There are so many texts and almost every beginner violin book begins with a short set of instructions with some photos on how to hold the violin. So I suppose this article is very redundant, but still this is a site to learn and practice the violin and it will not be complete without this. If you’re having a teacher, they would have taught you how to hold the violin. But if you’re trying to learn by yourself, I’d say this – don’t spend too much time and overthink this. That’s what self learners tend to do a lot of time they assume there’s some perfect position which makes it completely comfortable to hold the violin, and get frustrated that they’re not finding that sweet spot. There’s not. Playing the violin does tend to strain your neck, shoulders and hands, atleast in the beginning. Sometimes your back and fingers too. There’s only so much that can be communicated with words. You will find your sweet spot as you progress playing the violin – by making small adjustments that make you feel more and more comfortable as you go along through the days.
Holding the Violin – The Shoulder and The Jaw
My first advice is – use a chin rest and a shoulder rest. They make it way more comfortable and easier to hold the violin. Don’t debate about using them. If you are in a rare situation where one of them actually inconveniences you, debate about not using them. Otherwise, use the chin rest and a shoulder rest. Put the violin slightly pressed against your neck and rest your jaw on the chin rest. I find a center chin-rest suits short players and a side chin-rest suits others. A tall player might need some padding to avoid bending the neck too much. The violin will hold fine with just the natural weight of your head – you don’t have to press and hold it with force. It will feel doubtful when you’re just starting. It’s supposed to. Because the hold of the violin is not fixed rigidly. Your neck, shoulder and left hand adjust in intricate ways as required when you’re playing. Just be confident that things will fall into place after a few days of practice.
Holding the Violin – The Left Hand
Rest the neck of the violin between the first knuckle of the thumb and the third knuckle of the index finger. Don’t clutch it. Don’t grip it. Just rest on it. Remember that as you advance in playing, you should be able to move your hand up and down the neck of the violin, for shifting to higher positions. If you grip the violin’s neck or you have too much contact supporting the violin’s neck, it’ll be uncomfortable to shift. Some weight of the violin will be supported by the left hand but not as much to restrict shifting your hand up and down.
Holding the Bow
Playing violin requires dexterity of both hands and the fingers of both hands. Holding the bow requires just as much attention as holding the violin itself. The proper way is to hold the bow between the tip of the thumb and the middle part of the middle finger, and then rest the index finger and ring finger naturally on the bow. Usually, the first knuckle of these fingers contact the bow – but not strictly – don’t try to force it. Rest the tip of the little finger on top of the bow. It works like this – the hold between the thumb tip and middle finger is basic hold on the bow, the other fingers work subtly on positioning the bow and to differentiate the pressure as you play. But this happens automatically. You wish to play louder, your fingers will adjust automatically. Don’t worry about it. It’ll happen.
Although there once was a time very long ago, when people played the violin without chin rests or shoulder rests, it’s not really a good idea in the current times. Unless you have a rare structure that makes it easier for you to play without them, it’s better to use a chin rest and shoulder rest. That way, it will be easier for you to hold the violin comfortably and focus on what actually matters – the sound that comes out of your violin. I’ve read some articles on the internet that talk about the impact of shoulder rests on the sound quality. Ignore them for now. Several successful violinists today take advantage of chin rests and shoulder rests. If you’re still in doubt, just watch some videos of popular violinists on YouTube to know how common it is to use a shoulder rest.
Standing is best, but if you’re sitting, sit on a stool. Chairs with backs aren’t suitable for playing violin. The most important things are that your back isn’t hunching and you won’t accidentally hit on something as you pull your bow back and forth on the violin. Put your music stand in front of you and adjust it’s height such that you don’t have to depend on your neck to look up or down on it. You’ll need your neck for playing the violin and won’t always have the freedom to move your head as you like. Wear good clothing even if you’re simply practicing at home. Whether you’re wearing a shirt or a t-shirt, whether it has thick collars or the violin is in contact with your skin – things like this matter. If you practice all the time wearing a collarless t-shirt and suddenly have to play wearing a suit – you’ll be uncomfortable.
Before You Start
Internet is a treasure. There are countless videos explaining how to hold a violin. Search for ‘how to hold a violin’ and watch at least five or six such videos and just let those different perspectives sink in. Then watch the performances of some acclaimed players – pay attention and observe how they hold the violin, and how they lift up their violin and put it in it’s position. Do this for a few days and your body will find it’s own way to be comfortable while playing.
Your posture, the way you hold the violin, the clothes you’re most comfortable in while playing – all these are unique to you. Have patience and let things fall in place. Don’t think too much – let it come naturally. Just be mindful of what you learn everyday and let your body adapt by itself. Remember that it’s a frustrating journey in the initial few days until all this is behind you and your only problems are those tricky fingerings and playing in tune.
- Watch atleast 5 videos on the internet that teach you how to hold the violin – try to imitate what each video explains.
- Watch atleast 5 accomplished players performing on the internet and observe carefully how they hold the violin and the bow.
- Hold the violin properly and move your left hand up and down the finger board – as if you’re playing. The neck of the violin should not touch the web between your thumb and forefinger. Don’t grip the violin’s neck. Be comfortable with holding the violin and moving your left hand.
- Hold the bow properly and place it on the strings. The bow should rest on one of the strings, centered between the bridge of the violin and the finger board. Lift up and bring the bow down. Then keep it back on a different string this time. Observe how different it is to place the bow on the different strings. Repeat with different points of the bow touching on different strings.