Good standing and sitting positions, and avoiding using a shoulder rest, are all important for optimum performance, says the American violin virtuoso
Have you ever stopped to think that if it looks good it will sound better? Appearance is an important part of the complete package, and more attention should be given to this integral factor. Whether you play an audition or give a performance, your appearance and deportment has a lot to do with your success. When you look like you know what you are doing, the playing will exude confidence. This may well be the key to succeeding in your endeavor.
For standing position, a good stance may be achieved by bearing in mind that your body weight rests primarily on your left leg. Remember that the violin rests on your left side and is the reason for the principal weight on that side for balance. Do not spread your legs too far apart. Twelve to fourteen inches is enough to give you proper balance. Keep your knees flexed, do not stiffen, and your right leg must be relaxed. When shifting your weight, your right leg may move forward; always return to the normal position with the right leg and do not start walking. Moving around is not a good habit. Think of Jascha Heifetz whose legs were like a tree trunk. Focus all of your movement on your hands and keep your mind solely focused on the music.
For sitting position, keep your back straight. Keep your violin in proper playing position with scroll pointed to the music and not to the brass section. Do not slouch or cross your legs or spread your legs too far apart. Make sure that you have enough space to bow properly and get to the tip staying parallel to the bridge.
How do you hold the violin? This is a question that I frequently ask and most young players cannot answer. They point to the shoulder rest which is a sorry excuse for holding the violin. Heifetz’s reply to a young student who said that he could not play without one was ‘Take up the cello!’ Yehudi Menuhin in his book states that it should rest on the collar bone. Most of the great players that I have known are in total agreement with this, and not one ever used the shoulder rest. When the violin is on the collar bone, the left shoulder moves slightly under the violin. Your left elbow should move inward and well under the back of the violin. This will put your left-hand fingers in the ideal position for intonation and controlled vibrato. The violin is sometimes held leaning on the fleshy part of the left thumb and at times with chin down for rapid passage work or descending passages from higher positions. There is a constant interplay of these parts and they must always be relaxed. Do not clutch the neck of the violin with your left hand. The thumb must remain free to glide easily.
You must remember that the violin is an instrument that must be held. Your shoulders must be bent slightly inward, and in this way the natural weight of your bow will produce a beautiful sound without additional pressure. With a shoulder rest your right arm is more extended. You have to put more pressure on the bow forcing the sound.
More and more violinists of today are obsessed with a big sound and pressing the bow constantly, devoid of attention to dynamics. The nuances, subtleties, and textures are neglected as a result of the position and angle of the violin when a shoulder rest is used.
Always stand straight and keep your head high. Avoid crouching and keep your neck relaxed at all times. Tension in your neck will create problems. Breathe naturally while playing, and do not hold your breath as it will cause grunting and unnecessary sounds while you play.
The best solution to improve playing is to remember to be as comfortable as possible at all times. If you have pain in your arms, neck, or back, stop what you are doing. Try to analyse what the problem may be and experiment with other positions. Being comfortable will help you achieve more gratification from your work and certainly provide more enjoyment.
Read Aaron Rosand's blog for The Strad on producing a beautiful tone