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Alternatives to shoulder rests: straps, counterweights
Does anybody have experience with straps or counterweights for violin?
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Martha
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December 24, 2017 - 11:37 pm
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I'm a beginning beginner, and am wrestling with how to crank my left arm around to function at a brand new angle (especially with a left pinkie almost half an inch shorter than the right pinkie, plus somewhat restricted range of neck motion). 

At this point, I think I know that I'd better not spend much time clamping down with my head, and that my left arm needs all the help it can get to function--functioning fingers AND doing much holding may be more than my anatomy will do, and it seems that (if so) holding is the one to trade away...

I've seen Fiddlerman's YouTube about the Slipper rest () and it looks like the Bonmusica rest works by a similar principle. Hang it off the shoulder seems like it might be viable.

Just today I was struck by a thought: what about counterweights? (Kinda like in a double hung window...) I found: http://www.violinvalet.com/index.php (sells counterweight setup), and http://www.violinlab.com/Commu.....hp?id=8738 (scroll about 2/5ths down to first embedded photo). (I practiced about 20 minutes this evening with a can of corn tied in a scarf hanging down my back, from a rubber band from button to a corner--seemed to have potential, but needs refinement.)

I also found some solutions involving straps: http://ergoinc.com/case-study/.....er-support and http://www.happynex.com and http://viostrap.com/tutorial-2/ .

I wonder if anyone here has any experience with any of these solutions, or with other counterweight and/or strap solutions? 

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Ferenc Simon
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December 25, 2017 - 7:29 am
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First of all, welcome to the forums 🙂 

As for the question... You don't need any of these imo. If you have a proper chinrest and shoulder rest the violin won't fall and that's pretty much all you need to accomplish. Holding it in place with your head will not affect your left hand mobility whatsoever as long as you're not squeezing too hard or are unnecessarily tense. So as long as you don't have neck-pain or something similar that's physically preventing you from doing it, there's no reason why you couldn't keep it in place with your head (many people on the forums for example who have trouble turning their necks use chinrests that have a higher lip allowing them to simply hook their chin into it instead of resting their jawbone with the head tilted) 

So instead of investing in these straps I would recommend that you give it some more time and try to be as relaxed as possible, adjust the shoulder rest height in a way that you don't have to actively raise your shoulder or be tense in any way to keep it in place and your left hand should be then completely free and relaxed to do whatever is needed. 

Also if your simply get tired too fast try breaking up your practice time into simple 4-5 minute sessions and do some theory or something in between, or just keep the violin out and play a couple of times during the day, either way when you feel that you're getting tired and you start focusing more on the uncomfortable feeling it gives you, simply stop and relax, no need to push forward to get it to '20 minutes' or how much you have allocated yourself for practice, it's not going to be productive anyway if you're not comfortable.

Usually I'm all for innovation, but these straps and counterweights just seem too gimmicky to me and I don't think it's going to help much... usually holding the violin isn't the main problem (even the video above was mainly referring to a viola, which is much heavier and as you can see a simple SR solved it), but you could look into the mach one shoulder rest for example, that's somewhat similar to the one presented above, but for violin. Normally you would want to be able to pick up the violin and play then put it down when you're done playing.... instead of spending a bunch of time hooking in straps and wires. With these you'd have to literally strap it to your neck which would both feel awkward and pretty 'fiddly' imo., plus it's just one step away from simply duct-taping the violin to your neck 🙂

Obviously this is just my opinion and you never know... they might work, though I've never seen anyone use them, that's why I'm suggesting to give it some time, especially if you just began to play, it could simply fix itself as you go on as opposed to relying on yet another crutch.

Cheers 🙂 

Ferenc

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Martha
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December 25, 2017 - 12:05 pm
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Duct tape! Why didn't I think of that!! It's the perfect solution!!!

More seriously: thank you, Ferenc. The strategy I have been using, for this first little while, is to not invest in anything just yet, try different angles, keep an open mind, and see how my body parts sort themselves out around the instrument's requirements--as my understanding of those requirements evolves. A shaped foam rest came with the rented violin, I have been trying it in different positions. 

The anatomical problem is a hand rather small for the instrument and a pinkie even shorter--much shorter than it's right-side twin. This seems to be a problem analogous to that of a larger guy with a viola.

As Fm points out on the video, if one can bring the elbow around further forward, it increases the fingers' reach. But a position similar to that of the guy with the viola is already working at the edge of my current range of motion. And since the muscles that pull the tendons that move the fingers are actually down by the elbow, taking those movements through edge-of-range-of-motion positions for both elbow and wrist seems, well, like asking for trouble.

Also, reaching the G string with 1 or 4 means pulling my hand around so that the thumb is fairly central under the neck of the instrument. Making the thumb of less use for holding--and so pushing the holding task all into neck muscle pressure on the chinrest-violin-shoulderrest sandwich (however ideally arranged).

Perhaps I should add that I am 64, did not play the violin as a kid or anything, and have a stiffish neck following brain surgery 18 months ago.

I was able to imagine some of the awkwardnesses around picking up or putting down a weight- or strap-equipped instrument. And then I experienced them first hand, with my can-tied-in-a-scarf mockup! These may be gravely flawed solutions. (The 19th and 20th century solutions that have now become traditional--i.e., chin- and shoulder-rest--may also be gravely flawed... I suspect it is a matter of finding the optimal tradeoffs, given one's specific challenges.)

I would be extremely interested in hearing from anyone with actual EXPERIENCE using counterweight and/or strap devices. But also very happy to hear advice about the circumstances that got me wondering about those devices.

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damfino
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December 25, 2017 - 12:30 pm
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Martha said
The anatomical problem is a hand rather small for the instrument and a pinkie even shorter--much shorter than it's right-side twin. 
  

Somewhere on the forum is a thread of people sharing their short finger lengths, haha. My pinkies are both the same on each hand, but they are super short, if they lost another inch they would just be a stump, haha, and are at least a full inch shorter than the ring finger next to them.

What helped me, is my teacher started out as a viola player, so she taught me some viola playing tricks to make my pinkie easier to use.

The main trick I use that she taught me is rolling/rocking my hand forward to reach the fourth finger note. When doing this, it's ok to lift your first finger, and keep your middle or ring finger down as a pivot point (I leave whichever down depending on what note I have to go back down to). 

Also working on finding things that work for you within the tune is ok to try out, for example some tunes I do just fine leaving my first finger down and lifting the others to stretch over to the fourth finger (getting the other fingers out of the mix gives my hand more reach).

It's a work in progress, I think it always will be. As my teacher tells me, (she has larger hands than me, and much longer pinkies, but they are considered short since they are much shorter than her ring finger) she's been playing over 20 years, and she is still working on perfecting her fourth finger.

For shoulder rests and chin rests, if you have a local music shop, you can bring your fiddle and try on different ones to see what fits you (think of it like trying on shoes). You shouldn't have to feel like you have to clamp down on your fiddle to keep it in place. It should just be a very slight nod of your head, and after doing so not feel like you have to have to hold it up with your left hand at all.

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AndrewH
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December 25, 2017 - 3:07 pm
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I'm a violist and I have very short fingers. My middle finger is just under 3 inches in length. So I have to adjust quite a bit compared to "standard" technique to reach notes.

For people with small hands, the main thing that needs to change is that the thumb needs to move a lot more. (That also means you MUST keep your thumb loose!) If you're trying to reach with your 3rd and 4th fingers, it often helps to pull the thumb toward you, so it's opposite your 2nd or 3rd finger. That will allow you to reach a little farther without necessarily having to bring your thumb completely under the fingerboard.

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Ferenc Simon
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December 25, 2017 - 3:16 pm
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Right after I posted that, I read your initial post once again, just to make sure I understood everything right and I tried speculating a bit more on what your ultimate goal would be with these 🙂 

Needless to say, I decided not to post it, but now that I read your reply I think I should've :))

Basically all I wanted to add was that no, the violin isn't designed to be playable without any support below its neck (in case that's what you were going for). So even if your thumb creeps down to be right below the neck, you still can't (and shouldn't) remove it completely as that would transfer all that added weight (intensified, because you're essentially using the neck of the violin as a lever) to your chinrest / shoulder rest.. That would create a whole lot of unnecessary tension (and pain in time) in your neck / shoulder and even if you'd manage to hold it and play, sooner or later the violin would be damaged (I crushed my old violin just by gripping it too hard and the top cracked, imagine the full weight of holding down notes transferred to the chin-rest).

You CAN play a few very light notes just for the 'fun' of it like that, but the purpose of the shoulder rest / chin rest is never to counter-act the force of you pushing down on the fingerboard, it's merely there to hold the violin and it's own weight in place and prevent it slipping off your shoulder. Your thumb is what counter-acts and supports the weight of your left hand pressing down through the squeezing motion of pressing down notes (that force should never transfer all the way to your shoulder rest). This is why you CAN get away with lifting your head off the violin and playing like that, since it's merely there to prevent slipping and should never be clamped tightly together to try and hold the full weight of playing, but you'll probably never be able to play more than a few very light notes without the support of your thumb, so imo the flexibility issue should be addressed in a different way. 

This also applies to those straps, since that essentially will pull the violin towards you (not to mention prying the fingerboard upwards while at it) and press it into your neck as you're applying downwards pressure (which will be quite painful) 

So again, if your initial goal was to be able to remove your thumb from underneath the violin and play it like a piano, just with pressing down from above without the counter-support of your thumb, that will probably be a no-go.

Now, I'm not trying to discourage you from experimenting though 🙂 so by all means, disregard all the information you might not outright be convinced of haha 🙂 

And finally here are some tips you could try:

Reaching the G string: As you said, bringing the elbow in under the violin helps to do this, BUT if that doesn't work, tilting the violin has the same effect. For example a properly set up shoulder-rest (you can adjust both sides usually) would have your instrument tilted inwards by a LOT: playing on the E string should almost (not completely, just close to) be vertical, while playing on the G string should be close to horizontal. A combination of this and bringing in the elbow somewhat should help reach the G string more easily.

Short fingers: Try reaching from the hand first, then all the rest. By this I simply mean that you should see what's your range of motion from your fingers only (mainly how far does your thumb allow your knuckles to come up near the fingerboard that's still comfortable) and then apply the elbow rotation to that (wrist should be straight or close to). Your goal is to have your knuckles at least level with the fingerboard for easier arching of your fingers and reaching all the strings. And like Mandy said, there are lots of tricks to counteract anatomical differences, such is lifting your index to reach with the pinky or some people whose pinky is simply not strong enough even choose to stick with 3 fingers only and change strings / shift when the 4th would be needed. The ultimate goal is the music anyway 🙂 nobody cares which finger you use as long as it sounds good, right? 🙂 

Short arms: Normally pretty much for every adult the adult size violin should be good (even too small for some 😀 ), but if all else fails you can try downscaling to a 3/4 violin or something.. Maybe try it at a shop, see how it feels.

Anyway, I'm curios as well if anyone here tried any of these straps / counterweights or what might Fiddlerman say about them 🙂 So let's wait and see....

In the meantime I hope some of these tips will be useful... oh and one last note 🙂 Age is just a number, we have beginners here from every age-group, I'm sure you'll be playing well and comfortably in no time! 🙂 

Cheers,

Ferenc

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Martha
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December 26, 2017 - 10:03 am
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Thanks for all your encouragement, Ferenc and AndrewH and damfino!

No, it never occurred to me to try to play in a way that finger pressure wasn't countered by thumb (or hand) pressure. It's the geometry of holding the thing up, plus being able to reach and exert finger pressure in arm-cranked positions.

Arms: the violin fits precisely from my neck to my wrist, which I gather is the test of correct length, e.g. for kids. At 5'4", I'm about average for a US female; from what I can dig up quickly on the internet, I may be only about an inch shorter than the average for southern European males in the 1500s, when (presumably?) violin size standardized. So--while hand- and finger-sizes may vary enough to matter--it's not like the thing was sized for male basketball players!

And, for the record, as someone who has played wind instruments a little (recorder, kaval), I DO get the idea that an instrument can be held securely even though everything holding it up sometimes stops contributing to holding it up. 

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Ferenc Simon
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December 26, 2017 - 10:19 am
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Oh in that case sorry for assuming 🙂 like I said I was merely speculating haha.

You're completely right about the violin not exactly being made for basketball players 🙂 I'm 5'97" and even though that's far from basketball range, sometimes the violin just feels so small and my fingers are cramped together so tightly haha, it was just a thought that you could experiment with a smaller one if you get a chance, holding it would be definitely easier.. as for playing... that's another matter.

Anyway, here's a thought 🙂 Maybe once you get a bit more comfortable with the instrument and the forums you could make a short video for the critique segment of you playing, I'm sure all the helpful people around here could come up with some more relevant tips on how to hold it easier.

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Martha
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December 26, 2017 - 7:19 pm
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Cool idea, Ferenc! No worries--do you know, this is a really hard thing we are doing, trying to communicate about physical positions via text! And even when your speculations don't fit me, they might be exactly right for the next person who reads the post...

Something I'm gleaning from all of you, but especially AndrewH and damfino, is the relevance of viola tweaks for people with smallish and/or stiffish hands or arms. 

I'm really impressed with the community that has grown up in these forums, and with the responses I've gotten here. Good place.

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AndrewH
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December 26, 2017 - 8:17 pm
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It's certainly not impossible. I'm 5'7" but my hand size is comparable to a typical 5'0" or 5'1" person, and I mainly play viola. Even a viola is playable with some adjustments with small hands.

Maybe this article will be of use to you:
http://studio.americanviolasoc.....ce-bigari/

For your particular issue, one sentence seems like an idea worth trying: "Most often establishing a good 4th finger balance and reaching back for the other fingers works more effectively than starting with an index finger balance in quick playing."

Some searching on YouTube led me to this video of the author, who is 4'11" and playing an instrument that's almost the equivalent of a 1.5 size violin:

Note where her thumb is going to allow her to reach with her 4th finger, especially between 2:30 and 2:55 of the video. Instead of being behind her index finger as it is for most violinists, it's actually opposite her ring finger!

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Fiddlerman
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December 29, 2017 - 12:06 pm
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Bringing your arm under the violin in order to aide the reach of your pinky is easier if your violin is higher. You elbow will be freer to move to the right if it's high enough to clear your chest. Do not exaggerate though. We need to be comfortable and non stressed.
Make sure your violin is not too low and perhaps allow the neck of the violin to rest deeper into the V between your thumb and first finger as this will give you a better reach as well.

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Martha
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Thanks, everybody! I'm trying to digest the information in the article linked above by AndrewH--and to continue to experiment with the interrelationships of violin height, arm angle(s), and finger reach.

I already have questions, but I'm going to take those over to a more appropriate section of the forum. For here, I'd like to re-set this topic to my original question, which was a request for reviews, IF anyone has experience, with the murky world of straps and counterweights with the violin (or viola).

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