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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Steps to Putting the Violin on the Shoulder

Rest Position
One of the most difficult things for a beginning violin student to learn is how to take the violin from rest position (violin tucked under the right arm) to playing position (violin placed on the left shoulder). I approach this skill in two stages:

In the first stage, I ask the home practicing partner to place the violin on the student's shoulder. I ask the parent to do this so that the student learns how it feels to have the violin in the correct place.

Another way to reinforce this feeling is to place a small bean bag on the child's left shoulder. This is the place that the violin will rest, and the feeling of the bean bag is very similar to how it will feel to have a violin placed there.

In the second stage, I teach the child a set of ritualized steps to follow in order to place the violin on the shoulder. I use these steps as a reminder to the home practicing partner and the student as to the things to remember about setting up correct posture. Here are the steps that begin from rest position (with bow hold already in place):

(1) Zip-step with the feet

(2) Scoop left hand under the violin (and put thumb on sticker on underside of violin) and grab around the violin shoulder to hold the violin body and strings

(3) Pull the violin out and hold it up like the Statue of Liberty

(4) Turn the violin upside down and then place the violin on the left shoulder (all of the shoulder should be covered by the violin)

(5) Check bow hold one last time

I have my students hold the bow with the correct bow hold while they are in rest position. I do this to save time and to avoid the issue of holding the violin while making a bow hold, which is when students sometimes slip in their violin posture.

"Zip-step" is when the toes turn outward to allow the feet to form a vee, and then the student takes a step (doesn't matter which foot) to widen the stance to about shoulder width. I do not subscribe to the former Suzuki recommendation that the left foot be placed forward. I find that such a stance is unbalanced, and that it leads to teenagers standing improperly with their right hip jutted out like a bad attitude. Instead, I ask that the feet be placed in a naturally balanced position, as they would be if we were to jump up and down several times.

Teen Hip "Attitude"

To test the student's placement of the feet, we play the "push and pull" game. If the student's feet are too narrow, then I can push or pull them over sideways. If the feet are too wide apart, then I can push or pull them over forwards or backwards. The kids think this is a fun game! For younger students, we pretend that the student is a tree in the middle of a storm being buffeted by wind.

thumb spot
grab strings
I place a sticker on the violin "thumb spot," which is the place on the back of the violin where the neck joins the violin body. I ask my students to place their thumb on the sticker and to wrap their fingers around the body of the instrument so that they catch hold of the violin by the strings. I do this because it actually helps the student to feel completely comfortable about getting the violin all the way up on the "high" shoulder. If students just grab the neck of the violin, they will not be able to get the violin twisted around enough without going through some contortions. Most students will not do this, and as a result the violin will not be placed high enough on the shoulder. By grabbing the violin lower around the body and strings, the student is able to pull the violin all the way up and onto the shoulder.

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty stance is to help the student to stretch themselves tall. I try to do as many things as I can to help young students learn how to stand tall. Turning the violin upside down and placing it on the shoulder is the next step. All this activity on the left side of the student is meant to draw the student's attention to the left, so that the student will turn his or her head.

After the Statue of Liberty, the student swings the violin up onto the shoulder.

The last bow hold check is to be sure that nothing has slipped.

Having a set of numbered steps is useful for a group situation. It looks very nice when the entire group is getting ready to play in the same manner. By following my above list of steps, I am sure that my students will correctly place their violins into playing position posture with the best chance of success.

To summarize the five steps:

(1) Zip-Step
(2) Thumb Spot
(3) Statue of Liberty
(4) Violin on Shoulder
(5) Bow Hold Check


  1. This is awesome. Thanks for the ideas!

  2. Wow! Great to see this since this is almost exactly how I teach violin on the shoulder. What shoulder rests do you recommend? Do you ever use the Bon Musica?

    I've heard mixed things about it. But a couple of my students love it. My others use kun or a sponge.

  3. I start out my students with the wedge sponges because I can trade them in and out with different sizes as the student grows. Eventually students buy a shoulder rest to be "cool" like the other kids who have them. I find the Kun/Artino rests are sometimes too low on the shoulder for some (like me, although I use one). Also the front feet are not often high enough, and I have to buy the longer replacement foot for the Kun to make that work (a $12 expenditure). I have used the Bon Musica, and I find that it works great for those students with tall "Princess" necks or who have issues of posture in general, and I have gotten tired of nagging. Sometimes shoulder rests and set up take up most of a lesson until we get it right. Expense is always a concern. I've tried lots of rests myself. I loved the Kun Viva, the colored plastic ones, but I broke every singe one I bought within two weeks.

  4. Ah, love the articulation of these steps! Thank you for posting this.

  5. What great and helpful steps! As a younger teacher, I've used them and had great success!
    A few of my beginner students have the "floating head" problem - they keep their head floating above the chin rest rather than resting on it. Consequently, even if the violin is in the right spot, it is not secure. So far, I have not successfully found a way to help them understand to do this. We practice holding the violin hands-free (with only the shoulder and chin) and they can do this, but once the left hand returns to the neck or shoulder of the violin, up pops the head. Any ideas how to address this? :)

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  10. Thanks for the article, I find it very useful. I too agree that set up is very important and that a student should feel comfortable with holding the instrument for the sake of their playing. I tried may shoulder rests and chinrests too and finally find a great combination of magic pad and kreddle chinrest which can be adjusted to any height...