Printer-friendly version weekend vote: When you play, are you right- or left-hand dominant?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: March 13, 2015 at 7:38 PM [UTC]

When you play, are you right- or left-hand dominant? Or can you truly say you feel it all in both?

Guess whose hands?

Obviously, both hands are important in violin playing. But as far as the way we sense things, I have a theory that most people tend to be left-hand or right-hand-dominant in the way they think about producing sound and effect. Some really feel it on the left, in the vibrato, in the feel of fingers against string, in the quest for dead-center pitch and the way it makes the violin vibrate through the arm. Some feel it on the right, with the hair against string, motion of hands and arm, feeling of the way various bow strokes speak and connect with the instrument.

Of course, one can't be always dominant on once side. We can shift the thinking, depending on the music, the problems presented, etc. And sometimes we realize we're focusing on the wrong side; for example, something that seems like a left-hand problem is actually a bowing problem, and vice-versa.

In analyzing your own playing, is your default focus more on the violin hand, or the bow hand? Or truly (not just ideally) are you able to keep consciousness equally on both, with neither dominant?

From Patrick Tinney
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 8:23 PM
I should have selected left, since my teacher says that's my gift. I used to play guitar.

I have spent a great deal of time working on the bow though.

In any case I consider my self an advanced beginner on both (four years of lessons March 24).

The one thing I do know is if I'm concentrating on one it effects the other.

From John Rokos
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 9:37 PM
Yes, but frankly, I'm equally both hands recessive!
From Lyle Reedy
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 10:14 PM
I said "right," but that is because I don't have a left hand. I note with the right and bow with my entire left arm. I can bow without a hand but cannot note without one.
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 10:50 PM
Those are «Little Jacob's» hands. «Jascha» (???) is the Russian diminutive of 'Jacob', Heifetz's given name

Very easy question. :)

(The image is labeled "heifetzhands" :-D )

From Jim Hastings
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 10:55 PM
I voted BOTH EQUAL, although the main focus undoubtedly shifts during a session -- similar to turning the car steering wheel left or right out on the road -- without really being conscious of the process. And I'm decidedly right-handed; but when working out hard parts in new material, I generally find the bow arm more challenging. My left hand falls into place more easily.

When I was a kid, piano was my first instrument; but after I'd had only a few months of lessons, the violin muse stole me from piano. Yet forming the notes with the four left-hand fingers and drawing the sound from the instrument with the right hand on the bow came quite easily -- we know how readily kids often pick up new skills, especially when self-motivated to learn this instrument, which I was.

Posted on March 13, 2015 at 11:25 PM
Absolutely right hand and inasmuch, as I don't want to sound opinionated, the answer should be obviously at hand, but it isn't since not only most of student and listeners but also professional teachers will look for the reasons of bad sound in the left hand or the instrument.

Obviously, we have to concentrate on the intonation and technical runs, which have to be practiced by listening and trying different ways, but all those are only means of interpretation like painting a room pink for the bedroom and green for a reception etc. But before we paint the walls and hang pictures on them, we have to have the WALLS - straight and solid! That is accomplished by neither the best vibrato or the most expensive Strad, we get the basic, solid sound only when in absolute control of the bow movement. I recently saw a comment of a student, saying that she drove her teacher crazy by not swaying to the music along with the melody; the worst demand to a student. Any bodily motion should be at best natural and kept to the minimum, since violin sound depends on the steady speed and pressure of the bow control. Every unnecessary movement takes something from that control away and may also cause intonation problems. the best way to find out, that this approach is correct is to try to play long "white" notes, starting from open strings in different tempi. Only, when one can produce an even sound from frog to bottom with combination of dynamics (like perfectly even sound, than crescendo up-bow, or diminuendo down etc.) and it comes naturally without thinking - only than can we start worrying about beautifying the existing solid wall of sound. Btw.conscious swaying is like a pantomime, effective for to watch but does not have anything to do with the sound. That was one of the reasons, that J. Heifetz was considered by many unsophisticated watchers (not real listeners conoscenti) as perfect technically, but "cold". His absolute control and technical prowess were nothing more than a tool for his inimitable style. Recently, Liz Matesky, a frequent contributor on these pages reminded me of an incident in class, when I was playing the Brahms sonata for. All the guys in class had a weekly duty to wait for Him in the parking lot to carry his fancy english leather bag that was quite heavy to say the least. While I was playing, he said something I didn't get at first. W/o saying another word, he slowly got up, took his bag and put it over my foot ;-). He made his point and I never forgot it. "Don't dance, while playing" he said.

Had vibrato, or intonation been an issue at the time (and that was 63 years ago), I would not have stayed with him for four years, yet long after that I still was not happy with my bow technique and searched opinion of many illustrious, though less known masters and must say - it was an eye opener.

Another example, I was able to play a good staccato but it would not always come out as I wanted. After some soul searching and analyzing, I realized, that the culprit was not in my right, but in the left hand. Through paying all my attention to executing the staccato, I did not realize, that it was not co-ordinated with the secure fingering. Not because that particular run was difficult, but just never occur to me that could be the problem. With today's smart phones, one can easily record oneself and see if the bow is always perpendicular to the string and the angle of the stick in relation to the string is never less than 90°. One should see the tip of the bow with corner of one's eye w/o twisting the head at all times, otherwise the quality of sound suffers immediately.

It was for a good reason, that Henryk Szeryng was referred to as "Master of the Bow"! It is the best description of his playing.

Hope this may be an enlightening comment for many, who waste a lot of practice time with emphasis on the wrong issues.
Adam Han-Gorski

Posted on March 13, 2015 at 11:43 PM
Dear Laurie,
I am Left handed, have been since birth. I have had the insides of two violins/fiddles converted to be left handed by a Master Luther. I started playing the Mandolin and Guitar Left handed. Try as hard as I might I could never play anything Right handed. Mother Nature is in charge. It is best not to mess with her. That is why I voted "BOTH" hands as dominant. I am a faithful reader of your column.
Larry Larson
Bent Mountain, VA
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 13, 2015 at 11:47 PM
It's so funny, I'm left-handed, too, but I absolutely could not imagine holding the bow in my left hand, I feel so much with the vibrato and the strings under my finger!
From Paul Deck
Posted on March 14, 2015 at 2:12 AM
I'm a right-hander. I feel my bow drives my violin playing. As a jazz pianist I also tend to be fairly right-hand dominant. I doubt that's true of the better players though, and sometimes I wonder if this tendency is a limitation in both piano and violin.

But when I played hockey as a kid, I shot left. Go figure.

Posted on March 14, 2015 at 3:14 AM
Heifetz's Hands. That bow grip is unmistakable.
Posted on March 14, 2015 at 5:23 AM
Paul Deck, it is natural to shoot "left" in hockey if you are right handed. Look at the NHL. Most players are left shots.

It ain't golf. Haha. See if you can figure out why this is so.

As for being a leftie in violin. It really ruins your chances at stardom. Your bow really isn't good enough. The bow is "everything" to your sound. Left-handed violins need to become more common.

Posted on March 14, 2015 at 6:11 AM
Interesting question. I chose both, if there was no such option I would probably say right handed.
Posted on March 14, 2015 at 11:39 AM
I realised recently that I am probably what you refer to as 'Right-hand dominant' - my focus tends to be more on employing the bow to create the sound rather than on what my left hand is doing. So I'm trying to spend time really working my left hand and developing discipline and expressiveness in what it does. I'm naturally right handed, but also I had a teacher who was wonderful at training a versatile, supple bowing arm, although he also got us doing plenty of LH stuff. I think both right and left hand/arm are equally important. (My right hand always seems more fluent than my left on piano also.)
I teach proper bow-hold, how to use the wrist to enable smooth whole bows, and correct LH position very early on as I like students to have the satisfaction/joy of creating a pleasant sound as early on as possible. I also find it easier, even though it takes more time initially, than trying to change their habits later on. Even very young students can manage all these over a few weeks.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on March 14, 2015 at 1:06 PM
Heifetz' hands.

I'm surprised that so far, the poll indicates that the left is prevailing, since most people are righties. Maybe that's why many teachers and players have emphasized the right hand as a corrective.

I'm a lefty, though almost ambidextrous - and I feel that with the violin and most instruments, you have to end up ambidextrous, no matter where you started from or how you are, w.o. the violin and bow in your hands.

I can truly say that when I play, I'm both. However, some passages may put my conscious attention more on one than another - say a trill passage for the LH or a tricky bowing for the right. But, as the great teacher, Dounis said, such passages are just where you should put attention on the other hand.

PS What's with all of these numbers? Reminds me of Captain Kirk's Stardate blogs!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 14, 2015 at 4:34 PM
I had a teacher who several times told me, "You must divorce your hands!" and I thought this was so funny! And yet it's so true. For example, when playing a very fast scale, but all in one bow. The bow must be calm and steady while the fingers move fast. It takes a while for students to coordinate this, and I think part of it is truly that "divorcing" of the hands.

Lyle, kudos, what an accomplishment!

Posted on March 15, 2015 at 2:00 AM
While I am playing, I concentrate on the sound. Especially during performances. Which Is why I answered both. When practicing alone my focus frequently shifts specifically to one or the other depending on which sound I'm trying to get, or if there's something incorrect happening. I must say how surprised I am to see other hockey / violin players out there. It just seems so unlikely.I also shoot left and am right handed at everything else.
Posted on March 15, 2015 at 2:13 AM
Yes I agree with "divorcing your hands ".
Paul and the other hockey player,I believe how you shoot in hockey Has more to do with what eye is dominant. Right handed ball players catch with their left hands.
Posted on March 16, 2015 at 2:21 AM
I've had some interesting conversations about the "left" shot in hockey.

To me it is really simple and has to do with the one-handed aspect. When you skate, and hold the stick in one hand, which is it? It is the dominantt hand in most cases which is why lefties shoot right and vice versa.

But there are lots of other things going on too. For instance as a leftie who started in hockey before other sports, I shoot right. And bat right. And play golf right. I think the hockey stick became an analog for 2-handed play. I started lacrosse right also. But learned left almost immediately. I cradle better right but shoot better left.

Violin---I really do feel that we lefties should have had the chance to play a fiddle with the left hand on the bow. I think we would all be sitting with the cellos mixing it up now!

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