Making the Left Hand Fit the Fingerboard

January 25, 2021, 9:17 PM · One of the main causes of tension in the left hand is not preparing it for the angle and plane that the string is residing in. Another cause is the third and fourth fingers’ webbing, which is less mobile and less wide than that of the first and second finger. To work around these obstacles, flexibility in every joint can make the hand wrap snugly around the fingerboard. Violinists can be ready with a brand new hand template in a split second if they take the time to consider such variables.

left hand fingerboard

No matter how wide the span or how long the fingers, it’s necessary to move the hand and all the other parts that are connected: the wrist, arm, elbow, and palm. I remember one violinist at Eastman School of Music who could play into eleventh position without bringing his arm and hand up and over the fingerboard. It was a bit of a circus act. I hope he didn’t ask his students to do it.

If your finger is trigger happy and moves before the mind is ready, chances are that only the fingertip will get there and leave the hand behind. To discover a range of motion that can successfully span any interval and string crossing, here are exercises that make the hand flexible and strong.

Don’t Force the Hand - Use Its Flexibility

  1. Practice skipping fingers, that is, going from first to third finger, first to fourth, fourth to first, etc.

    The purpose of this is to focus on the multi-structural components of the hand. Sometimes it takes a little re-wiring of the mind to observe the tricky engineering of the left hand. Just going from the first finger to the third requires an interesting bit of acrobatics. That interval consists of two smaller intervals, two fingers of different length, and the less mobile webbing between the second and third finger. Nature’s quirks can inadvertently cause faulty intonation.

  2. Practice making the hand feel larger or smaller, depending on the half-steps and whole-steps involved. Take a moment to know where all four fingers are headed. Don’t overthink the thumb and its placement; it’s essentially just going along for the ride.

    To get the hand ready for the next group of notes, it takes re-shaping the hand and pivoting it to fit the fingerboard. If the hand won’t budge, it may be clinging to the neck for fear of dropping the violin or playing out of tune. Intervals on the fingerboard don’t change, but the feeling of the hand does. The violin doesn’t have frets but it has distinct targets, little boxes that overlap each other. Two fingers can almost defy physics and inhabit the same space at the same time; instead they must push each other out of the way.

Observe rather than over-intellectualize. All the hinges that make up the arm are multi-directional. The mind is designed to direct the fingertip from point A to B without micro-managing. Planning the intervals in advance frees up the hand because there’s the confidence of knowing.

Let all parts of the arm go wherever they seem to be headed. It’s tempting to pick one detail to concentrate on, but that can crimp the movement. After focusing on the part that is stuck, look at the big picture again as soon as possible.

The Miniature World of Small Spaces

Play any interval within a position, then shift between the two notes using one finger. Use a trial-and-error system to increase your success. Remember how the hand feels in flight and make adjustments to compensate for faulty judgement. Keep track of all the variations in distances, just like a scientist would do in an experiment.

This gives you several measuring opportunities at once, a useful skill since there are no frets other than the ones in your visual imagination. Navigating the distances between short spaces on the fingerboard presents different problems than those encountered by athletes who deal in large distances.

The other issue that differentiates violinists from cellists is having the hand turned upside-down and ¾ of the hand below the fingerboard. If a violinist starts to feel sorry for himself for encountering what seems to be more difficult circumstances, he must dispel himself of such notions immediately. Even cellists whose hands face the fingerboard can feel sorry for themselves. At least violinists never have to deal with thumb position.

Stop Before You Feel the Pain

Eventually violinists possess a storehouse of memories of which movements cause which pain. Playing a high 3rd finger, G-sharp, on the D string in first position without making an adjustment in the arm can cause strain. Pretty soon two or three painful intervals in a row can turn into a lot of discomfort. Stop as soon as you realize you’re not poised and ready for what’s coming up. It may take several moments to plan how to pivot the hand to be seated correctly, but all that information will be stored for future retrieval.

Holding the Violin is Personal

There are only three points of the hand which touch the neck: the thumb, the side of the index finger, and the fingertip. Make your peace with how you hold it, because it will give you confidence and stability. It will be slightly different than any other violinist, but what you will share with everyone else is the need to play in tune and maneuver. Don’t worry about occasional pressure. A little squeeze here and a little squeeze there is normal wear and tear.

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January 27, 2021 at 06:24 PM · A Huge Subject ~ The Left Hand on Violin Fingerboard (#1)

Mr. Stein makes a universally known point that No Hand Size is the Same!!! However, when initially first going to a teacher to 'learn' how to hold the violin, it is savvy smart to 'learn' with a bit of extra Help = standing in a corner a foot or 1 & 1/2' away then holding the violin (minus Bow) moving with slow inching forward Feet to place the actual Scroll head in to the corner to, essentially, just 'lock in' the violin which in those connect into moments takes All Pressure both physically & psychologically Off of an anxious first time beginning violinist!! Following this procedure will presumably come a litany of many instructions on where to place the 1st, then 2nd, 3rd, & pinky 4th finger in order with the Thumb sort of There' ~ A 'No Big Deal' affair and should never be. {It's just a 'gear shift'}

Not going to 'teach' online, let us say that The Beginning RX's set a new violin pupil's Mind & an over anxious teacher {often so concerned to get it Right} who inadvertently causes fear in a brand new violin pupil with complete unknowingness ~

Imagination plays an enormous role in the approach of all new pupil's of the violin. It is vitally important to examine your own particular natural left hand physique vis a vie the length of your

fingers: i.e., is your hand a bit stubby and slightly muscular w/ short thick fingers compared to your friend, Johnny, who has long fingers which are skinny? This is Not a rating but learning about the varied physiques of 2 left hands - yours & Johnny's! The reason for this comparing is to learn about the differences between 2 very different left hands God made!! No judgement is involved. As Paul Stein says re feeling sorry for varied left hand Life positions between our 'Cello and Violin/Viola friends, is a beginning acceptance of The Way we will hold our chosen instrument as opposed to Tom over in a 'Cello Section and yourself in the Violin section of an elementary school group or orchestra ~

The elements to beginning learning of any string instrument is individual & in my view, a Must Be Tailor made Way to hold our violin. Again, to avoid truly destructive long term not healthy

habits of gripping or squeezing the violin neck which is a main highway - fingerboard on where we make our own notes, and learn Where they lay, we must firstly have the simple but pretty rounded Scroll End in the Corner to lock in the violin from Day One so we are not afraid to drop the violin and do not tense up our neck/hand/arm from genuine fear of dropping the helpless violin!! It becomes our little baby and no child nor adult wants to hurt or drop a brand new beloved baby!!!

There is at least an full year of 'How To's' regarding the early beginning of playing but space and time prevent me from even a start-sharing it here. The one resource I can 100% provide is a Series of Books my late eminent acclaimed String Teacher father, Ralph Matesky, {late National President of ASTA, aka, American String Teachers Association} wrote with photographs of first holding a violin plus RX's from Day 1 to much further on titled: 'Learning to Play a String Instrument', originally obtained

from Prentise Hall or {memory?} Alfred Music Publishing, but in its early days in Long Island, New York, & later {due in part to Dad's success with his teaching in print} in Van Nuys, CA.

Never intending to mention my father, Ralph Matesky, when starting to respond above, it makes perfect sense now when trying to address an age old Subject of HOW to PLAY VIOLIN! If I was taught from aged 3 by my father until I was aged 17 & performing the great Aram Khachaturian Violin Concerto in my Los Angeles Debut w/USC Concert Symphony/Walter Ducloux {Head of USC Opera & Metropolitan Opera Conductor in NYC} with *Jascha Heifetz attending the concert, then inviting me to be only 1 of 7 pupil's in his original Violin Master Class at USC, subsequently filmed & available worldwide on YouTube since 2011 titled: Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class - Khachaturian, JH-7, Elisabeth Matesky {Russian version. Library of Master Performers}, then Dad's mentoring of myself all the way from Day One worked more than well !!!

The Goal needn't be Concert Artist-dom, but can be whatever each child wishes it to be and with Time plus various musical experiences, may change but one thing is for sure! Learning to play the violin or any string cousin near always guarantees any child a much more enriched life here on Earth, being able to attend concerts of favoured Violinists/Symphony Orchestra's plus a special early learned ability to focus on One Thing with discipline and also increasing Love for Music one aspires to play as navigating on the violin & with the Bow become more

'natural'!!!! Many of my truly gifted violin pupil's have 'hit' a life decision making point when deciding about which profession they wish to pursue, and very often coming for my advice, I've

supported their very difficult decisions to become physicians or lawyers or teachers while also having their Love of Music to enjoy throughout their 'Day Job' Lives with Families & Other profession fulfillments to support their Thirst for hearing and making Great Music!!!

Apologies for being too lengthy here, but the Times our young people are currently being forced to face & endure + seriously wonder about may have provoked some musings on my part but are truly well meant for all whom may read this ...

Btw, I would be curious about Paul Stein's Eastman classmate reaching Eleventh position with ease as I learned how to reach /stretch back far extensive distances from both my mentor's, Jascha Heifetz & Nathan Milstein!!

Wishing All Superb Health & Violin Habits, I remain

.......... Yours musically from America .........

............. Elisabeth Matesky ...........

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


January 28, 2021 at 01:22 AM · Wonderful article and very helpful! Step 2 is particularly relevant for me. I've been trying to go through a similar process before I start practicing a piece in order to establish the key and the associated whole/half step relationships. The hand really does feel larger or smaller, which I finally realized is why I gravitate to certain keys over others. And thanks also for reminding me that a little pressure is not necessarily a bad thing.

January 28, 2021 at 04:53 AM · Diana, My hand gets pretty darn tiny in half position. I’m sure I thought it was a big joke when I was first introduced to it.

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