Very high positions without a shoulder rest

October 24, 2018, 3:56 PM · Hey guys,
I would like to preface this with the assertion that I do not intend for this to be a war between the two factions.

I have been practicing without a shoulder rest for a couple of weeks intermittently and the greatest difficulty has come when shifting into the very high positions. Approaching the 3 third octave of F and upwards, my thumb is on the verge of slipping out of the crook of the neck. I am worried that the added element of nerves (and sweat) might cause my thumb to completely lose contact. How should one combat this; is a shoulder rest in order to be able to secure the violin >8 position. My hands are of average size although my thumb is a bit on the shorter side.

Replies (14)

Edited: October 24, 2018, 4:52 PM · Details of posture, left hand hold and relaxation come into this a lot, as does a teacher to observe and correct where necessary.

It is difficult for anyone here to advise in this sort of situation unless they can see what is going on from a video.

With reference to shoulder rests, some violinists find it easier to play in the highest positions if they're not using a shoulder rest, but this can depend on an individual's physique. Here again, face-to-face teaching comes into the picture.

Edited: October 24, 2018, 5:08 PM · Adam, out of curiosity, do you find any hindrance or difficulty in transitioning approximately between 3rd position and fourth? That is to say between the position where index finger touches violin neck (1st to 3rd) and when it leaves the neck.
October 24, 2018, 5:19 PM · From first to third is somewhat uncomfortable, definitely not as smooth as I’d like. 3-4th doesn’t really pose any problems.
Edited: October 24, 2018, 5:25 PM · Sorry I mean specifically shift from 3rd to fourth (although that may be fourth to fifth). The shift between different hand shapes.

I find that the difficult part.

Aside, setup is crucial and a teachers input is extremely helpful.

October 24, 2018, 6:26 PM · I'm a beginner and don't have any problems playing in the highest possible. I mean, I can't control that area at all, but I have no problems playing there, noodling.
October 24, 2018, 7:35 PM · What type of chinrest are you using?
Edited: October 24, 2018, 7:39 PM · I do not use shoulder rest anymore, but do use a wedge.... so not really an expert. However, it is generally accepted that if the scroll is a bit higher than the other side of violin at the collar bone, the left hand is paradoxically descending the fingerboard, not climbing up. Moreover, the balance point of violin is more toward the collar bone. What I have heard so far is that going from upper to lower positions restless is more challenging, although there are some trick with the thumb.... if insecure, or while experimenting, practice by standing right next to your bed, (your legs touching the edge and violin above it) with pillows and comforters spread across. If you drop your violin it will land on the soft cushion. Have a mirror or 2 and look at your posture... the last thing you want to do is to lift your left shoulder.
October 24, 2018, 7:57 PM · I move my thumb onto the ribs of the instrument when I've gone stratospheric on the A and E strings. For the D and G, I slide it onto the side of the fingerboard. I also have a tall chinrest that lets me get a good squeeze on the violin when I need it.
October 24, 2018, 8:28 PM · Erik Williams, I am currently using a Guarneri chin rest. I experimented with a center mounted Flesch and the tall SAS , but I found both to be uncomfortable, as though I had a block between the violin and my jaw/chin.
Edited: October 24, 2018, 8:57 PM · Rocky, that is why I asked about the shift between lower position hand frame and upper (especially going down). The motion of the thumb I found to be jerky and not fluid. My teacher (who uses a shoulder rest) teaches that at that point, there is a fluid movement of the hand, from a lower hand position where index touches neck of violin to an upper hand shape where the finger are curved/arched above the string, elbow to the right, no contact between index finger and violin neck. To be able to transition, you would need to rotate the hand around and over the violin neck, but the thumb gets in the way, especially the proximal joint. It is easier for shoulder rest users(or those with wide shoulders) because they rely less on carry the violin with their hand. Another issue might be the specific hand shape and how setback the thumb is relative to the other fingers.

My teacher tells me that one thing that people used to do pre-rest is to quickly dip and raise the arm below the violin in going up and down, in sort of a gentle U shape as opposed to a straight line. In trying it out, I see that this might help avoid the hook that the thumb can be at this point of shifting. But it is not easy.

I also hear something similar from another teacher. However, the issue of rationalizing the violin thumb was not resolved for me. I suspect perhaps the thumb itself is not the sole problem but rather stumbles on its way on the imprecise coordination between movements requires. This includes the head weight on chin rest, at opportune times.

One suggestion from Jonathan Swartz is to "zip up" the space between thumb and index finger. I can see the sense in that, in that it makes it easier to rotate the hand around the violin neck , the V-space being pushed outwards towards the distal joint of the thumb as opposed to the deeper V with thumb-index open.

But OP says that actually the lower positions are also problematic ones for I suspect that the matter is even more fundamental, for instance the setup that he has (chin rest) or technique wise...

I've started using a red cosmetic sponge (or two) now, I do not want to waste the time I have with my teacher. It would be different if my teacher taught restless playing. Adam, perhaps you could try a sponge as a transition if that is what interests you. One thing that helps is if the chin rest has a bit of a 'chin hook' at the ridge.

Edited: October 24, 2018, 9:05 PM · Tammuz ,
To avoid the hooking problem you described, and because my thumb is comparatively short, my thumb moves more under the neck to support it. It also goes underneath when I am using vibrato. My teacher actually uses this technique (his hands are rather small) and I’ve noticed Anne Sophie Mutters thumb is positioned a similar way. The issue I am facing it mostly with regards to descending from very high up. Going into third is just slightly uncomfortable, but simon Fischer has echoed that sentiment in one of his books (I think it’s basics?)
October 24, 2018, 10:34 PM · I found these videos to be very helpful with this:

Edited: October 24, 2018, 11:36 PM · Ok, Guarneri chinrest is actually good for this situation, in my opinion.

If you're accustomed to using a shoulder rest, then you're used to the security of shifting, knowing that the shoulder rest will hold the violin if your hand slips.

We need to replace that previous security with a new one: focus on the "bar" section of the chinrest (the part that goes over the tailpiece) instead of the "cup" section. It's the only part that will feel like in case your hand slips, the violin won't drop on the floor.

Also, it's pretty likely that you need to angle the violin to the left more than before, so your fingers are naturally lined up more with the strings, and so your arm can reach around the bouts easier.

EDIT: Oh, also, experiment with using a shoelace or cloth tape or something and wrapping it through the "barrels" of the chinrest and then back and around your own neck. Then bring it around and tie it to itself.

This is really important for that feeling of security until your body is convinced that it won't drop the instrument. Even though it's unlikely your fingers will ever actually slip, the psychological benefits to knowing that you have the "safety net" of a string/belt/cord wrapped around your neck is very, very helpful.

I've also experimented with using an elastic band that "pulls" the violin back into my neck and helps it stay securely on my collarbone. This adds further to the feeling of security because there is no slack whatsoever between your neck and the violin, and it also really assists in learning vibrato and shifting without a shoulder rest, since the violin won't pull away from you on downshifts or heavy vibrato.

Last thing: I had good results modifying a guarneri style chinrest by chopping off the "cup" portion. This really helped me understand the role of the "bar" in playing without a shoulder rest.

October 25, 2018, 7:32 PM · I use the Guarneri “bar” exclusively and I play restless. I should probably either get it raised to be taller by a luthier or get a center mount CR, but honestly on me you get used to balancing the violin you use it so little I haven’t bothered. It would have been helpful earlier, though. I’ll probably get it done for my kids when they get bigger.

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