How to properly hold a violin
Basics: Three main places of support
So how to hold a violin?
When you hold the violin there are three basic places of support: two of the most important are the left side of the collar bone and the shoulder. The left hand also supports the violin and constitutes the third place of support called the auxiliary. The violin rests on the collar bone and the shoulder. The jaw can gently rest on the chinrest providing natural weight between the collarbone and the chinrest, preventing the instrument from sliding off the shoulder. Many players still struggle with incorrect posture and feel uncomfortable when playing. It often results in different kinds of injuries or ineffectiveness in practice because our muscles should be relaxed and free, focused, and ready to respond. If they happen to be stiff and tense, it will block them from working efficiently and quickly. Even if any of your muscles are tense, that tension will spread over your body preventing your practice from being productive, efficient, and skillful. There is no worst scenario than being practicing with tension for many hours, playing the same music over and over again, and not realizing why it’s happening. Don’t get frustrated, its just your posture that prevents you from being talented. So, why do some young beginners have nearly perfect posture and technique, while others with years of practice and experience still struggle with old habits and lack of ease of playing? The thing is that everyone has a different body, we should consider an individual approach in setting up the violin and technique, including such aspects as shoulder rest, chin rest, left, and right-hand mechanics. For example, one student can find a shoulder rest best suited for his posture when another student will have to use a shoulder pad with an individually fitted chinrest. Violinists come in all shapes and sizes and what is most significant in body types is the shape and placement of those parts of the body that are most crucial in the complicated and interacting physical movements involved in playing.
When buying a chinrest, you should look to fit it to fill up the space between the chin and the collarbone. A chinrest has two functions: to fill up the gap between the violin and the chin and to protect the instrument and its varnish from our sweat and continuous skin contact. By the way, we should thank Louis Spohr, a German violinist, conductor, and composer, for inventing it in the early 19th century, around 1820.
The chinrest should be tall enough to fill up the gap between our jaw and the violin so our head and neck can stay balanced and relaxed. The height of the chinrest should not be substituted by the shoulder rest because it will move the violin away from the collar bone. Shoulder rest or a shoulder pad should fit between the back of the violin and the left shoulder to slightly fill up that space. The head stabilizes the violin and gently sits on the chinrest, shoulder rest, or a shoulder pad fills up the space between you should and the violin so the instrument is secured from slipping and pivoting too easily. . No pressure should be applied towards the chinrest.
If the shoulder pad cannot fill the gap or the gap is too high because of your body type, then you can use the shoulder rest that you can easily adjust to the right height. There are many types of shoulder rests and shoulder pads. I particularly like “ The magic pad ”. “KUN” or “BONMUSICA” shoulder rests are good choices if you decide to go with the shoulder rest. Usually, it takes time and effort to find the right setup, so don’t feel confused or discouraged if you are not comfortable with the current one and want to switch your shoulder rest one more time. As for me, I prefer a shoulder pad, because it gives me more freedom and flexibility in holding the instrument. One additional advantage of a shoulder pad is that it helps my instrument to sound brighter and more vibrant, dampening the sound much less than the shoulder rest. However, if you use a bigger shoulder pad with high-density foam that has substantial contact with the back of the violin it is likely to dampen the sound even more than a shoulder rest.
The nice thing about a shoulder pad is that it allows you to feel freer so you can effortlessly move the violin to the left or to the right, up or down, and be more flexible unlike the shoulder rest, that usually locks the instrument in the same position.
Specifics in holding the violin
Collarbone, shoulder, chin, and left-hand support
Why it is not advisable to place the violin from below? First, we want to make sure that we do not move our head and grab the violin with the neck trying to push the violin inside our neck and clunch it with the chin. Secondly, we want our shoulder to stay in its place instead of moving it down and adjusting its height for the instrument. You only should slightly lower your chin on the chinrest when putting the violin properly on your collarbone and shoulder. Do not move your head sideways either your shoulder to accommodate the instrument.The violin sits on the collarbone and the jaw gently rests on the chinrest. It can be held comfortably for long periods of time if you chose the right shoulder rest(pad) and chinrest and your body stays relaxed. Some violinists use a protective cloth to cover the collarbone for more comfort and hygiene.
Hold the violin with your left hand
Take the violin with your left hand by hugging its neck. Make sure to hold it securely.
Place the violin from above not below
Lift it, and place it from above, not from below, on the left side of your collarbone. Make sure your body stays straight and you do not lean your head to the back or sideways. Avoid placing it from below by moving it higher to reach your shoulder. When you lift it, your shoulder comes forward with your hand to be ready for the violin.
Why it is not advisable to place the violin from below? First, we want to make sure that we do not move our head and grab the violin with the chin trying to push the violin inside our neck and clunch it with the chin. Secondly, we want our shoulder to stay in its place instead of moving it down and adjusting its height for the instrument. You only should slightly lower your chin on the chinrest when putting the violin properly on your collarbone and shoulder. Do not move your head sideways or your shoulder to accommodate the instrument
Violin resting on the collarbone
It is very important to feel the violin on the collarbone so you feel grounded and it does not slide off. The head and the neck are balanced and not pivoted too much to the left or right, neither inclined downward. Any kind of unnatural neck stretching or pivoting of your head while holding the violin can be tiring, dangerous, and result in inflammation of muscles, injury, or myositis. However, most of the time it can be reversed by correcting your posture.
See below how a shoulder pad helps to support the violin apart from the collarbone.
Adjusted chinrest helps to fill the gap between the collarbone and chin
Your jaw should gently rest on the chinrest so it can secure the position of the instrument between your head and the collarbone. As you can see, the chinrest fills up the gap between the violin and the chin. If you are in the process of choosing a chinrest, I would strongly recommend Kreddle chinrest since it can be adjusted in many ways and has different height settings which you can customize and change angles in different ways. It is a truly universal chinrest that helped many violin and viola players in improving their setup. Many of my students and I had a very successful experience with Kreddle. If I take it off, the violin would be too low, and I would have to be forced to move my chin downward causing unnatural and unnecessary tension and neck stretching, which from my experience will result in pain even after a few minutes of playing.
The third place of support- the auxiliary support. Thumb and first finger
The violin is also supported by the left hand and the neck of the instrument lightly rests on the base knuckle of the first finger and the thumb. Do not press or squeeze the thumb and the first finger. The thumb should be free and able to move in any direction while resting or playing. These two contact points of support are flexible and may substitute each other while playing or shifting.
For example, when you are doing vibrato, the first finger does not provide that much support anymore, instead, it moves with the wrist and other fingers while vibrating. Otherwise, it can lock your hand and make your wrist and left hand tired.
see below left hand while vibrating
When you start your violin journey, it is helpful to simply hold the violin, walk around with it, getting used to it, and helping your muscles to understand the new setup. Pay closer attention to your body and your back, noticing any difference while moving with the instrument. Ideally, you should feel that the violin is a continuation of your body, organically connected to it.
Good luck in your violin journey.
Internationally trained violinist Vlad Evstafiev holds a Master in Music diploma from Glenn Korff School of Music where he was accepted as a Graduate Teaching assistant studying with David Neely, a former student of esteemed Joseph Gingold.Vlad served as a concertmaster of UNL Symphony Orchestra in 2015-2017.
Vlad also holds a Performer Diploma in violin performance from Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music, where he studied with a member of Grammy awarded Pacifica Quartet, Austin Hartmann.
Vlad, originally from Ukraine, received his first Masters of Music diploma in Moscow, Russia, studying with Prof. Golovina, a former student of both, Leonid Kogan and Yuri Yankelevich. He worked professionally with many orchestras including The Bolshoi Theatre and Moscow Central Philharmonic Orchestra under Yuri Simonov. In 2010, Vlad was invited to join San Luis Potosi Symphony Orchestra in Mexico, where he played with them for four years as the assistant principal of second violins as well as in a professional string quartet. At the same time, Vlad worked as a violin teacher at the State of San Luis Potosi School of Music and taught privately as well. Throughout his career, he has had great opportunities to work with such amazing, internationally recognized well-known artists as: Yuri Simonov, Maxim Vengerov, Anton Miller, Ben Folds, Leila Josefowicz, Midori Goto, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Pinchas Zukerman among others