Weight of the violin held by left hand... ?

January 19, 2006 at 08:08 AM · Hello all,

This might seem like a very stupid question, but when you play, does your left hand support any of the violin's weight? I find it difficult to hold the instrument between my shoulder and my chin without supporting it with the thumb of my left hand.

Also, i think i tend to hold my left elbow too close to my ribs, but it's the only way my 4th finger can reach the strings without the left hand losing dexterity.

I don't want to develop bad playing habits, i know how difficult they are to get rid of. Currently i don't have a shoulder rest, and i'm not quite sure how to tell if the chin rest is placed correctly.

Thanks to everyone who can give me some helpful tips on this.

Replies (22)

January 19, 2006 at 08:56 AM · > I find it difficult to hold the instrument

> betweenmy shoulder and my chin without

> supporting it with the thumb of my left hand.

Then support it with the left hand. :) There is no "one size fits all" approach to holding the violin, given all the different physiques that make up the human race.

I personally play without a shoulder rest, relying on a "teka" chinrest that allows me to "hook" the top edge of the instrument beneath my jawbone, and the bottom edge laying on the collarbone. I then use my left hand to complete the balance of holding up the instrument (so it is a shared responsibility on both ends of the violin). This setup gives me the freedom to move!

Now, I have a neck of average length. My colleagues with long necks would suffer with my setup...if you find that you're having to tilt your head in any direction to hold up your instrument, perhaps a shoulder rest to fill that space between the instrument and your body might be helpful?

January 19, 2006 at 09:33 AM · Eric...how else would you do vibrato?

January 19, 2006 at 02:04 PM · Thanks for the advice. A friend who is a very good violinist told me the left hand wasn't supposed to be supporting any of the weight.

About left hand posture - i have to twist my forearm so that my palm faces to the left, otherwise my small finger can't reach the strings - it's kind of unconfortable and straining for the forearm. Maybe the chin rest is too close to the tailpiece?

January 19, 2006 at 02:41 PM · Unless you have extremely long fingers, you've gotta do what you've gotta do to hit the notes. I jam my elbow in pretty good as I climb the fingerboard, and to give my hand enough clearance even in 1st position in order to be able to vibrate on the g string.

January 19, 2006 at 02:57 PM · Mostly I hold the violin on my collarbone, left shoulder tip, and chin. Maybe just a small amount with my left hand, but not enough to cause problems to shifting or tension on the left thumb. It works for me and I have been injury free.

January 19, 2006 at 03:04 PM · There's no way I could ever support my viola between my chin and shoulder without a shoulder rest. Even if I held it up with my left hand, it just doesn't work (how do people do this - doesn't the instrument slide around on your shoulder?). But then, I do have a very long neck.

I was taught that I should be able to support the instrument without any help from the left hand. Now, I would find it very difficult to actually play like this - once I get bow pressure on the strings, I need a little help from the left hand. But being able to have that firm support helps free your left hand up for shifting and such.

I would try out some shoulder rests and see if that helps you. What does your teacher say?

January 19, 2006 at 10:28 PM · My comfortable hold, after much pain and experimentation: the weight of my violin is now held mainly by my collarbone and the slight rounding where the first finger joins the hand. The thumb gently holds the violin on that knuckle, while remaining completely able to move.

To get a rightward slope on the violin, so as not to have to raise the right arm too high, I have added a wedge of sponge under the left side of the violin, but the weight remains on the collarbone and the left shoulder remains free to move. The left shoulder is not involved in 'wedging' the violin into place except when tuning. My problem with shoulder-rests was that the left shoulder was immobilised and the violin's weight was no longer on my collarbone but hovered above it, depending too much on the head's weight on the chinrest to 'lever' it in place.

When playing, my left hand, even with vibrato and shifting, is always taking some of the violin's weight, but the bulk is carried by the collarbone. Holding the violin slightly above the horizontal (to make the strings actually horizontal, the violin body must be slightly higher than horizontal), is important in keeping most of the weight on my collarbone, as well of having many other advantages.

For stability, I have a high chinrest and don't need to cramp my neck down for the jaw to rest on the 'chin'rest. However, I can play even without my head's weight on the chinrest, except for downward shifts and very big vibrato, freeing the neck completely.

Playing then becomes and interaction between these elements. Vibrato is dependent on the hand and fingers being so flexible that the violin is not 'wobbled' too much, even without the head's weight on the chinrest. For vibrato, the thumb takes a little more of the weight and the index first knuckle leaves the side of the violin neck. For a really big vibrato and for downward shifts below 3rd pos when the thumb moves down, the head's weight is a bit more important. For downward shifts below third pos also, moving the thumb down quickly in advance of the hand is important (as recommended by Simon Fisher's 'Basics' - he advises doing this even if using a shoulder rest, but says playing without a shoulder rest is the best way to naturally learn this 'thumb in advance' skill).

This method relies less on wedging the violin into place, and the left hand does become an important component of holding the violin's weight, but it is a flexible, constantly re-adjusted component.

Admittedly, I'm just a very mediocre amateur, and these days most professionals do use a shoulder rest. When using a shoulder rest, theoretically you can wedge the violin in place and have a totally free left hand. For me the disadvantages were a fixed left shoulder, a cramped neck from constantly pushing the violin down on the shoulder rest 'lever', and, interestingly, a less reliable left hand. My left hand now, after quite a lot of work to learn reliable downward shifting (by getting the thumb to move in advance), seems much better at 'knowing' where it is, having a sense for intervals and positions, and absolutely must stay loose and flexible in the joints to be able to support the violin's neck while producing a vibrato (I soon hear it if there is any stiffness in this hand!).

In the end it will come down to your teacher. Whatever method you choose, I'd advise making sure your chinrest is high enough to fill the gap between violin and jaw without any need to compress your neck. You should be able to stand or sit comfortably upright with a long, relaxed spine.

January 19, 2006 at 10:55 PM · I have a long neck and don't use a shoulder rest. You have to find the right balance of using shoulder and chin to support the violin, and if you sometimes relax and hold the violin with your hand for a second it's no big deal. I wouldn't recommend using a shoulder rest but you should go to a shop and try out different chinrests to see which one works for you. And about the elbow, it's fine that you put your elbow in -- in fact, your supposed to. That's the only way to be comfortable in a high position and be able to do vibrato. On a low string it might be uncomfortable so it's a good idea to angle the violin down.

January 19, 2006 at 11:15 PM · Greetings,

all of the above is sound. players vary from extremely high level of support with left hand to virtually none. Depends on the physique and rest or pad.

Two points worth bearing in mind. First, just because you use a rest does not mean the hand cannot support the instrument a little, and this support can be very beneficial in providing data to the mind and technical security. Lots of contact with the instrument which is way the older players tended to do comnpared to today. this presuppsoes the use of a lower rather than higher rest. If you are having trouble with supporting the instrument with a rest then it often pays to work counte r intuitively and actually search for a lower rather than higher support. Often, the more you crank things up the more tension and insecurity, the more you think you need more height and so forth.

Second, and much mor eimportant to this debate is the danger of the language we use. The left hand never supports the violin in actuality. The body is an integrated whole and the hand is an integral part of the arm which is an integral part of the body. Without balanced and relaxed legs, well integrated skeletal structure and so on then one is trying to correct the wrong things first. Time and again I have seen or worked on case s where a struggling player hads moved closer to a solution by acknowledging this point and actually set their legs on the ground in a balanced way instead of twisting them around like overcooked spahgetti dangling behind a farting elephant,



January 20, 2006 at 10:47 AM · Ohhhhh...that conjures up nasty visions....

January 20, 2006 at 12:24 PM · How do people play without a shoulder rest....easy!

I use one of those flat round thin sponges you can get from SHar. I have a short neck, and I raise my left shoulder a tiny bit to reach the violin. Not enough to cause an injury though.

January 20, 2006 at 04:42 PM · I could never play without a shoulder rest....

My violin teacher said he got Burcidious in his shoulder and had to have a shot.? (is that how you spell it?) Anyways I don't think it is healthy to not use a shoulder rest.

January 20, 2006 at 05:04 PM · It of course depends on your violin and how long your neck is.

January 20, 2006 at 09:28 PM · Neck length should have little to do with the decision on a shoulder rest, IF your violin is resting on your collarbone (though a pad or shoulder rest that allows the violin to rest on the collarbone but angles the violin to the right will help shorten the distance between violin top and jaw). Logically, if the violin is resting on the collarbone, the distance between top of violin and jaw must be filled by something. That something is the chinrest - the longer your neck is, the higher the chinrest must be. The manufacturers of SAS chinrests (see online) understand this and make their chinrests various heights.

If you raise the violin above the collarbone on a high shoulder rest, the shoulder and upper chest hold the violin's weight, but the violin is now pivoting on the shoulder rest. So you still have the problem of stabilising the violin using your jaw on the chinrest. How can this happen without the bottom of the violin actually touching the collarbone? So the long neck will have to cramp downward if the chinrest is too low.

There is one other factor: some violinists like to twist their neck to the left while playing, to see the hand while playing. Personally, I find this uncomfortable and prefer to look straight ahead, using peripheral vision and an occasional eye movement leftward if I need a visual reference.

However, since some very good professional violinists believe in the 'twist neck to left' method, I can't argue with them. If you do this, the slope in your jaw means that the distance between violin and jaw is decreased, so the chinrest need not be so high.

January 21, 2006 at 12:08 AM · All right, once again thanks everyone for your precious advice.

At first, i thought the "long necks" referred to the violin's neck, not the person's neck (Jennifer, i have a friend you might like, his name is Vlad [hehe] )

January 21, 2006 at 01:02 AM · I also hold the violin a good bit with the left hand. In addition, when using vibrato, I have to have the neck of the violin resting on the pad of my thumb, rather than having the thumb rest on the side of the neck, especially on the G string. I do have a small hand. However, playing this way makes me get a real good arm vibrato going!

January 21, 2006 at 07:39 AM · I've tried for years to support the violin with collarbone and left hand but always run into roadblocks and go back to a pad. Maybe you could help with a few of these problems. The biggest issue is vibrato with the first finger. Does this approach to supporting the instrument necessitate using an arm vibrato? I mostly use an arm vibrato anyway, but like to have the freedom to play different styles and get a larger swing in the motion if I decide that is appropriate. With the arm vibrato, it seems that the "fat" and flesh of the side of the first finger is flexible enough to allow support and a small amount of movement at the same time. For a wider swing, I feel the need to move the first finger off of the neck. As mentioned above, this leaves the support to the pad of the thumb from underneath the neck. Not only does that seem very unstable to me, but also if I sweat, the violin slips down into the "V" of the support and that is not a good thing. Did the old timers just stick to arm vibrato and avoid this whole issue?

I understand the approach to shifting with the thumb taking an active role by anticipating. Some of my teachers taught this older style even when using a shoulder rest. It seems to be left over from the old days and is very different from clamping down on the chin rest and practicing shifting without any thumb contact at all. The problem I have is that the side of the first finger sometimes gets sticky against the neck as I shift, especially if I am sweating. The more modern approach fixes this issue but there is a price to pay for it. As was mention earlier, I also find that intonation and technique suffer from not having as much contact as possible with the instrument. When I use a pad, I find that I have a false sense of security, but my intonation is never as solid as when I just use the collarbone - left hand support. I would compare it to a blind person feeling their way around to get information about their surroundings. Take the thumb away and you lose alot of valuable information. So I understand raising the violin to put the weight into the collarbone, but what about this dragging of the first finger along the neck? Any solutions for the friction there?

I would love to be able to make this work, it is the only way that I feel my neck, arms and back are really free to perform as they should, the rest always seems to destroy that natural balance. And yes, I agree with Buri...I recently jacked my chin rest up considerably to fill every bit of gap, but found that it created more tension than ever.

As far as raising the shoulder to support the instrument from time to time - is there a difference between raising the shoulder straight up - not good, and extending it forward to aid in supporting the instrument? It seems like a lot of major players don't use a pad and they look as if they are raising their shoulder. On closer examination, it seems that they are extending forward, but not upward. Thoughts?

January 21, 2006 at 08:24 AM · Eric:

While it is certainly true that holding the violin, posture, etc. can be somewhat of a personal matter of preference, there are to be some underlying points to seriously consider.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the left hand supporting the violin to a degree, so long as this support is NOT the primary method of holding the violin in place, nor is such support hindering the movement of the hand. In general, the left thumb should be thought of as an "anchor," simply guiding the instrument to it's ideal LEVEL. This is to say that when the left hand is removed, the violin should still be supported by the shoulder and chin; however, gravity will certainly contribute to the scroll dipping--which is where the left hand "anchors" it into place. I proper guide for being level is that the fingerboard should be parallel to the floor.

Regarding your left hand reach: This may seem elementary, but are you truly holding the instrument OVER your left shoulder with your nose in line with your shoulder? Some violinists, when pressed, find that they cheat a bit away from their shoulder, thus allowing for the left elbow to be far left of the neck. This contributes to poor reaching ability. Move the violin more left over the shoulder, move the left elbow to the right of the neck WHILE turing the wrist. Now you should have greater facility.

Good luck!


January 22, 2006 at 10:54 PM · Robert, using a pad is not the same as a shoulder rest in my experience. The pad still allows my violin to rest on my collarbone (whereas my shoulder rest acted like a pivot), but tilts the violin to the right. When I didn't use it, my right shoulder had to rise too high for comfort to reach the G string.

I actually found hand (wrist) vibrato easier to begin with once I ditched the shoulder rest, so I'm not sure where the problem is. Now both my vibratos work. First finger vibrato either way is less juicy than 2nd and 3rd, but I don't think that's due to the lack of shoulder rest but to the thinner fingertip and the fact that I pull my first finger well back in 1st and 2nd position to maintain the 'frame', giving less joint mobility. My solution currently is to give up on the 'frame' when I need a big 1st finger vibrato and bring the whole hand back a little. This is only a problem if I then need to cross to 4th finger on the next string down. I'm experimenting with solutions.

The sweating problem I can help with: talcum powder. I don't go to a performance or warm-weather rehearsal without it. Just a little bit where the finger and thumb touch the violin neck, and the problem is solved for me.

Anyway, if you play well and comfortably with a pad or shoulder rest, I see no 'purist' reason to change. I've only done it because this works better for me as an individual, and the information I post on this topic is only to explain my experiences and help others who need to go through the same process for reasons of health and comfort. I'd never try and persuade a healthy, competent player away from any of their methods.

January 24, 2006 at 08:27 AM · If my experience is any example (I now use rejected shoulder rests as paperweights and door-stoppers), a beginner's chances of finding a shoulder rest (or better yet, a shoulder rest/chin rest combination) that "feels good" is inversely proportional to the degree he or she has become convinced that finding the "right one" is at least as important as practicing.

May 17, 2006 at 10:26 PM · I find it INCREDIBLY hard to do anything more difficult than twinkle twinkle little star while supporting my violin with my left hand. I would also reccomend investing in a good shoulder rest. Try a few out before you buy one. Comfort is the key.

May 18, 2006 at 03:40 AM · In the really old days about 300 years ago, the dancing masters held the violin in the crook of their arm as they beat out rhythms as musical accompaniment.

Some violinists like Rosand and Milstein have a modified version of this stance, with their violins held at a downward angle on their clavicles with little chin involvement. Many country and ethnic fiddlers do this too, as those styles often have direct links to the medieval way of playing the violin for dance purposes.

I've seen some world class violinists occasionally rest their left elbows into their ribs. Perlman does it regularly, Mischa Elman did it, and Rosand does as well. Never is the tone compromised.

David Oistrakh used to regularly lift his chin off the violin to free his head. I've seen modern day fiddlers do that too, and I've added it to my own technique over the years. One can still vibrate, though it's a wrist/finger vibrato and shifting is limited.

I used to be rigid about what posture one should have, but my jazz guitar teacher Johnny Smith set me straight on that. He said "I've seen guys with weird hand postures, but they get it (the music) out and you can't fault them for that".

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