3. Making the change
In the past, my violin teachers had never noticed that I needed to change my chin rest or shoulder rest. I just changed the chin rest by myself and only one or two times since I began playing the violin. Usually this came about when someone let me try his/her violin and I realized that I wanted that chin rest. The shoulder rest had never bothered me before, however the chin rest did and I thought a lot about this.
Just before the research, my violin teacher at the Utrecht conservatory gave me a chin rest centered over the tailpiece, and a Wolf shoulder rest, straight model. This was already better than what I had been using before. I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, but I wasn’t sure at that point if the equipment was to blame or my bad habits. My habits felt normal to me.
During the research I changed my chin rest to a Swiss model* that is in the middle but with the cup a little bit to the left. I changed my shoulder rest to a Loft sponge no. 5 (with a sheet of anti-slip rubber around it). * I do not know the maker of this chin rest.
I learned that the violin should rest on the collar bone whatever you use and also that the chin rest should not stop your breath and strangle you. The shoulder rest should be wide if you are big and narrow if you are small.
If you are tall and you have long arms you can have the chin rest more on the left side of the tailpiece. But if you are less tall, it helps to have it in the middle. Mine is in the middle but a little bit to the left. I believe in something that is not fixed; that does not fix your head in one position. Some days you are in one part of the chin rest and other days in another.
In the future I would like to have a shoulder rest again. I need more stability since the sponge is moving all the time and is not fixed on the violin. But, actually I would like to have a sponge and a shoulder rest and alternate them. I find that the sponge is very good because it is soft and not really fixed so you can find your body and the right position for the violin. I think that the sponge is good for practicing, but I still want a shoulder rest.
Getting used to the changes
At first, the changes felt really strange. It felt very crazy sometimes. At first I even thought that maybe it was not helping, that it was keeping me from progressing. I felt I was just going backwards and not forwards. I was just lost because I didn’t know which feeling was the right one.
The problem was to discover which playing habits were useful and which not. The old habits were getting in the way all the time. I wanted to do my best and I did just the opposite. For instance, if someone tells you “be relaxed,” at first you get tense because you don’t know what it is to be relaxed, and no one can tell you this. You don’t know the feeling. Everybody can describe what being relaxed is, but you have to feel it in your body.
Solving the problems was a long process. It is much better now than at the beginning but I am still looking for solutions. I think that it is a matter of time and of thinking. Never stop thinking. Sometimes you have the feeling that “to think is cold” and you cannot make music like this. Yet, it is very important that your body can do what you want and you can move as you want.
Of course, taking the Alexander Technique lessons also helped me to get used to the new equipment and the new violin position. In future, if I need to adjust it again, I still won’t know enough, but I will at least know more than before.
Sound, vibrato and left hand technique improve
My specific technical problems needed a general solution. The most important thing was to have my head in the right place as much as possible. And to bring my arms back closer to the center of my body. If you are more aware of what’s going on with your body and your muscles -- your head, feet and knees -- you can feel everything better and this helps the sound.
In the beginning, when I was supposed to play forte, I was just pushing. Now I can feel how to make the sound I want. My vibrato is freer. Before, I could only play with fast vibrato but now I can control the speed. I can also play much faster. Now that the violin is in the right position the fingers just go! You don’t have to change the position of your hand with every finger that you play. It is also more in tune because the fingers are laying down in a natural way.
Changing my mind
Previously I had in my mind an “ideal position” of how you should hold the violin and during the research I realized that this was wrong. I thought that you had to hold the violin without the help of the left hand. Now I feel that you must support the violin with your left hand.
How you use your spine is also very important. Now I am playing more in my central line, trying to find my balance. I learned to have my head in the right place on top of my spine and to bring my arms back closer to my body. The right position of the head helps me a lot because shortening my neck caused me to do things that weren’t very comfortable to me or helpful to my playing.