As an adult beginner, I realized early on in the process that learning the violin is a challenge. Even just the basics of holding it properly can be a source of tension and consternation.
So, I invented something to help me. And then I developed the concept into something that I hope can help others as well.
Developing a brand new device from concept to actual physical embodiment has been an interesting journey to say the least. Getting it patented has also been an adventure.
An exciting new part of the journey began yesterday when I made the delivery of the first batch of Wonderthumbs to Johnson String Instruments! Very excited to have a major violin retailer carry these!
a look at how the Wonderthumb is designed to move with your thumb and assist you in having a more relaxed left hand
After multiple test users gave me their feedback I have made some modifications to the original form, and this version is lighter (by about 30%), more stable with the added "wings" front and back, as well as the sleeker ShiftPad now made of neoprene. Commercial production will begin very soon.
My latest round of pre-production WonderThumbs with logos fresh out of the molds. Seven different sizes, still trying to decide on a color...
The last prototype functioned pretty well, but there was no way for it to maintain alignment on the hand, especially during shifts, but also simply in putting the device on your hand.
I then came up with the concept of a saddle type shape which accomplishes two things; it limits the device from rotating around the thumb, and it helps transfer the weight of the instrument into the hand itself.
This was the first "saddle" shaped prototype.
The shape needed some more refinement, but the support of the neck was great.
No time for another development blog entry today. Here's a pic I took of four violins that I owned (two of which have subsequently been sold, two of which I also used to make my avatar).
A violin scroll, is a violin scroll, is a violin scroll, right? That's the way it's been done for 400 years, by cracky,and that's the way it shall be forevermore, amen!
Except when someone decides to do things a bit differently. The odd man out scroll is from a Chanot replica.
That's is where I'm headed with my WonderThumb. It seems that everyone and their brother pretty much takes it for granted that a shoulder rest is what gets used to support a violin, end of story, no questions asked.
But my concept turns that around: support for the violin originally was done by the left hand. Why do we now transfer that duty to someone's jaw and neck by clamping something across the back of the instrument? If help is needed in support, why not aid the left hand itself. Hands are made to hold things up, the only thing your neck was made to hold up is your head. Utilizing it to hold a violin may not be the best use of resources...
Don't get me wrong! I think the Shoulder rest is a wonderful invention, and is a very useful tool to have in our arsenal of aids. I'm not bashing it! But I'm thinking there is more than one possible solution to this issue.
The sling concept was a bust, so I had to investigate other avenues on my quest. I tried many, many different variations. Combinations of materials, arrangements, etc etc...I don't have them all photo documented. I may take a pic of the pile of rejects that I think I have in a drawer somewhere.
One step in the evolution that I thought promising was this one:
It was a hybrid using foam as a support, and an elastic loop around the finger to keep it aligned.
It worked pretty good. However, it had it's drawbacks. It supported the instrument as long as you held your hand *just right*, if you bent you wrist, "pancake hand" as they refer to it that young kids often do, there was about zero support. The other major drawback was the loop around the finger. Sure, in first position, with no need of major stretches, or shifts it was acceptable to a certain degree, but it really limited the freedom of mobility of the entire hand. It bound it up, reducing dexterity.
A number of further variations again followed.
A key stage of the evolution was this one:
This device relied solely on the foam itself as it wrapped around the thumb to support the violin. No elastic bands, etc to bind the hand.
This version also passed over the palm of the hand, not around the back as the previous one. This meant that it lent support to the instrument over a much great range of hand angles relative to the violin. The addition of the velour greatly aided shifting. I was pretty happy with the improvements.
I think it was at this point that I first unveiled my idea to my teacher and had her try it out.
Not perfect yet, but things were looking up.
Gravity is always working against us, to pull that instrument down off your thumb.
I wanted to see if I could create a device that would prevent this from happening, yet still allow for freedom of movement while playing.
My earliest prototypes were "sling" or "hammock" style devices. They worked at preventing slippage.
These did hold the violin up at the correct height, and the supple nature of the sling conformed well to the contour of the neck. I thought I was on to something!
That excitement was short lived.
It only took a few minutes of playing to realize that to support the weight of the instrument with a sling like device required the thumb to pull back against the tension. This utilized muscles that are not up to the task, and it became uncomfortable in a very short period of time.
It was back to the drawing board!
So, why am I here?
I'm a beginner violist (began as a violinist, but fell in love with the viola...), and as a beginner I have a very personal experience of many of the difficulties involved in not only playing, but even simply holding the instrument correctly and comfortably.
Sure, I began with the modern "Standard" setup: stock chinrest and shoulder rest clamped across the back.
But, that didn't work for me. Like trying to hold a phone clamped between your ear and your shoulder, the act of supporting the weight of the violin cantilevered by the shoulder rest and held by the head and jaw as a counterbalance gave me a pain in the neck.
So, i stopped using the shoulder rest.
But that opened up another can of worms: if you don't have a shoulder rest helping support the violin, the left hand has to do all the work (not so dire, that's how it was done for hundreds of years before the shoulder rest was invented). Yet the left hand is also the hand that need to finger notes, move up and down the neck of the instrument freely.
The thing is that the neck of the instrument doesn't rest at the bottom of the V of your left hand, it is supposed to be supported up by the pad of the thumb. Yet gravity, conspiring with the smooth wood of the violin neck are always trying to slide the violin down off your thumb into that valley.
So the most often solution to this is to *lightly* oppose this gravitational pull with the base of your first finger opposite the thumb. What becomes difficult with that proposition is that as soon as you start playing you have to start thinking about what your bow arm is doing, your eyes are drawn to the sheet of music before you, your left hand needs to keep up--first finger, third finger, up shift, down shift, forth finger.....next thing you know the left hand is clenched...the dreaded DEATH GRIP!
Could there be a better way?
I decided to see if there was.