Thumb and vibrato

November 5, 2006 at 08:55 PM · Could some of you verbalize the thumb moving from normal cusped hold to vibrato two-point hold, both on a/e and as a separate conversation on g/d....

Replies (33)

November 5, 2006 at 11:17 PM · Greetings,

I wouldn`t get too booged down with the thumb . Basically it rotaes very slightly as a naturla reaction during vibrato. If this rotation is bocked then the hand and vibrato will be tense. Other wise I don`t think about it ...somehtign about centipedes and which leg is doing what?



November 6, 2006 at 01:35 AM · I see Buri-- thank you.... I now know the issue, as it has for some time, remains overall hand tension--back to the wall I go.

My c-grip for non-vibrato notes, even with a lot of work, still has a way to go in terms of lightness of hold.... That is what is happening I think. I've walked a hundred miles with this, so a few more are not going to hurt.

I've been trying to develop some 'prepare to vibrate' exercises, and will work with this slight thumb rotation in the process.


November 6, 2006 at 04:10 AM · Al, for me vibrato is easiest when I hold the violin quite high, high enough for the strings to be slightly higher at the scroll end - so that my arm is really free, there is no feeling of the violin slipping down (which may cause unwanted 'gripping').

My thumb, holding the violin's neck up, needs to be very flexible in the base joint, so that the hand or arm can vibrate freely, while the violin remains quite stable. It's a kind of 'tail wagging the dog' situation: the larger part of your arm is moving, but the little thumb is holding the violin in one place.

November 6, 2006 at 06:06 AM · Thanks Susan... I'm sort of heading in that direction, and now you verified it... I just finished practicing, and got a few notes on D away from the wall, and after moving it to the side (someone else's suggestion) reached the G string off the wall--but it was 'far' from graceful...;) far..

I mean far;).. .

Has reaching the d/g string been this difficult for anyone else?


November 6, 2006 at 07:02 AM · Greetings,

you can of course, rotate the violin slightly on its longtitudinal axis using the thumb...



November 6, 2006 at 07:14 AM · Thanks Buri--I'll play with this... al

November 6, 2006 at 06:41 PM · Buri, I've tried that rotation, but it only works if the 'root' of my index finger is also touching. But during a big vibrato, I don't keep that double contact. The thumb alone can't tilt the violin. Do you keep the double contact even during vibrato?

November 6, 2006 at 08:37 PM · I thought shifting fingers during double-stops was awkaward!. Sheesh. Thanks Susan, Buri...

al 'off to watch others prepare to vibrate on youtube' justice

November 6, 2006 at 10:35 PM · Greetings,

Susan, I relinquish double contact for very wide and intense vibrato but I cna vibrate with the firts finger touching the rets of the time,



November 7, 2006 at 03:23 AM · Ah Buri,,, my first hint at understanding flexibility....

"but I cna vibrate with the firts finger touching the rets of the time,"

November 7, 2006 at 04:31 AM · Hi Al.

As Susan suggested, the thumb allows the arm and hand to move while keeping the violin stable by staying flexible at its base joint (which is close to the wrist). The hand slides freely along the neck (maintaining double contact) if you coordinate the opening and closing of the thumb with the extending and curling of the finger. N.B. the base knuckles of the fingers move opposite to that of the thumb, i.e. they open as the fingers curl, and close as the fingers extend.

You might find it easier to vibrate on the lower strings if you align your arm with your fingers. Allow the elbow to swing under your fiddle and in toward your body as you swing your fingers over to the lower strings (keep your shoulder neutral so you don't jam the upper arm against your chest - you may also need to open your shoulder by swinging your arm slightly to the left). Make sure not to reach for the lower strings with your fingers (this causes them to lose their curl), but rather roll them over (keeping their proper shape) to the lower strings from the elbow. Depending on the relative size of your hands, your side-of-the-1st-base-knuckle contact slides vertically, higher up the neck (even onto the fingerboard for very small hands). Make sure nothing keeps your fingers tips from getting to where they need to go.



November 7, 2006 at 04:27 AM · Thanks Jeewon.... That's the most basic issue I think: small hands... You honed in on the motions I'm trying to understand admirably.. Thank you...

Another part of the issue is psychological. I have this image of a perfectly e-string postured player never reaching for anything, that I have to understand better. I'm getting 'a little' looser along this line by watching alot of others play--and discussing things such as this actually.

I kid around that 'it took the entire internet to get me to slow down and practice smartly, though I didn't download it'. This has been another such issue. Thanks again... al

November 7, 2006 at 05:02 AM · You're most welcome Al! I didn't address the second part of your request. The alignment, shape, and general posture of the hand should remain the same across the 4 strings. You just have to carry it that way from string to string from the arm as I've mentioned. The problem of course is that what the hand feels under it changes. Two points re. alignment: keep the fingers vertical (i.e. keep the tip of the second finger vertical to the tangent or level of the string - this allows for maximum curl of the finger tip so you can wobble it back during vibrato); keep the fingers over the thumb-side of the palm regardless of which string you're on - this ensures that the back of the hand stays straight with the elbow, rather than bent in under the neck (being bent in and under makes it particularly difficult to play on the G string). Keeping this alignment of the hand might feel strange on the E string - the fingers are well aligned along the string while the rest of the hand is completely beside, to the right of the neck. Lastly, especially if you have small hands, you need to balance the hand toward the weaker fingers, 3rd and 4th. When vibrating on the weaker fingers, release the lower/stronger fingers, and allow the hand to contract slightly as you keep 3 or 4 well curled - also keep the base knuckle of 3 and especially of 4 well above its tip (this will happen naturally if your hand is aligned properly - i.e. roll it over the strings).

Hope that's helpful.


November 7, 2006 at 05:10 AM · That's a lot to visualize Jeewon. On first reading--I'm still re-reading your other advice--your ability to put these things in words is notable, very much so... I hope you teach...

I have to litmus tests to check out what I'm doing with base joint of the thumb before I can go much further. I have invested a lot of time against the wall doing thumb relaxing exercises and so forth. So I can say generally up front that I 'know how to at least relax the joint'?

But I won't know until I start applying what you, Susan, and Buri have shared what is 'actually' happening with my thumb joint in this process--I think that is probably critical, and will make or break these efforts.

Nonetheless, you've given me the information to work with--I'm sure of this. Thanks. al

p.s. I'll check back in in a few days after I've had a chance to understand, and/or better yet try to implement these things..

November 7, 2006 at 05:35 AM · As an oldtimer, but new-comer to the violin, I am very interested in the thumb position/action in respect to the vibrato of the fingers.

In watching violinists at televised concerts, I am facinated at their ability to hold on to the violin while waving all their fingers at themselves most of the time. What are the fingers doing---sliding up and down the strings?--pressing with more or less pressure up and down toward the fingerboard?---changing the note pitch slightly when played during long bowings?

I just need a few clues as to what is happening

from all you professionals as I watch and try to duplicate your highly refined techniques.



November 7, 2006 at 06:55 AM · Sorry Al, if I overloaded.

Hi Dan. There are various notions on what the arm/hand does, but whatever happens around the finger, the first joint must be rolled from its tip to its pad, flattening the pitch, and back. Some people talk about the 'posture' of the hand. Generally the hand has good posture when it is holding an octave with its first and fourth fingers (the frame) and the second and third are placed according to the key that is being played, all the while maintaining good alignment (finger tips are aligned along the string) and balance (all fingers a curled more or less, from 1st to 4th). In this posture each finger has a particular shape (the fingers collectively have a different finger pattern according to key and position), curled or extended, but all the fingers are poised on their tips (again more or less on its tip from 1st to 4th, more when the finger is playing its lower pitch, less when the finger is playing its higher pitch) so that it can be rolled down onto its pad from the hand, the forearm, or the whole arm.

When one wants a thicker sound, the fingers are placed more on their pads so the more fleshy part is on the string. When playing lyrical, slow, molto vibrato passages, the posture of the hand is less important than balancing the whole hand on the finger that is being used - in other words, the vibrating finger is curled as much as possible so that it has maximum swing from its curled to extended position, while the rest of the hand is released and contracts toward the vibrating finger.

Dounis suggests that the finger presses at its most curled position - on its tip, and releases pressure as it rolls onto its pad. Those who tend to press the finger excessively onto its pad, as opposed to releasing it and allowing the hand to snap back to its original shape, often possess a mechanical, bleating vibrato. In my experience the release of the finger allows the sound to breath, so to speak, and allows for variety (narrow/fast, narrow/slow, wide/fast, wide/slow, medium, etc.) - too much pressure while on the pad compresses and (my guess is) restricts the vibration of the string, and forces the finger to move in an on/off fashion.

Hope that somewhat describes what you've seen and heard.


November 7, 2006 at 06:46 AM · Jeewon, your understanding of this is cool. I had a coach who was helping me try to get some finger vibrato going; and, her description of the pad rolling was similar, though nowhere as detailed as yours.

I was in a pinch to sound decent and she helped me get a few vibrations in there.....

Anyway, your comments to Dan, really helped me clarify the whole thing in ways that I do not understand very well yet, but somewhere in the back of my mind, little lights went on.

She described the lightness of the pad under the finger, feeling almost like jello in a gentle vertical ebb. And my work with trying to keep the fingers curled in non-vibrato note somehow complements what I'm trying to say, and understand.

Having a lingering thud on D/3 from something I'm fixing, actually adds to this as well--learning to get that pressure minimized and finger curled.

I suppose I'm saying your understanding is like a major masterclass on this...

I know this diverges from the vibrato thing, but they seem to work together in some ways--the lightness, the curling, the fingers staying curled across the strings--this all seems to apply to left hand period--as well.

I had a question you answered to Dan, probably more confusion, about how some people's hands contort when playing, and some people's stay relatively curled as they move on the fingerboard. Only in 'very' small ways I'm starting to understand a little--but given that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing continue to walk slowly.

Thanks a bunch... al

November 7, 2006 at 07:49 AM · Hi Al,

re. "I 'know how to at least relax the joint'?"

I'm not sure that the word relax is very descriptive of what happens in the body while it's in motion. I hope I'm not being too particular, but if the thumb were relaxed it would slide along the neck. There is always enough pressure so that fingers are grippy, and, even when they're sliding, not too slippy. The tension you want to get rid of in the thumb is in its opposability, i.e. you don't want it to oppose the pressure of the fingers, or the side of the 1st base knuckle - i.e. no grabbing. (In the fingers, you don't want the base knuckles to oppose the fingertips, i.e. you don't want the fingers to curl in upon themselves). Rather, think of the fingertips and thumb turning a rotational lever (the neck of the violin instead of a deadbolt) - in which case the thumb remains quite firm vertically, though not pressed into the neck from its base joint. If you rotate without grabbing the neck, you'll find that the base knuckle of the thumb remains quite flexible as it opens and closes like tweezers. Hope I'm not confusing the issue.

More than relaxing any one joint in isolation, I think it's more useful to think of coordinating the many joints inolved in any motion. Moving at any joint impacts all its adjacent joints and so on. Consider reaching for a pen. Your target is the pen - you're probably sensing with the fingertips, yet your shoulder socket, elbow, and wrist open and close in one, smooth, coordinated motion so that that fingers and thumb may find their target. In vibrato, the sensing part of the hand is the finger tip. As it rolls down (the rolling can be accomplished by the finger itself, or by the hand/arm pulling it toward the scroll) the finger extends and closes the baseknuckle; at the same time, the thumb is pulled open at its base knuckle (viewing it from the side so the nail is facing you); the reverse happens as the finger curls back to its original postion - if, that is, all the joints are held in a flexible manner. How the wrist, elbow, shoulder react depend on where the motion is generated.

Best, JK

P.S. Posted the above after you Al. Again, your most welcome and thanks for the positive feedback. I think a little knowledge and lots of experimenting-hands on experience can go a long way. I'll try to keep answering any questions as best I can. -JK

November 7, 2006 at 07:55 AM · I'm sorry, I wasn't clear.... By that I meant that I literally do Wohlfahart with my violin against the wall every night to get control of over compensated grip that came with an injury.

By relaxing, I mean, (against the wall) drop a finger, relax the thumb, pull back the pressure on the note, check thumb tension, repeat. That type of thing.

Your comment about the thumb being more interactive than my image:relaxed thumb previously, is well taken and understood. I'm pretty sure in fact that your comment is central to this conversation, and a part of the original question? Once again, thanks--al

November 7, 2006 at 08:34 AM · I understand.

If you do want to integrate the thumb into your playing (and I realize many, even amongst noted pedagogues, discourage the active use of the thumb) perhaps you might also try releasing the thumb while supporting the violin with it. For instance, two motions you might try while playing are:

a) bend the thumb at its tip, so that the thumb slides down and touches the side of the neck at its tip, and the first knuckle sticks out; return to normal

b) slide thumb along the neck, opening and closing from its base knuckle; maintain gentle contact with the neck

c) or you can play a bar, do either or both a) and b), etc. as you've been doing with the relax

a) is a useful way to get the thumb under the neck when preparing for a shift; instead of returning to normal, bend thumb down, then pull it under the neck from the arm.

In any case it might be useful to also practice releasing the thumb under actual playing conditions - i.e. while things are in motion. Also try to notice if excess pressure occurs because of the opposability of the thumb.



November 8, 2006 at 02:13 AM · Thanks Jeewon--I hadn't though about these variations--they seem as if they would be effective. Incidently, there are others now benefitting from the advice you, Susan, and Buri have shared, because not in the same spirit of focused relaxation, are learning to release grip, in various contexts.

Sue Belcher jumped in on another issue that was passed along similarly--this is impressive. Thanks. al

November 8, 2006 at 05:05 AM · Glad to hear it Al. Keep us posted on your progress. JK

November 8, 2006 at 07:00 AM · Jeewon--question... I took my violin (this is bizzarre), put my finger on the g-string note holding it like a guitar, and then eased the instrument back into place and maintained the space (and fingers curved!). (Am I desparate or what ;) )... Anyway, after I've done this I can get some clean notes on G.... ....

The point: It feels like the instrument may be a little too high and around when playing normally, but when I get the position that allows the finger to stay in place it seems a little low. Have any thoughts on what may be going on here? al

November 8, 2006 at 04:36 PM · Hi Al. Looks like your experimenting is paying off. The guitar hold you tried is not bizarre at all - some think that Paganini himself incorporated guitar technique into his playing to be able to reach large intervals (he was quite the mandolin and guitar virtuoso). This guitar hold is called 'opening the hand', where the first finger splits away from the rest of the fingers, the 3rd digit (closest to the base knuckle) leaning toward the scroll. It's necessary to learn how to do this when learning fingered octaves and tenths. But for smaller hands, hands with a great difference in length between 2nd and 4th fingers, or for violists, it may be necessary to hold the first postion with this hand posture all the time. I would go so far as to say that this posture enables hands of all sizes to remain more flexible. If you look at people with very agile hands (particularly while playing thirds) you see that the hand opens and contracts all the time - i.e. is very flexible. I think I wrote about this a while back in response to somebody's wrist sticking out - you might want to search for 'finger splits' or something to that effect.

It's hard to tell exactly what's going on without seeing what you're doing. (Can you be more specific or post photos?) But the arm feeling lower when you do the guitar hold does make sense. When you hold your hand with the 1st finger split away from the other fingers, it causes your hand to be lower on the neck, and lean away from you; or to put it another way, your elbow is closer to your body. Hope that makes sense. JK

November 8, 2006 at 08:49 PM · No Jee,, I mean actually, taking the instrument, back against my chest, holding it like a guitar--then easing it back up after getting the hand positioned on G/w-space/w-curved fingers.... It was after it was back in place I started observing how the instrument felt lower while allowing the space between f1 and the neck effectively (with curved fingers).

Sorry--I get in a hurry trying express sometimes.

I'm going to work with this some more tonight to see where it goes. I think it may help me understanding basic balance of the instrument better, even if it proves I have to adjust it again when I get back in lessons.


November 9, 2006 at 03:19 AM · Hi Al. I think effectively we're talking about the same thing. Even if you weren't aware of the hand shape/finger splits thing, by placing your hand in the guitar hold (violin against chest) your left arm hangs comfortably to your side, and most likely the angle of your hand to the neck is quite steep. To visualize angles, hold the neck as if playing; point first finger straight into the air; draw imaginary line from tip of first finger to elbow; if that line is more or less straight your hand is leaning at a good angle.

Many students tend to thrust the shoulder forward (often up also, instead of keeping it neutral) and push the elbow forward too much. This same tendency occurs in the head and neck. Instead of reaching for the instrument, the instrument should be brought (lowered) to you, your collar, and gently against the neck. In the same manner the arm should be brought close to you, the whole arm folding in zig-zag fashion. (Auer talks about keeping the elbow as close to you as possible in The Way I Teach.) With the arm (and fiddle) held as close as possible, it's easier to counter-balance the arm in front of you with the shoulder-blade. Do the shoulder-blade pull down (contract the bottom of the trapezius, the tip of the muscle between and just below the shoulder blades) to keep the arm balanced in front of you.

I'm not sure if this describes what your experiencing but, as always, hope it helps. JK

November 9, 2006 at 03:30 AM · Thanks Jeewon... I'm just finishing my first session warm-ups, but am going to play around with this stuff after I get through my elements in a few....

You tore this issue apart so completely, even atomically, I want to learn as much as I can from the things you (and others shared)... Basically, I cut and paste the entire thing in an email to myself so I can read it in print rather than on the screen. I spend (obviously) too much time on the computer, but the silver lining is that if I weren't spending time seeking solutions, would likely be spending 'way' too much time practicing--and probably developing more bad habits.. And I need my eyes for improving my sight reading ;)...

These subtle posture tweaks, I think are going to be important to me. I can at at least apply the (arm close and shoulder neutral) ones here as I proceed this evening--then I'll read some more...

Thanks again. al

November 9, 2006 at 03:44 AM · Greetings,

al, the arm close thing reminds me of a useful vibrato exercise that you can do anytime without the insturment. Place the thumb of youerr left hand on the palm of your right. The right hand fingertips rest on the back of the right hand as though ona violin string.Even with both hand in front of your chest it is possible to do vibrato with the left- as if one were playing the guitar i suppose. Now mopve the right hand diagonally up over th eleft shoulde ras far as it will go (with th eleft hand still on it, of course) You also loift your left elbow up high away from the body. It looks somewhat like a midget playing a full size cello. This action really helps to prevent incorrect use of the upper arm and the lockign in against the body which kills any attempt at a decent vibrato stone dead,



November 9, 2006 at 03:58 AM · Buri, how did you know I was a midget!. Sheesh...

thanks man... I practiced it.... al

November 9, 2006 at 06:21 AM · Buri, Jeewon, I now feel like an untalented ballerina!. I played with the exercise a little Buri, and Jeewon, I started focusng on the neutral shoulder.

And what I'm finding is:

for whatever reason, the instrument still feels too high. And when I bring it down where I can accomplish the GD vibrato, it feels too low.

Nonetheless, and it is important, that learning to neutralize the shoulder, keep the thumb base joint relaxed, keep tension from the arm under the instrument, are all coming together though truly in the spirit of the funky dance with which this response began.

There appears to be a more graceful (as if I could acutally be graceful ;) ) kinesology/spatial awareness evolving, but a lot of the things Jeewon particuarly suggested I still have to visualize and incorporate.

Again, thanks--al

November 9, 2006 at 05:17 PM · Would that I could be as graceful as an untalented ballerina!

Al, 'feel too high' and 'feel too low' are both relative sensations that will melt away into habituation as you become more comfortable with this odd (far from graceful, or natural) posture of holding the violin.

In the veign of 'rules are there to be broken', it might be best not to get too attached to what anybody says you should do. These are all guidelines that may or may not fit your physique, or work for your current situation.

I think there are only two rules to follow:

1. Do what frees your movements (find balance and alignment for *you*); if ever you have to do something that tightens you (e.g. for musical purposes), return to a freer posture as soon as is practical

2. Do what ever frees you to express the music (both physically and mentally)

3. Sometimes 1. and 2. contradict, in which case you have to find a way to sublimate the conflict into a resolution

I don't mean to do a 180 from all the particulars I was getting into, but I needed to balance out my posts a little.

I'm still a big proponent of experimenting because in the end only you can tell what truly works for you. So here are a couple of resources you might consult:

1. Dalton and Primrose: Playing the Viola (this book should be in every violinists library)

2. Barbara Conable and William Conable: How to Learn the Alexander Technique: A Manual for Students

Because of the relative size of the instrument, you might want to see how violists get around their instrument. (I think Buri may have a few more recommendations concerning the Alexander Technique, e.g. taking lessons, etc., Buri?)

Thanks for your enthusiasm.



November 9, 2006 at 07:17 PM · Thanks Jeewon.. I have a lesson next week with someone who is ready to deal with this--I'm very excited and hope it is good enough of an experience to keep working with this person as she is very accomplished. Nonetheless, even with help it will still be upon me to, and I agree, find 'my' limitations and requirements to get the results I'm looking for.

It's a little frustrating, because I do not envision myself having to play vibrato up in 12th position for a long time. And, I'm simply trying to get my vibrations going on G/D as well as find how to balance the thing migrating from normal hold on A/E in that I already am doing nicely with the vibrations once I get there.

But at the same time I'm encouraged that with everyone's help here, and actually a couple other places, that 'something' is happening, and as I allegorized last evening, I just am not sure what it is.

I know I have to be patient, but my brain is a big big notebook or something of music from other instruments, and also, I've discovered, I'm going to be really good with transpositions on violin,so I'm really looking forward to getting started on these things, more importantly just the business of playing general music nicely. I guess I'm saying this vibrato thing feels like it is holding me back.

Music I'd never dream of changing the key on piano for example, I simply play in whatever key I want to on violin--within reason. I only know personally two other people who can do this fluidly (and with style), but they are both, that advanced on piano--one naturally, and one trained. I'm ok with this on piano, just never had the luxury, 'to make it my own', and have never had the luxury of the time to do things like explore the tonal mood of a song in one key versus another very fluidly.

Somewhat related and sigfnificant is that the entire internet jumped in ;), and slowed down my learning speed awhile back which was a remarkable remarkable feat. The point being, I'm learning just so much more efficently now if not perfectly, and thus really feel this vibrato thing is holding me back.

Anyway, I think the advice on the Alexander technique is important, especially to my aging joints. So perhaps untalented ballerinia in the case of all the above, might be changed to horse waiting at the gate image wise? ...

Finally, I'm fully aware that vibrato is like bowing, and a lifetime endeavor in terms of practice, molding, and refining so that kind of patience is not an issue.

Thanks for all your help... al

December 14, 2006 at 08:49 AM · Bet you thought I forgot about this, or was just blowin smoke, but I've been working on this since my last lesson, and your advice has been awesomely useful. (bout a month and a half)

Just got through practice then jammin, and I think it was Buri's image or maybe Jee Won's that described rolling across the fingerboard. The person who is trying to teach me focused on this as well indirectly. It's been awesome, and though I still push too hard, think I'm about to make the reach thing, osciallations on G/D, and just a bunch of spin offs like better competency in 3rd and so forth my own officially.

Anyway, it seems to turn out too often, that only after my practice is over (uh, many hours), I chill and get my 2nd wind and try and let loose on the centering, reach, vibrato and so forth. But, tonight was flat out jammin.

Now I'm shooting for some better fluidity... How cool...Thanks again. al

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