By Michael John Sanchez

You’d think that holding a fiddle is as simple as taking your left hand and supporting it, just like you’d hold up anything else in your hand. However, you actually want to hold the fiddle with your chin and shoulder and not rely on your left hand to support it. Why? Supporting the fiddle with your left hand can

  • Restrict what your fingers can do

  • Promote an improper wrist

  • Make progressing into advanced techniques (like shifting or vibrato) harder

Holding the fiddle with the chin and shoulder allows you to build proper fundamentals to do more advanced techniques. Because your hand actually has to move up and down on the fiddle in various songs, relying on your hand to hold it just doesn’t work.

Applying proper fundamentals

Here are a few steps to hold the fiddle properly:

  1. Make sure your shoulder rest is put on properly.

  2. Square your shoulders to a standard-sized music stand.

  3. Pick up your fiddle and take a look at the side of the Kun that has the thicker-sized pad.

  4. Place the shoulder rest side with the thicker pad directly on top of your left shoulder, making sure this part isn’t too low on your collarbone.

    If done properly, the thinner side of the pad will rest perfectly on top of your collarbone.

    [Credit: By Rashell Smith]
    Credit: By Rashell Smith
  5. Use your left hand to help support the fiddle while you’re making adjustments.

    This is just for now; you’ll learn not to rely on this in the next few steps.

  6. Make sure your chin is on the chin rest.

    It’s okay for your chin to be on the right edge of the chin rest.

  7. Regarding your neck, leave a little breathing room, as the fiddle doesn’t have to make direct contact with it.

  8. Point the scroll of the fiddle toward the left side of the music stand.

    The fiddle should be pointing to your left (about 45 degrees).

  9. Verify that your fiddle is slightly tilted down toward the right but is still level to the ground.

    [Credit: By Rashell Smith]
    Credit: By Rashell Smith
  10. Keep your back and head straight and pinch the fiddle between the chin rest and the shoulder rest.

    This should allow you to hold the fiddle with no hands. Don’t do this unless you know for sure you aren’t going to drop it!

    [Credit: By Rashell Smith]
    Credit: By Rashell Smith

This process is uncomfortable for most beginners (especially having to hold the fiddle comfortably with no hands). You have to play around with the shoulder rest setup and your chin placement on the chin rest and practice these steps a few times before feeling comfortable. Don’t allow yourself to stray from these steps, because holding the fiddle improperly can lead to bad habits that are very hard to fix later.

Developing muscles in your neck to help support the fiddle takes time. Work on holding it with no hands for a few minutes each day until you get the hang of it. Try walking across the room and back a few times while holding the fiddle, but be careful not to drop it!

This process is especially important for kids because they take the longest time to develop the neck muscles to hold the fiddle properly. Many kids cheat by using their left arm to hold the fiddle instead of the proper way of relying on the chin and shoulder to hold it.

Sitting versus standing

Have you ever gone to an orchestra concert and seen all the musicians sitting in chairs? Doing this yourself is fine as long as you exercise proper fundamentals.

Youngsters should be encouraged to stand at their lessons while practicing. This promotes good posture and freer movement in the bow arm. Older folks or those with bad backs or leg problems will be more comfortable in a seated position. However, sitting in a chair can promote slouchiness, so it’s important to sit with your back totally straight, your legs uncrossed, and your feet flat on the floor.

Think about how you’d sit if you had a job interview and you were trying to impress your potential new boss. You wouldn’t slouch back in your chair, would you? This is the same way you should sit in a chair while playing the fiddle.

Try sitting on the front of a chair if you plan to play in a sitting position. This promotes good posture and technique.

While playing the fiddle standing up, everything applies the same regarding holding the instrument properly. Many times standing up is preferable while practicing and sitting down is appropriate while playing in groups. This is just the general rule of thumb.

To play the fiddle properly, it’s essential to have a music stand whether you’re standing up or sitting down. When you actually start playing music, applying proper technique if your music is on the ground is difficult. You want the music stand to be face level, as this promotes keeping your instrument level.