Advice for beginner playing violin/viola like a cello?
As some of you might recall from previous posts, I'm a beginner in my 60's playing a violin strung as a viola. Back in 2012 I had lessons for about four months before I was forced to quit due to illness.
This summer I picked it up again and started over in my beginner book (Essential Elements 2000). I worked hard on scales, intonation and bow control. But left hand numbness soon became a problem. No matter how I stretched beforehand and tried to adjust my posture, I could not practice more than 20 or 30 minutes before having to stop. I believe it's ulnar nerve compression. I have really short arms. Even my 4/4 violin is too long for me to cup the scroll with my hand.
Instead of quitting, I decided to hold my "viola" vertically in my lap and play it like a cello.
On Sept. 26th I changed strings from Helicores to Tonicas and began playing vertically. What a nightmare! My fingers didn't know where to land; I had zero bow control. I wasn't playing my instrument vertically so much as learning an entirely new instrument from scratch. I felt so disheartened. But now I can practice for hours at a time.
A month later and bowing is a lot better. My biggest challenge right now is how to find the notes with my fingers, then improving intonation.
With my instrument held on my collarbone, the neck resting in the crook at the base of my thumb, my left hand always knew where it was in relation to the fingerboard. But playing vertically, my left hand feels lost in space.
Is there a way to create something like a "home base" for my left hand so my fingers know where they are in relation to the fingerboard? Or is this just something that gets better with more experience? (it has already improved somewhat from where I was a month ago)
Regarding intonation: I have a Korg CA-1 tuner to check my accuracy. My notes wobble quite a bit, even with my finger apparently in the same place. A "C" for example, won't be completely off as C# or C-flat, but it's not a perfect C, either. So I lean my fingertip this way or that way to make it a clean C, but as I do a long bow stroke the note still changes. It doesn't hold steady on the green light.
Once I manage to get a note perfectly "in the green", I can't seem to land it again without fishing for it.
When I played normally I was able to stay "in the green" more of the time. What am I doing wrong?
I know I need lessons from a teacher but that isn't an option right now. Any advice you can give me here is hugely appreciated.
Thank you for your time.
PS: Viola jokes are welcome :-)
"Autodictat." I had to look that up. Thank you for the encouragement, George.
Why not take a lesson from a cello teacher?
Most of the teachers are not doing in-person classes right now. I don't have a computer or smartphone that can do virtual classes. There is one teacher about 50 miles away who teaches both viola and cello, but I'm not up to making a 100 mile round trip.
Have you considered buying a 3/4 size violin instead of trying to use a full-size instrument? Or buy a 13" viola which a comparable size but is built to be a viola instead of using a violin restrung as a viola.
If you really want to play the violin, what you should to is take your violin with you to a physical therapist. I can recommend one who specializes in upper extremities and who does virtual appointments. She was recommended to me by Susanna Klein, who is a violin professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Show the PT how you are practicing and let THEM prescribe "stretching" or whatever exercises might be needed to keep you playing.
Thank you all for your advice. I really appreciate your taking the time to share your wisdom with me.
The piece of tape on the neck to anchor my thumb is helping a LOT. I can hear the improvement already, and the tuner shows it.
I wonder whether taking up the cello would be much more of a challenge for you than learning violin held like a cello? And viola da gamba might present less of a challenge than either option.
It's just that I don't want to play a cello. I honestly _love_ the viola, and I already have one (sort of).
My idea with the tape on the neck (not the fingerboard) is that once you have the 1st finger placed you work out the other "fingers by ear."
You could even try a really big viola by adopting cello-type fingerings.
That's an idea, Adrian. How are cello-type fingerings different from what I'm doing? Or, how big a change would it be?
The hair on a full size cello bow is 2 inches (5 cm) shorter than a violin or viola bow. The ideal bow length for a particular person is also related to their arm length.
Thank you again, Andrew!
I used my "cello Incredibow" on viola for a while and liked it fine. It all depends on the instrument and the rosin you use. I never liked it much for cello (but I have better cello bows).
If you're sure I know something, I'm afraid your confidence is misplaced! I did notice that the bows work better when I choke-up on the stick a little, so thanks. They're good bows, certainly better than I am. Nice to know the Incredibow is decent as well.
Re: 'cello fingerings.
When you play a violin or viola in "cello position" you will still finger it like a violin or viola.
Thank you both for explaining that.
Just to add that although I play my 15-3/4 inch viola in the usual way, I often borrow fingerings from cellists. Many violas need a firm left finger contact (except
I haven't even learned how to shift yet. Still in 1st position. But I'm prone to tendon injuries from the slightest nothings, and I don't heal well from them.
I am curious if you are using a cello style vibrato or violin/viola vibrato ? Forgive me if this has already been covered.
I should recommend watching cellists or cello tutorials: I find their vibrato is so much easier with the fingers coming in from the side, rather than from underneath.
that's interesting, Andrew.
It's no advantage for me - it may derived from the "taller" (or is it "wider") bows I've seen on line for use on Lyras. They could be held the way bassists hold German-style bass bows (French-style are held like cello bows).
Viola da gamba bows are less "deep" than bass bows but are still held "underhand". I find it possible to hold my normal bow this way, with the 2nd and 3rd fingers pressing on the hair. The up-bow motion is then the stronger one as the arm swings inwards.
If anyone's interested, I'm happy to say that things suddenly began to "click" today. My intonation is starting to sound better.
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