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Ivan Galamian's 'Points of Contact'

Bryan Goodhead

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Published: December 24, 2013 at 7:26 PM [UTC]

Hello to my fellow violinists. I hope that Mr. Galamian will be okay with my posting of a paragraph from his book (Surely, he has passed on by now!). On the subject of 3rd and 4th positions, this is what he had to say: "Another very important intonation factor is found in the principle of the double contact. This was touched upon briefly in the discussion of the setting of the hand (page 15). The term signifies that the left hand has to have two points of contact with the instrument in order to orient itself properly and securely. One point, as a rule, is not sufficient. The actual points of contact will differ in various positions, as will be explained in the following paragraphs. If, as some schools advocate, the hand is held permanently away from the violin neck so that only the thumb touches, then the hand has no secure way of establishing its location within the position or of guiding the distance during a shift. Finger action is also weakened by such placing. In the lower positions, the double contact is provided by the thumb and the side of the first finger, each touching its corresponding side of the neck of the instrument. The contact need not be permanent or continuous in character, but it is sufficient if it occurs from time to time for the orientation of the hand. It must be very slight, since the more gentle it is, the more sensitive becomes the feeling of touching. (A blind man who contacts an object in order to orient himself will never grasp or clutch it, but instead will touch it only gently.) Any firm clutching of the left hand is a severe impediment to technical facility. An exception to the principle of the double contact will apply in the playing of expressive passages. In order to facilitate the vibrato action, the hand can release the double contact, retaining only that of the thumb. From the fourth position upward, the hand itself contacts the body of the violin and, thus, replaces the index finger in forming the second point of contact. Here, the side of the index fingej can and ought to be separated from the instrument, because a triple contact is not useful. The triple contact does not add to the orientation and it is apt to immobilize the hand too much, especially in vibrato. From the fifth position on, the thumb and hand contact various parts of the instrument, but the principle of double contact is still maintained. This is true even in the case of a hand with a very short thumb, which requires that the thumb (for fingering in the very highest positions) leave the neck of the violin entirely and extend itself instead along the right side rim of the instrument: there is still a double contact with the thumb and the lower part of the hand. The double contact is very helpful in finding the right place for the fingers and hand on the fingerboard. Lastly, in this discussion of intonation, it is necessary to consider what type of intonation ought to be used: the “tempered” or the “natural.” This is not the place to go into the technicalities of the two systems. No violinist can play according to a mathematical formula; he can only follow the judgment of his own ear. Be this as it may, no one system of intonation will suffice alone. A performer has constantly to adjust his intonation to match his accompanying medium. The artist must be extremely sensitive and should have the ability....." (Galamian, Ivan (2013-08-21). Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (Kindle Locations 542-565). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.)

So, my concern that I'd like to express to you, my distinguished colleagues, is this: I do find a 3-point contact useful in the 4th position ONLY! I agree with Mr. Galamian almost 100%. As I play Sevcik, Opus 8, or in the key of G Minor (Vivaldi), for example, the Eb and Bb are just right on the cusp of where Galamian feels the left index finger should separate from the neck of the violin. In 4th position low, I feel that the third point of contact is confirmation for me that I am in the right place at the right time as I traverse between 3rd, 4th & 5th position. I know that this seem like a minuscule matter, but when I play the aforementioned examples, this questioning issue keeps coming up for me. I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Anatomically speaking, I realize that our hands come in all shapes and sizes. Although they don't always execute perfectly, God gave me some wonderful hands!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 26, 2013 at 12:53 AM
Hi Bryan. I think one of the reasons your very good post did not get much response is it is more of a discussion question than a blog in some ways. But you do raise a very good point. Galamian was absolutely correct on the issue of double versus triple contact. However, as you have discovered, there is a fuzzy area around fourth position where this does not quite seem to apply clearly. This is true for a lot of players and it depends on the context of what you are playing. E# might be a third position note or treatedas fourth position for example. Probably you just have to experiment and find out what works best in each situation,
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 26, 2013 at 1:50 AM
or maybe I just misread the date...
From Bryan Goodhead
Posted on December 26, 2013 at 7:49 AM
Hello Buri, Thank you for your response. I'm glad that I'm not alone on this issue. I reckon that I'm just welcoming the opinions of others who also aren't quite sure what to do in the gray area of 3rd position high/4th position low. Perhaps the index finger could separate for the G and D strings only as one swings their left elbow toward their right? That makes sense for me. For A and E, I still remain torn. Good to hear from you!
Posted on December 26, 2013 at 6:03 PM
seriously, just play! as long as its relaxed and free- there is no "right
From David Russell
Posted on December 26, 2013 at 8:57 PM
Hmmm... Fourth position is about where the fingerboard comes into contact with the body of the violin so your hand or palm might have some contact, but this too should be light so as to not impede the vibrato.

I think the essence of the answer to your question is this:

The vibrato should never be impeded by "clutching" the instrument, or by simply holding the third point of contact too firmly or for too long. While you might momentarily use it to orient your hand to the instrument, the lightness of touch is very important and should be utilized very quickly after arriving at that place on the fingerboard. Tension will invariably result if you rely on triple contact too much. It will make your intonation likely to suffer, and your vibrato noticeably less than it could be. So, I would judge the degree you are touching by these things. If the vibrato or intonation is impeded in any way---it is probably too much.

Anyway, I hope that helps you. It is a very good question.

Posted on December 27, 2013 at 2:34 AM
Hi Bryan! Like David, I would suggest that a slight third point of contact with the body of the violin in 4th position is okay. Your hand would barely feel the body, and would be relaxed and free to move. I would say this slight contact applies for all the strings. It should not impede vibrato if your hand is loose because vibrato swings either the hand or arm back from the body. In third position, if your hand, wrist, and arm are aligned, for me, my hand is not touching the violin. In fifth position, the index finger comes off the fingerboard and I still have 2 points of contact. The 3rd contact point in 4th position is helpful for intonation for me too. Hope this helps :)


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