How to Turn the Page -- Literally!

June 14, 2010, 9:02 AM ·

If you need amusement, just watch a violinist turn a page during orchestra. What to do? We have a bow in one hand, a fiddle in the other, and sometimes those page turns need to happen fast.

Recently, member Smiley Hsu asked how to turn pages faster, and that is my inspiration for this blog, along with my own struggles.

I'm left-handed, and for many years, the thought never even occurred to me that I could simply turn the page with my right hand. I kept putting my fiddle down, stretching my left hand way across to the right…until one day I was sitting with my good friend Margaret Carpenter, and excellent violinist and teacher. She saw my struggles and put a stop to the madness, "Look, just do THIS…"

And "this" is what I've recorded below, for your viewing pleasure. I wanted a nice-looking video this time around, so I turned to a pro: my nearly 10-year-old son, Brian. He set me up with his home-made green screen, so we could have the nifty colorful background. He also helped with the dramatic "bad page turn," which he had the idea to put into slow motion. Plus, he added the credits, did the filming and editing, etc. Thanks Brian!


June 14, 2010 at 05:40 PM ·

I've always want to ask, what's the etiquette of the page turner.  My stand-partner, who's the inside player, always turns the page as soon as she's done the left page, or very soon after we start playing on the right page.  So what that means is that almost 90% of the time, I am playing looking at the further away page.  I mean, she does a fine job in page turning, never miss anything, but it's a bit easier when the page is in front of me, and I felt bad asking her not to turn the page so soon yet... is there an etiquette to this?

June 14, 2010 at 06:11 PM ·

 Do you mean she's scooting the page over? Or actually turning it?

June 14, 2010 at 06:25 PM ·

Scooting the page over.... e.g. 

We have page 1, and 2 on the stands, by the time we're done with the first page, she already move the 2nd page over to the left side, or closer to the inside stand.... and then when we're done with page (which is now on the left hand side, closer to her), she will move page 3 over to the left side... basically, I'm always playing looking at the left side, the music is almost never in front of me until we get to the last page!


Edit to note that, we always play with xerox copies, so it's always "scooting pages over"

June 14, 2010 at 06:34 PM ·

I recall years ago seen a string quartet performance during which the violist attempted to turn the page during a particularly involved passage, and the music went flying out like an accordian into the audience. They stopped, and started the movement again. This time, when the violist handled the page turn successfully, the audience applauded. Maybe it is an art-form after all.

June 14, 2010 at 06:42 PM ·

I love the slow motion part! Laurie, have you ever considered acting as a career backup plan? :)

June 14, 2010 at 07:02 PM ·

An interesting idea.  I will try it.  One thing that always helps is to have the bottom right corner of the page to be turned bent up slightly so that you can get a quick grip on it and turn only the one page at a time.  However, for my money, a good xerox machine allows you to either xerox so that the page turns are not problematic if you have a copy of the music or to attach a xerox of the page on which you want to turn to the edge of the previous page, thus putting off the turn to a better time.  I have also found that if you hold your bow in a certain way when you need to turn the page, you can use the thumb and index finger of your right arm to make the page turn.

June 14, 2010 at 07:18 PM ·

Thanks Laurie,

I've been practicing your method and it works well.  I've found that this same technique is also useful for another purpose (assuming you are right handed).  This morning, I started applying the same technique when making markings in the music.  Transfer the bow to the left hand, then the right hand is free to write.  Seems pretty obvious actually, but being the dumb old guy that I am, it never even occurred to me.  Thanks again.  This is probably something I will employ in my playing (and writing) for a long time to come.

June 14, 2010 at 09:44 PM ·

Thanks!  Fun video!


June 14, 2010 at 10:00 PM ·

Nice film Laurie.   My electrician always carries his book of rules with him.There are so many rule changes he has to constantly refer to them.Each section page has a small plastic " stickout stickon"  in colour that gets the right page first time. They could be a bonus with music  as the page shuffling to separate the right one would be unnecessary. Maybe you could even manage it all with the bow tip and no hands.

June 14, 2010 at 10:12 PM ·

How's this for a colossally bad page turn?

June 14, 2010 at 10:17 PM ·

PM Rolf, do you know anything about how well your stand partner is able to see? Definitely a huge consideration in the community orchestra I've been in... to the point where some resort to one stand per person behind the front stands.

June 14, 2010 at 10:53 PM ·

 Christina, awww, poor guy! He kept his composure really well, though. That kind of thing happens all the time, it's just not always during a televised recording!

June 14, 2010 at 10:54 PM ·

Well, it takes practice for all things and when I try it I have way too much contact with the hair.  But if I allow the tip of the bow to fall back against my arm (the bow is now lying the length of my bow arm) I have more than enough fingers to turn a page.  I guess whatever works for the individual.

June 14, 2010 at 11:01 PM ·

At church, where I play the most printed music, our sheets are separated. However, 3 or 4 sheets don't always line up across the stand conveniently, so here R my work arounds:

♦ If there's 2 or more bars of rest on the 2nd or 3rd page, I'll arrange the music so that I can place the page w/the rests (the page that I want to turn) conveniently, and during the rests physically move the page. Sometimes, if the rests are on page 2, w/no other convenient break, I'll put page one on the right, and read the music right to left, then drop page 1 to the floor temporarily. Totally non-glamourous way to hande, but it works.

♦ If I can't figure out a way to work w/rests (and some songs don't allow that), I'll just REALLY cheat and scotch-tape the pages together. Not my favorite method, though.

♦ We have books that we play out of... no choice but to try and quickly change pages, and they are totally, illogically laid out as far as page turns go. When I'm the only violinist, that hurts. When there is at least one more of us, it helps, coz as Ms. Niles says, the inside person turns the page.

Thanks, Laurie Niles for that wonderfully helpful demo.. will try that soon.

June 15, 2010 at 01:00 AM ·

We violists have it easy.  We can turn the pages with our left hands.  And besides, there are always plenty of rests :)

June 15, 2010 at 01:38 AM ·

Now, that's what I'm talking about!

Thank you Laurie!

June 15, 2010 at 02:00 AM ·

Thanks, Laurie - that was really helpful.  I've had lots of page-turning mishaps, so I'll definitely give your method a try.  Kudos to Brian for producing a very professional video.

June 15, 2010 at 03:32 AM ·

I've never been fond of the "stick the bow in the left hand" business.  I'm always afraid I'll end up flailing around and knocking my front teeth out.  Yet another tragic hurdle for us lefties...

I once had a stand partner that had a trick for turning the pages on time.  He stopped playing three lines from the bottom...

June 15, 2010 at 07:23 AM ·

 Very effective and well illustrated. The only con I can think of is oily or perspiring fingers on the bow hair, but it should not be a problem if the fingers are kept open.

 Well done, a MGM scout should look at the life of Brian.

June 15, 2010 at 03:00 PM ·

Laurie - I agree with Joyce.  With your talents, you are clearly cut out for an acting career.  Calling Steven Spielberg!

June 15, 2010 at 05:57 PM ·

 Thanks for the great feedback, everybody! It's rather unlikely that I'll pursue the acting career, I imagine I will just continue turning pages for people! ;) But I do imagine that I will employ this videographer again, before he goes off to bigger and better things!

June 16, 2010 at 01:57 AM ·

First, I am astonished to see so much genuine confusement on such a base topic. It's definately a universal problem, but we'll all manage somehow.

Two possible answers:

1. I personally am in favor of the left-hand approach. It looks natural and you don't get skin oils on the hair. If you're afraid of dropping the violin, hold the bow in the palm of your hand a la pizzicato. Take your thumb and forefinger and hang on to the violin - thumb on top and side of forefinger on back. That's the old-fashioned way to do it.

I can already hear complaints. "But that puts marks on the varnish!" Yes, well, they're certainly more manageable than putting oil on your hair. Besides, you'll be following in good company: The "David" del Gesu played by Heifetz has the thumb print of Heifetz in the same area. He did it too! For as attractive as Laurie's proposed method looks, I invite you to get some rosin in that area of the hand and shift cleanly. Ain't gonna happen!

2. Practice enough so you never have to sit on the inside again. Let the other players figure this out. Simple enough.

June 16, 2010 at 04:40 AM ·

 You don't really get rosin on your fingers, though. At least I haven't noticed any problem, in 20 years of turning pages this way!

June 16, 2010 at 02:44 PM ·

I definitely favor turning pages with my right hand, though I keep the bow in-hand. I haven't had any issues with it getting tangled in someone's hair or hitting anything. This way, during the page turn, my left hand stays in position, immediately ready for action after the page turn.

June 18, 2010 at 02:25 AM ·

I don't see how thumb prints on the varnish are more manageable than oil on the bow hair.  We rehair the bow every few months anyway.  What's the big deal?

June 18, 2010 at 06:22 AM ·

Oy vey Maria.

June 20, 2010 at 01:48 AM ·

AWESOME! I never thought of doing it that way. (:

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

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

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

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