Tong Keat has an M.A. in Violin Performance from MTSU in Tennessee. He is the founder of Just Violin, a free resources site for violinists.
Balance and Ease
A well-balanced posture requires minimal muscular effort to remain in a position or to execute an action. The right alignment between the head, torso, and the arms and legs gives us that balance and allows us to move with ease. Playing the violin with a good posture prevents fatigue and injuries, and at the same time, enhances our tone and accuracy.
Legs and Feet
The proper standing position for playing the violin needs to be taught right from the start. It gets tougher to address this issue once the student has moved beyond the early stages, as he/she will get occupied with complex techniques and repertoire. Without a relaxed standing position, the tension in the legs and feet can spread to the upper part of the body, disrupting the ease of movement.
- Feet: To achieve balance at the feet, imagine that all three points: the heel, the outer ball, and the inner ball of the feet support the weight of the body equally. Try to bounce on your feet a little to see how the weight is distributed. The feet should be about a shoulder-width apart when playing the violin.
- Knees and ankles: Next, the knees and ankles should not be locked. They should remain flexible and in line with the thighs. The entire legs form a very nimble yet stable support for the torso.
Torso: Waist, Chest, and Shoulders
- Pelvis: The pelvis rest directly on top of the legs, without being pushed in any direction. The pelvis is connected to the base of our spine, and often enough, it is the primary source of many problems in our posture. If the hip is swayed forward, the lower spine has to assume more tension. When this happens, we can see from the side of the person's body, that the shoulder is behind the alignment of the lower body. Such a position is frequently seen in skinny people, usually with their knees locked as well.
- Upper torso: The upper torso has to be in line with the pelvis. If the front of the body collapse, it will cause the body to hunch. Opening up the front torso and finding the support in the main muscles of the back give us a well-balanced posture in the upper body.
- Shoulder girdles: The shoulder girdles, which include the collarbones and the shoulder blades, rest on top of the balanced torso, with the arms hanging down at both sides. It is important to keep the shoulder girdles wide and relaxed. Any large movements in violin playing, such as long bow strokes, should involve the shoulder girdles. Isolating them will result in stiffness and a weak tone.
- Back muscles: When the arms are being held up, try to feel the support that comes from the back muscles (the rhomboids, which connect the shoulder blades to the spine). This should come easily when the body is well-aligned. Strengthening the rhomboid muscles with exercises can be helpful for violinists.
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Neck and Head
When holding the violin, we should not raise the shoulders nor drop our head beyond what is comfortable. Finding the right chin rest plays an important role in this, as a chin rest with the proper height can prevent unnecessary tension in our shoulders and neck.
- Shoulders: The shoulders should remain as relaxed as possible, while the head rest its entire weight on the chin rest with a gentle nod. Before that, the violin must first find a good support on the shoulder, so that it does not slip forward towards the chest.
- Neck: The neck is an extension of the spine, and it should not be made to take on unnecessary tension. Remember to keep the neck lengthening upwards at all times, with the head balanced lightly on top of the neck.
- Head: It is important to keep the head as vertical as possible. As we turn our head to the left, try to initiate the movement from the back of the neck. This prevents us from sticking our head forward or tilting our head too much. This is commonly seen in young children, and therefore, we must remind them to “bring the violin towards the body” and not the other way around.
- Jaw: Keep the jaw relaxed at all times. While we do not want to be seen having our mouth open when playing the violin, we need to keep in mind that the teeth should stay apart. Ideally, we need to be able to talk when we are holding the violin. The left hand is partly responsible for supporting the violin as well.
Mimi Zweig's String Pedagogy
"Good posture can be successfully acquired only when the entire mechanism of the body is under perfect control."
— Joseph Pilates
© 2017 Goh Tong Keat
Vibe on February 14, 2018: