base joint blues
There's a lot I need to work on–-but one problem is particularly vexing, and seemingly obstinate.
I don't have small hands. But somehow over the years I have failed to develop (or had and lost) a "classic left hand" per Simon Fischer. My 4th finger tends to collapse and it's really hard for me to keep my base joint close to the neck of the instrument. And I've started to think that this is why I struggle with consistent finger placement, chords/double-stops, and fast passage work involving 4th finger consistency across strings.
But I've been attempting to remedy this with slow Schradieck and Fischer base joint widening exercises and am starting to despair. It's hard. It hurts. It sounds terrible. I feel like a rank beginner. And I'm not really seeing progress. (To be fair, it's hard to do these for more than a couple of minutes at a time because...hard...hurts...noisy.)
Has anyone gone this path before me? Can you give me hope? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Or should I give away my unaccompanied Bach and sell my violin and take up a new hobby?
Have you asked someone for help (i.e your teacher)? I'm sure your problem is fixable. I have a feeling that it has something to do with the way you hold your violin and/or the way your body is alligned. You might be slouching or tensing somewhere. It might be worth posting a pic/video so we can better pinpoint the real problem.
My teacher has just totally reshaped the left hand of an adult amateur who's older than you are, I think, so it's certainly possible, but it might require guidance. My guess is that if it's hurting, whatever you're doing is incorrect.
I have a lot of specific exercises I've come up with to develop proper hand structure in adult students.
Might I add that the base joint of the fourth finger is not necessarily so close to the fingerboard when playing on the higher strings.
Most student I've seen that have this problem have two issues:
Agree with Scott. Just to add that the clockwise rotation can be unnatural and straining. Adjust the angle of your violin hold to make this as natural as possible.
hi Katie, I have experienced that you cannot develop a proper "classic left hand" if the end joint of your pinkie is not flexible. perhaps that is the problem. indeed the solution is always to give priority to the pinkie, and stretch the other fingers downwards. but you have to keep the final joints flexible for this to be effective. check out the Rivarde exercise.
What is a "classic left hand"?
Widening the hand from the base joints can be great if done properly, but don't overdue it. The last thing you want to do is get hand cramps and injure yourself. Where do you experience pain?
When I restarted playing two years ago, I redid my left hand setup to solve many of the problems you mentioned. I found Galamian's discussion of left hand setup in his book to be invaluable in working through the reset, in conjunction with Simon Fischer's The Violin Lesson. Balancing the hand more towards the second finger is definitely a key achieving this (as Galamian says), especially if your pinky is short (like mine). Also simple double stops like a 1 or 2 octave scale in thirds are a great way to make sure you are re balancing correctly and shaping the hand well.
Thanks, everyone. Yes, Jeewon–I'm working on the exercise where I hold a note on the D-string whilst playing notes on A to stretch between fingers. It's torture. If I recall (away from my instrument and the book) it gets tougher when I'm trying to play 1-2 close to each other while maintaining 4 on the D. I think it's actually in The Violin Lesson (not Basics). Could be wrong. Not near the books right now.
I'll reply in more detail over the weekend, and have a look at Violin Lesson (bought it last year and haven't looked at it yet.)
Katie just to add, I've been in your situation eight years ago. I restarted after many years, got quickly back up to speed, thought I was a reasonable amateur, until I started working on double stops and more clean fast passagework where it is essential that fingers are nicely rounded and independent and do not touch other strings etc. I understand what you are writing in your original post. I've been there. But you seem to have the right material, Basics, Violin Lesson, etc., and I am sure if you work on it daily you will get much better in a few years. I myself am improving every day. Enjoy the journey.
So, I just read pp133-137 in Lesson 6 and pretty much disagree with every conclusion he draws, but I'm not sure a critique of Fischer's method would be welcome here. I can't think of a single concert artist who uses active widening of base joints to form finger patterns. A casual survey would show most players (even Perlman) favour a more oblique angle of the base joints rather than a more parallel line. I believe the 'widening the base joint' approach leads to rigidity, as can be see in those who play like that, and is much worse for people with smaller hands or shorter pinkies. Larger hands can get away with it, sort of. For me, the way I was taught, being able to flap the fingers from the base joints leads to the most fluid finger action, and everything else follows from there. I'll leave it at that.
Seems to me that where your "base joints" wind up depends on where your hand is. Am I missing something? Following up on Scott, when I returned to the violin after 25 years off, the ONE thing that I never quite recovered was the "swing" of the elbow underneath the violin. My teacher has helped me by constantly encouraging me to regain that (without over-stressing it, of course), and by suggesting rotation and repositioning of the violin so that my older, less flexible body can reach the notes. That said, I'm just really not interested in playing anything with a lot of tenths. A short burst of them is maybe okay but not P24 -- it's just not in the cards for me.
"My 4th finger tends to collapse..."
Thank you so much, Jeewon! Printing this out and taking it to the music room.
You're welcome! Hope it's useful.