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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Which poses the greatest challenge for you, the right hand or the left?

July 18, 2009 at 2:06 AM

This question occurred to me when yet another person discovered I was left-handed, and thus I was asked for the millionth time, "So do you play the violin left-handed?"

I had to suppress an almost violent urge to bellow, "WHAT? WHY on EARTH would I even think of doing that?"

I suppose I'm so left-handed that, during my early years on the violin, I barely even thought about right hand's role at all. It's all a matter of working out the fingerings, and developing vibrato, right?

Wrong. One quickly bumps into a wall with this mentality. After a while, my right hand needed serious work, and actually today while I was traipsing around Indiana University (part of the epic family road trip) I saw my former violin teacher, Henryk Kowalski, the one who made me play open strings until my right hand got the message. My right hand is still the one that requires the most daily discipline: keeping the martele, the spiccato, etc., in shape.

BTW, if you want to rock your own world, or see what a beginner goes through, just try switching hands and playing something, anything, with the reverse set-up. Woohoo! (Okay, switch back, that was scary...)

So what are your thoughts on this matter? Which hand poses your biggest challenge? What have you discovered in your quest to build technique in each hand? Please vote and share your thoughts and ideas.


From Margaux Matz
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 2:33 AM

This aspect of violin playing really fascinates me, especially when it comes down to whether you're right-handed or left handed.  I'm a righty, so when I play, I'm usually more comfortable with my left hand and don't give my bow arm that attention that it deserves some of the time.  On the other hand, I have a younger brother who plays the double bass and he's a lefty.  I had asked him which hand he felt most comfortable with and he said that it was his bow arm.  It seems that being a lefty does have its advantages possibly, from a pedagogical standpoint at least. 

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 3:04 AM

I believe that most of the artistry is in the bowing, so I think that the right hand is more difficult.

I recently  read that Paul McCartney is left handed and has always strung his guitar in "reverse" to help him get the fingering correct.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 4:52 AM

I am left handed too, and if I had a dime for every time someone asked me "Why don't you play left handed?" I could have retired already, with a Strad.  My bow arm gets a lot of attention!

From Bart Meijer
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 9:45 AM

Here's another left-hander. I have to pay conscious attention to my bow arm. The left hand will claim attention for itself. After all, it can always take revenge by being out of tune.

Posted on July 18, 2009 at 11:10 AM

Technique and left hand finger facility have always been the weak link for me. Although a frustration for sure, I keep striving for that which seems impossible and perform the very many pieces within my realm of technical success.

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 11:57 AM

I'm right-handed, and I think my biggest challenge is definitely in the bow arm, in part because the bow arm is so critical to sound production and to interpretation and artistry, but for me also because of disability. But even before MS began to wreak its havoc on my central nervous system, spiccato, martele, staccato, etc. represented huge challenges, not to mention the nuances to be achieved by the use of the bow.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 1:03 PM

Hi, I would definitivly say right and I know many masters also say right but since I have tiny toothpick like iced fingers and happen to be in love with the broad and fleshy sounds, the left hand has really becomme a source of big complexes, very hard work, frustrations etc I do have a vibrato, and am able to do the technical things but I never have the sound I like + struggle in everything that has chords where one finger has to press too strings etc.

So it would be right definitivly but because of my specific hands, I would say that both of them are getting me crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! : )


From Christopher Liao
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 5:39 PM

I'm a left-hander too. Seems to me that most of my attention is on the right rather than the left since, as Mr. Meijer said, it would claim attention to itself. Cool blog/vote this week; I've always lamented about how my hands/arms may possibly be nervously disproportionate. So, a vote for left.

From Michael Divino
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 6:53 PM

right.... because I'm a lefty too!

From Jessica Paesel
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 11:03 PM
i'm also a lefty (i love that there are a lot of left-handed teacher told me she knows several, and now there are tons of lefties posting on this blog!). i voted for right hand, but not because i'm a lefty...i think no matter what, it's easy to forget to focus on bowing technique, especially at first when you're trying so hard to get your left hand fingers in exactly the right spots on the fingerboard. maybe it's a tad bit MORE difficult for me to have great technique with my right hand since i am a hardcore lefty (i do everything except use scissors with my left hand), but like i said i think regardless, the right hand can get to be a bit troublesome.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 19, 2009 at 4:37 AM

Ysaye is reputed to have said that the left hand can be cultivated in a few years but the right hand takes a lifetime. Oh so true.

From Peter Kent
Posted on July 19, 2009 at 11:16 AM

The LH -RH facility is not a concrete thing.  As violin playing is somewhat of an athletic thing, there are perhaps as many variants as in say, baseball, where many players throw right but bat left or the reverse. Retraining is possible...for example Rafa Nadal is a natural lefty but his uncle/coach thought it would be a huge advantage to be a lefty, and thus trained him as a lefty, from a young age.

Sometime ago, in the Buffalo Phil there was a violinist that lost fingers on her left hand and went to work on reversing/learning the other way....had a violin built with the bass bar, sound post, gradations and peg box switched and I heard her solo on the Brahms Double, Beethoven concerto and others, and numerous concerts from 3rd stand outside (I believe) in the 1st fiddle section....

So perhaps there's no definite answer...and at an early age, certainly the left hand is what beginners worry most about.....tone production is so significant, but overlooked....but in more advanced literature, say Wieniawski #2. VVV-staccato, sautille, etc. are at least equal to the left hand problems.

From Graham Clark
Posted on July 22, 2009 at 8:14 PM

Sound comes mainly from the right arm, facility from the left, but true clarity of articulation comes from the interaction of both.

For me, as an improviser, the problems I face are mainly melodic and harmonic: can I find the notes that fit? So my real challenges are mental rather than LH or RH.

Still, the notes are found with the LH, so that's how I voted.

I do feel, however, that the right arm is the key to one's sound, and it is the right arm that really gives us our own personal characteristic voice in the instrument, possibly  even more than taste in glides or vibrato.





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