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Clayton Haslop

A Look Under the Neck of My Violin

December 22, 2009 at 6:17 PM

Today I’m going to tell you what goes on up close and personal under the neck of my instrument.  After all, these things probably constitute 60-70% of one’s left hand technique.

And they have everything to do with how you support the weight of the violin.

To begin with, let’s dispense with the notion of a violin ‘hold.’  Words like ‘suspended,’ ‘supported,’ ‘cradled’, and ‘floated’ are perhaps more apt, really. 

On the chin rest side, the lower left back of the fiddle is resting on the shoulder and collar-bone.  That’s now a given.

Under the neck is a cradle fashioned by the thumb and base joint of the index finger.  Specifically, the neck actually rests just above the first joint of the thumb and the base joint of the index finger. 

One thing you want to avoid, though there is no need for panic should this happen, is for the neck to slip down into the clef formed by the thumb and hand. 

And bear in mind, the ‘cradle’ uses the absolute minimum of energy to keep the neck from falling farther down into the hand. 

Do not squeeze the neck.

If you look at my thumb you will see that, generally speaking, the tip is pointed outward, away from the neck.  In other words, it is not bent at the first joint.

Now, the cradle can be rocked back and forth with the upper arm.  As you move the upper arm to the right across your body – as you would, say, to play for an extended time on the G string – the neck of the fiddle will rest more fully on the flesh of the thumb.

This is also true as you ascend above 4th position.  In fact, once you pass through 4th position you will find that the thumb becomes the only support for the neck.

Again, bear in mind that the Upper Arm is responsible for ‘rocking the cradle,’ as it were.  You’re not doing funny little distortions with the wrist for this. 

Wait a minute, ALMOST never.  There are exceptions to about everything, after all.  In the case of some triple and quadruple chords you MAY find that the wrist needs to assume an unusual position in order for the fingers to reach all the notes. 

Okay, so that’s the exception that proves the rule.

Now before I go further, and in case I forget to mention this tomorrow, I want you to know that I reach with my fingers across strings quite a bit.  In other words, I’m not throwing my arm back and forth for every change of string that comes along. 

Yet, as I say, if I’m on the G string for more than a couple of notes you will see my upper arm move across my body slightly to allow my fingers greater access.

The point is to do what is most efficient and/or promotes the greatest ease in playing.

Let’s move on to shifting. 

As the hand is brought up the string between 1st and 4th position there is, first and foremost, movement in the forearm.  As you reach 5th position and above, however, the upper arm really begins to get involved, moving to the right across the body so the hand can clear the sides of the instrument. 

You will notice that by sliding the elbow to the right the ‘cradle’ is repositioned so the neck now rests on the thumb.

What movement there is in the wrist is minimal, purely to accommodate the sides on the violin as you begin reaching upward.

Now if you’re practicing with my 'Allegro Players' course much of this will be familiar to you – at least from month 6 or 7 onward.

If you are not yet working with this program I will just mention that in it I have developed a whole ‘glissando technique’ around the fluid integration of the hand-forearm-upper arm.  This is the secret to mastering the entire length of the fingerboard; to having known, consistent positions for each and every note and/or position there is. 

After all, there comes a time when ‘guess work’ gets a little old and ‘like the back of your hand’ becomes welcome indeed. 

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

From Kylie Svenson
Posted on December 24, 2009 at 4:28 AM

Interesting perspective. Can you comment on vibrato and the role of the 'cradle'?

From Bruce Berg
Posted on December 24, 2009 at 5:06 AM

Interesting. Do you think that your technique is possible with the use of a shoulder rest? I notice you use the term "glissando technique" which is exactly the same term Ricci used in his recent book on violin left hand technique. Can you further describe how this works for you?

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