Elbow Swing or Spider Hand?

Edited: August 28, 2017, 3:51 AM · Rummaging in the archives (instead of practicing) I found "Pain in 1st finger when playing low 1" from Annie Mason.
In the dicussion there was much agreement, but some conflict over how to adjust to each string:
- elbow swing with straight wrist but a constant hand shape; or
- hanging elbow with groping fingers like a drunken spider (guess which I prefer!).
- Oh, and what about The Gap between index-finger base and fingerboard? (Especially for first-finger vibrato).

Of course we all need the Spider Hand for arpeggios and double-stops. But for many of us it leads to a distorted wrist.

I suspect that the Spider Hand faction have nice long fingers, but slender-handed ladies, and children with over-sized violins may prefer to be Elbow Swingers. Not to mention violists.

Thoughts, and above all, experiences?

Replies (14)

Edited: August 28, 2017, 3:00 AM · Elbow swinger. Such an elbow swinger.

Need to compensate for that short pinky on my viola.

Edited: August 28, 2017, 12:13 PM · Same here!
But when I try Bach's Chaconne on viola, my middle finger has to curl under itself and press the G string sideways for a split second to allow the pinky to play on the C-string.
Edited: August 28, 2017, 4:34 AM · Swingy all the way! But discovering more and more contexts for wrist bending in all directions, particularly since allowing the thumb to curl and uncurl for side to side wrist deviations, and going all Ricci for back and forth. Fingers are not long enough to lead a string cross with finger extension.

Edit: even students with the most spidery fingers benefit from shoulder movement, even if mostly as a response, for both shifting and string crossing

August 28, 2017, 4:28 AM · Elbow swing -- when I'm not being lazy.
August 28, 2017, 4:37 AM · I like beginners to swing, to keep their hard-earned finger patterns, and then gradually corrupt them with spidery arpeggios and double stops.
August 28, 2017, 4:52 AM · I agree with Adrian. Pedagogically, preserving finger shapes for finger patterns is advantageous. Differentiate those brain maps early.
August 28, 2017, 5:49 AM · Sorry I'm scared of spiders.

August 28, 2017, 6:40 AM · Slight elbow swings here too, very short pinky.
I learned to use the swings for big position changes too, like jumping from 1st to 7th position. I dont do that much anymore, but a very slight movement is still there.
Generally I learned to use them heavily first and than slowly made the movement smaller. If I play sth like e on the first position of the g string I use a slightly bigger swing even today.
August 28, 2017, 6:11 PM · That sounds painful Adrian. It reminds me of some of the finger independence exercises I do. All sorts of hand contorting shenanigans for little benefits. Nice to know the pain might one day have a use ;)
Edited: August 29, 2017, 7:18 AM ·
Tension, intonation and finger movement distances should be the deciding factors. If you are an elbow swinger, there is no, or very little tension when playing on E string in 1st to 3rd positions. Elbow swingers can also learn to keep fingers very close to strings when they are not in use. Because of the elbow swing, your index finger and others are more likely to stay parallel with the nut when crossing strings, thus better intonation.


I find 'The Gap' technique is not ever tension free. It puts a lot of strain on the shoulder muscles and there is no release when playing on the E string in 1st position.

With 'The Spider' technique, you are going to have problems with intonation, excessive finger movement and constant tension. The main problem is the fingers have to adapt for intonation on ever string: it is a far more complicated movement for the fingers to stay parallel with the nut when string crossing.

That's my take on it.

August 29, 2017, 11:09 AM · I agree with Charles.

I like to introduce broken thirds and sixths, and perfect and diminished fourths, across the two middle strings before expanding to the outer ones.
Thus we learn vital new hand shapes, to be followed much later by extensions, tenths, fingered octaves etc.

I notice that many violists tend to have their chins further to the left of the tail piece, making it easier to turn the line of the knuckles more parallel to the fingerboard, ans also easier to a achieve a slightly guitar-like spread of the fingers.

August 29, 2017, 1:50 PM · For beginners, constant hand position because they don't yet have the capability for real-time corrections. Over time, they can evolve into the spider hand, particularly when vibrato is introduced (a good time to talk about it because we have to separate from the neck to vibrato anyways).
Edited: August 29, 2017, 2:23 PM · "..we have to separate from the neck to vibrato anyways.."
I agree, but we might be in a minority.
(Of course it depends what kind of vibrato we want, especially as violists!)
August 30, 2017, 6:51 AM · Ultimately all that matters is how we can get out of the way of the fingertips, enable them to achieve their function (finding and altering pitch.) Little else takes precedence.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music

Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition

Pirastro Strings

International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

Yamaha V3 Series Violin

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Metzler Violin Shop

Gliga Violins

Corilon Violins

Meadowmount School of Music

Find The Song You Want To Play Next: StringClub

Anderson Musical Instrument Insurance

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Subscribe