Death Grip on the Fiddle

Death Grip on the Fiddle

Hi everyone! My apologies if this has already been discussed somewhere else. My question is this: how can I loosen up my death grip on the fiddle when I play? The problem isn’t so much my left hand as it is my left shoulder. The fiddle always feels like it’s about to fly away from me, and despite my best efforts to stay relaxed and let the instrument just *rest* on my shoulder, I inevitably find myself hunching up my left shoulder to grip the fiddle between my chin and my shoulder when I play. I wind up with a stiff neck if I play too long, because my posture is so tense.

I use a Kun shoulder rest, but there still doesn’t seem to be any "resting" involved when it comes to holding this fiddle. Playing without any shoulder rest is even worse - the fiddle just slides off my collarbone. What could I be doing wrong? Any advice would be much appreciated!

- Jessica

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Boy does this sound familiar.There are probably many remedies so mine is not definitive.

First is your chin rest comfortable. I found great relief in switching chinrests and also from a wolf rest to the Kun, which imo is a real treat). the chinrest i have is one where the clamp mechanism fits on at the tail peg (ie in the middle of the fiddle). also it is a generous size with a good lip which means that alot of it goes under the chin and i dont need any pressure to keep it in place.

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Jessica, I’ve always been taught that you shouldn’t be applying any pressure at all to the fiddle. The shoulder rest should be high enough (or low enough) that the fiddle simply rests on your shoulder, and the weight of the fiddle actually sort of wedges it under your jaw — you don’t have to do anything but keep your jaw over the chin rest for it to stay in place. The chin rest must also be in the correct place on the fiddle for you (for instance a Guarnari style chin rest is shaped diifferently and goes in a different place on the fiddle than a Strad style chin rest) and of the correct shape for your body. Certainly, without seeing you and your fiddle and the way you hold it, none of us can give you a truly good answer.

For the shoulder rest and chin rest to do this job, they have to be the correct height and shape for you. Most of the teachers I know keep a collection of different shoulder rests and chin rests for this purpose. You can sit for two to four hours trying different rests on your fiddle in different combinations. Any good music store should also be willing to let you do that — a good luthier will also certainly be willing to help you out with this.

I should note that I learned all this playing classical viola, and that trad is an entirely different beast. Trad players might hold their instruments differently, up to and including tucked into their armpit, so really, any way that you hold it so long as you’re relaxed is probably just fine.

For me, the Wolf actually works better than the Kun, so you can see that it all depends on how your body is built.

Zina

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

I know exactly where your coming from, my teacher persuaded me to not use a shoulder rest for a year but ive recently started using it again because i have a long neck! Whatever you do dont let your fiddle get clamped between your shoulder and chin, this is where the tension begins. Unless your doing position changes then there isnt a huge need to put your chin down at all.
Try moving your fiddle slightly to the front so it rests on the hollow between neck and collar bone, and let the fiddle be supported between shoulder and left hand.Either keep your chin up or rest it only lightly on the chin rest, you only need your chin down to change position, when your chin is down there is a tendency to raise your shoulder and clamp the fiddle in place.
Concentrate on keeping your shoulder down and your arm relaxed so that it can move easily as you change strings. To stop your fiddle flying away push it with your left arm in to your neck.

AND REMEMBER TO STAY RELAXED!!!!!!!!!

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

A woman I’ve played with here told me to make sure I’m holding the fiddle up - at the very least, the fiddle should be basically horizontal, but absolutely not with its neck pointed towards the ground. (The first fiddle player I played with here always played like that, hunched over. Looked dramatic..) I’ve found it to be good advice. As long as the fiddle is horizontal, its resting on your hand and gravity holds it in the hollow of your chin/neck. You don’t HAVE to put any pressure on it to stay in place, and the bowing and fingering suddenly become much easier.

Posted by .

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Thanks for the advice, guys. I think I’ll try out some other shoulder rests when I get the opportunity, and I definitely need to try to holding the fiddle up more. I have the feeling that I tend to slouch forwards, too, when I play, so gravity alone keeps pulling the fiddle down and away from me.

And relaxing, of course. Probably the hardest thing of all to do…

Jessica

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Part of the reason that classical teachers are so fussy (at least, mine was) about keeping your fiddle up on its own is so you don’t have to hold the fiddle up with your hand. If your shoulder rest and chin rest are a proper fit for you, you shouldn’t have to put any pressure on the fiddle between your shoulder and chin at all. It’s much easier to move around the fingerboard if your hand isn’t also having to hold up the fiddle. That’s part of the reason why trad fiddlers don’t care so much about this same issue: trad music tends to use positions (second, third, fourth, etc.) a lot less than classical does. Either way works.

All in all, whatever works for a trad fiddler is what is right for that fiddler. If you can hold the fiddle in your hand and move round enough, great. If you can hold the fiddle aimed at the ground and not go flat, terrific. If you can play with your wrist bent in and not go flat nor lose speed moving round the fingerboard, more power to you.

So as long as you’re relaxed, Jessica, do whatever feels right and gets the tunes from your head to your fiddle in the way you want. πŸ™‚

Zina

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Jessica, someone wiser than me once told me, "Don’t hold the fiddle, just stand under it." The point being that with a proper fit of chin and shoulder rests and an upright, relaxed posture, you shouldn’t need any muscle tension to keep the fiddle in place. It’s like laying the fiddle on a table top—just stand under it. And realize that a fiddle is pretty light, as instruments go, so it’s not like straining to hold an armload of books against the pull of gravity.

I’d recommned that you find a fiddler who looks relaxed and ask them for help with your posture and fit. And do this *before* you develop chronic neck, arm, or back problems.

Good luck.

Posted .

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

But if you don’t grip it tightly, certainly it will go flying away to its ruin at the first opportunity! πŸ™‚ It’s the cruelty of musical instruments.

I saw a guy on TV once who had a modified fiddle that he held in front of him, strapped to his body somehow. Pretty weird. I guess it allowed him to have a straighter and more relaxed left hand.

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Sounds like the "Viper" electric violin.

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Yes, i think that was it. I remember it had 6 strings too. I just checked their web site and saw that they even have fretted models, so you can be a violin virtuoso without even having to learn where the notes are!

Strap-on Fiddle

I played one once, it doesn’t sound anything like a violin. More like a bowed electric guitar (no overtones) The frets make for a weird feel. With six strings the one I played was tuned like a guitar but an octave higher. The thing rests on your chest & has a strap around the back of your head/neck. Weird

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Yes, that’s what i saw. I think it was this Mark Wood guy playing, and he was totally electric, sounded like an electric guitar.

I wonder if a 4-string model without frets might be more violin-like. You can also hold it over your arm, somewhat like a violin (there are some pictures in their web site), and it looks comfortable. They’re not terribly expensive: http://www.markwoodmusic.com/

All in all, i think the Yamaha Silent Violin looks more cool (more minimalistic).
http://www.yamaha.com/band/instruments/new_sub/strings/electricsi.htm

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Went to www.markwoodmusic.com and was overwhelmed with an odd sense of revulsion. Why do these ‘violins’ offend the hell out of me? Am I getting old?

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Hehehe…Will, I LOVE that comment. Who was it, do you remember? I’d love to use it…

Zina

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Jessica!

So you have a death grip!!!! I used to have one of those too! I had a Wolf shoulder rest and I just couldn’t get it to sit right at all and I spent half my time fiddling around with it to get it right. One night I decided I wasn’t going to use it at all and after a few practice sessions I felt more relaxed. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE A SHOULDER REST!!! However, I now use a ‘Playonair’ rest which is a very thin blow up pad - they come in 2 sizes - a round one and an oval one. I found that a these other shoulder rests were just too big no matter what I did to them. The Playonair is more like a cloth to stop the fiddle slipping away. Good luck!

Terri πŸ™‚

Posted by .

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

A buddy of mine takes a thin sponge and holds it in place under his fiddle with a rubber band to keep it from sliding around his collar bone. I’ve seen others do this as well using either sponge of some kind of foam rubber.

I never could get used to shoulder rest’s.

Hope this helps.

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

On 29 Sep 2002 I commented on the shoulder rest in my posting on "squeak e strings (and your favourite brand of strings)" - unfortunately I hyphenated the two words as "shoulder-rest", thereby probably causing the search function on this site to have fits! Hope my comments are of some help, but they might stir up some controversy. I came into fiddle playing from classical cello, and cellists don’t normally use shoulder rests πŸ™‚

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Apart from the fact that the death grip means that everything about your playing is therefore likely to be tight and fatigue-inducing, another very good reason for relaxing your left-hand grip is that a tight grip on the neck of the fiddle will deaden the tone, much like a mute. The neck is a vibrating part of the fiddle (or it should be on any instrument that has pretensions to be playable), and damping the vibration will kill the tone. It’s an easy enough experiment to try out on your own fiddle.
The same observation applies to other instruments of the violin family and also to the classical guitar.

m

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

Hello everyone - just found this site and have been playing since 6 June and welcomed the fact that I am not the only person whose violin keeps wanting to jump off my shoulder and take a walk! I was having problems with the thumb on my left hand and my teacher said it was because I was holding onto the neck (for grim death, I’m sure) and that the thumb should be a ‘support’ and not a monkey wrench! So we tried just to hold the V without the left hand - okay, as long as I didn’t move! Adjusted shoulder pads, etc. and I think that my chin rest is not right. I do NOT have good posture and am most likely too old (50) to change that very much. And I find that I want to place my chin more in the middle of the V as opposed to the side - so this indicates a new chin rest???

So all your discussions on this topic have been really helpful with new suggestions that I would not have thought of. Thanks, and I will be back!!

LT

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

LT, Age doesn’t have anything to do with itπŸ™‚ - I started on the fiddle at an age significantly older than yours! Seriously, though, I believe the route to correct posture includes as much playing as possible standing, particularly your lessons and all your practice. A good standing posture will help steady breathing and therefore relaxation. Think of yourself as if you are suspended by a string rising vertically from the top of your head; this helps to ensure a relaxed upright posture both when sitting and standing, without being like a rigid ramrod. You might like to have a look at the Alexander technique in this respect. A lot of performers, musicians and actors especially, swear by its effectiveness.
Trevor

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

LT, if you haven’t already, have a look at the very recent thread on Learning the Fiddle,
https://thesession.org/discussions/1844
There’s a lot of very useful stuff in it for beginners (and not just fiddle players).
Trevor

Re: Death Grip on the Fiddle

I know exactly how you feel. Been there, done that.

I started as a classical violinist, and as a beginner I was taught to use a chin rest and shoulder rest and be able to hold the violin in position without the left hand at all.

There are reasons for teaching this to classical violinists, but I’ve found it to be bad advice in general.

I now play without a shoulder rest or a chin rest, in the way that the violin was originally meant to be played. How can I hold up the instrument without even a chin rest?

Balance. You don’t really HOLD a violin/fiddle, you BALANCE it between the chin, collar bone, and left hand.

Like others have said, you need to be relaxed while holding the instrument. If you have to clamp down and "hold" the fiddle with your chin, shoulder, or left hand, then you’re doing something wrong. You shouldn’t have to use any effort to keep the instrument in place. And be sure the fiddle rests on your collar bone and not your shoulder.

It takes time to learn this, but one important thing to keep in mind is that your elbow should point straight down towards the floor. If your left elbow is tilted towards either side, then you’re doing something wrong.

Listen to your body and try to find a way to hold the fiddle that leaves your neck and arm relaxed. Using a shoulder rest and/or chin rest is a matter of physiology and personal preference; go with whatever feels best.

Remember not to HOLD the fiddle, BALANCE it. Gripping it with the left hand or the neck will cause all kinds of problems.