My first violin teacher didn’t play the violin. He was a French horn player who made his living teaching instrumental music at our elementary school. At the time, all students were given a hearing discrimination test at the end of second grade. Those who scored above a certain (and undisclosed) amount were handed a violin in third grade. I was one of those students.
Eight or ten of us got pulled out of class once a week for a group lesson. One of the first things we learned how to do was hold the instrument. Our teacher brought in a bag of marbles and placed one in each F-hole and had us balance the marbles. It was hard at first but I worked hard until I could balance them every time without dropping them.
There was only one problem: that method encourages a lousy violin position. The violin shouldn’t be flat like a table. It should be angled down a bit to encourage good bow position. It took me a while to unlearn that one.
We all inherit position problems either because we learn things that don’t work well, or we learn things that don’t well for us — every body’s different and sometimes what works for one person doesn’t work for someone else. But it’s worth trying to get it right. A good position is important for making the best use of your body’s natural strength. A good position keeps you from getting tense and tiring yourself out. It helps you play in tune.
Try watching videos of different violinists playing. There’s a wealth of material on youtube. If you need ideas of who to look for, you can check out my list of some of my favorite players in the “Violinists” tab above. Look at how players differ from one another, how the same player may hold an instrument one way for baroque music and another way for romantic music, how soloists’ position looks different from seated orchestral players. Try to put your own body into some of these positions. How does it feel? What happens when you play?
If you’re trying to teach yourself good position, you can find some helpful videos on position on youtube. <a href=http://youtu.be/HhXQho–DlE>This video</a> from Violin Lab Channel offers a detailed explanation of left hand position. And in the video below, Red Desert Violin demonstrates overall posture.
Note that these are both geared towards classical violin playing. You’ll see much more variation in fiddle playing. Compare, for example, this video of Joshua Bell playing the Sibelius violin concerto:
with this video of bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss:
Notice how Krauss holds her fiddle in front of her rather than off to the side as Bell does, and curves her body over her instrument as she plays. This is fairly common in bluegrass playing in general, but is also characteristic of Krauss. Bell is much more upright and moves a great deal as he plays, letting the scroll of the violin lead. His left hand looks a little stiff.
One of my favorite videos for comparing positions is this duet by legendary classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz violin great Stephane Grappelli peforming “Jealousy.”
Menuhin looks like he’s working a lot harder than Grappelli. He makes an incredible sound, but his bow! It’s incredibly crooked! I remember going to see Menuhin in recital when I was very young and I noticed that bow. I went back to my teacher triumphantly and said, “Menuhin plays with a crooked bow!” ”Well,” said my teacher, “When you an play like Menuhin, you can make your bow as crooked as you want.” Clearly good position isn’t everything, but it can help you. These two violinists both play beautifully, but if you want to take it easy, keep your eye on Grappelli.