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  #1  
Old 11-20-2010, 04:12 PM
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rjspear rjspear is offline
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Default Holding the Alto Violin

New alto players face the problem of maintaining a secure hold on the instrument so that it does not rotate around its long axis. This problem is compounded by the need to keep the belly of the alto in front of the player's knees so that the low C string can be played without hitting the leg.

Before coming up with a really good design for a bent endpin, Patrick Tobin used a modified shoulder rest placed in the usual position on the instrument. Since the alto is played vertically on a pin, the player's knees could hold the shoulder rest from the side, which kept the instrument in front of the legs.

That remains a pretty good solution, but recently another player came up with another ingenious application-- the tummy rest (my words, not his! ). In this method, the shoulder rest is placed across the upper bout and makes contact in the stomach area. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it would work even with a torso like mine!

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Old 11-20-2010, 06:41 PM
Altoviolinist Altoviolinist is offline
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Yamaha silent cellos have an extension to make contact with one's chest emulating the deep body of an acoustic cello. I can see how a cellist would miss this as well as the deeper ribs at the knees.

I still have the knee rest I made for the lower bout minus the foam pads on the ends to prevent slippage against the knees. It is a good inch too wide to fit on Bob's import alto (affectionately dubbed the canon). I was using it with an early (and gnarly) Hammond Ashley Alto which is in the process of getting deeper ribs for use as a Violoncello Piccolo. That will be a whole other subject later on I'm sure.

Bob will be probably horrified about sticky tape on varnish but I have tried patches of the burr half of velcro strips at the contact points of the bottom bouts with my knees and also on the back of the scroll that rests on my collar bone. This helps to get a stable hold without squeezing the instrument. I tend to squeeze with my knees when working on a difficult passage and raise my heels which causes the endpin to rise off the floor enough to slip. Choking up as it were. I don't have this problem with the narrower Herrman Ritter vintage 5-string Viola Alta that I installed an endpin on.

I don't have the pieces any more but I spent several months playing Gamba style at the restaurant with comma shaped foam knee pads covered with non-skid black elastic bandage. These attached to the instrument from either corner to the end button with rubber bands. There was no endpin to worry about skidding but I was knee sqeezing all the time and holding the Alto too rigidly all the time. I was getting tennis elbow and hurting knees.

I am skinny enough that an upper bout "belly rest" would have to be about a foot deep since I prefer to have the scroll on my collar bone rather than next to the ear like a cello. My torso is quite long being 6' 4" so this results in about a 45 degree slope to the instrument as opposed to the nearly vertical hold of others. I also feel comfortable with the scroll resting on my collar bone probably because of bone conduction for one thing and because also that's where the chin fiddle hold used to pivot at.

The bent endpin so far is the one change I've stayed with. It required coming up with a clip type endpin holder in the instrument case since it no longer retracts into the Alto body.

The best results seem to require a secure yet relaxed hold that allows quick minor adjustments of the instrument position as the demands of the music change. I have been relearning the bow technique as well (much more cello like) and the angled hold helps with the relaxed arm pressure contact at the string.

Last edited by Altoviolinist; 11-20-2010 at 07:09 PM.
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Old 11-24-2010, 11:42 PM
NZ_Alto NZ_Alto is offline
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Default Have I been doing it wrong?

I've been supporting the lower bout between my thighs, with the top of the scroll resting against my collar bone - it seems to be a stable position, allowing relaxed bowing and fingering with no instrument movement. Is there a problem holding the instrument this way?
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Old 11-24-2010, 11:52 PM
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rjspear rjspear is offline
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Only if you hit your leg playing the C string. Many cellists I know hold their cello slightly rotated so that their left knee is almost under the back. By moving the knee sideways, the cello will rotate on its long axis and move either the C or A string into a more advantageous position. When cellists come to the alto, they tend to hold the smaller instrument the same way (and have the scroll on the collarbone).

I prefer to have the instrument absolutely vertical, with the scroll on the sternum and under the chin. This should allow the lower part of the alto to come forward ahead of the knees (more or less). The idea is then to adjust the endpin until you find a comfortable position for the right arm. You don't want to bow with the right hand high because it tends to cramp the arm and makes good bowing difficult. When the right arm is in a good position, the position of the left arm is almost always comfortable.
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Old 11-25-2010, 12:20 AM
NZ_Alto NZ_Alto is offline
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Perhaps I am oddly proportioned, but I have found that the Alto nestles quite nicely between my knees in a more or less conventional cello position, and allows free bowing, even on the C string. And no problems with long-axis rotation, either.

Just a couple of minor issues - intonation and bow control :>
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Old 11-25-2010, 12:45 AM
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rjspear rjspear is offline
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Oh, well *that*!
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Old 01-02-2011, 06:01 PM
snortar snortar is offline
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Could someone explain where the different parts of the instrument are supposed to rest in relation to the body? Is the back of the instrument actually supposed to be at or close to the abdomen (as the use of a belly rest would imply) or can it go farther out? And where is the scroll supposed to be relative to the shoulder? (The player with the scroll resting in the middle of the chest must have fairly long arms.) I've been playing with various angles and variations on position and with the endpin out with different lengths and nothing seems exactly right. The especially big problem seems to happen on the A-string, when the left-hand position seems especially cramped with the wrist bent backwards, making it hard to get proper intonation. Part of that, though, may be because I came to the alto by way of viola rather than the cello, and my left thumb keeps wandering to the side of the neck rather than remaining opposite the fingerboard. Does the left elbow need to stick out? And does chair height seem to be an issue for anyone?
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Old 01-02-2011, 06:27 PM
Altoviolinist Altoviolinist is offline
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I have very long arms (7 ft wingspan) and holding the instrument at the knees helps to keep the arms open and more like a cello approach. I rest the scroll about where the viola used to touch. I have a bent endpin to bring the center of gravity in and I rotate the instrument on the axis to bring the left corners up so as to better avoid the bow tip hitting the left leg. I try to keep elbows at about the middle range on both arms and away from the body. I have found that once the instrument rests in a stable manner less or no effort is needed to keep it stable. When I get tensing up from over-concentration I start having control problems. The key is to get a stable resting position then not tense up and the instrument can rock and roll as needed.
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Old 01-05-2011, 07:27 PM
ddorch ddorch is offline
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I have been thinking of this issue for some time and wanted to post some thoughts. Bob posted my use of a flexible viola shoulder rest to partially stabilize my alto, but I do not believe this is the optimum solution, since there is still a small degree of wobble.

Why not "construct" a base for the alto using the type of stand that is shown on Bob's website holding a tenor violin. I envision a modification that would allow the stand to be raised or lowered, depending on the stature of the player.

Dennis
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Old 01-05-2011, 09:13 PM
snortar snortar is offline
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Default 7 feet!

Altoviolinist, if you have arms 7 ft from one hand to the next, you could probably just dispense with the endpin and play the instrument under your chin! Come to think of it, is anyone actually doing that anymore?

Do any of the other instruments have this kind of odd trouble getting a proper position? Somehow I expect the treble might be, if anything, be a little too cramped for a regular violinist.
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