December 2008

Clumsily/Russian/Black bread & Vodka/To heck with…

December 27, 2008 19:14


Sundry Statements w/response:

  1. "I absolutely will 'not' go there clumsily or in a mess."
  2. "I changed my bow-hold to Russian, and really like what I'm hearing, though a lot of adaptations will be necessary, because now I have too much weight."
  3. "I have serious articulation issues to surmount, and the Russian frees me for now, to focus on those hand shapes, intonation and other things like shifting. And to be honest, I have black-bread and vodka in my spiritual chops!" 
  4. "To heck with microphones—drop those fingers!"


1. "I absolutely will 'not' go there clumsily or in a mess."

It is valid to push the envelope and take on a work that is just beyond the player. It really requires the player to totally focus and think out every Hand Group, rhythm, string crossing, vibrato complemented with bow proportion and distribution and thereby bow speed––including acceleration and deceleration––all for the music:-)


If you are comfortable with the lower 4 positions, which I gather from your writing you are, then play the Haydn G Major Concerto. It is an absolute gem of a piece.


2. "I changed my bow-hold to Russian, and really like what I'm hearing, though a lot of adaptations will be necessary, because now I have too much weight."

I determine the use of Russian or Franco-Belgium more on the size of the player with many being able to do both well.

• Short players will constantly struggle with the FB as it is most difficult for them at the tip—they can't get there and/or the wrist is forced to an extreme angle. 

• Tall players, myself included, are generally far too crowded at the heel of the bow as our wrist and arm come literally into the face. Even when opening the violin out to the left more, it can be too tight to the face.


The Russian is naturally more powerful and weighted––one of its great advantages––so all you have to do is 'lighten up' and enjoy. When I studied with Leonard Sorkin (a Mischa Mischakoff student, and he was an Auer student) it was easy to make this connection of flow and weight variations.


3. "I have serious articulation issues to surmount, and the Russian frees me for now, to focus on those hand shapes, intonation and other things like shifting. And to be honest, I have black-bread and vodka in my spiritual chops!" 

I don't drink vodka, but love the black bread.

The Repetition Hits should help at least 90%+ in the coordination and articulation of strokes related to détaché and in combination with string crossings. The RH will constantly contribute to the actions and intonation required in the given passage and/or section. 


Combine this with varied rhythms and you have an unbeatable combination that additionally helps both the physical and mental focus.


4. "To heck with microphones—drop those fingers!" 

Absolutely, but don't pound them through the fingerboard:-) The throw of the fingers is clear, concise and free from the knuckles. When the hand is positioned in the most ergonomic fashion for playing the violin there will be an incredible balance and ease of action that is attained, actually given, to the player. If the left wrist is too far in or out the effort required to perform is increased many fold—it is all about ease and efficiency.


Okay, so I am a bit long winded—what else is new?

Hope this helps—


Author of

Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…

Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

1 reply | Archive link

Shoulder rest or None……just do it…:-)))

December 20, 2008 23:12

Nothing to add: Musician(s) Wells Cunningham

22 replies | Archive link

Left Thumb & 1

December 5, 2008 11:38

A question:  In the contact of thumb/1st finger of the left hand, do you have a suggestion for determining the right height of the thumb? (i.e. how far up the side of the fingerboard it should come) 

Hi Christian—

In general, I use a slightly lower altitude setting to the neck as my hands are large, but the height must be appropriate to the hand size and arm length, etc.

Hold the palm of your left hand toward your face—fingers and thumb straight and palm flat—observing how the thumb touches the base knuckle of the 1st finger. The little wedge/open ‘V’ shape is where the neck of the instrument lightly rests. This space will be slightly opened so the violin rests between the thumb’s inside pad and approximately the middle of the 1st finger’s first phalanx—between the base knuckle and the middle joint.

The exact position and balance will vary greatly when playing. This is primarily due to 1) string(s) played 2) position 3) type of pattern—single notes or double-stops 4) Hand Group sequence and 5) size of hand.

Always be flexible and agile.

To show independence of the thumb, I will often demonstrate shifting up a 6th or more from first position. Starting with the thumb totally around the neck and up and over the fingerboard onto the Ging—playing C;-) Did you see Laurie’s C Major Scale Fingering blog <> where I gave a humorous fingering? Also see below. It is possible and amazing how being able to do it reasonably well frees the hand and thought processes for ‘normal’ playing.

This is an important game that confirms the needed independence of the thumb—i.e., play a chord with: THUMB-C on G, Open D, Open A, F-1 on E and shift to D-1 or F-1 on E. Simultaneously release the thumb and direct it under the neck at a diagonal pointing back/away. DO NOT MOVE THE SIDE OF THE FIRST FINGER AWAY FROM THE NECK! It will gradually leave the neck as one proceeds over the top of the instrument with the thumb supporting the instrument under the neck. NO GRIPPING ALLOWED.

I give no preparation and quite simply shift F-1 on E to D-1 on E. The return of the thumb to its natural balance point is simultaneous with the shift up.

Hope this helps a bit along with the excerpts below.

Here are excerpts from my books under the headings:

Left Hand/Arm (pg xx)

See Posture.

2. Thumb should initially be across from the knuckle of the 1st finger, behind the tip – this will modify based on string, position and intervals or type of passage being played. See Posture, 3a.

  1. Develop independence of motion – never grip or squeeze the neck.


NOTE: If allowed, indeed encouraged, the fingers/hand/arm will adjust for the type of passage, i.e., 3rds and 6ths, etc. In 3rds a greater clockwise rotation will be used with high fingers (3 & 4) on the lower string and low fingers (1 & 2) on the higher string. With the same strings when playing 6ths, conversely, a greater counter-clockwise rotation will be used with the neighboring higher finger on the higher string. The pendulum action of the left arm will also come into play to assist the balancing of the fingers on the strings.

SYNOPSIS: ALWAYS achieve a natural balance and efficiency of motion.

Observe these and all other adjustments readily incorporating them into your technique.



Posture (pg. xxiii)

This deals with the physics of playing and handling the instrument.

1. Stance 2. Instrument 3. Left Hand: a. Thumb & b. Index Finger

Shifts in #2 & #3


3. The left-hand, thumb and 1st finger are responsible for holding, balancing and maneuvering around the instrument like an Olympic skater or gymnast. Together, they form a supporting wedge in the lower positions that must never be gripped in a vise-like manner.

a. Thumb: It must be flexible, agile and free to move.

1) Place the pad of the thumb on the Ging side, slightly under the neck and across from the 1st finger’s knuckle – it will have varied locations/angles depending upon the string, position and type of passage.

2) As we shift up the thumb actively follows simultaneously, supporting the instrument along with the side of the 1st finger and gradually flowing diagonally underneath the neck behind the 1st finger to solely support the violin/viola – this diagonal move is generally not needed in the lower three positions, four with a larger hand, unless one is progressing into higher positions and/or playing 3rds and other patterns that require the higher fingers to be on lower strings, while lower fingers are on higher strings.

3) As the fingers/hand progress over the top of the instrument, the thumb should continue its flow diagonally underneath the neck, eventually to the high string’s side of the neck and then over the top on the side of the fingerboard – by which time the upper arm has freely lifted to lightly support the instrument, see a) below. One must stand/sit tall to achieve this with proper balance, opening the chest without lifting the shoulders.

a) During the above, 3), without a shoulder-rest, the upper arm near the joint of the shoulder will rise to the back of the instrument, lending a light support – the thumb is no longer doing that job.


c) The thumb will be approximately a 90-degree angle from the first finger when going above the top and along the side of the fingerboard. (If the thumb is “double jointed,” the angle will be smaller, but initially try opening the hand-thumb angle. Finally, choose what is easiest and most maneuverable.

d) In higher positions, the thumb easily prevents the instrument swinging to the right.

Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… 

Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…


Piece of cake!





C Major Scale Fingering—Merry Christmas;-)

From Drew Lecher

Posted via on September 13, 2008 at 3:23 AM

Of course it has to be the Left Thumb from around the neck rising over the G side.!

This enables the player to perform perfectly clear Chromatics descending to the Open G before ascending again to Thumb C Tonic, after which the exceptional violinist deftly shifts to 4th position D-1 on G followed sequentially E-2, F-3, G-4, from which said violinist plays G-4 on G as unison with G-thumb on D, pivot shifting (half shifting ala Galamian) to chromatiacally descend on the Ding with F#-4, F-3, E-2, Eb-1, upon which the next sweep up is chramattic to G-Thumb on D, from which same said exceptional violinist ably and deftly shifts to 4th position A-1 on D sequentially rising in a state of glee with B-2, C-3, D-4, upon which da unison D-Thumb on A is vibrantly sounded leading to a rhythmically varied cramatique descending then ascending 432101234Thumb flourish on the Aing sequencing smartly to open Eing as a surprise transition, thereby sequencing in ascending fashion with 4 1s, 4 2s, 4 3s, 7 4s reaching Mount Everest heights and attaining FOUR octaves for extra measure(s) thereupon descending 4321Thumb ala cellist's thumb position to F-Thumb on — noting tremendous seizure of jaw, neck, shoulder, back, arm, wrist, hand AND fingers — determined to carry on at all cost, accomplishing the Aing via D-1, C-1, B-1, open A, traversing exuberantly to da Ding using G-2, F-2, E-2 open D……………… (catching breath and a moment of technical inspiration) leaps whole heartedly to the Ging using the cellists' secret weapon when all else fails……the THUMB!!!………races through the final straightway playing C-Th, B-Th, A-Th, open G ascending back to tonic C via A-1, B-2, C-4!, C-3, C-2, C-1 and finally, finally returning to C-THUMB! from around the neck rising over the G side.

4 replies | Archive link


December 2, 2008 05:51


"The ideal vibrato position is counter-productive to a nice straight bow."

Re: touching the neck of the instrument with the side of the 1st finger in the lower 3 or 4 positions. 

Re: Developing good vibrato elsewhere on the instrument.

Re: the bow hold position and type.

Re: Bow change at the heel/frog.


Hi Mendy,

I just read your blog and found it interesting.

"The ideal vibrato position is counter-productive to a nice straight bow."

This should not be, but is perhaps a sign of an extreme maneuver to achieve the goal of vibrato.

If what you are doing is working, keep it and look for ways to modify your angles and balance points to gain ease of action with your success. The tremendous caution I have is you are apparently dropping the viola down a bit extra and tilting/rolling the instrument toward the Aing. Though it may initially appear to assist, I have ALWAYS found that great form and posture improve the results exponentially—bringing ease, tonal resonance and musical expression to a higher level.

Great form also prevents the injuries and stresses that so very many players needlessly suffer through. Try walking around with a hunchback position and notice how quickly the stress and fatigue set in, yet, this is precisely what many players do to their bodies. Sit/stand tall with the strings parallel to the floor and the instrument at the angle/tilt of the collarbone when the chest is held high with a straight back—do not over arch the lower back.  

Re: touching the neck of the instrument with the side of the 1st finger in the lower 3 or 4 positions. 

This is precisely the way I WOULD do it. I have found there to be far more tension created by clearing an open space between the Aing side of the neck and the 1st finger. With this gap or whole, the shoulder, jaw and neck work as a vice along with the left-hand thumb and fingers having to prevent the neck dropping into he web area of the thumb and hand.

Never squeeze the neck. The side of the 1st finger should gently brush the neck and will indeed move back and forth with the vibrato. The instrument is to be held lightly and effortlessly. This is achieved when held up and the instrument truly rests on the wedge of the thumb and 1st finger without squeezing.

Re: Developing good vibrato elsewhere on the instrument.

If your position and vibrato are great in 3rd position try going down in half-step increments, even only 1 for several days, keeping the form of your hand. Let your left hand and fingers ride the mono-rail of the string so that the relationship is maintained. Do this without the viola at first, simply shifting your hand out via the arm while maintaining the exact angle of 3rd and/or 4th position. It is also like riding a track in an assembly line and upon arrival at the new location/position, the fingers have adjusted size with proper ratio maintained and are ready to be thrown/dropped on the note and vibrated as desired. 

When shifting at first, keep the same interval setting, i.e., Beginning Hand Group (BH = open/closed/open) or High 3 Group (H3 = open/open/closed). Later when a change of Hand Group is required, train the move by adjusting the intervals in the hand before shifting and finally this is refined to happen during the shift. If thoughtfully worked and given time, this adjustment during a shift will become second nature.

Re: the bow hold position and type.

A person of smaller stature is helped by using the Russian Bow Hold. It is far easier at the tip to maintain length and flow of stroke in addition to gaining a powerful tone with far less effort. I teach both the Russian and Franco-Belgium bow holds depending on the need of the student.

You can adjust your hold a little bit further up the stick, but do not lose the ease of balance and control at the heel/frog. It is okay if you do not get totally to the tip. (It is even possible to do a little maneuver in pulling the arm back a bit to enable one to achieve the tip—I generally would not recommend this struggle for the tip though violinists and violists have done it for ages.) Some of the older bows, such as those by Dodd are shorter, so don't focus too much on the tip if it could potentially damage other aspects of your playing.

Try moving your hand up the stick keeping the thumb in contact with the thumb-grip and not the frog. 

Re: Bow change at the heel/frog.

When doing an up to down bow at the heel and/or starting at the heel, make sure your thumb is able to cross over beyond the string to use all of the hair. Yes, I do mean all. The most natural, fluid and easiest changes at the heel/frog are when the thumb crosses over the string. This totally removes the tendency for us to have a vertical drop in the start of a down-bow. We have no choice but to have a flawless line of the bow's path for the given string.

Piece of cake!

Hope this helps —


Author of

Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… 

Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…


6 replies | Archive link

More entries: November 2008

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Colburn School: Chamber Music Intensive
Colburn School: Chamber Music Intensive

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Mio Cannone Violini
Mio Cannone Violini Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Heifetz Institute: Crescendo

Metzler Violin Shop

Bein & Company

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

String Masters

Bobelock Cases

Things 4 Strings LLC



Sleepy Puppy Press

Jargar Strings

J.R. Judd Violins, LLC

Southwest Strings

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine