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Getting the background right and a poem.

December 25, 2008 at 4:38 AM


I think one thing I wish above almost anything is that anyone who picks up the violin with the intent to master this beautiful art should succeed to the full extent of their talent which is usually much more extensive than they realize anyway.
One reason this rarely happens is that aside from the (these days) well documented, demonstrated and delivered technicalities of the instrument there is much going on in the background which plays a vital role and is largely ignored by teachers to the detriment of their students.  Here are two simple but crucial things that can spell the difference between success and failure.  
The first concerns putting up the violin and is connected to the structure of the bones in the forearm.  We tend to assume that the little finger is weak and the thumb is strong.  However, as far as the big picture is concerned the little finger is structurally very well anchored and connected to the elbow region whereas the thumb is not.  The latter is a much more free floating agent connected to smaller bones and much more prone to overload and injury.  This is why when one watches judo(ka) approaching an opponent they have the little finger side of the hand leading because it is stronger. The thumb is very prone to getting broken. The implication for violinists concerns how one puts up the instrument.  The action of putting up the violin is rotation around an axis.  The axis must be strong. Thus the correct way to throw up the instrument is by keeping the little finger side of the left hand constant in its spatial position while the thumb side rotates around this axis. This is easily under stood if one places the forearm and palm on the table.  Now keep the little finger side of the arm and hand still and rotate the thumb side round it.  Try the opposite and notice the tension it causes. A large percentage of violinists raise the violin by keeping the thumb side stationary and rotating the little finger side around this axis causing enormous stress on the arm before one has even begun playing.   Its simple, but important.
Even more important is how one places the head on the instrument (or not).  Understand that at the top of the spine are two disks that have separate and differing functions.  The top one allows the head to rotate freely from left to right and vice versa.  The next one down allows the head to rock forwards and backwards.  They perform different jobs and should not be mixed together. Typically many players throw the violin up and then drop the head on the chin rest at a diagonal angle.  The two discs have no idea what they are trying to achieve and the end result is a kind of corkscrew effect on them that cause damage to the spine, tension in the right side of the neck (check that out for an obvious warning sign) and general disc ordination. Do we really want to make playing so hard before we even begin? The correct way to position the head is turn it to the left –first= and then allow it to drop.  So many young players go for years learning this dangerous fault it makes me want to scream at times.  It isn’t hard to correct either.
The strangest things happen to me,
I don't know why that this should be.
Like seeing People that are not there,
Some say I'm nuts and should not stare.
I look at the knots in the wood,
Please untie us, I wish I could.
The eyes in the Potatoes look at me,
Don't you eat us for your tea.
The thing that bothers me most of all,
Are those green spots up on the wall.
They ask me why I sleep all day,
I really don't know what to say.
Has this ever happened to you,
While bending down to tie your shoe.
A very small voice loudly cried,
Leave us alone we've just been tied.
And then again the other day,
I shaved myself in the usual way.
The tooth brush said, Silly Nit,
Don't you know its forbidden to spit.
Now it's most upsetting you must agree,
Do these things only happen to me.
I went down town to see the sights,
A Lamp Post said, Turn left at the lights.
So turning to the right, What do you know,
I saw a sign that said, Please go slow.
So ever so slowly I hurried along,
And arrived back home where I belong.
Now I think that I will put my computer away,
And let it write another day.
Have a great Christmas,

From Tasha Miner
Posted on December 25, 2008 at 12:06 PM

Buri strikes again!  I laughed out loud on the inside from your ingenious poem!  Everyday things that tell you not to do them, or have sarcastic remarks... too true!

The bit about the violin hold... Anything that warrants someone so peaceful as you getting a desire to scream is certainly something to watch out for. ;-)  Funnily enough, my violin teacher just pointed this out to me not 3 weeks ago!  However, I already have that inside info about the alignment of the little finger from my 9 years of ballet training.  The bit about the vertebrae is so important, I think perhaps I forget this sometimes, or I go through the motions too fast to really do it correctly.

Great tips as always, Buri.  Thanks.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 25, 2008 at 10:31 PM


sorry, I foprgot to note- the poem is by GB Shaw who is a long time favorite of mine.

Hope you feel fully recovered soon,


From Yixi Zhang
Posted on December 26, 2008 at 4:18 AM

Hi Buri,

I have some difficulty going back to practise the way I used to after having gone away travellng for a few weeks. Your blog has inspired me to start being focused again for better results. It's magical. Thank you!

This is probably a dumb question for you, but I have a weak little finger and now it is so much weaker after the break. When working on the notes that demand the little finger a lot, what should one's mind attend to other than the sound of course: the finger base, the finger tip, the axis as you described, the forearm, or the elbo?

By the way, when my cats or the dog barf, I'd skip them a meal or two to let their stomach get a rest. But I'd have to keep them indoor, as they are good at catching mice and house sparrows.



From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 26, 2008 at 6:16 AM


glad you are both writing again and feeling a tad inspired to practice.  Weak little fingers?  Mmmm./ Auer said that his was naturally weak and he had to work on Kreutzer f major a great deal.  Just to cheer you up...

Having said that it is surprising how many little fingers turn out not to be so weak afte all.  I often find it useful to pay attention to tension in the base joint of the -first - finger before doign anyhting else. This can be blocking the fingers innate strength.  Another way of looking at it is to try and get the feeling not that the finger is working in its lonely little isolation but rather that the weight of the hand is rolling into the finger. That often does the trick.

Finally if one has a weak little finger then retainign the shaope of the hand can be really importnat. Even small differences can create problems.  That`s why I so strongly reocmmed `You know whos ` book on tehcnique.Once you get accustomed to playing with fingers down as much as possible including four while playing octaves every thing seems to function much better.

My cat throws up only on rare ocasdsion (Christmas, New Year,  birthday etc) but does not have a stomach problem. Afterwards he is always extremely hungry so I can`t skip a meal because I can see his tiny little brain saying `So I threw up,  grungebreath. So what?  I` got style man. Where`s my )('&%$ dinner?

Have a great new year.



From Yixi Zhang
Posted on December 26, 2008 at 8:16 AM

Kreutzer f major it is. It's good for me to do something sanitizing these days.

Paying attention to the weight of the hand and the shape of the hand... Yes!  I think I'm on the right track... After I had read your blog today and looked at myself in the mirror, I didn't like the way my wrist bent when I was stretching the little finger repeatedly to reach the f or E while having the first finger stay on b. My thumb was full of tension too. Then I tried to reshape the hand to 'empower' the little finger, that seemed to have worked.

I guess the tip of our finger is so much more sensitive than the rest of the hand so that it is very easy for our attention to be immediately drawn to the tip rather than the whole hand or even the base joint when we feel through the notes. For me anyway, I need to remind myself often, whether it comes to intonation or LH agility, that it is not about the finger tip or even the finger after all. It's always about the 'team work' of the hand, arm and the whole body supported by solid axis,  just as many affairs should be treated in life.  What a great way to conclude 2008!

Have a great  new year to you too, Buri and please keep writing!

From al ku
Posted on December 26, 2008 at 12:44 PM

yes it is indeed great to see yixi back in action,,typing also increases pinkie power:)

also great to see pearls from buri, yet again...particularly like the part about pinkie's spatial relationship to the violin, leading the thumb,,,very easy to visualize and understand.

i think one day buri should consider publish his quirky writings, allow me,,,buri's burps.  it will be a blast.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 27, 2008 at 2:38 AM

Buri`s Bottie burps?

From Wendy Evenden Loney
Posted on December 28, 2008 at 12:37 PM

Thanks very much for this post. It was perfect timing. A couple of days ago during my practice, I noticed the tension on the right side of my neck. I couldn't figure out what to do about it and it's a couple of weeks till my next lesson. Now I'm waiting for everyone to get up so I can try it.

I read posts here so often that are incredibly helpful. Thanks to all of you who kindly share your wisdom.

Back to lurking - Wendy.


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