Some rough notes on posture

LESSON : Right Hand : Holding the bow


Much can be deduced by an experienced eye from a players bow hold. Though there are many different ways to hold a bow, there is always one suited to each particular hand. People with short arms, and rounded hands almost always place them more comfortably than people with long arms and fingers.
For beginners it is important not to halt playing to correct any finger which may go astray on the bow. The thumb should be bent to avoid locking or clamping of the wrist and hand. It should never be allowed to straighten and be jammed under the bow in an inert and frenzied attempt to steady the bow ( as the illustration below shows ). The little finger should never leave the bow, always touching it on its tip.

Above : A good bend in the thumb ( & fingers )

Above : A bad bow hold : The thumb is bent the wrong way or not at all ! This easily creates undesirable tension at the base of the thumb and can be the cause of a loss of adhesion to the bow on the string. 

First steps

These are some key points of advice for a violin beginner. They must be followed, and the teacher must know when and how much to insist.

1. To understand the simplicity in holding a bow try the following experiment: sit at a table and place a pencil in front of you, parallel to your shoulders. Take your hand away. With as much delicacy as possible, slowly lift the pencil about an inch off the table using all 5 fingers.

2. The thumb. The first thumb joint (joining first to second phalanx) must always be bent. It must never be allowed to straighten out (or worse, bend backwards away from the hand), as this would cause a major loss in sound quality and is always considered unhealthy as it invariably leads to contractions and unnecessary tensing of the muscles at the base of the thumb. The second thumb joint should also be bent, and indeed the whole hand should feel and look quite rounded. This condition is the most natural, and one that occurs naturally if one sits down, completely relaxes his hand, and lays it, palm up, on a table in front of him.

  1. The little finger should always touch the stick on its tip. It should also be rounded and never straightened out like a toothpick ! Here are two common errors to avoid :

Above : bad little finger actually bends the wrong way : This is an appalling bow hold

Above : Oh no ! The little finger is not touching the bow on its tip ( this would be fine for a Cellist only.
Do not copy the illustration above !! )

Above: These middle fingers adhere badly to the bow
( They should touch it to feel the bow and ultimately the sound vibrations )

Part 1 - BASICS cont.

LESSON : L.H. Balancing the violin

Stance - Posture

No fixed positions. Stand at ease with even weight on both feet. Feet should be placed one under each shoulder. The torso should not be twisted. Later we will add a tendency to lean on left, especially to free the R.Arm for bowing.

Above : The feet are too far apart

Above: The feet are too close together

Above : Good - The feet are shoulder width apart. This is a good stance while studying.
Note the feet are parallel as if along a railway line

Holding the violin

Keep an upright head and turn it slightly to the left. Use the right hand supporting the violin by its ribs to lift it onto the collarbone as you gently lift your head to accommodate it. Now, lower the head gently onto chin-rest. Do not lift the left shoulder, but support violin with left hand. The scroll points to the ground to relax left hand (position shifts use horizontal or high scroll to throw weight of violin towards player.)

Above : A casual stance ; the feet are untidy and imbalanced - This just will not do !

Left Arm

For the first steps in placing the fingers on the fingerboard: Do not pull elbow far to the right - it should fall naturally somewhat to the left! Like holding on to a tram or bus hand grip; the elbow dangles down, settling at ease due to its own weight. Placing the elbow excessively to the right puts an enormous strain on the whole arm, which, no longer relaxed, robs the hand of most of its freedom and suppleness.

The violin changes position for E to G string playing.

Above : A fair bow hold : The fingers should be slightly slanted. Note there are slight differences between violin schools in how much slant is used. Heifetz was very slanted, whereas Oistrakh's fingers met the bow almost flatly.

Above : Here there is no slant. This is very close to a good hold, but just 5 - 10 degrees of slant would already be acceptable

Above : Too much slant on bow here. The little finger is risking a straightened out shape

The Left hand
Mute shifting exercise.

A U-shaped valley should form between 1st finger & thumb. A "bath tub" - incredibly relaxed. Violin neck should sink in quite deeply with utmost comfort. The wrist should bend in towards player slightly. The fingers are placed on A string 1st position with fleshy part on string - keeping fingers & whole hand rounded. The thumb should remain totally passive, wherever it falls (although deeply into neck & opposite 1st - 2nd finger.

Finger placing exercise.

The following exercise is to be done in a very slow and soft manner. With a lazily rounded hand, aim to touch the fingerboard with as fleshy a part of the fingertip as possible, giving a large area of contact. Place, without bowing, in 1st position on the A string A B Csh D E* The fingers should move fairly slowly, and on reaching the string, should slowly and consciously begin to depress the string, until it contacts the fingerboard, after which it should slowly release the string from the fingerboard, and continue to lift itself up, away from the string. The path of movement should be directly into and away from the string, so as to make it move through the shortest path to reach the fingerboard.

Both thumb & wrist should remain totally relaxed & passive. The thumb should approximate the curvature of the neck. The fingers should use an incredibly light pressure on fingerboard, especially after contacting it. Think of how little pressure is needed to stop a string!

* (or E flat if the 4th finger feels too week to make the E natural completely relaxed. This is so as not to tire or tense it, but just allow a free & smooth articulation. Later, gradually go for E natural)

Part 1 - BASICS cont.

LESSON : R.H. Open string bowing

Above : keep the bow parallel to the bridge at all times. This is slightly harder to maintain at the heel and the tip

The following exercise can be practiced at all levels, from a beginner's first lesson to a concert violinist who has spent a few days away from his instrument. The first necessity in each case is to acquire or reacquire sound (quality), and for this purpose a whole bow stroke is used.

The objective of this stroke is that of sustaining a pure and even timbre. It is impossible to overemphasize this fundamental guideline. The true quality of the violin tone needed can only be understood from live examples. However these descriptions will help towards the right approach. We shall refer to this idealistic timbre as "tonus". Tonus must always consist of a true and adherent contact between bow and violin. The tone must never be forced, just as one's own singing voice can become crude or acquire a harsh edge if forced. The fullness of the tone must be attained quite naturally, leaving the weight of the bow to fall vertically on the string. The tone must always be beautiful; the more refined and coherent the sound, the more perfected the bowing technique. The quality of the sound, or sound itself is first created in the imagination, or the mind. All the different sensations, the physical touch such as the tingling of the bow in the fingers, the feeling of a floating elbow during the stroke, the surrounding acoustics, and many others are recorded mentally, and this image is just as important to the quality of the sound as the physical movements themselves.

Above : The violin is held too high

Above: Violin too low ( only rarely is a slightly low postion desirable for relaxed left hand passage work which relies on lightness, agility & reflexes

Above: This more horizontal violin hold is better, though sometimes the strings themselves should follow a horizontal line

Physics of a bowed string

Before starting, here are some fundamental rules worth going over.

1) The best tone and the easiest to produce is accomplished by drawing the bow parallel to the bridge. This requires particular care especially when nearing the two extremes of the bow.

2) The faster the bow speed, the closer the bow contact should be to the fingerboard. Very slow bowing should be done quite close to the bridge; in some cases, extremely close.

3) The shorter the bowed string is stopped with the left hand, the closer the bow contact should be to the bridge. So, as progressively higher notes as played, such as an ascending scale, so should the bow contact move proportionately towards the bridge and vice versa.

4) The lighter the bow pressure, the further away from the bridge the bow contact should move and vice versa.

5) The volume of sound can be increased by drawing the bow faster across the string, producing a larger amplitude in string vibration or displacement. More bow equals more sound. (Beware of thinking that bow pressure alone can be used, as this often leads to crushing the sound. Bow pressure or weight should never be excessive, and only enough to keep the bow in contact with the string is necessary. The cantabile sound of a G string, for example, is easily suffocated by excessive bow pressure which kills the string oscillations. By lightening the bow, very often the bowing movement and the sound is freed, releasing 200 % more sound.)

Different sounds

Aside from varying the volume of the sound, there are many different colours or shadings of sound (timbres) that can and should be produced, just as there are different sounds in the vowels; (h)a(y) (b)ee (p)ie (n)o (y)ou o(r) and (c)a(t).. The important point to note is that whatever sound was created at the start of the bow be maintained throughout the bow; imagine the sound of a fog horn, or a ship entering port. Another part of the sound is its 'bite', its presence, the hardness or softness, or its density. This is not to be confused with its volume, as two sounds of the same volume can seem to have different amounts of tension; one tense, hard, more solid, the other more relaxed, softer, airy, but just as loud. The first sound would be produced with a slower bow speed, nearer the bridge, allowing much of the bow weight, and indeed some of the weight of the whole arm to bite into the string, creating a very definite friction to produce a very direct sound. The second sound relies on a faster bow speed, producing a more ample string vibration, which must not be suffocated or impaired by using much less bow weight with a point of contact nearer the fingerboard. The sound is thus free to travel and expand. Between these extreme sounds there are many graduations, indeed, how many depends on the players imagination.

Open string exercise

Choose a middle string. Beginners should start with the D string. Place the bow on the string at the tip, and with whatever you feel to be a medium velocity, draw the bow evenly to the heel. Be sure not to miss out the first or last centimeter of bow. The bow should be lifted at the end of the stroke, so that the sound is left to die down gradually, and not abruptly, as would happen if the bow is stopped on the string i.e. as if you were playing in a large hall with a long reverberation. The next exercise is to make a down bow; the hand should simply guide the bow at an even speed along a straight line parallel to the bridge. The point of contact of the bow should lie about half way between the bridge and fingerboard, and more importantly, wherever this point of contact, it should remain fixed and not wander between the bridge and fingerboard throughout the bow stroke. This point of contact tends to drop towards the fingerboard and over it especially if the scroll of the violin is held low. For this exercise the length of the string should lie horizontally, that way no effort will be used in keeping a fixed point of contact.

Above : Oh no ! Too large a gap between violin & player. There should be no space ( not even a finger's width )
between violin & neck

Next chapters :

Part 1 - BASICS cont.

LESSON : L.H. Finger work


Sevcik finger placing in 1st position, light finger action,

Part 1 - BASICS cont.

LESSON : R.H. Détaché


Middle of bow détaché, Technique, On the string bowing, Etudes

Part 1 - BASICS cont.

LESSON : L.H. Shifting


Whole hand follows,

Part 1 - BASICS cont.

LESSON : R.H. Legato & String crossing


Same exercise with 2, 4 and 8 note legato, String crossing



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Last modified: February 27, 2000