Tilting My Fiddle

My original title for this blog post was Tilting My Fiddle for Better Left Arm Position, Creating Less Upper Arm Tension, Allowing My Fingers to Better Cover the Strings, and Not Feel Pain in My Neck, but I thought it might be a tad too long, so I shortened it to Tilting My Fiddle.

When I purchased my first fiddle earlier this year, it arrived with a Guarneri chinrest, probably the most-used chinrest by violinists and fiddlers alike.

I didn’t like it. Being a beginner, I wanted to look straight down at my strings. I found I kept moving my chin over the tail piece to accomplish this. It was uncomfortable there with the Guaneri. I tried a couple of other chinrests and finally settled on the Flat Flesch chinrest which allowed me to position my chin over the tailpiece in comfort.

In the midst of all this, I also extended the arm on my shoulder rest, the side that sits on the chest, as far as it would go. These two factors allowed me to look straight down on my strings by putting my fiddle in an almost, but not quite, horizontal position.

Over the next few months, I began to notice that each time I practiced, my upper left arm, between my shoulder and elbow, began to fatigue, along with some shoulder discomfort, after just a few minutes of playing. In addition, my neck would begin to tense up. While I could easily play the E and A strings, the D string was a bit more difficult, and I had to force my fingers over to the G string. I was constantly putting my fiddle down and resting.

Believe it or not, I attributed almost all of this discomfort to my short arms, short fingers and creaky old(er) body.

Today, I was searching a topic when I saw this picture.

My immediate thought was this woman’s neck must hurt. I then looked at her fingers and thought, and, I bet her arm hurts as well. To be able to get her fingers to play on that horizontal fiddle, she has to be moving her elbow to the right and straining her arm.

A light bulb lite up in my head, and gears started turning. That’s exactly what I am doing!

While I often use a mirror during my practices, I usually only sit perpendicular to it to check my bowing for straightness. So, I repositioned my mirror, grabbed my fiddle and looked straight into the mirror. Immediately, I saw my neck was bent and my elbow was not hanging naturally but pointing more than it should to the right. I looked like the woman in the picture!

So, still using the mirror for feedback, I straightened my head up and moved my elbow slightly left, and it felt so much better. I knew right away, this was the reason for the tension. But, now my chinrest and shoulder rest felt awkward. Remembering I still had my original Guarneri chinrest, I switched out my Flat Flesh for the Guarneri. Ah, that felt better. Next, I lowered the arm on my shoulder rest, the side that sits on the chest, as far as it would go. Better, but not quite there just yet. I then raised the arm on the opposite side of my shoulder rest, the side that sits on my shoulder. I held my fiddle up again. It felt great!

From my previous hold, my new hold looked more like this.

For the next few minutes I played my fiddle with no tension or discomfort in my neck or arm. When playing the G string, my bow was almost horizontal and when playing the E string, my bow was almost vertical. But, was this correct?

I spent the next thirty minutes looking at pictures and videos and reading about the correct way to hold a violin, and then decided, correct or not, this felt so much more comfortable, so I am going to test it out some more. I continued to play.

I did notice at first, I wasn’t used to the new positioning of my bow when playing, and was doing some string crossing, as well as hearing some thin E string sounds, but after a while, I adjusted. The most important thing, for me, is I was able to play longer with fewer rests to relax. And, I wasn’t forcing my fingers as much when playing the D and G strings.

While writing this blog post, I have also been thinking about what is and what is not correct. Sometimes, I think we can have the tendency to fret over the correct ways, and if I were a young, aspiring concert violinist with a young, supple body, I might feel the need to take more heed of the correct ways, but I am not. Like most of you who are reading this, I am an older folk. My body does not bend and move the way it once did. I have age-related aches and pains, and I don’t need, or want, to add to them. I also don’t want my fiddling to add to any discomfort. Keeping my motto in mind, Learn Some, Have Fun, I have decided to hell with what is correct and to keep this new tilt in my playing for the time being and see where it leads me. If it proves helpful, I’ll order another Guarneri chinrest for my other fiddle and adjust its shoulder rest as well.

Oh, and by the way, besides this, the cortisone shot I got in my finger yesterday for my trigger finger, allowed me to have my first decent day of practice in well over a week. Today, is going to be a great day! 🙂

  10 comments for “Tilting My Fiddle

  1. wildflower
    December 20, 2019 at 4:47 am

    I have tried a couple of chin rests and shoulder rests. Sometimes I think if I kept trying others, I would find the “perfect match” and play better, but then I figure I might be thinking this as an excuse, and I just need to practice more and get better!

    • MoonShadows
      December 20, 2019 at 6:45 am

      @wildflower

      LOL. I remember going through that phase. The only thing that keeps me from being a better player is my lack of ability, and the only antidote for that is practice. Oh yes, once in a while, aches and/or pains may get in the way, too, but that comes with the territory.

  2. December 19, 2019 at 6:07 am

    I was having problems with all the shoulder/chin rests and ultimately canned everything. Now I love to fiddle nude! . . . much better IMO.

    • December 19, 2019 at 6:35 am

      I have heard of The Shirtless Violinist (look him up), but never The Nude Fiddler! I actually played yesterday for a while without any shoulder rest, but I’m not sure I am ready to abandon it.

      • December 19, 2019 at 6:45 am

        well in order to do it without the rest you have to crook your wrist and hold the fiddle tight to your chosen spot with the palm of your left hand to keep the butt from sliding all over the place . . . as an old guitar player and a beginner fiddler I put small dots along the side instead of the tape across the fingerboard, that helps also, but it does take a breaking of a lot of rules . . . so what?

    • Pops
      December 19, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      @jjwaltersLOL…fiddle nude? I’m so new I haven’t even thought of that! Not sure what my wife would think 🤣 

  3. December 18, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    By the way: Did you change your chin rest and/or adjust your shoulder rest to tilt your fiddle? I use a shoulder rest that is screwed all the way in at my shoulder and as far out as possible at my chest. And I removed the chin rest entirely. This is most comfortable for me. And, I’m happy the cortisone shot helped you! Play on!

    • December 18, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      Yes, I did. I ditched the Flat Flesch chinrest I was using and replaced it with the Guarneri chinrest that originally came with my fiddle. I also changed the positioning of my shoulder rest by screwing it all the way out at my shoulder and all the way in at my chest to achieve the “tilt”.

  4. December 18, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I really like this article – for (at least) two reasons: It mentions a variety of options available in chin and shoulder rests, AND it deals with my favorite topic – experimenting for oneself to find out what is comfortable and workable for you. I hear a lot of advice like, “Don’t try this without a teacher, because you will pick up bad habits that will make it impossible for you to progress.” Well, when you are in your 60s, being physically able to practice is the best way to insure progress. If the “correct” way to do something is painful, I don’t see what’s so correct about it for me. I guess that’s why I see myself more as a fiddler than as a violinist. I imagine that fiddlers pick up “how” to play by observing, mimicking, and trial and error – and success! And I visualize violinists more like apprentices to masters, who have to learn the secret “way” that has been passed down the generations. I didn’t learn to whistle by studying under an accomplished whistler. I heard people whistling, thought, “Gee, I’d like to be able to do that!” and experimented with my mouth and breath – and musical ear – until it came out on pitch and to my satisfaction. And since I feel a violin is an instrument to “fiddle around with” as you learn everything you can about how to make it sound on pitch and to my satisfaction, I’m pretty sure that makes me a fiddler! Thanks for your post!

    • December 18, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      “I didn’t learn to whistle by studying under an accomplished whistler. I heard people whistling, thought, “Gee, I’d like to be able to do that!” and experimented with my mouth and breath – and musical ear – until it came out on pitch and to my satisfaction.”

      I think that sums it up very well! Glad you liked the post.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: