Are Some Violins More Physically "Playable"?

August 15, 2004 at 01:05 AM · Hi, I have been playing violin for almost 15 years but have been having trouble in the last few because of left wrist problems. I had surgery which at the time I was told would fix my problem but it appears not. Ive seen several other doctors who are at the top of their field and there is nothing that can be fixed surgically, so basically I need to stretch, get physical therapy, and take anti inflamatories with playing.

I'm looking for a new violin because I am still playing on an old one I inherited from my grandmother.

I also play guitar, and know that some guitars are easier to play because of thinner necks, etc and am wondering if the same can be true for violins. If i can find something that is more 'playable' it may help me extend my practices without inducing inflamation.

So what I am wondering is if anyone can tell me a place to shop and also what kind of violins to look at that may be right for me.

Thanks so much, I am new to this forum and found it while trying to research the things I discussed online.

Replies (29)

August 15, 2004 at 03:53 AM · Hi Ben!

I'm not much of an expert on this one, but I do know a few people in MD who are experts on violins and could (possibly) help you out. I'm a bit hesitant to put names and contact info on here, but I'd be more than happy to give you some information on local luthiers who hardcore know about this stuff.

just email me at tatkinso at

August 15, 2004 at 04:15 AM · I am not a doc, and it is hard to say much specifically without knowing your particular medical situation. But I can say I have dealt with some nervy tendonitis in past years. It was a nagging issue for several years, but now no problems for years.

So, my experience:

1) I found that taking time off was essential for my recovery, and then ramping up practice time very slowly when starting again.

2)Holistic therapy can sometimes help things, especially if there is constriction elsewhere (elbow, shoulder, neck, back) affecting the wrist. (Surgery may complicate the matter.)

3) I found that a healthy diet helps a lot, especially getting enough protein and avoiding coffee.

4) Good wrist posture is obviously essential, when playing.

5) Strenghtening exercises also helped me, once the symptoms calmed down. But I would be careful with this, and get specific advice from an expert. (Did you work with a PT after surgery?)

6) I had to decide to mostly give up my guitar playing, which continually aggravated the problem.

7) You might check your bridge height on the violin, to make sure it's not too high. But I suspect moving from guitar to violin may be more of an aggravating factor than any particular physical aspect of your violin itself.

Hope some of this helps!

August 15, 2004 at 07:32 AM · Not sure if this might help, but this violin maker comes to my mind: David L. Rivinus

August 15, 2004 at 02:36 PM · Hey, thanks for the responces.

Basically, I would call it a nagging tendonitis and the surgery I had was a stabilization of the ECU tendon.

I had PT after surgery but didn't start violin back up until months later. I ruhsed into and and was playing an hour or two a day way too quickly. I have rested now and am starting with 15-20 minute practices while taking anti inflammatories and icing it. I am hoping I'll be able to build up my tolerance.

Thanks for the advice - it is nice to know that someone else had similar problems and found a way out of it.

It seems guitar does not bother my wrist though. It has something to do with the way my wrist is twisted while playing the violin as opposed to the more straight curled position of guitar.

Also, when I return to college (in vermont) I will be seeing a PT there who works a lot with musicians who can help me with exercises etc.

What I'm looking for now is a violin that may be easier on the wrist, if such a thing exist. I know with guitars some are easier then others on me and am trying to find out if the same could be true for violins.

You mention a low bridge - is what you are suggesting that a lower action would be easier? My "easiest" guitar is my Gibson semi-hollow electric because it has a thin neck and very low action.

Thanks again for the help - and to the person with contact info for experts in MD, I sent you an email.


August 15, 2004 at 02:43 PM · One more question - any specific holistic therapy you suggest? A surgeon suggested "alexander technique". I am wondering if anyone has heard of that? Also, I have a few friends that claim Yoga will cure cancer (joke) so they suggest I try that. A PT I once saw thought the some of the problems I had were related to tension in other muscles too so there may be validity to this approach.

August 15, 2004 at 03:52 PM · I'd suggest you take the violin to a luthier to look at the setup on the instrument first, because 95 percent of playability problems (and sound as well) all have to do with the setup.

August 15, 2004 at 04:45 PM · Interesting conversation. Glad you have a PT with awareness of musician issues.

Yes with the bridge, I was talking about making sure your "action" is not too high.

Don't know of special violin construction. Guitars by their nature have a lot more room for variance in construction than violins. But I'd be interested if you find uniquely designed violins to address your concerns.

Technically, I hope you have a teacher with good mechanical awareness. Make sure you do not play with ulnar deviation when playing on the E.

In watching videos of the masters, I am amazed at the diversity of technical approaches to the violin. I imagine you may need to find your own approach.

I've seen players rotate the violin so that the fingerboard tilts forward, for example. (Picture the effect of reversing your shoulder rest so the high side's on the top of the shoulder.) This gives access to the fingerboard more like the guitar. Just a few degrees might help. My posture is pretty standard, so I don't know if there are trade offs to the improved fingerboard access. Again, work with your teacher.

Holistically, I had excellent results with acupuncture, especially around the shoulder and elbow points. I also took a few lessons with a teacher who used Alexander Technique, although I don't remember much influence.

Finally (I didn't realize I had so much to say!), I've had to admit that my fourth finger may never be as strong as other players. I realize this is the one lingering aspect of my prior injuries--I'm aware that if I really overwork my fourth, I can sometimes get some irritation. So some months I am able to push my technique in that area, and other months I have to back off.

It's a little sad knowing I'll never be the best technical player (left hand), but some of my favorite players are those most soulful even with imperfect technique. There's always Django Reinhard's guitar playing for such inspiration!

August 16, 2004 at 04:35 AM · It sounds intriguing. I noticed I have tightness in my back/shoudler muscles after playing sometimes and that seems to be something alexander technique addresses and also something that may be contributing to the tendonitis. I also read an article saying Yoga helps with this and I have some friends who do that and am thinking of starting to go with them and seeing how that helps out.

Would you recommend trying one or both? I am not sure how much free time I have since I will also be going to PT and have a very busy class schedule this semester.

I read somewhere that with Alexander technique sometimes you just need a lesson or two and not regular classes - is this true? Thanks


August 16, 2004 at 12:06 PM · Hi,
Ben, you might also consider the strings you use. I found steel strings a lot harder to play than nylon or the new synthetics (PEEK) ones - same as on the guitar. Maybe you could switch to a different kind of strings or a thinnner version of the brand you're using. Especially, try to use as little finger pressure as possible - there's loads of advice on this in the archive.
Bye, Juergen

August 16, 2004 at 03:23 PM · Ditto on the strings. I have found Pirastro Evah Pirazze and Violino strings to be more "playable", whatever that means, than Dominants and some others (though I think Evahs are actually considered high tension, so go figure). You might also try lower tension strings from one of the string types that comes in variable tensions. I have also found violins with lower bridge/string "action" to be more playable, but do consult a luthier before tinkering with that, as the shape of the instrument, angle of fingerboard, etc all interacts with bridge choice. A good luthier should have no problem adjusting your existing instrument to make it more playable, assuming you need anything beyond different strings.

August 16, 2004 at 05:14 PM · Hi thanks again for the advice. I think I am going to try Alexander technique since my surgeon also recommended it. I was also wondering about accupuncture? I read that it can be useful in treating chronic tendonitis and am tempted to try it. Anyone have any experience with that?


Just got an email...I have to audition for my school orchestra the 31st. I think I will play the Bach Partita #2 which I can already play pretty well but I am hoping this won't lead to me rushing things too much.

August 17, 2004 at 02:18 AM · Hi again. Glad your getting some online support.

Regarding acupuncture, I've gotten a lot of treatments. I have found with most of them, I've gotten mostly a general relaxing and positive effect on well-being, with a bit of support on particular issues.

There have been two notable times that I've had more dramatic, specific positive results--once with the arm tendonitis, which it really turned the corner on; once with a nagging TMJ problem, which cleared up immediately. Such single treatment cures are not the norm, but they are amazing when they happen.

You might inquire around to see who have the best reputations in your area. Acupuncturists often have different specialties also--some more structural, some more internal, etc., so you may consider this in your inquiry if you go this route.

August 17, 2004 at 04:42 AM · Thanks for your suggestions. A "wellness" center ( I called suggested a program of acupuncture and massage to treat the wrist and shoulder/neck muscles (which are tight, and they think is related). I realize it may not be a sure thing but I am willing to try this because anti inflammatories and just warming up are not cutting it (what my doctor suggested). I will try to get a few alexander technique lessons since Ive heard here, as well as from my surgeon, that, that also helps.

Once I get to school I think I will start doing Yoga to keep my muscles loose and in good shape. But - acupuncture seems like it has a lot of promise and I am encouraged because it seems to have helped several others.

I may have to give up on the Orchestra for this semester though because I played 30 minutes 2 days ago w/ stretching out and Im still swollen and in a little pain. I think I need to focus on stretching my neck and shoulder muscles too and focus on keeping those muscles relaxed while playing. My brother gave me a new kind of shoulder rest which you can mold to your body and I am thinking of raising my chin rest. Also - the maker of Maxilion violins (the asymetric ergonomic violin) has a prototype he is willing to sell me at an affordable price because the normal ones are way out of my price range. If its everything he claims it is it may really help me out.


August 19, 2004 at 05:51 AM · A good book to help with returning to playing after an injury is called Playing Less Hurt (written by a professional cellist who was recovering from some kind of tendonitis). One important thing is to start with no more than five or ten minutes per day. For like a week. When you add the next five or ten minute increment you have to add it at a later time in the day. You add only one five-ten minute increment each week until you finally accumlate a complete practice session. Plus you always warm up. It will take a few months to get up to speed but the point is that by going really slow you will get there.

Best of luck with your adjustments on the set up and on the alexander technique. Buri (on this site) sets great store by alexander (when combined with the regular consumption of prunes :)

August 19, 2004 at 02:34 PM · Looks like a good book - I'll check it out. I noticed that when I played for 5-10 I didnt flare up but 15-20 I did. Today I woke up and it seems like my swelling is gone so I may do just 5 minutes today. Even before you said this I realized I am going to have to start with 5-10 minutes. I'm aggressive and I like to push myself, but I've realized the only way to get over this is patience. Thanks for the recommendation I will definately check it out.

I can't say I understand your comment on the alexander technique.

August 19, 2004 at 02:36 PM · Also, someone here posted a link to the Maximilion which was unfortunately way out of my current budget. Luckily the maker has a prototype he's rebuilt that he's going to let me try out. The last person to use it was a professional violinist in San Fransisco who had a flare up in swelling and played this violin until it went down. Pretty exciting.

August 20, 2004 at 02:13 AM · I don't know about injuries, but my french fiddle is a smaller slimmer neck than my German one. They are both full size, but I find the smaller one more comfortable to play. Not quited the difference from my classical to acoustic guitar, but noticeable.

August 20, 2004 at 04:27 AM · Ben,

My comment about Buri and Alexander refers to Buri's previous posts on this forum. (He makes frequent reference to prunes--I have no idea why).

Anyway, good luck with your program. It sounds as though it's going well.

August 20, 2004 at 08:17 PM · I know that I have played some violins that are VERY easy to play compared to mine (they feel much smaller to me) and some which are maybe the same size, but are virtually impossible to play on because they have been set up so strangely! It is literally impossible to bow properly or play in tune on some violins I have tried (that is, when I am playing them...the owner can play them fine).

Also, as has been previously mentioned, the height of the strings makes quite a difference, and I find old violins seem to have a narrower neck, and the strings are a bit closer together. Just my impression, no professional basis for that comment.

Hope that helps answer your original question.

August 20, 2004 at 09:55 PM · i'd think there wouldnt be enough variation among instrument size and build to make a particular instrument more playable, it seems to me the set up is the only thing that would affect that and thankfully thats fairly easy to have adjusted.

November 2, 2004 at 02:53 AM · I recently broke my violin and had two loaners to play on, and suffered a bit of carpel tunnel so I really had to stop and feel, stop and analyze how the left hand and the violin work together. I have found after playing on a modern violin with a thick neck that it though intonation was more accurate, eventually was too large for my hand to play without straining my wrist... the other loaner was much thinner but the bridge was too high and I found that my fingers were straining because of the pressure needed to get a good tone... now that I have my own violin back, sounding better than ever after 4 months in the shop, I have noticed that placing my fingers at an angle and raising my wrist towards the neck gives me both the most stability and flexibility.

November 2, 2004 at 03:19 AM · Greetings,

peter Oundjian attributes his violinistically fatal attack of dystonia to switching to a slighly smaller (?) instrument and then embarking on a major cocnert schedule without getting used to the instrument,



November 2, 2004 at 07:54 AM · If you are still having problems, contact Martha Patterson (, she is a good friend of mine, and she specializes in physical therapy for musicians. when I had tendonitis, she was my physical therapist and I've referred her since. she's wonderful. but yeah, the whole deal is taking breaks, doing the hot-cold cloth dance (try and stay off the medicine, your body will come to require it forever), and the very FREQUENT exercises. if you need examples for said exercises, please email me.

November 2, 2004 at 02:56 PM · I've had problems with my left wrist as well as neck and upper back/shoulders for years. I recently bought a new violin and it's made a world of difference! My new violin is a 7/8th size instead of full 4/4. There's only a 1/2 inch of difference, but it's much easier to play and doesn't cause nearly as much pain as my old violin. Because it's made with a different wood, it's also a lot lighter in weight which also helps trememdously.

Take a look at Shar's website and do a search for Greggory Sapp violins. He's the maker of my violin and does the 7/8th size violins. It made a world of difference to me and could also help you quite a bit!

February 10, 2005 at 01:14 AM · Ben,

Those Rivinus / Maximillian instruments could well be the answer for you, if you have a smaller build. (and a larger bank account)

As for standard instruments, there does seem to be a small bit of leeway as to what is considered 4/4, so you might want to find one of the smallest.

More importantly, I have read that some makers put a noticable tilt in the fingerboard. Some to the right, and some to the left, while others are even with the top. This could well make a difference to you. I would imagine that some fingerboards even have more OVERALL curve than others.

Which particular fingerboard style would best suit you, I cannot say, but it is worth looking into.

the last thing to examine, which others have mentioned, is set-up. If I were you, I'd do some serious thinking about fingerboard height. This, combined with the violin's arch and the bridge height, obviously makes a large impact on the angle of your left hand.

You probably need to go to a shop that has a very large selection of violins, combined with a seller who understands well how each instrument differs in the above dimensions.

This will require quite a bit of work on your part, but will surely be worth it.

Best of luck

February 9, 2005 at 08:58 PM · Ben,

I have an off-topic question for you:

I also play guitar, and it is one of my primary instruments. I actually gave up cello many years ago, because I was afraid of getting confused by the difference in tuning (fourths vs fifths) I have always wanted to try violin, but put it off all these years for that same reason. I know there are a few famous players who have mastered both, but they may be the exception, or bloody geniuses, or maybe they just practice 10 hrs a day.

I am now learning the violin, and haven't touched a guitar in the last month. When I try to improvise, sure enough I am always hitting the wrong note when changing strings.

Have you found this to be a problem, or did time simply take care of it? Any tips for me?

February 10, 2005 at 06:06 AM · You're doing a lot of good things, and you've received a lot of good advice here. I'll add a bit about my experience with yoga. I've been practicing yoga for about 15 years and it definitely is a big help. It has many effects: total body relaxation, relaxation of specific muscles in the upper body, increases in blood flow to affected parts of the body, to name a few. I also have TMJ, a condition made worse by playing the violin, and yoga helps that, too. I aslo strongly recommend stretching the muscles of the upper body after you practice.

It has been several months since your original post. I hope that you are in better shape now. Please let us know what you've tried and what has worked for you.

February 10, 2005 at 06:38 AM · Stradivarius copies have relatively thinner necks.

Once I let a guitar player try my violin and he totally mangled the strings with this fingers. It appears that guitar hand/finger positioning is inimical to violin practice, so you really have to try not to cross apply habits on one of them to the other.

February 10, 2005 at 03:40 PM · question

does lower action make a violin easier to play?

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