Chin/shoulder rest height and vibrato
Hi! I'm sure this topic is hashed to death, so if there's another thread on this, post it and I'll read to my heart's content.
Lately (like the past year), my vibrato went from being really lovely to basically nothing. Can't sustain it, it's not consistent, and I can't slow it down. I look in the mirror and do it, and my arm and wrist are moving nicely and nothing LOOKS wrong, but it sounds terrible most of the time. Sometimes I can get a few good ones. I can record a video and post it if it helps.
I'm wondering if the chin rest height and shoulder rest height have anything to do with it? I use a Kun Bravo, with a normal Guarneri style chin rest. It's a comfy set up, but I'm wondering if I need to lower the shoulder rest and get a taller chin rest. I don't think I crane my neck at all to fit in the chin rest, so I wonder if it's a matter of lowering the actual instrument closer to my shoulder by messing with the height of the two rests.
I've looked at the Wave and another big one (sorry, the name escapes me at the moment). I'm not tall, and my violin is a bit on the fat end in terms of length/body height.
Any advice or insight is appreciated!
Remove the shoulder rest completely and see how it changes things
Hi Jeffery, I can't play without a shoulder rest, I've tried that. It digs into my collar bone and instead of sitting nicely on my shoulder, the violin slides down and sits more or less right in front of me. :( It's extremely uncomfortable.
First of all, the length of your neck, which determines the height of your chinrest and shoulder rest, is the main deciding factor. A short person can have a long neck and a tall person can have a short neck. Second, raising the shoulder rest, rather than the chinrest to accommodate a long neck raises the whole violin higher, requiring you to reach higher with both arms to find the instrument, which is not healthy in the long run and can cause strain. The first thing I would do is lower the shoulder side on your shoulder rest to lowest setting while leaving the chest leg unchanged. This may allow you more movement in the shoulder joint, which is essential for good left hand technique. To test this, with the violin in playing position and left hand on the neck, try swinging your left arm from side to side. If you can't do that with ease, this is a sign your shoulder joint is blocked by the shoulder rest.
If you can post videos shot from your front, your left side where the scroll points to the camera, and from your back, that would be very helpful in figuring out where the problem lies and what solutions to apply.
Thank you Ella and Lorenzo! I'll experiment with your suggestion Ella, and I'll do a video and post it later. Should I do a scale with vibrato or something?
but Kristen, you say you had a lovely vibrato, but you have lost it, something must have changed that caused that loss, can't you try to identify that and try to undo it? sorry if this sounds simplistic but it is not so common that someone just loses their vibrato.
A 3-octave scale would be fine, but also, any piece that you think you play well would be good.
Jean, it's really weird, but my vibrato went completely haywire after my Grandma died last year. It was fine when I played at her funeral (the violin belonged to my Grandpa, so we thought it fitting to play her favorite hymn with it) and then all of a sudden, after the funeral, it was terrible. It's been bad ever since.
my sincerest condolences, indeed, one of the few things we unfortunately cannot undo... I myself played at my own mother's funeral just a week ago... I wish you all the best.
Aw Jean I'm so sorry! I took it really hard, even though we were expecting it, so I wonder if that has something to do with my current predicament?
I can't play without a shoulder rest either, I was curious if the height change would change anything
Jeffery, it was a good suggestion! I've been lazy and tuned without one, and have forgotten to swap my shoulder rest between cases (I've got a double case to house my viola and single violin case) so I've had to deal with a couple rehearsals without it. Let's just say the lack of support makes everything 10000x worse LOL! It makes me wonder if I'm just a short girl with a longer neck.
As for playing without a shoulder rest, neck length is NOT the only factor. In fact, I would say other factors like shoulder, collarbone and chest structure are an even more important factor, as well as playing style (playing restless generally requires the left arm and hand to support the violin more). To accommodate longer necks, higher chinrests, including adjustable ones, are becoming more common. I've concluded from reading a variety of posts on this topic that most violinists and violists benefit from something to stop the instrument from slipping; even a small cloth or sponge counts. Aside from experimenting with the height of the shoulder rest, you can also try putting it on at a diagonal, rather than putting it straight across the back of the violin which is common practice. I would also check the site
Are you clenching your hand / locking the finger joints? I wonder if practicing vibrato with the thumb off the neck would help.
Thank you Ella! That's really insightful, I'll check out that article! I think part of my issue with going without a shoulder rest is that my violin is pretty heavy (it's just a big guy in general. Thick neck, thick ribs, slightly longer body length (14.25in), but confirmed by three different and locally well-known luthiers in two cities near me that it's not a viola), so using my shoulder and arm to support the weight while trying to have good posture and technique is really difficult.
Hey guys, here's the video! I hope I did okay! Read the description, because I made some comments. Constructive criticism is appreciated, but please be kind about it. I'm at a loss for what to do, and it's extremely frustrating because I SHOULD be able to vibrate no problem.
Here's my observations and guesses based on what I could hear and what you said (I can't see anything because of a visual impairment):
Ella, I have a huge problem with continuous vibrato. That's something I've never mastered.
Thank you Ella! Looking forward to exploring it ^_^
Thanks for posting the video, that was really helpful.
It's great that such a knowledgeable violin teacher like Lorenzo is giving you all this, so definitely listen to him. However, my 2 cents worth is that there seems nothing really fundamentally problematic and you just have to move through the stages of vibrato exercises. For the mere mortals among us, developing a nice vibrato requires a lot of practice, even if in the past you apparently could do it "just like that", well, let's just live with it that this is no longer the case and work on it! For starters there is an entire chapter on vibrato in Simon Fischer's Basics. Or you could take occasional lessons from a good teacher. All the best and thanks for posting the video, it was nice to meet you :-)
I forgot to mention that if you want to look for a violinist who models good left hand form and finger action, watch Hilary Hahn. Any video of her will do, really, but her recent performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto is outstanding. But even more revelatory, if you check out her #100daysofpractice videos on Instagram, you can see her practicing finger exercises from the Carl Flesch Urstudien book, and she films her left hand from up close, as well as from different angles. Incredibly inspiring!
I've been focused on improving my often absent vib for the last year.
Wow, thank you guys so much! I really appreciate that you took the time to really break things down for me! I'll take a look at those books (though, not sure I'm quite ready for Kreutzer... Maybe I would be able to do them really slowly) and really focus on those points you give me!
I am someone who has smallish hands (long fingers but narrow palms), and I play both violin and viola. A narrower neck can help a lot with smaller-handed players. When you do cope with a wide neck with small hands or short fingers, you will probably be more comfortable placing your thumb more on the underside of the neck rather than on the side of the neck. If you have larger hands, the hand is generally more comfortable with the thumb more on the side of the neck as Lorenzo describes, which creates more space larger-handed people to move their fingers. For smaller handed players, putting the thumb more on the underside allows for greater reach and flexibility and ensures that the base knuckles don't dip below the fingerboard, as Lorenzo above has stated. As someone who plays both violin and viola, I tend to put my thumb more on the side of the neck on violin but on viola my thumb is almost directly on the underside of the neck. My instruments have typical dimensions as far as I can tell. My viola is 15.75".
Re.: Continuous Vibrato.
Ella, my hands are somewhat small too. I tend to have a lot of trouble on the G string up past third position. I had a heck of a time doing 2 octave scales, all starting on the G string from G3 to G4. My pinky is pretty small, so I'm at a bit of a disadvantage. But, I'll never be good enough to play any REAL music that calls for anything above 3rd on the G string or anything past 5th or 6th on the other strings, so I don't worry too much about it.
Also, thank you Joel! Those are some great tips! Continuous vibrato has been something that I always felt was somewhat unattainable, but I'll explore it again once my vibrato fundamentals are back from whatever extended vacation they went on!
The shape and thickness of your violin’s neck would definitely affect your left hand’s position and comfort. From what I know, even the New York or MENC standard instrument measurements need to be adjusted somewhat in order to truly feel comfortable. A good luthier will know how to shape your violin’s neck to best fit your needs.
Lorenzo, that's really interesting that they have to modify even standard instruments. I'd never really thought of that before! As much as I'd like to keep the integrity of the instrument (though, it has been fully restored and has all new hardware, and it's not a super expensive instrument, just sentimentally priceless), I think getting it modified might not be a bad idea. There are a couple luthiers in the area who would be able to help. I'm sure it would be expensive, so I'd have to wait on it until I've got my full time teaching job.
The good news is that shaping the neck of a violin involves taking off a relatively miniscule amount of wood that, in the hands of a good luthier, should put the integrity and value of an instrument nowhere near any sort of risk. One wouldn’t even consider this a modification, in the sense that any part of the instrument is fundamentally changed, but as a setup optimization, meant to improve an instrument’s playability and, in turn, the musician‘s experience.
I wasn’t going to write about your chinrest and shoulder rest setup since in your earlier posts you said you were comfortable with it. But since you mentioned you adjusted your shoulder rest, I feel I should share some guiding principles that I work with in my own practice and my own students, and I hope you find this useful.
Lorenzo, you're awesome! You did not have to do so much, and I am SO appreciative that you did!
I love Lorenzo's post above about setup and I agree with him on a lot of things. I use a Kun shoulder rest on both violin and viola and I like to have the shoulder side foot at lowest point so it's less obtrusive, and I raise the chest side leg to fill the space between violin and chest so the violin won't slip and I feel supported, and Lorenzo has already mentioned it. I would also pay attention to how you put the shoulder rest on. Many of us are taught to put it straight across the back of the violin, but this is not comfortable for many of us; I, and many others, like to put it on a diagonal angle. Of course the position of the chinrest will limit how I can put it on, especially side mounts, but it is worth experimenting with. In my experience, center-mounted chinrests are the ones that point the violin more in front (e.g at say, 10:30-11:00) with side-mounts pointing the violin more to the left (9-10:00). There are two main types of side-mounted chinrests, ones that sit entirely to the left of the tailpiece (e.g Kaufmann and Dresden) and ones that are side-mounted but actually reach over the tailpiece a little (e.g Wittner side mount version and Teka), so pay attention to this as well. Guarneris are an oddball because although they are technically center-mounted, the main chinrest is actually on the left side of the tailpiece. As far as the shape is concerned, you just really have to experiment. When deciding on the right shape, think about if you prefer a relatively flat chinrest or one with a scooped shape or something in between. If you want a height-adjustable chinrest that doesn't cost too much, Wittner offers two really good options. One is the Augsburg, which is a standard center mount, and the other is Zuerich, which looks like a Guarneri but is height-adjustable. Aside from the Zitsman which Lorenzo has already suggested, I would look at the following center and side mounted but reaches over the tailpiece chinrests and whatever else you can get your dirty little hands on: Teka, Wittner (the standard, non-height-adjustable versions in both side and center mount), Vermeer, Flesch (especially the flat one, since the original one has a strange bump in the middle which you may or may not like), Berber, and Priska. Also note that center-mount chinrests tend to be higher than many side mounts (especially the kind that sit entirely to the left of the tailpiece) because if a center mount is too low, it won't fit properly over the tailpiece.