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Left hand Thumb pressure?

Technique and Practicing: Trying to understand left hand technique and pressure.

From james barrett
Posted December 5, 2010 at 07:07 AM

 Hi, I just had my second violin lesson and I'm working on E and F# exercises (baby steps).  I've been reading about left hand technique and about left hand pressure. I think I may have misunderstood something. I find I have to press my thumb into the neck in order to make a sound. But I have been reading that my thumb should be loose. I don't understand that. When my thumb is loose I can't make a sound because my fingers can't press hard enough onto the string to make a sound without the thumb. So, how loose is loose and how much pressure should I be using?

From Andrew Victor
Posted on December 5, 2010 at 04:03 PM

Talk to your teacher about this.  The size of your hand, length of your fingers and length of your arms will all affect what first-position hand posture works best for you. (If you can, take a look at the way Clayton Haslop (try Youtube) holds his violin.) If you can do it, a more open left thumb (when playing in 1st and 2nd position) can help support the violin and free your hand - an approach best developed at the beginning of your studies. At higher positions (3rd and above) it is no longer an issue.

The left thumb, pressing tightly against the side of the violin neck will have negative effects on your playing as you progress - in the following order:

1. It will make it more difficult to use your 4th finger and may (but not necessarily) also make it more difficult to move your fingers to different strings.

2. It will make it more difficult to shift between different "hand" positions.

3. The most lasting effect (once you progress to that level) will be inhibition of a well controlled vibrato.

However, you can still become a credible amateur violinist even if your left thumb grips a little too much - but you will be working hard to overcome its limitations.

Andy

From james barrett
Posted on December 6, 2010 at 05:01 AM

 Thank you for your response. I did a search on youtube and saw some of his videos. I can see what you mean. His fingers are much longer than mine, I don't think I could hold it the way he does.

While I was searching, I found two web sites that appear to be his: www.violinmastery.com and violinblueprint.com. Thank you for suggesting his name. I found  some good information on his web sites. 

Thanks!

From Michael Pijoan
Posted on December 6, 2010 at 09:23 AM

Left thumbs often have codependency issues.  Like an overprotective parent who does everything for their kids until the kids are practically crippled and cannot act on their own, so does the thumb reign over the 4 fingers of the left hand.  One must sever this connection so the fingers can become stronger and learn to function independently.  However, if doing so proves to be nearly impossible then there may be other problems present.  It is possible that you are holding the violin ineffectively and you must consult a teacher (a good one) to help you by analyzing your technique.  Generally the tenets of good violin technique apply but there are often little quirks that are unique to a student's physiology and a good teacher can see these uniquenesses and apply solutions which might not work for absolutely everybody.

From james barrett
Posted on December 6, 2010 at 09:39 PM

 So, based on the answers I have received thus far, I assume that I should have no pressure at all with my thumb and my thumb probably should not even touch the neck at all. Is that correct?

From John Cadd
Posted on December 7, 2010 at 02:05 PM

No.  There`s not much effort for a thumb to counteract a small pressure from the fingers.  It`s such a light job for your thumb that you don`t need to worry about it. Try to keep it straight if you can . there`s less chance of it gripping then.Hold the neck with the movement from the second joint from the tip.Think how you use your hand on a staircase. Sliding gently rather than gripping.

From Hannah Woolmer
Posted on December 17, 2010 at 01:38 PM

 Hi I posted a similar question a while back about how to encourage my new pupils to use the right amount of pressure.  Pressure is needed from left-hand thumb but gripping is not needed.  When you push the index finger into the string the thumb needs to provide counter pressure or the neck of the violin will dip down, but this pressure should come from finger tip of finger and thumb not a squeeze between finger and thumb knuckles (which often happens) also remember that a constant squeezing of the neck of the violin is not needed, just a little counter pressure.

To see what I mean you can put your left-hand thumb and index finger together to make ok! sign, that counter pressure from the thumb is all that is required.  Also your thumb will need to remain flexible so that when you are putting fingers on different strings your hand is still free and comfortable.

From elise stanley
Posted on July 17, 2011 at 07:19 PM

I read through this topic as I have intermittent thumb-gripping issues - particularly when down-shifting and sometimes even in first position on the E string.  I tried a lot of different 'treatments' including playing with just the fingers (which is crazy since then you have to counter their pressure by gripping with the chin).  Finally in desperation I reread Fischer's Basics.  It took a while to find but eventually the key points were there (least for me)

1.  Use as little pressure as necessary by both the thumb and the fingers; and even more important

2. The thumb pushes UP not ACCROSS. I think that is implied above (opposing the fingers) but that is not sufficiently clear because you can oppose the downward pressure by locking the neck between the thumb and first finger joint.  For me this was truly a major DUH!! moment :)

I had to comment here since I have found this to be very liberating - you can increase upward pressure (mediated by the neck sitting on the first thumb nuckle) in slight anticipation of the fingers - this allows you to use less finger pressure and increases relaxation.

I hope that makes sense - and also that it is correct.

From Scott Cole
Posted on July 17, 2011 at 10:30 PM

 "...and my thumb probably should not even touch the neck at all. Is that correct?"

 

No, that's overkill. It's perfectly acceptable for the thumb to contact the neck. You should only apply enough (if any) pressure to get the job done. Think of it as a brake on a bike--only used when necessary. Otherwise, a waste of energy.

 

From elise stanley
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 07:56 AM

Scott - you probably didn't notice, but this was an old topic I was continuing it to raise a new point... (probably should not - everyone only notices the OP...)

From John Cadd
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 11:18 AM

How do you eat your cornflakes each day? Try to hold the spoon without the thumb touching. You may make a lot of mess. If you hold a spoon do you have to think about it all the time? When you read a newspaper do you keep dropping it or does your hand rip holes in the page? Where does all this stuff end? Is there any room for common sense these days?

From elise stanley
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 11:26 AM

I give up.

From John Cadd
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 11:30 AM

No go on. Don`t take any notice of me.  I`m annoyed because these dumb thumb ideas are not coming from the beginners. They are being fed this stuff when it`s not necessary.  It`s getting so psychological it will soon be like golf.

From elise stanley
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 12:27 PM

John,I give up because if you add a new question to an old (on subject) topic, noone checks why the topic came up again.  As said...

 

From elise stanley
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 12:29 PM

John,I give up because if you add a new question to an old (on subject) topic, noone checks why the topic came up again.  As said...

 

From Scott Cole
Posted on July 18, 2011 at 08:39 PM

 It`s getting so psychological it will soon be like golf.

 

The thought of violin becoming like, or being like golf is depressing. Then we'll have to call the violin something like " a good tree, ruined..."

 

 

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 02:50 AM

Scott,

don`t they have something in golf called @taking a Mulligan` or something which means you can have another go.   Would be very helpful if one messes up the opening of the Beethoven.

On the other hand,  condcuters may start shouting one@ two@ three,  fore`

which could be tiring.

Cheers,

buri

From Michael Pijoan
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 03:27 AM

 "I`m annoyed because these dumb thumb ideas are not coming from the beginners. They are being fed this stuff when it`s not necessary."

John, what do you mean by this? Understanding the thumb's role is a valuable concept to teach beginners. When I was a beginner I had a very patient and dear teacher who trained me to not press my thumb into the neck. Remembering what he taught me helped to clear up many technical frustrations. It's worth mentioning that gripping with the thumb constricts the carpal tunnel and can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

From elise stanley
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 06:11 AM

which is why I brought this topic up.  I feel like I'm yelling into an empty room...

From Michael Pijoan
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 06:59 AM

Ok, well here are a few ways you can release your thumb, Elise. Firstly, you need to gain an understanding of just how much fingertip pressure is really necessary to make the note sound. I don't know your playing personally, but it seems that many people would be surprised with just how little pressure is required. When the fingers aren't pushing the fingerboard down so much, your thumb will be less inclined to push back in the opposite direction. If you manage that, then there's a fair amount of thumb pressure eliminated right there. Try playing a scale and imagine that you are playing a piano dynamic with your left hand and a forte dynamic with your right. 

Then from there you can further insist that your thumb relaxes by playing passages slowly and bringing the thumb away from the neck after every note. You can try it without the thumb also, which (as Scott pointed out) is not the way to play normally because truthfully a little counter-support from the thumb is necessary, but this is useful when done as an exercise for this purpose specifically. Or you can cover your thumb with a soft handkerchief so that you get the feeling of a softer touch with the thumb. Make sure that your palm is nicely rounded when you play. My first teacher made me play Wohlfahrt etudes with an egg in my left hand and I cracked more than a couple before I got the hang of it. They were hard-boiled first though, no sense in wasting them.  

Well, I mentioned the methods that I was taught, but this is by no means intended as the definitive way to practice this. If any of what I wrote is helpful, cheers! If any of it is not helpful, that's fine. I wish you the best and good luck. 

From elise stanley
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 12:26 PM

Thanks Michael - thats great input and good ideas but the key thing for me right now is the discovery of upward thumb pressure (light as it is).  I brought it up because it IS counterintuitive - the instinct is to grip, in particular during hard passages rather than push up.

The mechanics of pushing up are also interesting.  I mean the thumb primarily contacts the side of the neck so creating an upward (relative to the plane of the violin body) pressure, even a small one, are curious.  To do so the thumb has to catch - and as I see it, that can not rely on skin traction but requires the first nuckle.  Perhaps I'm over analyzing here but its not something you read about.

The excercise I invented for myself is to actively swing the violin up using the thumb on each bow down stroke.  What I think I have realized is (shoot me for this) the real advantage of playing without a shoulder rest since then the thumb is bearing the weight of the violin and has to push up, albeit very gently.  With a shoulder rest you can afford to have the thumb inactive or even pulling down with the chin and shoulder acting as the counter pressure.  Who knows, enough of this and I may be able to play without - not that that is actually a goal at this time.

Anyhow, thanks for the feedback... 

From John Cadd
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 03:17 PM

Crafty addition of a question about --You know what --there Elise. That was straight out of left field , as they say .  Just to spray weedkiller on a new suggestion, the thumb will certainly never pull down on the neck . Equal and opposite forces is all you need. The word    forces    should not have any emotional baggage attached to it. Even a loose feather is applying forces on the air around it as it falls.  The string does not even need to touch the fingerboard for a note to sound.  No need to be swooping up and down with every bow stroke.

There is an article  by Reese ,Bandy and Yates who suggest that --"females have a significantly greater range of motion in joint action than their male counterparts throughout life."  They include shoulders in their topic.( If the subject of shoulders is part of the discussion ).

From John Cadd
Posted on July 20, 2011 at 04:15 PM

Here`s something else that stops the violin from slipping sideways---the fingers touching the strings will maintain the sideways position .Otherwise there would be a loud untidy , twanging noise.The hands learn to deal with all that without too much conscious thought.  Try to play intense music with relaxed hands.It`s like a balancing act.   I have just seen a video of Grigory Sokolov playing La Poule. on the piano. He plays intensely but very softly and delicately at the same time.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on July 20, 2011 at 05:11 PM

>>  It`s getting so psychological it will soon be like golf.

> The thought of violin becoming like, or being like golf is depressing. Then we'll have to call the violin something like " a good tree, ruined..."

And you'll have to wear those ridiculous pants whenever you play.


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