Technical problems can arise when the violin is not in a good position in relation to the arms and hands of the violinist. Many violinists struggle with equipment that fixes their instrument in a position that makes bowing and/or fingering difficult. Often hours of practice are spent trying to correct the technical symptoms of a badly positioned instrument.
Shoulder rests are generally made of hard materials that tend to dictate the position that the instrument can be held. Chin rests also determine head and instrument position. Even when the chin rest and shoulder rest feel comfortable on the body, they can cause the instrument to be positioned awkwardly for bowing and fingering.
When the instrument is in a good position for the player:
The elbow, which has a hinge movement, opens and shuts easily when bowing in the upper part of the bow (from around the middle of the bow to its point.) In the lower part of the bow (from the middle of the bow to the frog), the ball and socket joint of the shoulder follows the bow easily without overstretching or contracting into the shoulder socket. If the position of the instrument is not proper for these bigger joints, the fingers have extra work to keep the bow straight.
A new tactic
Violinists and violists spend hours training shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints in order to “bow straight.” Their goal is to:
position the bow at a right angle to the strings.
We looked at this basic technical question from a different perspective. We found that we could “put the violin straight” instead by adjusting the equipment to:
position the strings at a right angle to the bow.
After adjusting the violin or viola position to match the player, we then adjusted the equipment to not interfere with the new position. This allowed the player, and not the equipment, to determine the position of his instrument.
We did this by “squaring off” the instrument to the bow and bow arm of the player (see below). Then, by adjusting the chin and shoulder rest we could match the position of the instrument to the player’s natural bow stroke, causing the bow to go “straight” with less effort. When the instrument’s position was corrected to suit the length of the bow arm, the left hand technique also improved.
In making this change, it was important that the musician not “grab” the instrument in the way that he was accustomed, which would make it difficult to calmly observe what angle of the instrument would suit the body in the "squaring off" process.
*Our excuses to viola players. For the sake of the grace of the language, we have sometimes only used the word “violin” here.