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Mendy Smith

A Well Tempered Practice Diet - Rotate the Left Arm

October 12, 2011 at 3:18 AM

 I was recently assigned 3 octave G major scales.  For violinists this is the equivalent of the D major scale.  While this may not seem like a great feat on the surface, it has turned out to be a major undertaking in left arm flexibility.

The upper bouts on my viola are much larger than those of a violin, so making the leap from 7th to 9th position requires a bit more maneuvering than on a violin.  After much trial and effort, I've discovered that the elbow must be brought around to the right nearly under the nose, and the left hand completely opened and relaxed in the hope that the notes will be in tune.  

This extreme position is one where there is little support from the thumb, hence the upward-scroll position to support the instrument.  Imagine twisting your arm around so that you can kiss your knuckles with no tension.  Not an easy feat!

Though I'm still a long way away from having the notes above 7th position in tune, my left arm & hand is relaxing into this most unusual contortion - but only when I remember to rotate my left arm up and around to the right.  It is a frustrating process, but one that with time I know will become natural.

Until then, my cats are running for cover while I practice.

From Ausar Amon
Posted on October 12, 2011 at 9:10 PM

 its not natural!... as you play on the higher strings ( A and E).... left elbow moves to the left... as you play on the lower strings (d to G) left lebow movves a bit to the right. If you go in high positions instead of twisting your elbow in unnatural directions, turn the violin abit to the left.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 13, 2011 at 1:03 AM

 Auser,  yes, moving the viola more to the left helps.  However with the upper bouts of the viola being so large, you must bring your elbow around to the right as you shift up into the higher positions (9th +) to get your hand up and over the instrument.

From marjory lange
Posted on October 13, 2011 at 1:58 PM

 It's also a help (I'm a violist, too!) to make sure your table isn't too flat.  I find, too, that in the stratosphere my 4-4 extensions become 3-3s, with the necessary advance up one position (so I technically am in 10th for the end of the scale), but the 3rd finger (in my case) is enough longer that the extra is worth it.  

If it's any consolation, that nose-bleed area on the viola is a rare piece of real estate in the 'real' viola world.  Several of my friends (full-time professionals) debated the competing merits of smaller instruments vs. not worrying about it.  One took one path, one the other.  But it's in the stratosphere that the choice of a 16.5-17" inch viola looks less attractive, especially for people under 6'1".

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