Violin difficulties, will moving to the viola help?
Hi all, My name is Sam, an adult learner without a teacher (I've had bad experiences with teachers due to a disability I have), and I've been playing the violin for 5 years. In that time I have never found the instrument that comfortable, especially when playing the G string.
I have a right hand disability which means I have a unique bowing technique, but this isn't the issue. My right hand disability means that my left arm is relyed on for almost evrything in life and as a result is very developed.
I'm wondering if this over-development means that my bicep tenses too much when reaching round to the G string. Is this normal for muscular limbs? This tenseness happens simply when putting my index finger on the G string A in first position, even when there is no vibrato, no movement and no pressure down from the finger or up from the thumb. It is just the twisting required of the arm to reach that string.
If I press on the G string without twisiting my arm as much (keeping my elbow under the instrument), there is too much friction between the edge of the finger board and the base of the index finger, making vibrato close to impossible. I would have thought flexibility would come after five years of this but I haven't seen much change. Has anyone had this problem, or it is just normal for the instrument?
Lastly, I have heard some say that the larger viola can help tensing issues dissappear, while others say the opposite. I have always loved the sound of the viola and want to try it, but I'm curious if anyone has experience moving instruments and has any idea if I might find the larger instrument more comfortable. I'm 5'8 so what size viola might suit me?
Thanks for taking the time to read all this. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!
Height has nothing to do with it - it's the length of your arms and the size of your hands (& finger length). I'm 5'8" now (but down over the years from 6') and I find playing on the viola C string more difficult (and painful) than the violin G string - it wasn't always that way, but age takes its toll. I play 16" violas. If you can get to a shop to try different size viola do so.
There's nothing about muscular arms (within some non-cartoonish bounds) that would intrinsically encumber violin playing. You can have relaxed, muscular arms (or tense string beans). I was a strength coach and am a powerlifter, and am fairly muscular - my level of tension varies based on my mood and has little to do with being muscular or lifting weights.
I am skeptical such a switch will be miraculous, but my reaction is, if you can afford it, just try it! A decent student viola (Chinese) is not that expensive.
If you're having a hard time with the violin G string, the viola will be harder because you have to rotate your arm even more. This particular tension problem is one that should probably be solved on violin before you try to take up the viola.
Based on what you say (issues with twisting and reaching around for G-string), switching to viola is probably going to be more difficult unless you are comparing the G-string on violin and G-string on the viola (and forget about the C-string).
Sam, since you are to be self-taught, your personal comfort is the important thing. It's not impossible you might find a sympathetic teacher.
I have a 30° tilt on violin, 45° on viola, so I get a warm vibrato on the lowest string with my short pinky..
Well said, Adrian!
Thanks so much everyone for your input!! I've found after a bit of experimentation that lowering the instrument further down my chest/collarbone helps reduce tension reaching round to the G. I'm using a necklace around the shoulder rest to support the violin in that position. The downside is that now my right hand struggles to bow the E string as the bow is closer to the vertical, which my disability makes difficult. So it is a balancing act.
I have one more question to ask. My right hand has no horizontal wrist motion and I cannot move my fingers independently of one another. As a result I grip the bow handle like a claw, using my wrist's vertical movement to keep the bow roughly perpendicular to the strings as it moves up and down. I can get a smooth sound out of it some of the time but not always, as the grip means I can't let the bow glide of its own accord as I have heard it should be (A previous teacher called my bow hold 'a disaster'). I'll admit it is difficult to get smooth tones out of the high positions on the g string, as well as certain notes on the other strings (C is a problem on the D and A strings) though this my just be my instrument.
1-If you have a problem with C on both D & A strings it might be a WOLF TONE. There are ways to fix this if it is. You should check with another player to see if it is a wolf. Cellists know a lot about wolfs - they can spot them a mile away! It is a "battle" between the vibrating note of the string and a very close resonant frequency vibration of the instrument body that sounds as a note that will not play out properly and sometimes seems to be caught in a "machine-gun battle." There are "wolf eliminator" devices that can help - and some that can actually cure the problem.
There are guys on here who play the violin quite well even though they are fairly pumped. So I don't think that's an issue.
Thanks Andrew, I'll investigate the wolf note. My right is never tense, I simply have to hold the bow a certain way because of no lateral wrist motion (only having vertical wrist motion means my right hand palm faces the instrument and grips the end of the frog that way), but it is not uncomfortable at all, just difficult to control the bow smoothly (lack of finger dexterity means I have two choices - I either grip the bow and have restrictive control, or I don't grip the bow but have no control whatsoever.
Sam, now I understand your bowing problem better. Let me suggest that the German-style bass bow has a frog designed to be held the way you are holding your violin bow. Just google "German style bass bow" to see examples. (The French style looks like an overgrown cello bow, completely different bow hold.)