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Drew Lecher

VIOLIN TECHNIQUE/VIOLA TECHNIQUE: Left Hand Intonation and finger action.

February 6, 2009 at 7:32 AM

Your Global Positioning Satellite / Mental Positioning Satellite is all-important.

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.

How do you think of, view and order your fingers?

Plan actions > Accuracy with Fluidity > MASTERY


This is the first of a series of articles dealing with:

  1. Left Hand — #1
  2. Shifting
  3. Right Arm
  4. Right Hand
  5. Bow

They will be kept under the heading of VIOLIN TECHNIQUE/VIOLA TECHNIQUE for those who wish to follow the articles. I hope they are of benefit to you.


Intonation is one of the primary areas of focus in all we do. This applies to the rotations, settings and measurements of the left arm, hand and fingers in combination with the contact variables of the bow hair on the string—1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number—everything is to be brought together in order to accomplish the desired intonation, dynamics and character of the music.


Your Mental Positioning Satellite is all-important in the above. We must be knowledgeable of 1) where we were and what we did, 2) where we are and what we are doing, and 3) where we are going and what we are going to do—past, present, future.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the numerous variables. They will free you to maneuver, easily flowing into and out of the various settings and positions of the left hand and bow, thereby accomplishing the passage.


Artistry is the fusion of technique with musical expression.




Everything affects everythingthis is true in all aspects of playing the violin and viola.


Physical Measurement

Remaining on the same string is the basic standard of intervallic measurement—proportional finger measurement. All other measurements are adjustments from that starting basis.

The Beginning Hand Group (BH=whole, half, whole) is the most natural set of measurements for the left hand. The whole step between 1st and 2nd fingers is larger then the whole step between 3rd and 4th fingers—they are proportional. Therefore 3 whole steps would be large (1-2), medium (2-3) and small (3-4). When playing in a higher position all interval distances proportionally shrink, and when in a lower position all interval distances proportionally expand.

The various parts of the arm and hand must always work in concert together.

String Changes

When changing strings the finger measurements and angles modify. The whole step E-1 on the Ding to F#-2 on D is totally different in measurement than E-1 on D to C#-2 on the Aing or E-1 on D to B-2 on the Ging. Improvement of intonation and balance of the left fingers, thumb and hand are immediate when the player understands and masters the necessary moves in combination with these variables.


  1. E-1 on D to C#-2 on A: (Higher finger on higher string.) The left hand should rotate counter-clockwise when placing a higher finger on a higher string. There will be a well-defined counter-clockwise rotational move of the forearm and opening out (left) pendulum move of the upper-arm making the measurement of the C#-2 far easier with no undue stress and tension. The muscles, etc., must never fight the adjustments—that struggle is the body telling you they are resisting the move. Tell them it is a new action for them to learn—this does work.

The above moves—counter-clockwise forearm rotation with outward upper arm pendulum swing—cause a slight opening of the diagonal angle of the left hand to neck relationship. This in turn requires a lengthening of the finger(s).

  1. E-1 on D to B-2 on G: (Higher finger on lower string.) The left hand should rotate clockwise when placing a higher finger on a lower string. There will be a well-defined clockwise rotational move of the forearm and coming under (right) pendulum move of the upper-arm making the measurement of the B-2 far easier with no undue stress and tension. Again, the muscles, etc., must never fight the adjustments, but should learn the new moves.

The above rotational pendulum move slightly closes the diagonal angle of the hand to neck relationship requiring an adjustment of the 2nd finger’s length. The 2nd finger will feel closer to the 1st finger due to crossing over the string that the 1st finger is on.

During various moves the fingers adjust shape and angles. Take care that the contact point for intonation is maintained while traversing from one setting to another.


Maneuvering via Hand Groups (Intervallic patterns—inter-related measurements of the fingers’ intervals in group settings.)

Hand Group changes and modifications need an adjustment along with re-balancing of the left hand and arm positions. When changing Hand Groups, determine the precise adjustment(s) required—whether on the same string, changing strings and/or shifting.

Following are two examples that can be readily felt and observed—the Beginning Hand Group (BH=whole, half, whole) to High 3 Group (H3=whole, whole, half). The terminology is based on finger sequence of 1st—4th fingers.


  1. When playing on the Aing B-1, C#-2, D-3, E-4 (BH) and then modifying to B-flat-1, C-natural-2, D-3, E-flat-4 (H3) the entire hand and arm should adjust to a lower 1st position. With this change there needs to be subtly different angles of the upper arm, forearm and hand along with modifications of fingers’ arches, accompanied by rotations in the knuckles—especially the 3rd finger in this example.
  1. In this next example the entire hand and arm adjusts rotationally counter-clockwise, accompanied with opening up the knuckles toward the 4th finger to a higher 1st position. Play on the Aing B-1, C#-2, D-3, E-4 (BH) and modify to B-1, C#-2, D#-3, E-4 (H3). This requires subtle adjustments of the upper arm, forearm and hand along with modifications of the fingers’ arches and therefore rotations in the knuckles.
  1. Now do similar modifications from BH to Low 2 Group (L2=half, whole, whole). Observe, feel and follow the leadings and leanings your hand and arm desire because of the lowering of the 2nd finger.
  1. Also, play from the BH keeping the C#-2 and then change into the L2 by raising 1st, 3rd and 4th fingers. This is challenging and requires adjustment into a much higher setting of the position.

Sometimes the adjustment is a simple pivot and other times it will be more like a complete shift. This is determined by the player’s hand size, length of fingers and breadth of palm/knuckles.

Open and close your knuckles—along with rotations this contributes fluidity of motion and clarity of action in the fingers, playing either slow or fast.


Every position has 3 basic locations—high, medium and low (sharp, natural and flat). These settings have numerous modifications enabling us to move with tremendous agility and freedom.


Finger Action

Never lift fingers—rhythmically release them. They will precisely leave the string adding clarity and definition to the note(s). It is of paramount importance to practice with various rhythms, bowings and dynamics. Rhythmic variety opens the mind and ears to harmonic structure guiding our intonation and musical interpretation. Additionally, we attain knowledge of the technique required to achieve the passage.

Pivot, rotate, extend, contract, raise, lower, modify—subtly adjust as needed and when needed, programming all moves, actions and feelings into your Mental Positioning Satellite.


Everything affects everything.

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.

Hope this helps…


Author of

"Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master" 

"Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master"




From Roy Sonne
Posted on February 6, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Beautifully explained and organized. Thank you, Drew.

From Ray Randall
Posted on February 7, 2009 at 8:10 PM

Well, I'm going to have to sit down and digest this a bit. I can't just read it through quickly and understand all of it. Once I "get" what Drew writes it helps my playing a lot. Now I'm going to have to rack my brain for some useless information to forget to make room for these gems.

Thanks, as always, Drew for your excellent words of wisdom.



From Leonard Young
Posted on February 8, 2009 at 12:38 AM

On your website you ask whether subscribers would like you to produce a DVD of your tips and instructions. Overwhelmingly I would say yes. You are quite clear in your language, and I think I am pretty good at interpreting language too, but I do not think, however well intentioned, this snapshot of your manual is very helpful, not because you lack detail or or are bad at explaining, but language is simply not the vehicle to put across what you are attempting, and is the reason I have always avoided wordy "manuals".

However well intentioned, such concepts are SO much more easily absorbed by graphical illustrations, moving pictures or photographs. It is of course a tired cliche that onepicture is better than a thousand words but in this case it is true. Why not simply publish the same advice with PICTURES and ILLUSTRATIONS. So much more powerful than words in this context, although I concede that words and explanations as an ADDENDUM to the illustrations are useful.


From Drew Lecher
Posted on February 8, 2009 at 5:42 AM

Thanks Roy.

Ray, all you have to do is forget all that flight stuff and you’d have tons of storage space.

Leonard, thank you for your kind words and thoughts. Actually, these blogs are not in the books.

The Violin Technique and Viola Technique books are a cross between scales and studies that cut to the chase, enabling the player to apply illustrated examples of practice methods and patterns into one’s playing and then directly into the repertoire being studied—whether a scale passage, arpeggio or any kind of double-stops along with numerous bow strokes.

It is an extremely efficient way to practice what is need, and nothing more.

In addition, there is the Terms and Tips section that gives succinct and hopefully clear descriptions of bow strokes and so many other aspects of playing.

The DVD is still in my mind, but it is a matter of time…


Thanks for the responses. I do hope these blogs help.


From al ku
Posted on February 8, 2009 at 2:58 PM

concur with ray that drew's writing is not easy to read if you are in a hurry.  it is succinct and loaded with info.  as buri once put it,,it is for the thinking person.  darn:)

i have drew's book and am trying to digest it slowly.  haste makes waste.

but, i certainly will not mind if he comes out with my dream book:  violining for dummies:) 

btw, for those that do not know,,,drew was recently voted the teacher of the year in the state of illinois!    

From Drew Lecher
Posted on February 8, 2009 at 4:40 PM

violining for dummies:-)

Al, I like that:-)

What Buri said (“for the thinking person”)is absolutely true and totally my intent. Much of my time in teaching is the relentless pursuit of the student’s mind—getting them to use it. I want them totally aware and alert to what they have done, are doing and will be doing—past, present and future. This does not lead to panic and worry, but rather to absolute confidence and poise both musically and technically.

We need to pause, analyze both what is hindering movement, and therefore success, along with sleuthing out what is needed to achieve the goals. It is not possible to succeed beyond the most rudimentary level, if we fail in this aspect.

We constantly return to basics in order to refine our skills and take those refinements to the higher levels of achievement.

Go through the blog one point at a time. First do this clearly in the mind, then on the instrument without the bow, and finally with the bow.

If it is clear in the mind we have a chance to accomplish the goal. If it is not clear, the 4 little dummies—our fingers—get all befuddled and discombobulated. They need guidance:-)

Thanks for the mention of the award. I was totally surprised and truly honored.


From Ray Randall
Posted on February 8, 2009 at 5:10 PM

Drew, I certainly would eagerly await a DVD from your studio. As would many others, I would imagine.

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on February 8, 2009 at 8:38 PM

Thank you for this blog, I hope you have more on this kind of series, I have the manual, though it takes time to get it, at least for me, it help to decipher some of it. It shed more light to some technical aspect of violin playing.


More power to you and Congrat's to your award.


From Drew Lecher
Posted on February 9, 2009 at 3:43 AM

Ray, I truly appreciate your and others wonderful interest. Hopefully it is just a matter of time…

Thank you Elinor. Yes, there will be a series of blogs under the heading Violin Technique/Viola Technique.

I do write the blogs and the books to challenge one to think through the process. Take your time and do it in a variety of small bits. As they come together you should see, hear and sense a wonderful result.

Let me know how you do and if you a have any questions.

God bless—Drew

From Tara S.
Posted on February 9, 2009 at 7:04 PM

This is so helpful. The left hand and intonation are my focus right now with a new teacher. Thank you.

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