Violin Technique: Straightening a Concave Wrist

March 16, 2021, 1:28 PM · I have to admit that when I started learning third position, I needed to have my wrist touch the shoulder, or upper bout. It felt like a life-saver at the time, far preferable to the feeling of being in limbo, cast adrift from first position. A reflex was born, and my reference point of touching the wood, while accompanied by a hard, rigid wrist, would remain for years.

left wrist

It wasn't all bad - my little crutch gave me confidence to learn the eye-ear-hand coordination that would help me play in tune and vibrate. Some of the best country and folk fiddlers have played beautiful music with cramped and convoluted hand positions. In the right settings, I could enjoy seeing the unique hand position of a folk violinist, who played beautifully in tune. While the uniquely shaped wrist might not pass the adjudicator at the annual evaluation, I marveled at its remarkable mobility.

But this was not going to work for me, with the frequent shifting and requirements of orchestral repertoire. My concave wrist, clutching at the wood -- had to go.

Throwing Out the Bad and Keeping the Good

If you are streamlining a technique, self-awareness is key. What are your strengths, and what are your weaknesses, regarding that technique? When it came to wrist position and left hand placement during shifting, I considered two questions to sort out the details. These questions can be applied to other techniques as well:

  1. How much of my muscle memory will I lose when I change my hand position (or other technique)?
  2. How do I develop a new strategy that includes a clear understanding of why I’m making the change?

Identifying and Appreciating Muscle Memory

To quit the habit of bending my wrist inwards to feel contact with the violin, I had to convince myself that the rest of my left hand was working fine. This helped my confidence level while undergoing what I considered a significant change.

So to assure myself of this, I took the other qualities of my left hand that had nothing to do with my wrist and tried to make them stronger and more effective. By working on such things as shifting timing, intonation, and vibrato, I was able to not brood and obsess about my wrist. My strategy was to tell myself to flatten the wrist and then stop thinking about it. My fear of shifting and losing control was replaced by concentrating more on what really mattered – the music and the technique.

Finding a New Strategy for an Old Technique

Replacing my inverted wrist, which was pressed against the wood, with a new structure, required a fresh perspective. I needed to keep my mind open to something that would be logical, unique to the violin, and synchronized with my own way of thinking. What evolved was my awareness of the shape and strength of my hand. I became less concerned with how my thumb and the side of my first finger touched the neck. After all, the hand is moving so much that the most important variable is motion and intonation.

To flatten out my wrist, I imagined water flowing straight down, like a waterfall cascading at the angle of my arm. To remove the hardness of my wrist I pretended it was filled with marshmallows or cotton. To create stability, I made sure that my hand was holding the air pocket that it was surrounding. This was especially useful because the air serves as a buffer between the hand and the violin. The air also becomes more structured as my hand and fingers become stronger and more purposeful. The expression “holding the air” became my mantra.

With these images, as well as newfound strength in other aspects of my left hand technique, I was able to make a major change, and to make it last.

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March 18, 2021 at 04:47 PM · Thank you for another very helpful post. I'm just now getting serious about third position.

March 19, 2021 at 12:31 AM · The collapsed/bent left wrist is a common problem. I think some of it comes from our earliest lessons. If we start with the first finger, it doesn't want to go into the "square" formation, wants to be relaxed, the wrist bends in, then when we add the 4th finger, it lands flat. And the vibrato has nowhere to go. For beginners I have always been tempted to start with the 4th finger, matching the adjacent open string, but I have never done that. Instead I do it in the order 3-2-1-4.

March 19, 2021 at 03:41 AM · Ann, If you decide to kill two birds with one stone, you could learn 2nd position along with third. I wished I had done that when I started. That would have kept me from developing a 2nd position phobia.

Joel, I believe that the strength of the fingers will keep the wrist from collapsing. I like your idea of starting with the 3rd finger because, for many, it exerts power on the fingerboard. The reason is that it’s farther away from the thumb. Everyone is different. I just ask my students which is their most secure and reliable finger. That’s the one I start them on when they first learn to vibrate.

March 20, 2021 at 01:06 AM · Paul, Quite a few of the easy pieces I have are more easily played with some second position so we're approaching it like it's a normal thing and not something to fear. Though I had a previous teacher who put things in second position that really shouldn't have been so that doesn't help.

March 20, 2021 at 05:55 AM · l am very comfortable on playing piano but l felt violin very hard. Being used to Holding position and play correct nota is not easy. But if you can play violin voice is great, priceless beautiful. Thank you for your support and informative sharings!

March 20, 2021 at 05:50 PM · Semih, You are very fortunate to feel comfortable on the piano because your rhythm, ear, and reading will help you so much on the violin. I agree that the violin is awkward to hold and very random when it comes to intonation. Fortunately there are interesting solutions that you’ll find, and more importantly, the ear you developed with the piano will streamline the process.

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