When it comes to holding an instrument, generally, many players complain that it becomes difficult, that their neck starts to hurt, that their shoulders start to hurt. But, actually, there’s a very easy way to approach it.
I like to think about gravity when it comes to playing and holding an instrument. Why is gravity important? Well, the main reason I can see is when you bring an instrument to your shoulder, because of gravity, it has the potential of falling down. For that reason, many players tend to counter by gripping with their neck and with their shoulders, and creating a vice so that “thing won’t go anywhere”. So you can imagine over time, doing this can become a painful experience for many players.
What I prefer to do is actually quite simple. Beginning with step one, I ask a player to simply bring an instrument up to their body and as much as possible find where that instrument wants to rest without a sense of falling to the ground. You may find that it’s too far forward and it tends to want to slope. You may find that it’s a little bit too far back and it feels uncomfortable. It’s actually somewhere right around the middle of our neck that we have a trajectory that we can use where we can decide where to hold that violin or viola comfortably.
Once you find that simple trajectory then you can imagine that your instrument is like a pillow or that you have a comfortable cushion and all you need to do is rest the weight of your head on the instrument. Suddenly, playing and holding an instrument becomes much easier than we could ever have imagined.
Holding the Bow
For many players the simple task of holding a bow presents problems. Many players first confronted with the bow might tend to try to grip on for dear life in various ways.
Instead, approach the bow by letting your fingers dangle, not stretching and not contorting them in any way. Then allow the two middle fingers to simply rest on the middle part of the bow, drop the index finger down, and then rest the pinkie atop that bow. At this point, this is a very stress-free hand position.
The thumb is sometimes where it becomes tricky for players. So, for beginners, I encourage you to simply begin by having the thumb over the metal part, just so that you can begin to get a very natural, easy sense of the balance that’s happening in the hand.
And then over time when I’m a little more confident, I can then place the thumb inside the bow focusing on the fatty part upper part of the thumb and the side. Those two points are where we want to have the connection with the bow. And they will enable us to create this sense of balance where the thumb and middle finger almost create like a fulcrum, almost like a teeter-totter with two kids on one end and the other. In the same way with the index finger and the pinkie, we’re able to create that sense of balance with the bow.
When beginning to learn how to use the bow, I recommend that students just do this simple “teeter totter” exercise for maybe a minute at a time, because any more than that and we start to get tired in the hand and any excess tension will invariably make us want to grip. It’s also a good idea to try using a simple pencil. Because it’s lighter and much easier to hold in the hand and much easier to play with and balance, teeter-tottering with a pencil might be a good first step for many of the beginners.
Rozanna Weinberger is a Juilliard-trained violist and teacher, and offers live music lessons online at Lessonface.com/Rozanna. Rozanna is also founder and CEO of Rozanna’s Violins. She believes that developing creativity in children is crucial in order to be prepared to deal with life, whether as a musician or in other endeavors.
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