The Fiddle Hold That Let’s You Play
You may have already seen articles online about how to hold the fiddle. Some seem very strict. The goal is to have a position with your fiddle hold that permits flexibility and power without undue stress and fatigue. That’s not the easiest object to attain.
Here’s a thought that i keep in mind when my hold relaxes into a very loose position. In the Baroque time, violinists did not hold the fiddle with their chin. It just rested on their collar bone or close to it. They were still able to do a lot of fancy playing, even moving up the neck and back down again. That’s tricky when you are not holding the violin securely with your chin.
Apparently violinists noticed the difficulty and someone invented the chin rest for them. After that came the shoulder pad. And that’s where we are today.
Start with the Chin Rest
For the chin rest you have some choices. The simplest is a shallow cup shape that is scarcely above the level of the violin body. Then, there is the Guarnarius type than is fuller and higher. Carl Flesch is credited with developing the chin rest that straddles the tail piece so that the violinist, (or fiddler), is looking right down the finger board directly. And I have seen one or two that have extra height built right into them. They do look a little odd.
The shoulder pad is another series of choices. When I was first learning to play I used a small pad that strapped with a rubber band hooking over the back of the violin to the bout corner and on the tail piece button with a slotted leather piece. It’s a simple solution if your neck is not long. Longer necks need more support.
Which Shoulder Pad to Choose?
Many symphony violinists like to use the Kun shoulder pad. They have a variety with the low end being about $20. (I just checked Amazon and they have one for $10 at this writing. The one I use now is the Kun Voce. It’s very secure, doesn’t fall off, and more comfortable than anything else I’ve tried. When they first offered it they claimed that it enhanced the sound. When i tried it out I thought maybe it did. They dropped that claim. Maybe it could not be proven and was just unbelievable. It’s pricey at $82, but I consider it worth the extra. (Now that I look at the current promotion, that claim is back.)
Even with all this help from the chin rest and the shoulder pad, you will feel some stress when playing. One solution is to just relax the hold a bit, letting the violin ease off from its classical position. Since most fiddlers do all their fiddling in first position, that’s as good a solution as any to the stress problem for them. If you like to go up the neck on an improvisational adventure, you may need to have a more secure hold that frees your hand and arm. If you are playing a slower tune, a ballad or waltz and you want to use vibrato, you may need the more secure hold for that also. And for the blues shake, you really need control from the chin.
Stretching out the Tight Neck
When you are not playing, you can try some stretching movements to counteract the strain produced by playing. I demonstrated one such stretch to a violin/viola colleague who is an occupational therapist and she identified the stretching position by name. (Which I didn’t quite catch.) Maybe yoga would be a good choice.
Otherwise, there is professional help available from massage therapists and chiropractors. I have heard pro violinists speak of the need to see a chiropractor on a regular basis. There’s got to be a better solution. I’m finding that if I put more time into stretching exercises in between playing, I’m much better off.
The Angle of the Fiddle Hold
One more factor to consider is the angle from the body in which you hold your fiddle. The usual recommendation, which I second, is an angle of 45 degrees from a straight line in front of you. You will see this position in the majority of fiddlers and violinists. It’s been tested by countless players for centuries.
Just to reinforce the desired goal, we want to be able to play what we feel like playing for as long a time as we want to. That requires finding the best position that includes relaxation and unrestricted movement of the fingering hand. Yes, I admit to sometimes trading off the unrestricted part and hanging out in first position, without any pressure from my chin. But, it’s like Stuff Smith said, when he went for an important note he pressed with his finger, his bow and his chin.