Learning how to hold the violin properly is one of the most basic, crucial lessons any beginner should learn.
Yet, it’s surprising just how many violinists struggle to do it properly, making playing the instrument (and improving over time) much harder.
Whether it’s while performing in front of an audience, or simply practicing by yourself, if you learn how to do it the right way, you’ll see the benefits for years.
Use the following steps to help you better understand how to hold the violin. You won’t regret it.
Step 1. Use a Shoulder Rest
A shoulder rest is a pad that aids your posture. They’re highly recommended for beginners, especially if your shoulder is sufficiently broad or sloped downward from the neck. The shoulder rest fits the slight space between the back of the violin and your shoulder.
The violin should rest on your collarbone, with your hand and shoulder supporting the weight of the instrument. Make sure to never place your jawbone on the chin rest, however, or you may experience some discomfort or pain later.
If you’re right-handed, hold the violin along the left side of your body using your left hand. The instrument should sit on top of your shoulder, with your chin on the chin rest.
Using a shoulder rest of any kind can help you secure the violin in an upright position. It also helps keep the instrument in place. You don’t want the shoulder rest to sit too high for you, but the goal is to prop the instrument up enough to keep it from moving much.
With a shoulder pad, you should be able to hold the violin up briefly using increasing weight on the chinrest to release your left hand. You can hold the violin more easily and comfortably for a longer period with correct posture and a correctly fitting shoulder rest.
There are many types of shoulder rests available, including:
- A violin sponge and rubber bands
- An inflatable shoulder rest
- A manufactured shoulder rest with feet
In each category you’ll find many different types of shoulder rests as well. Some are larger than others, depending on the size of the player. However, the thickness of the pad has no relation to your neck size.
Low-density or anti-slip options are ideal because the foam pads come in minimal contact with the instrument and don’t adversely affect the sound.
Younger students should stick to a shoulder rest that allows the chin to sit on the chin rest without lowering too far. A shoulder rest that sits too high will uncomfortably lift your chin above a relaxed level. If you feel like your shoulder rest is not right, adjust the fit or find a brand that better suits you.
Step 2. “Nose, Scroll, Toes”
If you’ve ever taken professional violin lessons, you probably already know the violin mantra “nose, scroll, toes” is meant to help you maintain your posture. It’s also a great mantra for helping you remember to adjust the violin from rest to a playing position the correct way.
The chin should rest gently on the chin rest, which means your nose should point in the direction of your scroll. This allows your eyes to easily see the instrument and your hands. It even helps you sight-read sheet music.
The chin rest also protects the top of your instrument and can adjust based on your neck size. The jaw on the chin rest offers support and stability. You may use it more actively at certain times while you play the violin than others, as gravity pulls the instrument down.
Flat, simple chin rests are the most comfortable options. However, contoured chin rests with chamois skin or another non-slip material can cover the collarbone or chin rest for added comfort while you play.
The toes should remain all in line. When you turn the head to look at the scroll, you’re also looking at the instrument in front of your toes.
Not all violinists follow the nose, scroll, toes rule. However, it’s the rule you’re taught to adhere to when learning to play the violin. After you get better at following the rules, you can start to break them to suit your needs. Beginners should always stick to nose, scroll, toes.
Step 3. Keep Your Chin Pressure Light
Many beginners wonder how hard the chin should press down on the shoulder rest of the violin. It’s tempting to hold the violin rightly with the jaw or the left hand, but the bad habit can cause the player to fall into improperly supporting the instrument.
The pressure can remain light to keep the instrument in place as long as you use a shoulder rest. You may need to press down harder on the chin rest if you don’t use a shoulder rest, which can cause the muscles to lock up over long performances.
If your chin hurts when you play or the muscles are sore later, you are pressing your chin down too hard. Your head weight should remain gentle, with a relaxed neck to stabilize the instrument.
Experiment with the right amount of pressure on your chin rest by first placing your hand under the violin in case it falls. Then, slowly release the pressure on your chin rest until just before the violin is about to fall from a lack of pressure.
Step 4. Remain Level Headed
As nose, scroll, toes starts to explain, you want your head to remain level with your violin. When the instrument is in the proper position, the scroll should neither point at the floor or at the ceiling. Instead, the scroll aligns perfectly parallel to the floor and the ceiling (and your nose).
Remaining level headed while playing the violin helps your posture. Later, your technique will be ideal for any more advanced techniques you want to attempt.
Step 5. Hand Placement
Hand placement is one of the most important factors.
- In first position, your thumb should be touching the neck of the violin at the middle joint and there should be an open space between the base of your index finger and the lower half of your thumb. A good test is to grab a pen or pencil to see if it freely fits through that space.
- Your thumb and first finger should be aligned when playing a whole step above the nut.
- Fingers nails should be short enough so the fingertips make contact with the fingerboard
Step 6. Maintain a Straight Wrist
Along with hand placement comes the wrist. Your wrist should rotate so the pinky is facing you and you should keep the wrist straight and stiff, with no bending or flatness (and certainly no bending inwards).
It’s easy to tell if your wrist posture is incorrect because your hand will resemble the motion you use to hold up a tray or push something. Use a mirror if you’re not sure what this looks like and ensure your form is correct.
A good rule of thumb (excuse the pun) is you don’t the base of your thumb contacting the neck.
Step 7. Body Position
If you’re using a music stand, position your body so the scroll of the violin is about 8 inches to the left of the stand. If you face the stand straight on to the stand, you’ll find reading the music a struggle. Maintain a straight body, but just face 8 inches or so to the left.
In terms of your body stance, you should stand up straight with the feet shoulder length apart. You should line the neck of the violin up with left leg and foot. Careful not to position yourself too far over to the left, as that will make it difficult to draw a straight bow all the way to the tip.
Rest your left elbow directly under the violin. Your elbow should never sit behind the instrument. This means the elbow sits generally under the strings of the violin. When you play either the D or G strings, you’ll notice the elbow pushing forward slightly toward your E string.
It might sound odd, but keeping your elbow in this position helps you play more easily because it provides a bit of extra finger length.
With these seven simple steps, you can ensure your posture is perfect while playing the violin.
Practice your posture by holding the instrument in varying settings. Walk around slowly, stand, or sit. Pay attention to your posture and balance the entire time, noting how it feels to support the violin.
Maintain the same posture even time you run your hand up or down the neck of your violin, maintaining the proper contact points necessary for ideal posture. Then, you can work up to more advanced vibrato movements.
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