4. Viola da sgabello?

I believe sgabello is Italian for stool, at least Google Translate informs me so. Recently I’ve been swapping my gambas for a sgabello, purely as an experiment in holding the viol with the least amount of tension. In music, unnecessary tension is your enemy.

I have tried every conceivable adjustment of angles between legs and instrument, to get to the point where the legs are cradling the viol while the bow avoids contact with the left knee, rather than having the legs grasping its sides. Sometimes I get it, very often not, with the result that after a while my legs feel tired and start shaking a little. I’m 6’3″ tall, and only have two sizes of chair at home, neither of which seem ideal.

While contemplating this, I came across a very interesting image:


What a sensible idea, I thought, and I wonder if other evidence exists. Well, here’s some:

  1. I love this image of a hot band laying down some grooves, while two go-go dancers do their moves above them. Wouldn’t you just love to have been there? Note the violist’s use of a small table-stool to support his instrument. He hasn’t quite got the bow-parallel-to-the-bridge idea, but in the heat of the moment no one is looking.

2. Here we have a cushioned stool. I’m wondering if his hidden left leg is kneeling on said cushion?

3. The small plinth variation on the stool, though we might be drifting into violone sizes here. Caption Competition! My entry: “I’lI bet you can’t play parallel to the bridge while staring at the ceiling!”

All of the above beat this old on-the-floor method:

But there is also the celebrated double-bass-style standing pose with large cushioned stool:

also seen here – note raised left foot sticking out from under his coat. I tried this method, though my wife (standing in for the harpsichordist) took exception to being stabbed in the back every other beat:

I tried these standing postures, but found it awkward for shifting to higher positions, though it worked perfectly well in first position.

So, I returned to our friend here:

I have tried this small stool method while being seated on a standard chair, and it works very well indeed, works for me, that is – you might find it is not for you. I am completely free of tension from holding the body of the viol. My gambas still touch the sides, but gently, and it is very easy to push the neck forward while bowing the sixth or seventh string. And there is no contact with the knee at all. There is historical precedence, as you can see, so I can’t think of a reason not to adopt this posture or a variant of it.

The experiment continues, but the results so far are encouraging. A development of the technique might be in fashioning a resonant box instead of a stool to enhance the sound of the viol, though my 7-string seems resonant enough as it is.

Any other sgabello users out there?

Rob MacKillop
9th June, 2019


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