How to Hold the Violin
Key phrase is this: “It needs to look natural.”
Long arms, narrow shoulders, short necks, big hands, chubby wrists, large torsos and all their opposites can change one’s grip of the violin. If “correct” is the term to use, when talking about how to hold the violin, it is necessary to say there are many correct ways to play the violin. This is sort of a grey zone, where also various types of music can require various “correct” ways to hold the violin. Various body types can adapt to the “correct” of the style in their own way.
On the other hand, “wrong” is “wrong”.
Below are some pictures showing how to and how not to hold a violin, and quiet frankly, it is too easy to find “appealing” pictures with people that has no idea what they are doing (this is a clear mistake of the photographers rather than the people who are posing for the photographer in my opinion) but the “good ones” are looking way more natural, as any one can eaaaasily notice.
Regardless of the body types and differences between people, there are essentials of posture that stays the same. These essentials are there to make things easy and/or doable for the player, rather than making it “correct”.
Keep on reading to learn what are the healthy essentials about how to hold the violin and the bow. Contact me to get better at your posture via firstname.lastname@example.org to book a Skype lesson!
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Nothing is “sticking out” in this picture. The bow hand is nicely curved, pinky is relaxed and sitting on top of the bow instead of stretching and reaching out to it. Shoulders are even, elbows are supporting the angle the hand needs to do. There is a clear line from the tip of the bow till the elbow and the line is going as smooth as possible towards the shoulder. Hand on the fingerboard is not squeezing anything, and hand holding the bow is also well relaxed, it is not “carrying” the bow, it is leading the bow, which is how it should be.
Violin can be angled slightly downwards. Ideally right hand knuckles shouldn’t be visible. The shoulders are not balanced in this picture, but it is a picture in motion and one can get out of balance and get back on it while playing. Notice how straight the wrists of both hands are. You can clearly see a smooth line starting from the hand till the elbow in each hand. Bow hair is facing the player since the point of contact between the strings and the bow hair is closer to the frog.
Even when your bow is finishing you don’t have to change the hand angle much. You use your right upper arm, elbow and wrist to support this angle. In this picture the bow is slightly too much bended (hair of the bow is facing the face of the guy) but it can be a choice to play that way, nothing wrong with it as long as it is consciously done. One can clearly see that he is comfortable. Fourth finger in the left hand is stretching, but no worries, not the end of the world. Notice the visibility of the left thumb. That is the average limit, often your thumb should not be higher than that.
This is how left thumb supports the other fingers of the left hand. Notice the palm is facing the fingerboard ever so slightly and the fingers on top of the fingerboard are nicely curved, they are ready to play in any string. The wrist is as straight as it can get. Any pressure that would be done by the upper fingers will receive a stable support from the left thumb in this position. I’m not a fan of the right hand in this picture but it certainly is not a bad one.
One can hardly go more wrong than this. Notice the extreme push done by the pinky towards the bow. It is a perfect 90 degrees, which should never ever ever ever happen while holding anything in life. Not that this only pushes the bow away from the fingers and makes it harder to grab, it also blocks the abilities of the wrist, and make it impossible to control the angle of the bow.
Violin can only go upwards if the entire spine is changing its direction to bend backwards. If you lift the violin up with no reason, your shoulders loses balance, your elbow naturally doesn’t know what to do and it “sticks out”. Bow hand is also full of tension, and this position can not last more than 2 minutes without hurting one seriously (not to mention the tone of the violin would be dry, squeeky and uncontrolled. No negative comment for the model that poses for this picture, photographers should higher professionals.
There is no bow holding like this, so I will simply skip it. Bow hair is also over tightened, poor bow, can’t last forever like this. If you lock your left hand wrist by bending it and sticking it to the fingerboard, you block any ability that your index finger could have and all other fingers simply can’t just curve and sit on the strings, and you can’t change strings easily. Also notice the head tilt and how unbalanced it is looking. (I didn’t mirrored the image by the way, either the untrained model is left handed and they especially got a violin for him or the person preparing the image simply thought for some reason that this angle is aesthetically more pleasing. (!)
This is, by far, the most common wrong posture one can get. If you are looking similar to this, don’t feel alone, most people tends to have this posture when holding the violin for the first time. Knuckles visible in both hands to its extreme. Pinky pushing the bow away, right thumb curved outwards and also pushing the bow away, the other fingers trying to reach out for it, right elbow is so down that the bow can not gain any weight from the arm and support from the back, left wrist sticking to the neck of the violin and blocking any communication with the fingers, fingers stretching due to the impossibility of the angle. Head tilted so much that the neck muscles are sharply visible. Sharp angles and L shape curves all around. The less the better.
To Do or Not To Do
Technical tips for various levels. Useful stuff for everyone.
Fingertips don’t hold, your hand does
When you “hold” a cup, you don’t stick your fingers out and only hold the cup with your finger tips right? Same applies to every single touching point of the violin and the bow. Whenever you are “holding” the bow with your finger tips, you are doing something slightly off. The fingertips trying to hold the bow will rather push the bow away from your palm and it will be much harder to control the poor thing.
Elbows don’t follow hands, hands follow elbows
Karate Kid watchers have an advantage point here. “Wax on/wax off” is not a motion of hand, it is a motion of the arm. Motion of something small needs to be prepared by the bigger one. If you move your hand to a place and your arm follows it after, that gives too much work to the smaller part of your body (hand). Elbow is the preparation tool for shifting strings for both arms. If bow is going to go from Sol string to Mi string, the motion starts in the elbow. If you will start playing on Re string and then go on playing on Sol string, your elbow prepares the situation for your hand to feel the most comfortable. If shifts are appearing too fast and too many times, elbows find a midpoint (in the middle of Re and La strings) to give optimum comfort to hands.
Left thumb is not a decoration
It supports, it moves, it guides. Any finger on the fingerboard creates a weight and that weight can be handled by the thumb. So, do not stick your thumb out from the left side of the fingerboard. If you put your thumb slightly under the fingerboard, and support the movement of your other fingers, your left arm relaxes much more and stays up and awake for longer time.
Balance the bow
If you gain awareness of the fact that you are not actually holding the bow but rather controlling how it moves over the violin, you will realize how much of the tension you have in your right hand will simply become unnecessary. Think about it, 99% of the time you play the violin the bow is actually on the violin, hence you don’t have to make any strength to actually make sure it is up there, right? Your job (if there is any) is to make sure it doesn’t fall from the violin. This is one of the easiest ways to relax the right hand.
Pressure is not created by squeezing muscles
There are limited times where you actually need to create pressure with your fingers of your right hand. The pressure can be given by putting on weight instead of squeezing muscles and the weight you need is available in your arms. Your arm can find the strength in your back and can hang to your elbow, this way all the weight of it can channel to your hand.
Left hand ring finger and pinky can stretch
Goal being having the fingers as curved as possible, especially in the beginning still you might want to look away when your third or fourth finger is trying to find the correct pitch in large intervals. Third and fourth finger are hard to put round on the fingerboard and trying to do that with muscles that are not strong enough can create frustration, which is worse than them being slightly stretched. When the time comes you can gain control over the angle. Straight fourth finger is common even around some famous violin players.
Curve the fingers
Unless a certain technique is required, the bow hand never has a straight finger sticking out (even in those certain techniques there is a high chance that it shouldn’t). All fingers must stay as curved as possible the whole time. And the curve angle is always inwards. Meaning your thumb must curl inside towards your palm, not the other way around. Outwards curve creates tension, tension creates tiredness. Although in the first ten minutes it might be doable to play with such way, you won’t see the minute eleven that way.
Touch the string to the fingerboard, no more!
Common issue. Higher left shoulder. Which unbalances your back, makes you tired quickly, it can even hurt. This is mostly caused by the hand trying to overpower a non existing monster. The fingerboard is there to trap the string to change its length. The moment the string is trapped by your finger to the fingerboard, your job is done. You don’t need to put any more pressure on it. If you are seeing the tip of your nail becoming white when you play a note with that finger, you need to chill. Practice slowly to see when is the point of contact achieved, and learn to stop at that point. Besides getting muuuch healthier, as a bonus, gaining awareness over this issue will make fast passages much easier for you.
No healthy motion requires 90 degrees shaped by the human body naturally. When playing the violin, avoid having sharp angles created by your wrists. Never bend your wrists to create any L shape, it simply is never necessary. Whenever you create a “corner” shape in your body while trying to play the violin, you are harming the muscle flow and much of the things are requiring more effort than they could need. This can lead to too much tension, over tiredness and pain. Check the wrists and make sure they are aligned with your palms and your arms.
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