This is a crucial time in learning violin for you, because holding the violin properly, and using the hands/arms properly is important in setting up a good foundation for playing habits. So I’ll go into this with a bit of detail. If you are having pain, stop and rest until the pain subsides. Yes, tension can cause pain, but most of violin playing relies on relaxation and if there is tension, we must eliminate that.
Please make sure your back is straight while playing. Please stand while practicing, making sure, if you are looking at music, that it is placed at eye level. The scroll should be level with the mouth and pointing at your music. Check the position of the violin on your shoulder. It should be sitting well on your shoulder. You and your violin in playing position should make an upside down letter ‘L’, as close to perpendicular as you can. Be sure you can let go.
What I mean by balance is posture from the waist down. The feet should be about shoulder width apart. Think more baseball player and less ballerina stance. For all the grace required in playing violin, it is just as much an athletic process and balance of the weight on planted feet is key. The knees should be ‘open’, but not locked. Bounce to achieve good, athletic, open knee stance. Rock all your weight from left to right foot, keeping both feet firmly and fully planted, to ensure that you are stable and well-balanced. Keep the hips straight with the torso, don’t stick the hips to one side or the other. If you can both rock your weight and bounce, you should be in a good stance.
All the twinkle bling aside, I like this chart as an example of foot position because it shows a natural stance and the open feet do not show the left foot too far forward. More weight will be on your left foot ideally, but equally balanced is ok too.
Another important aspect of posture is alignment. Many students who read music start out with a good violin position and posture, then when they start to read the music, the alignment of the body changes, fatigue sets in, and aches and pains hinder progress. So with violin position on the shoulder, body posture, foot position and weight balance in mind, now you can think about aligning your nose with the violin strings, down to the scroll, then the violin elbow, the left knee and the left toe– all lined up. Note the belly button is facing straight ahead (don’t twist at the waist). NOW, you are ready to start thinking about what the bow is doing in relationship to the violin, which is properly placed now. Every good violinist starts with this foundation, then moves freely within it to serve the music and self expression.
Starting with a good bow grip, place the bow on E string. The bow arm should rest comfortably by your side. The shoulder is relaxed. The bow comes to the violin. The violin remains unchanged in position. When you move to A string, the bow elbow remains on E. When you move to D string, the bow elbow moves up a little so you can reach it. The bow elbow is now on A while you play on D. When you play on G, bow elbow rises to D string level. On G string, the bow is parallel to the floor.
So the bow elbow is always one string lower than the bow itself. This is a good basic rule.
When you play at the frog, you will find the elbow will rise also as the upper arm needs to become involved in moving the bow to the frog. Still, the bow elbow is below the hand at all times. Different schools of music that came up in the late 19th century (Russian, Franco-Belgian) taught a higher elbow and altered the bow grip. I don’t endorse these methods, nor was I taught these methods. Although some of the greats of that time did. I believe they did in spite of more tension in the arm, not because of it. Keeping the bow elbow relaxed and low allows you to use the weight of a naturally placed arm to produce tone effortlessly. There are many ways to do good things and many physical people types they work for, and thank goodness for this! For you, the raised elbow is causing pain and that is NEVER good in violin, no matter the approach you use.
Please check your violin position, and body balance and alignment. Then make sure the bow arm and shoulder are low and relaxed during play, while keeping the shoulders back and the spine straight and elevated. When you feel yourself tensing up, stop. Stretch the bow arm, make some circles in the air with your elbow to release tension in the shoulder.
OH, and about reaching the tip. Some people’s tip is not located literally at the tip of the bow. Your tip may be several inches down the bow. To find your tip, set your violin in place. The violin never adjusts to meet the bow. Play down bow until you almost open the arm all the way, but maintain a little bend at the elbow. That is your tip. Never hyper extend, never pull back in an effort to use the last bit of bow.
It’s time to stop practicing when you begin to feel like….