping it around the head. Alas, there were no takers.



June 14, 2004 at 03:25 AM · i'll do it!

June 14, 2004 at 03:28 AM · Me too, worth a try!

June 14, 2004 at 01:39 PM · Guys, too late! Check this out!


Fiddle-Ezy Harness that attaches to violin and wraps under your right arm. Supports instrument without left hand, or chin/neck strain $22.00



BTW, did anybody ever see a height-adjustable chin rest?

June 15, 2004 at 12:28 AM · Greetings,

what garbage. My overhead string idea is much better. You could hang little flags from it on National Holidays,



June 15, 2004 at 01:07 AM · We need more ingenuity to invent such indispensable contraptions. First you create the need, you convince everybody that you can't absolutely play w/o the Ezee harness. It's pure and simple, classic marketing strategy.


Now more seriously, Buri, I have run into a problem. My teacher is complaining that as I play w/o the rest, I twist my wrist too much to move my thumb under the neck when I shift up. He insists that the wrist should remain straight during the shift and I agree. But as I go up I need to bring my thumb under and around somehow. So this is a complication. I need you to please explain to me how the thumb has to move in these cases. Thanks in advance.

June 15, 2004 at 01:27 AM · Greetings,

I am touched by your faith in me . Now I am afraid this is a lousy answer...

If your index finger is touching the neck it will presumable cease to do so around third/fourth position when the double contact switches to the hand. In order to do this the forearm and hand make a kind of smooth circular movement going from lower to higher. The movement will only need to be as much as where your fingers need to get too so perhaps it will help to pay more attention to the ultimate shape your hand needs to be in the high posiiton. Veyr often I think we shift thinking only of getting the fingers to the high notes and forgetting the hand must alter too. Once you are clear about your start and finsih position then whatever you need to do in bettween is...what you need to do. Does that make sense?

If you are making a big shift up then you might find it helpful to make a small backward movemnt with the thumb prior to the shift. this stretch creates te enrgy for the shift itself and is not seen so often these days a shoulder rest players don`t seem to use it so much. The other thing you might look at is the movement of the whole arm rather than just getting focused on the wrist. The shoulder drops back prior to the shift to create the space and then the upper arm moves aways from you are the forearm moves towards you . A very small moveemnt indeed but necessary.

You might also check that your anxiet about shifting is not causing a slight dropping back of the head or tensing in the neck that is making your wrist seem odd or over active.

It might help to work on the later opus 8 sevcik exercises where you have to leeap three of four psoitions in every phrase. Before every position change, stop and take stock. Make sure eevrythign is relaxed and set up as you want it to be and then do the shift and so on. You might also try this procedure but suddenly put the violin down instead. or yell prunes or something. Teh idea is to recreate the conditions inh which a bad habit occurs and then od something completely random and unpredictable. It is a powerful device for breaking bad habits, if you have them, or course

Hope this helps,


PS What do you think about hanging dried prunes from the string

June 15, 2004 at 05:04 AM · Buri, Could I have your email address?

I've taken photos of both my brother and Myself holding the violin without and with the shoulder rest. Perhaps then you can give some advice about the subject?

June 15, 2004 at 05:23 AM · Greetings,

coming soon, although I doubt I can do more than applaud your ability to imitate giraffes. The reason I felt free to comment on Tristans picture was that a) he posted it which makes it fair game ;) and b) it caught him -at a particularr moment- in couple of ways that seemed a bit stressed to me. But you can tell from his writing that he is a flexible and thoughful player so that is not representative. In essence, a photo tells us nothing.

Buyer Beware...



June 15, 2004 at 04:48 PM · Buri, I appreciate your answer very much. Thanks again. One issue I should have included was thumb support. I remember you said you were against using the thumb (only?) to support the neck. Primary support point of the violin would be on the base joint of the index finger. Now if the thumb is slightly under the neck giving what I would call secondary support, then it is not so necessary to twist the wrist to bring it under and around in the upshift.

Addition 1: I am still working on left thumb placement, watching chin rest only players of whom I have DVDs or videos (Heifetz, Milstein, Mutter). Btw, Mutter seems to touch and support the violin (at least partially) w/ the shoulder.

Addition 2: This difficulty w/ repositioning the thumb seems to be related to my not resting the violin on the lower palm in higher positions. My former/previous teacher told me not to touch the violin w/ the palm in high positions, and Fisher also seems to say that the hand must come over and above, but I don't remember him having said anything about hand contact.

June 15, 2004 at 11:53 PM · Greetings,

Tristan, you are right that the thumb further under palces the knuckles /hand more parallel so less twist is necessary.

Some people with small hand play with the thumb well udner, some argue that it should be much more forward.

To be honest, I think there is a point where one begings to forget two basic criteria:

1) The position of the fingertips on the strings is the most important thinbg, get that right and the thumb is rather secondary.

2) The thumb should be a bit like water in nature. Let it find its own level.

You do noeed a double contact in the higher positons. It is a transger from the base of the index finger to the base of the the hand.



June 16, 2004 at 03:21 AM · Congratulations, Buri, it works. Indeed, it is not a thumb problem at all, but lack of palm support from the mid-high positions up. In my specific case, w/ short 4th finger, I have to contact the palm already in the 3rd position. One orchestra in which I play was rehearsing Beethoven's 1st today and I started having problems in a simple 3rd to 5th position phrase beginning in bar 88, so I put the shoulder rest back on. But now, playing the same phrase w/ palm support, it's ok. Will redo some Whistler ITP to get the right feel. I think my previous (not the current) teacher did not accept the 3 contact point view (finger tips, thumb and index), he plays very well w/o index support above the 1st position, if I remember well. I was allowed to contact the palm only for the Rivarde exercise in 4th position.

For me this seems to settle the issue, the problem was lack of adequate primary support in the index and palm, besides having the short 4th finger and having to favour it w/ index backward extension. I have pretty good left hand dexterity, but it was useless till now because I couldn't get it to "fit" right.

One project I would like to develop is to help players of fretted instruments to transfer to bowed fretless instruments. Paganini played the guitar too, and the mandolin is tuned like the violin. But this is a large subject for another thread.

June 18, 2004 at 12:32 AM · Yes, June, that has worked for me too.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine