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squeezing with left hand

Teaching and Pedagogy: how to address squeezing the neck with the left hand. How to loosen up?

From shulamith barbe
Posted November 27, 2012 at 07:17 PM

Hi,

Would anyone have a suggestion on how to address a student with a really tight hold of the left hand? he really squeezes.
His violin position on the collarbone is good, he can hold the instrument steady between collarbone and cheek.
So far I have been working on playing slow, easy tunes, and exercises with the only focus on relaxing. he started lessons in june, is playing some christmas tunes, and has a good feel for the violin, and is eager to learn. It might be that the left hand will relax in time, but I am worried it might become a bad habit.
any suggestions?

Thanks!
Shulamith

From elise stanley
Posted on November 27, 2012 at 07:37 PM
One idea I heard of (attributed to DeLay) was to place a wine bottle cork in the crook of the hand while playing. This both inhibits squeezing and creates teh space between the violin and hand.
From Rocky Milankov
Posted on November 27, 2012 at 07:53 PM
From your post I don't know if the chin rest and shoulder rest is being used or not. So, first you need to find out if the student is in fact afraid of dropping the violin. Also, is he using a full size or smaller violin? Is the violin too big?
Once the ergonomic details are addressed and if the student is still chocking the violin's neck, the placement of the left hand needs to be revisited. Long fingers, short, or average? Where is the thumb positioned?
Lastly, a thin piece of sponge can be taped on the inside portion of the thumb (that leans to the neck) for a few days. This will help the student to relax, see and feel the change in "pressure" applied.
From Charles Cook
Posted on November 27, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Most of the time this is caused by pressing down on the strings too much.

Practice scales where he is touching the string, but not the finger board. Sounds bad , but works well.


From steven su
Posted on November 28, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I think it has to do with the way he is putting down his fingers. Our hand is designed to squeeze with the thumb so when fingers are going straight up and down, it is natural to squeeze. A good way would be to explain it to him that he is not actually pressing up and down but rather brushing off the strings. If you watch Heifetz's slow motion video, you would see that his fingers are pressing in a pizzicato motion. A good exercise would be getting him to press a note and as soon as he presses the next note, he has to pizz the last note. Hopefully that will solve the tension issue.

There might be other factors? I mean is he a kid or an adult? I did teach an adult...took him a long time to relax his hand. Took so long that he gave up -_-

From Philip Novak
Posted on November 28, 2012 at 03:45 AM
I'm an adult beginner and few things that have helped me are: 1) use a shoulder rest or support the scroll with a wall or chair and play without using the thumb on the left hand, that reminds me how little left hand finger pressure it takes to sound a note. 2) separate the left hand from from the right; what one does, the other does. If I'm using a lot of bow pressure, the left hand goes into death grip mode. I need to mentally separate the the two hands: pat your head- and rub your belly sort of thing. Sometimes I need to lighten up on both hands. 3) an inherent part of practicing for me is releasing tension from every part of my body as i'm playing. If I don't practice with that mindfulness, I figure I am actually developing the habit of playing with tension. For me it's just as important as stuff like intonation and tone; espescially when concentrating really hard on new material.
From Terry Hsu
Posted on November 28, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Does he clench the violin with his chin? If you clench on one end (the chin), you need to clench on the other end (the hand) to hold the instrument up in order to do certain movements.
From Charles Cook
Posted on November 28, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Tension and pressure begets more tension and pressure

From Bach's Bible

From Gene Wie
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 06:21 AM
> This both inhibits squeezing and creates
> the space between the violin and hand.

With the wine corks, spool of thread, etc., there is an assumption that one wants to have space between the violin and the hand. That's not necessarily true for all players.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Practice aids can only go so far. The only way to address the problem long term is to teach awareness and self-correction. Fischer's books (either Basics or Practice - forgot which one) has several practice techniques to release and relax the left hand.
From Paul Deck
Posted on December 25, 2012 at 04:16 PM
I'm with Gene. I don't think it's necessary to have a space there. Contact is okay, but pressure there is unnecessary tension that will only constrain the movement of hand and fingers. OP needs to ask teacher for help to correct this, as I can assure you it's a bad habit.
From J Petersen
Posted on December 25, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Simple exercises moving the hand back and forth between the scroll and the body of the violin without worrying about fingers on the fingerboard, until the concept that you NEED that free movement to play notes all over the fingerboard sinks in.

I think it's a mistake to start entirely with notes right next to the nut. Yes, you have to start somewhere and that is easiest to grasp at first because there's a reference point, but make it fun for a student to also get the hand up near the violin (there are a couple of comfortable spots where even a beginner can find a good note or two) so the idea that it's "harder" up the fingerboard is avoided.

Children are very open in their thinking about things that are new. Take advantage of it.

From Adrian Heath
Posted on December 25, 2012 at 10:38 PM
May I quote myself from another recent thread?

My violin/viola neck never, ever rests on the the bone below the index. There is a contact in fast passages, and a slight gap when I need an expressive vibrato (wider and denser on the viola). On the lower strings, the base joint is higher than the edge of the fingerboard.

I have long thumbs (two!) and short fingers (eight).. (and "greek" toes!)

I dont "hold" my fiddles, I "hold them up"..
(je ne "tiens" pas mes violons, je les "soutiens")
with shoulder and thumb.

Hands are as different as faces!

From shulamith barbe
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 12:20 AM
Thank you all for your responses. There are some tips I will try out, and reads I will read.
Hopefully some will work.
From Heather Broadbent
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 04:12 PM
Phillip's response was excellent. I recently wrote a blog post about the discussion of the contact point of the left hand. What I have found the most helpful is to have students play without their thumb and have their thumb "dance around." Some very insistent left hand tension players can still play with tension without their thumb because they tighten the muscles between the thumb and index finger. That is way the thumb dance originated from. The thumb dance or thumb wiggles loosen up the muscles in the web of the hand.

Here is my post on the left hand:

What is the most important issue for the left hand is for it to be relaxed. There are different schools of thought of how the left hand should be. Some violinists play with the fingerboard resting on the web of the hand between the thumb and index finger. This is based on the Russian school of violin playing training and is shown in the example video below by violinist Egor Gzechishnikov. Others make sure there is no space between the violin and the left hand which is demonstrated by Yehudi Menuhin in the video below. He discusses this at 4:30 if you want to get directly to where he demonstrates the relationship of the left hand to the violin. In my video, filmed in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria I discuss the very basics of bringing the left hand to the violin. So no matter where your contact point may be it is important to be relaxed and your palm is facing the fingerboard.

Be sure to check out my youtube playlist for left hand technique

Happy Practicing!

Heather Broadbent

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From M.L. Scott
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Wow, there is a huge difference between Menuhin's hold and Gzechishnikov's. I suppose some of it is down to their personal anatomy. Out of curiosity, I tried to position my thumb like Menuhin's, and couldn't even manage to hold up the violin.
From Adrian Heath
Posted on January 6, 2013 at 05:40 PM
I find quite the opposite!
From John Cadd
Posted on January 6, 2013 at 09:27 PM
Heather says "The palm should always face the fingerboard". What exactly does that mean? The hand (palm )is usually at 45 degrees to the fingerboard except when reaching with the 4th finger. Heather`s chinrest is set too low down on her chin too. Compare that chinrest position with Menuhin.
Menuhin`s videos do not show him playing with a big gap between the neck and hand in first position . Lets define the gap . Is it a big gap or just a few millimetres ? Heifetz in a colour film of the Chaconne with an excellent angle on the hand and neck does not show a gap . His thumb is well above the fingerboard as he plays. Much higher than Heather`s. You can`t see Heather`s thumb at all . Heather`s elbow seems to be pushing towards the right when in a nominally relaxed non playing state.That may be an optical illusion . All this will be affected by the tilt of the violin.Heather sets children a bad example by talking when the left hand is off the violin. Too much of that is no good for the neck. Children love to copy the wrong things .
Menuhin was not able to adjust the violin tilt when he began using a shoulder rest. Oistrakh could change the tilt as he played .Look at the last movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto .Oistrakh did not have a gap at the neck either . OIstrakh hardly ever changed his elbow position. He tilted the violin instead .
So who was right or wrong? I can only see what the videos tell me.
From Adrian Heath
Posted on January 6, 2013 at 11:45 PM
John, can I very humbly insist that when using vibrato, the base of the index moves up and down the violin neck by a few millimetres. While the flexibility of the skin can absorb this motion to some extent, there usually has to be a minute gap, even if it does not show on film.

I see two tendencies for the left thumb:
- opposite the middle finger, with contact near its base, (e.g. Heifetz, Hahn, Bashmet);
- opposite the index, with contact on the thumb-pad (e.g. Menuhin, Chung, Zukerman)

My own hand shape makes me choose the latter, (especially on the viola), but I do not impose it on my pupils..

Hands are as different as faces!

From John Cadd
Posted on January 7, 2013 at 02:13 AM
Yes Adrian. There is a natural difference between men and women where flexibility comes in. Wrists and shoulders are often more restricted in males. Men don`t normally wear garments that fasten up behind, between their shoulder blades . I`ll leave you to imagine what I mean . Hands are different anyway . So Heather may be a super example for girls and ladies,not chunky chubbies like me . Did you see how so many aspects came into one post there? Hands,elbows,chins,shoulder rests and tilting.Tilting is like a moth .It gets far less time in the sunlight .Whatever happened to tilting? Hilary Hahn often looks as if she is tilting but she does it from the waist so there is no advantage in it.Pseudo tilting you could call it . The left and right sides are still in the same relationship . Some people will ask what tilting is now . Do you tilt Adrian ?
From John Cadd
Posted on January 7, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Ok bottom line answer to the gripping question. I think if you worry about the neck falling into the web of the hand /thumb you are more likely to create tension in the hand and increase the grip.Subconsciously you would grip to stop the neck dropping and then you get the opposite to what you intended.The hand would automatically sense the neck in the gap and relax if there were no phobias about it. Hands know the thumb will act as a passive hook and you then have the Heifetz "grip". Watch "Itzak Perlman in Russia Concerto in D opus 35" for tilting violin and a thumb that just does not grip .It waves all over the place .
From Adrian Heath
Posted on January 8, 2013 at 10:48 PM
John, no, I do not tilt, but my fiddles are well tilted, to allow my short fingers to vibrate on any string.

Although I would count as a bean-pole, superb French cuisine has given me a an ever-so-slight paunch which interferes with my E-string bowing; and so I have to hold my tilted violin quite high.

I suggest this to my young pupils (the high violin, not the paunch..)

From John Cadd
Posted on January 9, 2013 at 01:20 AM
One thing here which can be tricky is discussing any features of our playing. It sometimes feels as if any different ways mentioned can be felt as personal attacks .Maybe attacks is ten times stronger than I mean it .I look on these holding topics in a sort of engineering discussion about engine designs. Fairly impersonal but interesting .
If the hand is gripping it`s most likely to be using the end of the thumb rather than the section connected to the palm. How would half a lolly stick taped to the back of the thumb work ? Although you can see Oistrakh bring his thumb tip into the neck at times with the thumb bent. But do teachers tend to teach their own personal way of holding instead of studying all the different ways that can work successfully ? The famous Auer pupils have some features in common but also some quite distinct differences .Heifetz versus Milstein .
From Christian Vachon
Posted on January 9, 2013 at 02:37 AM
But do teachers tend to teach their own personal way of holding instead of studying all the different ways that can work successfully?

John, I think that depends on the teacher. In the Art of Violin Playing by Carl Flesch, there is an excellent procedure for finding the correct setup of the left hand based on universal principles while allowing for the natural variances of one's particular anatomy. It works incredibly well and I would suggest reading this to anyone.

Cheers!

From John Cadd
Posted on January 9, 2013 at 03:27 PM
Good tip . I had not heard of that before . I was just realising how seldom we hear about Itzak Perlman`s technique for the left hand and holding the violin. All these aspects tend to run together like painting a watercolour in the rain. I would say on this forum the main "Gospel according to V.Com " is to have "a gap at the hand and a shoulder rest." Then the two big players who are/were both geniuses Perlman (I) and Oistrakh (D) are left to one side even though they are/were top of the tree and have such similar (tilting) techniques . No gap at the hand either. We leave them aside for our own purposes as if they are mysteriously apart from us ordinary mortals .As they say in Bristol "T`is very nice my dear ,but t`is not for the likes of us ".
From M.L. Scott
Posted on January 9, 2013 at 06:07 PM
Last fall, I worked up a piece on a 1/16 violin for a talent show. I have thin, pointy fingertips so while this was a challenge, it was not impossible. (I actually found the right hand almost more challenging than the left - I kept running out of bow.) While working on this piece, I did not touch my regular 7/8 violin. I ended up with a different hand position than I normally use.

When I switched back to my 7/8 violin, it felt huge. I realized that due to the different hand position and wider finger spacing, I was actually using different muscles in my fingers, and had to get them back in shape.

Maybe hand position is influenced not just by the shape of a person's hand, but also the size of the hand in relation to the violin. For someone with huge hands like Perlman has, playing a normal violin probably feels sort of like the 1/16ths violin felt to me.

From Christian Vachon
Posted on January 9, 2013 at 09:42 PM
From David Christianson
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 12:34 AM
Since I will never be anything more than a rank amateur wannabe, I stopped worrying about all this thumb business long ago and just let it do whatever it wants. As long as the fingers go where they're supposed to, thumby goes along for the ride. Things are fluid and nothing is fixed. I have no gap most of the time, but have a gap when it's prudent to have one. I'm lazy and let gravity do all the work. I can't use a shoulder rest with my short dumpy no-neck body despite my best efforts to get used to it. My stubby fingers won't perform unless the violin is resting on the web of the left hand (*gasp*). I went through a bit of pain trying to conform to the accepted standards of scaffolding and contortions until I finally got tired of it. So there you have it, I'm a lazy, restless, web-of-the-hand kind of infidel. Really, it's the only way _my_ body can play the violin, and I've stopped worrying about it, because staying as natural as possible allows me to play my best.

I'm not scoffing at proper technique, not in the least. But I do believe that proper technique can only be achieved by adopting a posture and setup that matches you and nobody else. How Menuhin or Heifetz held their fiddles, or what Perlman does with his thumb, are only right for their unique physiques. The one thing they all have in common is they are relaxed and natural. So, you can mimic someone else, or break the mold and do what's most natural for you.

Although violin playing, in and of itself, is a most gawdawful unnatural thing to do...

From John Cadd
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 11:46 AM
M L Scott . I thought the same thing about Itzak`s large hands. In fact I measured my reach to reverse engineer that situation and made a very short wooden skeleton fiddle . Even then there was a chord in the Devil`s Trill that was too long for me . I could play all sorts of things that would have been out of reach .
From John Cadd
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 09:08 PM
Just had to check I was on the right topic. So many duplicated subjects this week ,but they are all going well. Now then. Why am I going on about tilting all the time. Well tilting can dramatically reduce the effort of bowing from E to G and back again .Also it can make your playing faster . The right hand has to shift an extra 18 inches vertically every time the tip of the bow is being used without tilting.That`s seen in the Tchaikovsky 3rd movement by Oistrakh and Perlman. When you tilt rapidly too and fro like that the "end of thumb plus gap" method would become too unstable . I was never taught that tilting method and so I did not absorb it at a good young age. It`s not a natural instinctive thing for me but I know it`s technically a better way . So don`t be too hard on an early player who is heading in that direction .
From shulamith barbe
Posted on January 17, 2013 at 05:23 PM
I love to read everyone's input here!
It is all helpful, and I am taking from it what I can use to help students improve.

I let my students work on holding the violin between chin/jaw and collarbone first of course. We do games, like walking around without Lhand support, do squats, etc. freaking out the parents! LOL!
it realy helps students realize that they hold the violin there, and not with the LH.
I also give suggestions, like imagining holding a raw egg in the hollow of their LH. when they squeeze, it's going to get messy! Or holding a marsh mellow when they play: the incentive is to eat it when done.
I was taught to play with a gap between hand and the violin neck. and practicing without the thumb has helped very well. I see that as one of the major exercises for this issue.
If someone has other ideas, please keep posting. I will check back. Thanks!

From John Cadd
Posted on January 18, 2013 at 12:33 AM
The only benefit to having a gap beside the neck for me is to avoid the fold of skin at the base joint first finger from accidentally touching the E string. Did the idea of children walking around with a violin unsupported by the left hand shock anyone. That is leading down a cul de sac . What possible use is it ? It`s asking for trouble .
From Eric Rowe
Posted on January 19, 2013 at 12:48 AM
John, I was bemused if not shocked.

I strolled down that "cul de sac" but now I just don't understand the notion that the left hand should be entirely free of any responsibility in supporting the instrument.

From Peter Charles
Posted on January 19, 2013 at 03:46 AM
Heather Broadbent

Whilst I agree with you about a flat wrist I certainly do not agree about the palm not coming in towards the kneck. What is definitely bad is the wrist sticking out the other way as this just causes tension. Flat or towards the kneck is good as this is relaxed and when towards the kneck it means we use the fleshier parts of the tips and push or pull towards the notes or away from them. (See Ruggerio Ricci's book on "Glissando")

From Adrian Heath
Posted on January 19, 2013 at 10:07 AM
John and Eric, even "non-resters" may have to sneeze, re-tighten their bows etc., so we must be able to hold (not necessarily play) the violin with chin alone. Menuhin, who abandoned his own SR, Shows the vioin drooping until the left hand takes it up.
From Eric Rowe
Posted on January 19, 2013 at 10:26 AM
I've seen Menuhin doing it but to be honest, I can't at the moment because I have had to augment the height of my chin rest with a thick foam pad which isn't quite supportive enough for that and there would be a real possibility of dropping it. Maybe when I get the Kr├ęddle!

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