How much does the player's build affect the sound of their instrument?

July 3, 2021, 11:27 PM · I have never heard this discussed before, but there must be some influence because of how the instrument nestles into the player's body. I have thought about it now and then for years, but yesterday I was having a conversation with my athletic instructor and now I'd like to know. What I told him was that if nothing else, adding muscle to my bowing arm would weigh down my bowing arm and affect the sound. He thought that just general fitness would improve my posture, which we guessed could affect the sound. (I did admit to him that dropping my shoulders is something I'm always working on in viola practice.) But I'm wondering if adding muscle to my upper torso might also affect the sound. We did not get into a discussion of how strength in general adds to performance. (I'm thinking of Janine Jansen playing the Tchaikovsky violin concert, for example.)

Replies (16)

July 3, 2021, 11:45 PM · I doubt that anyone will have any actual information about this, but hey! I used to worry about Oistrakh's jowls but they didn't seem to do his sound projection much harm. A very good argument in favour of the chin rest.
July 4, 2021, 1:39 AM · I don’t think adding muscle should really have any negative impact unless your build develops to the point that you struggle to hold the instrument. Yes, muscle adds weight to your arm, but the strength that accompanies it also makes it easier to carry the weight. I don’t really see the weight of the arm itself as a problem, though, considering that players of all builds can play very well.

As I recall, Vengerov really got into bodybuilding for a while and it didn’t affect his playing (except for when he had an injury in the gym). Also, the military has a lot of amazing string players. In the past, the fitness requirements for the bands have been more lenient than those for the regular service members, but I’ve heard that that’s been changing in recent years.

July 4, 2021, 1:49 AM · If increased muscle mass is accompanied by more stamina without stiffness, it can surely be a good thing.
July 4, 2021, 3:44 AM · I'm sure it won't have any effect on your playing. As pointed out above, players of all builds and body types (ranging from someone on the slightly heavier side like Itzhak Perlman to a very petite Hilary Hahn) can play exceptionally well, it has nothing to do with the weight of their arm. And e.g. Anne-Sophie Mutter is known to work out regularly with a personal trainer in the gym.
July 4, 2021, 5:52 PM · Thanks, everyone!

I don't expect that my workouts would inhibit my viola playing--I'm not in any danger of gaining serious muscles. I was just wondering (hoping) if more muscles might translate into a deeper tone. But what you all say makes sense.

My violin teacher did tell me about a male student who just had too much muscle to play the violin very well. I'm sure Vengerov wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his career.

And the point about stamina is a valid one. In "Violin Dreams", Steinhardt was commenting on the stamina needed to play all the Bach partitas in one go.

July 5, 2021, 4:21 PM · Thick fingers will get in the way of each other. Long fingers may cause a different problem. Sloping shoulders and long necks may have been problematic before shoulder rests and tall chinrests, but may be overcome now. Long arms may force a potential player to learn to hold a violin further "off center" and require different approaches to vibrato and to straight bowing. These are only some of the physical attributes that may inhibit violin playing. However there have been great violin virtuosos who succeeded in spite of them.
July 6, 2021, 10:14 AM · Long arms and big hands will allow more choice in the placing & movement of fingers on the strings, in low and high positions.
July 10, 2021, 1:07 PM · True, and if you're a violist, you can have a larger viola!
July 10, 2021, 4:00 PM · And/or get to higher positions on your viola.
July 11, 2021, 4:28 PM · "Thick fingers will get in the way of each other."
LOL - you probably should not tell Itzhak that :o If your fingers are Frankfurters, his are Bratwurst.

On your theory it should definitely be impossible for him to play, in particular over say 5th position.

One advantage of thick fingers I believe is that its easier to generate a wide vibrato.

Edited: July 11, 2021, 5:06 PM · Elise - I am well aware of the size of Itzhak's fingers and hands (and my own) and the way we have to move our fingers out of each other's way at times.
That's how I know about the problem.
July 11, 2021, 7:16 PM · After losing over 100 lbs., I can tell you that the sound is improved as well as my mobility. the violin body doesn't have as much contact on my upper chest. the range of movement of my elbows on both arms is a sound improvement in itself.
July 11, 2021, 7:16 PM · After losing over 100 lbs., I can tell you that the sound is improved as well as my mobility. the violin body doesn't have as much contact on my upper chest. the range of movement of my elbows on both arms is a sound improvement in itself.
July 12, 2021, 5:34 AM · Watching the Brahms concerto played by Itzhak Perlman and then Kyung Wha Chung, fingertip breadth will give a different tone, hand breadth will affect finger angles, and where Perlman might use 1/4 of his available strength, Chung may need 3/4 of hers.
She had a gap of several years while her injured index finger recovered...
July 14, 2021, 4:06 AM · Less than technique, instrument, bow and venue. That's for sure.
July 14, 2021, 7:54 AM · Mischa Mischakoff, Mischa Elman, Ida Haendel, Ruggiero Ricci, and David Nadien were all very short in height, but they were titanic in stature with respect to their violin artistry. They didn't let their physical limitations, such as having small hands, get in they way of their wizardry.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Virtual Sejong Music Competition
Virtual Sejong Music Competition

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe