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I'm teaching myself the violin. I'm a guitar player for many years so I'm (at least I believe) going kind of fast with progress. I started learning without a shoulder rest for about two months and on the third I finally got one because I was having neck/upper back pain.

As soon as I put the shoulder rest my playing transformed for the better, but now I'm having issues again, the violin with the shoulder rest and the weight of my chin is becoming like a spring, and every time I lift all my fingers from the violin or when I'm string crossing from the A string to the E string... the violin gets pushed up by my jaw causing a slight slide of the finger on the finger board, making it seem like I'm correcting the note, which I do not do intentionally.

As I said I'm self taught so I can't really determine if it's my left hand pushing too hard (which I doubt because I transfered my technique from guitar to the violin and I strongly believe my left hand is not placed in a wrong way but always leave room for misjudgment) or if it's the shoulder rest height, or if my jaw/head is out of control.

I'd like advice on how to fix my violin posture or my shoulder rest's height or whatever it is that's causing this problem.

EDIT: Just in hopes that this question will become easier... I used to touch the fingerboard with the side of my index finger up to now, after watching a few vids on youtube by some youtubers, they said to not touch it. And that's when the problem started but my intonation got better (sort of the same way I play the guitar) but just in the awkward way that the violin is played. Thanks

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    The violin is a gigantic middle finger to the field of ergonomics. But it will never be redesigned because tradition scoffs at that sort of thing.
    – Mentalist
    Commented May 13 at 7:14

4 Answers 4

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I strongly disagree with approaches that tell you to disengage your index finger from the fingerboard, and I do not teach this way. Consider the history. The violin was played for about three centuries without either chinrest or shoulder rest. During this time, there would be no "jaw lever" action. Today, beginners are often taught that they have the right violin hold if they can remove their left hand from the instrument (for a few seconds) and support it with only their jaw.

Now, before I condemn this approach entirely, there is some valid motivation to it. It's a good "check" to make sure you have everything positioned correctly; there are many common mistakes that could make the "jaw-only hold" impossible, like having the violin too far forward or pointed the wrong direction. And in modern technique, you do want the left hand to be able to move around the neck very freely, but the need for this will come after about a year of study, as you start "shifting" into higher "positions." Until then, I think it's important to teach a loose, relaxed hold in all the parts of the body (including left hand, but also including jaw and shoulder).

I teach it this way: The violin rests on three points. One is your thumb—the fleshy pad of the thumb, with the tip of your thumb barely "peeking" above the edge of the fingerboard. The second is a part of your index finger; it's the bony bulge of the joint that is the base of your finger, right where it meets your palm. (In anatomical terms, it's actually the end of the bone that's inside your palm, the metacarpal.) Hold your left hand open and flat, as if there's a mirror glued to your palm, and you can see yourself in that mirror. The violin should be able to rest against this "bump" even if your hand is open this way.

At this point, the violin is supported. If you were to play baroque-style and take off your chinrest and shoulder rest, you'd be done. (And you would have no tension in your jaw or neck.) In modern technique, and to make shifting easier, we add the chin on the chinrest, but for the most part it's just stabilizing and making the violin less "wobbly." Later, you might want it to use that lever action to take over the job of support from the hand briefly, during a shift, and then release again. But I wouldn't worry about that for now. In fact, I would encourage you to, from time to time, lift your head from the chinrest and look around, to release any tension in your head and neck.

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    I choose this answer as correct not because it's Correct or Wrong, but because I already decided that I will touch the violin with my index finger since it makes things easier and doesn't really create any problems at the moment. When attempting vibrato I can disengage it and all is good and well. One thing that I don't know if it's relevant or not here is about the shoulder rest. Most people that suggest playing without one usually have short necks, I have a long one so shoulder rest is a must. I tried without and it literally killed me. Impossible to hold the violin steady without tensing.
    – Not Amused
    Commented May 14 at 19:43
  • I mentioned the shoulder rest because you mentioned "old times" and how people were playing without shoulder rest. I can't.
    – Not Amused
    Commented May 14 at 19:43
  • @NotAmused I do recommend to my students on modern violin that they use one. You might also want to try different models to see what works best for you! I also play "baroque violin," i.e. gut strings and no chinrest or shoulder rest. You get used to it; instead of steadying the violin with the chin, I push in against my neck slightly more. But experimenting with it can be a great way to make sure you don't have extra tension in your shoulder/neck/jaw. Commented May 14 at 19:52
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    I do use one, my playing improved insanely the same day I put it on. I use the wolf forte secondo and it works great for me. I wanted to be like the guys in older times, no crutches and stuff. But I realized it was just stupid when Is tarted having insane back pains and my every day life getting worse because of it. I'm still new to all this though, I play for only 3 months so I think it was all worth it, exploring the options I mean, even if it caused some struggle. Cheers!
    – Not Amused
    Commented May 15 at 21:07
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As Emil said, there will always be a slight movement. When you drop your fingers on the fingerboard, they press it down. So they should press as lightly as possible, while firmly enough to get a clear sound . People talk about

  1. A soft wrist and the correct angle of the wrist
  2. Dropping fingers from the base knuckle, not simply pressing at the fingerboard and
  3. Moving the elbow in to help the fingers reach the lower strings.

Point -- the amount of pressure required to get a clear sound can be surprisingly little, and needs experimentation on your instrument

So less finger pressure means less "springy" movement of the violin

Hope this helps

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It is impossible to have it not elevate at all (since that would require you gripping it with jaw with unwarranted tension, and you should only move as little as possible while still making it stay), but the movement should be very small (like millimeters maybe). Before I had a shoulder rest it would move several centimeters because it seems like I have a giraffe neck or something ;) (large mandible-clavicle distance). So I have to have my should rest at absolute maximum.

There is good content on youtube, I like for example http://www.youtube.com/user/violinclass a lot since she has some guides that made me understand a lot about the hand. And https://youtube.com/user/RedDesertViolin about the shoulder rest. There are also good books on technique, I borrowed some from library and bought some. (Be warned that some are only exercise books with sheet music, takes some digging to find the ones that actually describes the movements).

There is also a similar question asked by me before that had some good pointers https://music.stackexchange.com/a/109034/60885.

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    You just made me realize that giraffes would never have invented the violin, good one.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 12 at 15:15
  • Yeah, I already follow Julia Bushkova, she's an amazing teacher and insanely helpful for someone who tries to teach themselves. I actually decided that I will just touch the index finger on the fingerboard. I've watched videos and there are many pros who do it exactly like that, and if it's comfortable why not do it? By transferring my guitar knowledge to the violin, I can predict that it will not harm me later on. Actually my intonation already got better since yesterday.
    – Not Amused
    Commented May 12 at 16:13
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It seems like you might be countering the force on the fingerboard with only your chin. Your left thumb should be supporting the neck too.

The end of your thumb should be roughly aligned with the seam between the fingerboard and neck on the left side (overextending it is a common beginner problem). That way, the bone of your knuckle can support the neck without much force.

Keeping your hand relaxed in this position will be another thing to get used to. At your level you may not have tried shifting positions yet, but if you're having trouble keeping from squeezing too hard, I'd recommend learning to shift or at least practicing the basic motion of it. Being able to shift smoothly and keep control is really the core goal of all this nitpicky posture stuff.

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  • Thanks for the tips, I already do that with the thumb, though I believe that the biggest support is the beginning of the index finger. My grip is not tensed because as I mentioned I'm a guitarist for 20+ years. I have good technique and I know what good technique on stringed instruments should feel like. I have tried shifting and I have no problem performing them, now how in tune they are... is a whole other story heh. For reference on my level, I can play an Irish Fiddle called Morrison's Jig with ornaments and awaking the centuries violin parts from hangard (band), also finished suzuki vol1
    – Not Amused
    Commented May 16 at 21:18

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