Music & Entertainment

Violin 101: What’s the Correct Way to Hold a Violin? Learn How to Hold a Violin in 4 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Jun 24, 2019 • 4 min read

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Itzhak Perlman Teaches Violin

Playing the violin isn’t merely about holding a bow and moving one’s fingers across the strings. Although it is small compared to many instruments, the violin requires proper alignment of the entire body in order to attain an optimal performance.

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What Is Violin Posture?

Violin posture refers to the way a violinist holds her instrument in relation to the rest of her body. This involves proper alignment of the spine, the legs (while standing), the head, the neck, the chin, both arms, and both hands. Indeed, proper violin posture is a full-body commitment.

Why Is Violin Posture Important?

Proper violin posture will enable a player to:

  • Play in tune
  • Maintain eye contact with the conductor and other musicians
  • Be able to read a score while playing
  • Promote healthy habits that will prevent long-term injuries

The prospect of injury is not to be taken lightly by musicians. The fine motor skills required to play the violin (and many other instruments) are not possible when a player is injured. Music performance, by its nature, requires repeated actions. If you hold your instrument properly and align your body ergonomically, there’s almost no limit to how much you can play. But if either of these are done incorrectly, you can injure yourself and be out of commission for weeks if not months.

Learn How to Hold a Violin Properly in 4 Steps

Proper violin posture isn’t complicated. Here are the steps one must take to ensure proper physical alignment and control of the instrument.

  1. Keep your spine aligned. When seated (the most common position for violinists), choose a chair with a firm seat. Sit toward the front half of your chair, aligning your left foot slightly in front of your right. When standing (more common for orchestral soloists and when playing in pop styles), stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep an upright posture, but remain loose and flexible, from your knees up through your neck.
  2. Keep the violin parallel to the floor. In the process of playing, you will invariably move the violin up and down, but your home base posture should have the violin aligned parallel to the floor. The bottom of the violin rests on or near your left collarbone. It is secured in place with the left side of your chin, which should lean downward to steady the violin. If doing this is painful, reposition until it feels more manageable.
  3. Make use of chin rests and shoulder rests. Chin rests are ubiquitous on modern violins. Shoulder rests are a separate piece of equipment, but they are a great tool for maintaining the right posture over a long period of time. It is possible to play without a shoulder rest, but doing so can cause discomfort and accidentally push your body into unnatural contortions, which in turn lead to injury. To be on the safe side, shoulder rests are advised.
  4. Make sure your left hand is supported, but not rigid. Center your left elbow beneath the midpoint of the violin (including its neck). Your left wrist should be curved toward the fingerboard, but not rigidly so. Your hand should also be curved into a “C” shape, with your thumb and index finger serving as opposite ends of the “C.”

How Chin Rests and Shoulder Rests Cain Aid Violin Posture

The violin is not a naturally comfortable instrument to play, but there are some ways to make it as comfortable as possible.

  • A combination of chin rest and shoulder rest can help a great deal.
  • When deciding what to use, consider the shape of your shoulders, the length of your neck, and even the shape of your jawbone.
  • There are many kinds of chin rests and shoulder rests, and your combination of the two is often referred to as your set-up.

4 Good Violin Habits from Itzhak Perlman

Violinist Itzhak Perlman believes that proper violin technique begins with a holistic physical approach to the instrument. He applies his philosophies both as a teacher at the Juilliard School and within his own performance career.

  • Good habits start with excellent posture and mechanics. Make sure you’re holding the violin and bow properly and that the movement in both arms and hands is smooth and functional. If you practice regularly with a slumped posture and poor mechanics, then this will become your habit.
  • Cultivate the habit of playing in tune. When learning something new, play it slowly enough that you are playing every note correctly. Once you speed it up, continue to play it in tune by choosing fingerings that are comfortable for your hand. If your fingerings require you to stretch and strain, you run the risk of landing in the wrong place, which itself could become a habit. Once you choose your fingerings, stick to them.
  • Choose good bowings and then commit to them. It’s important to know when you will go up-bow, when you will go down-bow, when you will slur several notes together, play staccato, etc. so that you can be confident in your movements. It is extremely important to choose the bowings and fingerings and stick to them at all times when practicing—without any change. If you do not change the bowings and the fingerings once you choose the ones that feel comfortable for you, you will learn the piece faster, and when you have to relearn it, it will also be faster.
  • When correcting mistakes, repeat the correct version more times than you played the wrong version. If you make the mistake again, that repetition doesn’t count. The correct version needs to become your new habit.

Learn more violin playing techniques in Itzhak Perlman’s MasterClass.