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Is it normal for a viola to "dig into your collar bone"?
I'm haveing a few issues with holding the viola. Please help.
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Elwin
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January 3, 2017 - 10:32 pm
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I have followed the instructions on violaman's channel. However, the viola seems to "dig" into my collar bone. Is that normal? I'm also having trouble with how the shoulder rest would fit in. I have it pretty low due to the viola's thickness, however, I still feel like my shoulder rises in order to keep the viola horizontal. Any advice, besides going to a teacher?

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Charles
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January 4, 2017 - 1:39 pm
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In the sense that it happens to many people, yes it's normal.

It's not something you're supposed to get used to, though. If a shoulder rest doesn't help fix that, try a pad of some kind underneath it.  They sell about a 3 inch pad for applying cosmetics that works fairly well. Fiddlershop also carries a pad, specifically designed for that role. Some people put a pad underneath the clothing. If it's on top, make sure it's something that won't slip.

According to my teacher, a viola does not need to be horizontal. Most violists play it at a considerable angle. So if the shoulder rest helps support it and makes it more comfortable, you should be fine. Definitely don't hunch your shoulder. Over the long haul, that will cause you a lot of pain, and even short term, it will almost certainly hurt your playing because of the tension involved.

If you're coming to viola from a violin background, one other warning my teacher gave me (in addition to the horizontal-not-necessary stuff).  Use 4th finger a LOT less often. It takes more force to press them down, and you can permanently damage yourself (usually at the knuckle connecting the finger to the palm, or the muscle that drives that), because the finger is simply not strong enough to be used that way that much.  The occasional 4th finger is fine, especially if you support it with the 3rd finger, the way cellists do, but DON'T play it the way experienced, expert violinists played or you're likely to hurt yourself.  (If you have monster hands than easily hit the C string with the finger well curled and it seems like almost no effort, ignore that.  If it starts to hurt, though, take the hint and do it less.)

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Fiddlerman
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January 5, 2017 - 10:08 am
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Charles has a great point. You can try to find a pad that protects you just in that spot. The collarbone is special and sensitive since you have thin skin only covering the bone without much protection.
I believe you should test different shoulder rests. If you have the right one for your body, you can keep the viola off your collar bone.
Can you post pictures of you holding the viola from different angles?

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Elwin
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January 7, 2017 - 1:17 pm
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Thanks for responding. I was able to get better at the hold. When I stated Horizontal, I meant parallel to the floor. As for the "rotation" angle (rotating the viola with the "axis" being the imaginary line that starts at the scroll and ends at the endpin), It's more turned, and not horizontal. Now, I have less of a problem with the viola digging into the collarbone. I can play with or without the shoulder rest, it's just that, I have to physically hold it in a position where I can be comfortable on the chin-rest. With a shoulder rest, it aids in holding it up in that position. I might try a pad one day, though.

As for 4th finger, I can press the C-string down, and keep it curved (My pinky does tend to collapse, but it's easily correctable) However, I do have to stretch it a little bit. The A string is fine. So, how do expert violinists play the 4th finger? I'm curious. No, I do not have a violin background. I've played the violin a little before, but it never went past noob.

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Charles
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January 8, 2017 - 8:10 am
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Caveat: A lot of what I say about professional violinists is hearsay. If I've been misinformed, the statements about how they usually do things may be way off.

Many (most?) modern violin players are taught to use vibrato whenever it is even remotely feasible. (Or they themselves think that they should.) You can't do that on an open string, so the most common way to play (I'm talking professional level, not most of the people on this site) is to make the lowest note on a given string one held down by the first finger, and the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th do what the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd do in 1st position.

It has its virtues. If you're playing scales, for example, the finger pattern for every key will be identical. The only difference is where you start out. By adding shifting, you can control which string you play a note on, which is occasionally important when the tone of the note is very important and you don't want one to stand out from the others.

It also has downsides. You cannot, of course, play 4th finger the way you do in 1st position - you'd need a fifth finger to do that. It can also cause pain, because the little finger is dramatically weaker than the others. Especially if one is the type to "tough it out", you can cause long-term, even permanent, damage. And because modern professional violinists are frequently required to play this way, permanently being unable to play with the 4th finger will kill your career.

In your case, the occasional note played with the 4th finger (to keep from moving to the next (open) string should be fine.  But it DOES take more force than a violin does, and violists suffer more injuries than any other string player. That's the number one injury for them.  Don't overuse it and it shouldn't be a problem.

 

With regards to the position of the viola, let's say the scroll is the head, the end pin is the feet, the side with the A string is the left (its left, your right, as your holding it) and the side with the C string is its right.

You usually want to have its left side somewhat below the right, both to make things easier on your left hand, and to make bowing easier. The limit is the A string. You need to have the bow still tilted at least a little bit (not straight up and down), even when playing the A string.  Wherever between there and side-to-side horizontal is most comfortable for you is best.

Violinists are taught to keep the head and the foot at the same height. Some teachers will get quite strident about it, in fact.   According to my teacher, that's not necessary with a viola, and if you look at videos of violists, you'll see that many of them hold it with the head (scroll end) significantly down.  That's mainly what I was referring to when I said you don't have to hold a viola horizontal.

The rules for holding a viola are pretty much the same as for a violin. In descending order of importance:

1. You don't drop the viola.  (If you live in a large string shop and are quite wealthy, you can ignore this one. Be sure to hire somebody to sweep up the dead instruments, or it will become a bit of a PITA.)

2. Be comfortable. Playing through pain might be a good idea in football. It's not in playing stringed instruments.  The kicker is that your body is not identical to anyone else's, and all the tools (chin rests, shoulder rests, etc) for making it more comfortable are designed for an imaginary "normal", "average" person. Expect to have to do some experimenting to find what really works for you. Remember to shift between methods of holding the instrument up (at the least, shift between the head and left hand once in a while, so that neither gets cramped or tense).

3. The instrument stays where it should when you shift from a higher position to a lower one. This means you need some way to keep the viola from moving when your left hand is providing no support worth speaking of, and it also needs to provide some resistance to the viola being pulled away from your neck.

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Uzi
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January 8, 2017 - 5:36 pm
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If you are having trouble holding the string down with your fourth finger alone, you can put your third finger down right behind, and in unison with, your fourth finger.  The third finger will be doing most of the work in getting the string down to the fingerboard and the fourth finger then plays the correct note with very little effort.  Some violinists also use both fingers when doing fourth finger vibrato. 

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright

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Elwin
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January 10, 2017 - 7:47 pm
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Well, I only use the fourth finger on the A, D, and occasionally G. Primarily, because it's easier, though it's still a stretch. I might stop messing around on it until I start lessons this Friday. I think I might hurt my pinky.

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Fiddlerman
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January 11, 2017 - 9:47 am
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Great tips above by both Charles and Uzi.
Also, with the fourth finger in particular, it helps to come around the instrument with your elbow more to get the correct angle on the C string for example.
Also, try getting into the habit of applying more pressure on the left side of your fingertips to help with strength and the angle.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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coolpinkone
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@Uzi good point.  I am hearing that technique more and more these days.  I keep forgetting to try it.  I have gotten better with fourth finger... I feel I get the note, but I feel it is weak.  I have to remember to inculcate this into my practices.  Thank for the reminder. 

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Elwin
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January 12, 2017 - 7:37 pm
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Well, my pinky has sort of "stretched" to reach the 4th finger note. I just need to work on the C string. I find it easy to use the 4th finger if you press the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, fingers along with it.

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Uzi
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My advise is not to do anything that hurts.  That particularly applies where there is pain after you've finished playing.  Keep in mind,  that the viola is the number one instrument for instrument related injuries.

If you're having trouble holding the viola, then you'll need to experiment with shoulder rests and chin rests until you find something that doesn't hurt when the instrument is properly positioned.  A violin/strings shop or a luthier can be a huge help in discovering what works without spending a lot of money on things that don't work.  Failing that, I would suggest looking at getting a shoulder rest that offers the greatest amount of adjustability, such as the Bon Musica and taking the time to get it adjusted properly for your own body. 

As Pierre pointed out, getting to the lower strings, such as the C string, will be easier if you move your left elbow more toward the center of your body. 

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright

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Elwin
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January 14, 2017 - 6:18 pm
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I did take my first lesson last night. The teacher was a great teacher. She was able to spot problems with my viola hold, and playing, and corrected them. She raised the height of my shoulder-rest to give it a lot more height, which helped.

Fiddlerman, if you're reading this, I would like to add something to the review I left of the artist viola at fiddlershop.com. My teacher did see the artist viola during my first lesson. She was a bit "skeptical" after finding out that it was bought online. However, she let me know by the end of the lesson that she was surprised, at the viola's quality. She said that it was a really great viola and it had a wonderful sound. (She doesn't buy any instruments online at all).

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Fiddlerman
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January 17, 2017 - 3:58 pm
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Perfect Elwin. We would appreciate that addition to the review.
Please email it to us or write a new one and we'll add or replace the other one.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Elwin
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January 18, 2017 - 7:36 pm
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I was just playing my viola. More like randomly improvising. I decided to try Habanera from Carmen. I was shifting and all that. I only used my pinky on the upper two strings, because on the lower two strings, it's simply not used to it yet. Now, what I'm wondering, is if this is a bad sign. After I got done playing, my hands were cold (it's actually pretty cold right now, enough for me to wear a hooded jacket, but not cold enough for it to be bulky) However, my left-hand pinky was the coldest, and seemed to "shiver" a little before I warmed it up on the computer keyboard. In fact, as I'm typing this, my left-hand sort of twitches, if I use my ring finger, and pinky (pinky not so much now that it's warming up) to press down the keys.

Does the "shivering" part mean that my pinky can't handle it?

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Charles
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January 18, 2017 - 8:00 pm
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I'd say that's a good question to ask a doctor.  I'm certainly not qualified to diagnose it.

A couple of thoughts:

Fatigue of the hand and arm in general, and possibly extra fatigue on the pinky.

Nerve compression from the arm being twisted around in a manner it's not accustomed to.

My forearm can handle being twisted around the way it has to be to play violin (or viola) much better now than when I started, but I still have occasions that when I quit playing and untwist my arm, it screams bloody murder, because I've had it in an awkward position for too long.

I don't know exactly what the issues with your hand signify, but I doubt they're desirable. I'd play a shorter period, a warmer environment, changing up various elements until you find what it was.  If it turns out to be just cold, some gloves with the fingertips cut off might help.  If it seems to get worse, talk to a doctor before you go too much further.

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Elwin
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January 18, 2017 - 9:10 pm
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To come to think of it, my hands do have a tendency to get cold. I've only been playing the viola for less than a month. It's all better by now. I'm thinking, my fingers need to get used to it a little bit more.

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Elwin
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January 20, 2017 - 11:44 pm
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Fiddlerman said
Perfect Elwin. We would appreciate that addition to the review.
Please email it to us or write a new one and we'll add or replace the other one.  

Hi Fiddlerman, to also let you know (P.S. I haven't written a new one for the Artist Viola next), We just got a concert violin for my sister. It arrived today, right before out lessons. Our teacher (she teaches violin and viola) loved it. She sort of played it like a professional would when she tested it out, after finding it was from the same place I got my viola. Which was different from the way she played last week when she tested out my viola. She was skeptically playing it and searching for every possible flaw.

Now, she asked the prices of both which she was quite surprised at. She asked me for the name of the place I got it from and told me that she is going to recommend the shop to a few of her other students.

I found that rather amazing.

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Fiddlerman
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February 2, 2017 - 4:16 pm
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🙂 I love it!!!

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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