From David Robbins
Posted March 7, 2009 at 01:57 AM
Does anyone have any tips/exercises to reduce finger pressure on the string?
Drew wrote a blog on this. Practicing Repetiton Hits without finger pressure. Very helpful explanation included.
To sensitize yourself to the amount of weight going through the fingertip you might try practicing vibrato exercises with rythms but no weight and then add the weight slowly retaining the feeling of relaxtion.
Also practice passage or whole movements with zero finger rpessure, then 25%, then 50% 75% until you find the absolute maximum necessary .
Something I discovered recently was that a lot of the tension in my left hand was due to my mind. I would think of holding the violin, however gently, and then my hand would clamp down on it (not that much, about as much as if I were to pick something light up). And then I'd shift and the violin would be pulled around and I'd clamp down harder...then I'd shift and I'd clamp down more etc. etc.
If I imagine that the violin is just floating in the air and then plunk my fingers down as if I were tapping my fingers on a table all that tension disappears. Even if I need to articulate in high positions and drop them down fairly hard the hand doesn't get tense and I don't hurt my fingertips. Recently I've noticed that the callouses on my fingertips are much less then they were, though they're not quite gone (left hand pizz?)
You may also want to try practicing artificial harmonics in a piece like Czardas. You put one finger down like playing a regular note and another finger ever so lightly touches the string to produce the harmonic sound. If you put both fingers down too much it will sound awful. This is also a good way to work on intonation since your fingers have to be dead on or the harmonic will not ring.
I also agree with everything that was said about de-stressing!
Thanks for all the great advice so far! I've decided that part of the problem actually is my fingers being sticky, making it hard to move and adjust. Any thoughts on that? Does powder work? Is lotion better? My sticky/clamminess doesn't make things slippy and slidy, but the opposite: very hard to move without friction.
Some people use baby powder and others use a small amount of unscented antipersperant. Everybody's hands are sticky though...I would only go for these if you sweat an unusual amount or something.
Check your bridge height!
Just a fraction of a mm of excess bridge height can cause one to instinctively press too hard. However, it is not necessary to depress the string any harder than just enough to sound a solid note - that may not take it to the fingerboard - especially in the highest positions. (On cello one never attempts to depress the highest noes to the fingerboard - but you do have to control the bow accordingly. I never get that high - beyond the end of the fingerboard - on violin.)
It can be a seasonal thing with temp/humidity change or it could be that your instrument is not set up quite right - or it has changed.
If you have the leeway, and the nerve, moving the bridge a tad toward the tailpiece will lower the strings just a bit, although you will have to increase string tension to compensate. At this could help you experiment with the feel of it before taking steps toward a permanent fix.
As some of us age, aches and pains (maybe arthritis) creep in to make it harder to depress the string the same amount we have done for decades. If you have that problem your luthier might be able to help. I have that problem with one violin (nowadays) and I'll wait until summer weather is in full swing before I decide what to do about it - right now I just don't try to play that fiddle.
When one of my students has problems similar to yours, I recommend the following exercise. Start with your finger pressing down too hard. Keep moving your bow slowly as you gradually reduce your finger pressure until you don't hear the note. Now you know how the two extremes feel, so you need to find a place between them where you sound and feel good. This is like the Buddhist way of finding the middle path, and it usually works.
For sticky / sweaty fingers, you can either use some baby powder or wash your hands regularly. Be careful about constant hand-washing though - it can dry your skin to the point of developing cracks and bleeding if you overdo it.
For the pressure, I do this exercise. I'll start off with just enough pressure for a harmonic, and then gradually increase the weight of my hand to make the note pure, then continue with a scale or etude with that minimal weight. If I start becoming tense, I go back to the harmonic and repeat the exercise.
for the left hand Auer said it all. In forte the left hand is piano and vice versa.`
This also highlights anothe rparadox of violin playing: it is really a lot more strenuous to play quietly for long periods. loudness is a function of correcly applied sinking into the intrument cmbined with perfect intonation, spped and contact point(ry to avoid words like pressure in your thinking and teaching). One of the most insiduous problems violnists have is a slight collapsing in of the right shoulder and a tensing under the armpit. It is very helpful to try playing bent over from the hps so that your head is as close to your knees aa spossible. When you return to normal position these tension areas should have unlcked. You may also have problems with blood pressure....
I taught this exercise to a wodnerful violinist colleague a few years back who had beautifully Junoesque hips and a propensity for tight jeans. We were both completely bent over playing the Bach double when a new condcuter walked in the door behind us. I have no idea what sort of greeting he thought he was being given.
Incidentally, one point that has not been raise dtoo often. Modern syynthetic strings actually require less fnger pressure than wund and pure gut.
*sigh* Too bad I didn't get around to correcting this sooner...... I'm playing the Flying Dutchman Overture this weekend under a speed-freak conductor & I'm not liking my chances.
Thank you Buri, I really appreciate your input.
I had that very problem once. It happened when I was moved out of the Mia Bang book into Sevcik. I was terrified of Sevick and my instinct in response to my terror was to grip the neck of my violin in a choke-hold and jam my fingers down on the strings. Because I practiced several hours a day, I would quit once my finger(s) began to bleed. The fingers that didn't bleed had humongous callouses on them.
I know this is an extreme. After seeing the state of my left hand, (it took a couple of weeks before my instructor noticed....probably because I'd practiced the night before and the evidence was in plain sight) my instructor stopped the book excercises and worked strictly on me doing scales with a light touch. It took a while. When I returned to Sevcik I didn't clamp down nearly as hard, and now I don't think I press hard at all. At least, all of my callouses are gone.
My reaction was strictly one of fear, and it took a bit for me to overcome that. Daily practice with a conscious effort to light touch. That was the ticket for me.
I find that it helps tp shift one's attention from pressing the string down to liftng the fingers.
As a beginner myself, I find concentrating on playing scales well to be the perfect exercise when working on a problem like this. You aren't distracted by notes on a page, you can close your eyes and play a scale while directing all of your mental energy into what your fingers are doing. Once you have the problem worked out then I'll move into playing simpler etudes that I have memorized.
You cannot work on basic technique enough. And any insecurites there will only be magnified when you try to play harder pieces or more advanced techniques.
There is a little ironic humor, as there is in so many aspects of violin study, in that the best control of finger pressure doesn't come from focus of attention on finger pressure. Rather, it comes from focus of attention on feeling the string and/or finger pad slightly sprung up, instead of squished down to the point of zero elasticity.
The underlying principle of focusing concentration on the feedback you sense, rather than on the action you are doing is, I believe, a foundational precept of Timothy Galwey's book "The Inner Game of Tennis".
I occasionally have to refresh not having too much pressure on the strings.
The way I was taught to do that was to spend about 5 minutes slowly depressing my finger on the string, until the pure tone came out, and then do not to press any harder. Do this in various positions with all 4 fingers. You'd be surprised how little pressure is required. ;-)
As Tess said, scales. You have to keep your fingers light to do sixths.
I think it was Muhammad Ali who said something like, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'". The left hand action of a violinist I think should be very much like what Mr. Ali described a boxer should do in the ring. You do need some type of articulation or diction (especially in legato passages when the bow is not doing the articulating) with the left hand, but at the same time you want to keep the fingers light as a feather. Oliver Steiner's posting (a couple above mine) is very informative.
I studied with Mr. Steiner. He used to do a neat trick where I would pass a piece of paper beneath the strings while he played. That's a pretty good visual representations regarding finger pressure.
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