By Katharine Rapoport

If gravity didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be problems with the violin hold. Violins would just float around, and you would be able to play lightly on a lovely Stradivarius as it wafted by. However, the reality is that you do have to support your violin in the most practical and comfortable way possible, which can be tricky.

Keeping the scroll afloat

The most common problem violinists encounter when first coming to grips with the violin is that the scroll gravitates too much toward the center of the body (because players instinctively want to see what their hands are doing) and then starts to sink down a little as they play.

Keeping the scroll out a little to the left of your shoulder allows your bow to travel well on track. A useful way to practice putting your scroll in position is by holding the violin as usual, picking up the bow, and then placing the middle of the bow on the A and D strings together. At this stage, both your elbows are about the same distance out from the side seam of your shirt or sweater, giving you a sense of the balance that exists between the two sides.

Keep your arms balanced. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk]

Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
Keep your arms balanced.

Watching the horizontal angle

Another common problem is that holding the violin at a completely horizontal angle isn’t favorable to comfortable playing, and comfort is very important. For most players, the right (E string) side of the violin sits between 10 and 30 degrees lower than the left side. You can tell if the angle of the violin is about right for you by setting your bow, near the tip, on the E string.

Your right arm should be relaxed and fairly perpendicular, and your right hand not too far from your side. The angle of your shoulders also plays a role, so you have to steer a middle path between what is comfortable and what is necessary when setting up.

The angle at which you hold your violin depends on your body type. If you’re a lightly built person, you may hold your violin at a slightly steeper angle than a bigger person does.

The horizontal angle. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk]

Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
The horizontal angle.

Keeping your elbow under

When you first begin playing the violin, you may be tempted to stick your left elbow quite far out to the left side. Remember, just let your elbow hang more or less under the main body of the violin for now. When your elbow is under the violin, your upper arm is quite relaxed, which saves your energy for the task “at hand.”

If you look downward through the waist of the violin on the E‐string side, you can see a glimpse of your sleeve, which tells you that your arm position is correct.

The correct elbow position. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk]

Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
The correct elbow position.

Relaxing the shoulder

Initially, your left shoulder may want to pull upward quite strongly to support the violin. (And if at first you don’t notice that your shoulder’s too high, you’ll probably know after a few minutes — ouch!) Negotiate most diplomatically with your shoulder, and ask it to cease and desist from tensing up.

The violin may feel unfamiliar, but it is a light object and doesn’t need heavy‐duty hydraulics to hold it up. If your shoulder tenses up, take the violin down for a few seconds, give your left arm a few free swings, and then try to set up the violin hold again. Stay aware of keeping your shoulders as relaxed as possible while balancing the instrument between your shoulder area and your left hand.