Question on left arm technique

February 23, 2007 at 07:07 PM · My teacher has been telling me that my left arm should be like a pendulum, so when playing on the lower strings my elbow should be more forward, pushed forward away from my body, and when i'm playing on the E string my elbow should be pulled back, where it's extending backwards almost like a chicken wing. Of all the professional violinists i've seen in person and on video, i've never seen anyone's arm move like that under the violin neck. Is my teacher correct in telline me to do this?


Replies (61)

February 23, 2007 at 07:24 PM · If I am interpreting this the way you are explaining it, something is wrong here.

Your elbow should only move as much as your fingers make it. In order to keep all four of your left hand fingers curved on all four strings, your arm will move slightly. But never extending outwards like a chicken wing on the e-string. On the e-string your arm should fall naturally and be almost, if not completely, hidden from your sight by the violin. You may see your elbow pop out from underneath the violin when using fourth finger on the G-string or up in 3rd+ positions. (you may not ever see your elbow depending on your size, shape, height, etc.)

Ask your teacher again to show you what they mean. This all sounds very bizarre.

Hope this helps.

February 23, 2007 at 07:36 PM · i think it is a very simple concept lost in translation/diction,,,

to be a little extreme, your left elbow position when playing G string is not the same as when playing E string, right?

why? because you try to maintain the proper alignment of your left hand and left forearm, so that when your left fingers execute fingering, they hover over the respective strings about the same distance/relationship regardless of g or e string. you provide a good setup for good intonation.

as a result, your left elbow sways left to right, or right to left, depending on your perspective, like a pendulum.

end of the story.

February 24, 2007 at 01:28 AM · When you hold your arm up without your violin...

Feel the ease at which your finger comes down, the even pressure blah blah, ::falls asleep::

You want to keep that ease on all strings. So to do that, don't change anything from your elbow up when you cross strings... just simply move your arm...

Also, you have to have the correct positioning of the violin under your chin to do this efficiently and effectively, with a "free arm" as they say.


Also, when you start playing in higher positions, your arm has tot he goo the other extreme and move UP and OVER.

February 23, 2007 at 10:01 PM · Greetings,

as Vince has explained. Soe people describe it as keeping the elbow under the fourth finger at all ties which makes anatomical sense. Incidentally, although it is a very small movement the elbow also moves ot the left and right when playing on one string. As the fingers ascend from 1sr to fourth there is gradual shift to the left and vcue versa.



February 23, 2007 at 10:51 PM · buri and v, good points. high time to hear some critique with respect to what you are talking about,,,here is a guinea piglet:

February 23, 2007 at 11:31 PM · I've got to vehemently and fundamentally disagree, Buri. If you're in need of moving your arm in order to move your fingers, or in order to cross the strings, your speed, stability and relaxation are all seriously in doubt. Come to think of it, I've also been keeping my comments to myself regarding shoulder rests (why say, yet again, what I've said before?) but the end result is the same: if you're clamping when using the rest, you're doing it wrong.

The way I teach it is to have the elbow to the right of the center seam of the back plate. When the fingers go from G to E string, they curl SLIGHTLY more to reach the higher strings. If the fingertips tip over on the A or E strings, (finger-ends closer to the palm than the second knuckles), your elbow is too far forward. I do like the elbow-under-the-pinky description, but would stress - especially for a beginner - that the elbow tilt is so miniscule that one should learn it as being nonexistent. In other words, tell a beginner to slightly move the elbow backwards for the E string and you get the pendulum description which started this thread. Tell a beginner not to move the elbow or the left wrist at all, and you develop relaxed, individually mobile fingers and stable intonation. When the player has advanced a bit, he or she will notice the places where it pays to allow exceptions to the beginner's absolutist rule.

February 23, 2007 at 11:37 PM · Dave, I was taught the same as you. In other words, the thumb and lower index pivot on the neck and if you move X degrees going from E to G, the elbow changes position the same number of degrees in the opposite direction. Tape a protractor to your practice mirror;)

February 24, 2007 at 12:13 AM · Greetings,

Emil, don"t teach that minute movement all the time but that particular cocnept can be extremely helpful in achieving the end of relaxtion and supplenes syou describe. Incidentally, it is described in more detail on Rapheal Klayman"s web page.



February 24, 2007 at 12:21 AM ·

seems that zukerman has more elbow movement than perlman. also, perlman set the neck of the violin much deeper at or near the base of the thumb web area than zukerman.

February 24, 2007 at 12:22 AM · sorry Emil, editing wasn"t working. I am not exactly clear why you extended your disapprobation to both the more contraversial idea of elbow moevement on one string and in changing sttrrings. In general I think may intermediate players do lack some ability in finger action only across strings but the changing of elbow position for each string is standard as fra as I am aware.



February 24, 2007 at 12:38 AM · Thanks for everyone for their input. The reason I brought this up is because when i'm playing on the E string he wants my elbow so far back that it's uncomfortable. My thinking is that if i'm uncomfortable, then I shouldn't be shoving my elbow that far back even if it is technically proper.


February 24, 2007 at 12:42 AM · I watched the video clip that Al put up with the 6 year old girl playing, and you can easily see the pendulum effect, but mind you, she is small. I'm a full-grown adult, so my arms are much longer and my hands are larger. But then again, she is playing on a non-full sized instrument. Are the necks on those small violins narrower? If not, then I can see why she has to move her arm because her hand is much smaller than an adult's hand.


February 24, 2007 at 12:46 AM · If what your teacher wants you to do isn't in the ballpark of what other people your size are doing and he can't explain why, run away.

February 24, 2007 at 01:20 AM · LOL

I think if I do, he'll come searching (he says i'm his favorite student).


February 24, 2007 at 01:26 AM · I agree with all of you -- and that's because as Emil kind of pointed out, when you get really advance... you find your own exceptions to make it easy for you.

Not all people have the same length arms ie, Hilary Hahn vs. Sarah Chang. lol, I love bringing that pseudo rivalry up.


February 24, 2007 at 01:31 AM · And with that video...

I hate how her fingers fly all over the place... that takes too much energy -- eek. And her arm isn't long enough for that violin (considering that she's only a child, a smaller size is fine) -- it looks more like she's playing a viola even though a violin's screech is what is coming out. At that age, she should be focusing heavily on a good sound, training her ears, mastering simple yet effective etudes, and of course.. playing student concertos. Yuck...

Super cute though -- she's soo watching her fingers.


February 24, 2007 at 03:22 AM · dave, i am glad that video has helped show what you wanted to describe. even though her motion is not efficient/necessarily correct, or arguably her violin is too big, the elbow motion going up the same string is there, and i cannot imagine even masters do not move elbow around to reach high up. as far as across string: what emil has said is interesting, something i see with heifetz and perlman. with heifetz, the motion is so fluid and efficient, it is like effortless magic. but since i have yet seen a heifetz number 2, we might as well forget about it for practicality:) with perlman, his hand is so big that it is easy to get around without engaging the elbow. still, you do see that his wrist is very extended, a posture which may be efficient for violin playing for him, but not a great set up if you want to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. so, with you, who knows how you look like and how you look like when you play violin! look at the video of perlman and zukerman,,, based on the thumb-neck position alone, i can confidently tell you that those 2 great players have very different biomechanical approaches.

on the other hand, i have seen many many teachers telling the students 2 things, probably on day one:

1. 4 different levels of right shoulder for the 4 strings.

2. 4 different positions of the left elbow for the 4 strings.

should all beginners start with minimal motion of the left elbow? or should they start with 4 levels and as they get better and more efficient, learn to minimize the motion?

and v, concur with everything you have said except the watching her fingers part. trust me i know better on that one:)

February 24, 2007 at 03:28 AM · Al - with something like this it is very personal. Everyone has different hand/arm sizes so it is impossible to give this question one answer. My teacher had extremely large hands,so large, that he hardly needed to move the elbow around the rib in the high positions. I do not recommend moving the elbow out when playing on the g-string. I think it should stay in the same place as Emil pointed out. I'm all for limiting unnecessary motion, it might look nice, but when playing fast passage work it will just sound bumpy in my opinion if at every string cross you have to move the elbow. This can also affect pitch quite a bit.

February 24, 2007 at 03:37 AM · nate, i understand where you are coming from. as with any pursuits with physical involvement, the less the moving parts the better. but, based on your teacher's scenario, you can imagine that for some with smaller hands or shorter upper limb (or not the best teacher in town, hahahaha) , if they do not move the elbow, they can only reach G string with flat finger joints. in that case, they may not be able to properly use the padding on the fingertip to contact the strings--the angle of attack will be off.

for argument sake, biomechanically speaking, in terms of the lever effect, a minimal degree of elbow movement can lead to a sufficient amt of hand shift, if the fulcrum is close to the elbow.

February 24, 2007 at 03:37 AM · Hi Dave,

Your teacher is a point. You're not supposed to see this happen on a large scale. I don't want to argue with your teacher though because there are many ways of doing things. What's more important is if it works or not. You should see if your teacher uses this technique and if he or she plays in tune!


February 24, 2007 at 04:27 AM · Dave--I didn't read the other responses so sorry if repeating.

The flowing under the instrument (I'm a beginner but there), can be accented until you learn to find most importantly a relaxed left shoulder and arm, then as I bet some others suggested it should match your reach in finding the most comfortable movement that allows:

1-to get over to g string with finger angles correct.

2-play in upper positions--then if you look at pros you see what you described 'alot' more dramatically.

So, it's all about relaxed flow. The movement though even if just getting over to 'G' I find best emphasized a little more dramatically until you get your vibrato jamming in 1st position there--if you're there yet.

Go to youtube and watch Menhuin play some Beethoven--then practice getting that flowing--that smooth.

February 24, 2007 at 09:59 AM · Well, I think it is fine if you're playing a scale up and doing it... just to be mechanically sound.

But don't do it when playing some perpetual piece -- with something like that, it's more just individual fingers moving across the strings as I think Emil pointed out.

I was just saying, a little movement with a relaxed arm for things like arpeggios and scales is fine. Don't play Pag. Capr. 16 with the same "active" elbow... let it be passive.


February 24, 2007 at 01:30 PM · I might do it even in something fast, if it gave me the reach I needed on the G string, but not like the elbow was leading, or anything. There might be a better way to get the reach, that I don't know about.

February 24, 2007 at 02:36 PM · Interesting issue. In my playing at least, it's a very slight movement and I'm not even really aware of it. I think mostly about my hand crossing strings, if the elbow follows it a bit, well, fine. The only time I'm actually conscious of needing to bring my elbow around is when I'm going way up the G string, in stuff like the opening of "Tzigane." I would advise not to obsess too much over elbow movement. If you're doing the right things with your hand the elbow should probably just fall into place.

February 24, 2007 at 03:39 PM · The elbow should move little if at all. Move much in either direction will cause strain to the wrist and hands, not to mention it is a waste of energy. The violin should rest against your sholder so that there is good physical contact between the wood and your sholder without extending the sholder. This will cause the violin to hang slightly lower which will make it awkward to be moving the arm excessivly. To do this one must keep from trying to lift the violin up higher with the hand which is another waste of energy. The arm should hang loosely, it is not to be tight and stiff, as this will inhibit vibrato and can cause strain and injury.

This is all from the view of one who does not use a sholder rest. If you do use a sholder rest some of this may be troublesome to you, for example you would have difficulty keeping contact between your body and the instrument as the instrument is already being held off your body by the sholder res.

February 24, 2007 at 05:25 PM · I've skimmed through a number of the replies, but not all, so excuse if I'm redundant. That elbow back like a chicken wing sounds just awful to me. Extreme and exaggerated. I am presuming we are talking first position here? I am for a modest amount of elbow-swing from left to right,just enough to help get your finger contact points above the pitches you want to play. When I play 3rd and 4th finger on E, I pull my elbow a teeny bit towards my chest and to the right. But I do have a pinky that will not stay curved at the middle knuckle. Sue

February 24, 2007 at 06:20 PM · Something happens between the teaching of this concept and the habit that it forms. I teach the elbow to pivot, and I teach it using two main principles:

1. The hand remains in a straight line vertically with the forearm, when looking at the palm. The hand does not tip to the right or left at the wrist.

2. To find the proper position of the elbow when pivoting, pluck each string with the left 4th finger. (I think Buri first started me on that exercise, but I've read it from more than one person.) I've seen good results from this exercise.

I teach it this way because if I don't, I see that my students generally tend to keep the elbow locked in place and try to reach each of the strings with only their fingers, rotating the wrist this way and that. This does awful things for their intonation, since it completely changes the angle at which the fingers are dropping from string to string.

Now, as a player becomes more advanced, this concept becmoes more habitual, and as we develop more relaxed fluency, the elbow seems to find the most economical movement. That's probably why you don't see the movement so much when you watch professionals. The concept is still there, but it is modified to work for specific situations. As a beginner, though, it's a pretty safe bet to follow the principle of keeping the wrist in a straight line (not twisting from side to side when changing strings). Perhaps your focus on your left elbow has caused you to lose sight of this goal. The movement should not be large or painful.

February 24, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Hi

I was taught this way too, I was taught to lead string crossing from elbow so that your hand position stays the same on the four strings. It also allows you not to strain your little finger and to remain in a high position for it.

February 24, 2007 at 07:38 PM · Emily said:

"2. To find the proper position of the elbow when pivoting, pluck each string with the left 4th finger. (I think Buri first started me on that exercise, but I've read it from more than one person.) I've seen good results from this exercise.

Yes!!... And, over accentuating the elbow pivot until one finds one's ranges 'relaxed' seems good--as long as during that phase it is remembered that the goal is to minimize and more and more fine tune the overall movement minimized while staying relaxed.. As an older learner, this has been ''''''brutal'''' to '''get'''!. ;).

February 24, 2007 at 11:08 PM · Emily, it's precisely to avoid the crooked wrist position, with fingers PUSHING down onto the side of the fingertip further from the thumb that I teach the left hand approach I recall from my own starting days. In other words, I try to avoid that position wherein, from the player's POV, the elbow points at five o'clock and the wrist's base points at seven o'clock. To avoid this, I teach the FINGERS (and not the whole hand) to move, curl, lift and drop rather than involving any of the major muscle groups, whether wrist, forearm/elbow or shoulder. I also use "sticky fingers", an exercise wherein playing a scale involves leaving "old" fingers on "old" strings as the "new" fingers move onto higher strings. Thus, G-A-B-C (keep 3rd down) - open D (avoids little pinkies getting strained for total beginners) - E (now 1st and 3rd are simultaneously down) - F# (third lifts off G string and prepares for G on D string) - G (third stays down afterwards) - etc.

In general, I remind students that the violin was made for Man, not Man for the violin (apologies to the New Testament!) So if they have to twist, or strain, or move their whole arm around to drop a solitary finger...they're doing it wrong. It's amazing how long understanding this sometimes takes. And amazing how fast they breeze through early Suzuki once they DO understand it.

February 24, 2007 at 11:22 PM · Emil,

The amount of the movement of the elbow and the fingers depends on specific passages. I don't think that we can generalize very easily. However I'll try to quickly simplify here. I teach four finger patterns. So for instance,let's say that I am about to play the same four finger pattern once on A and then on D. I would move the elbow just enough to get the pinkey above the new string, thus keeping the same frame of the hand. For me it is the fastest and most secure way to play the passage.

But on the other hand if you are to reach to the new string for one finger, it would be wasteful to move the elbow. That is just common sense.


February 25, 2007 at 07:17 AM · Absolutely, Lucia. In fact, I just tried a rapid four-note scale on the A and then on the D (same finger spacing of whole-half-whole) and paid attention to my elbow. The amount it moves is basically infinitesimal, but if one nit-picks there is still definite motion there. Still, given how small the necessary motion is, I'd avoid teaching a beginner that ANY motion is necessary as they'll inevitably exaggerate the amount. And, once that's been pointed out, they'll fixate on "how much is enough and how much is too much".

But you touch on something with which I agree wholeheartedly: the FRAME of the hand. The fact that the hand looks the same - and reacts the same - on any string as on any other. That reliability is probably the key here. I seek it through finger independence, striking - not pushing - from the base knuckle of each finger. The only way I even mention the left elbow is to remind kids not to rest it on their stomach. And when, inevitably, some small swing creeps in to the elbow's role in string crossings, their hand frame has already been established and their focus is on their fingers. (This, incidentally, also nicely avoids that other mistake: the use of the wrist to drop the pinky onto a string.) And their elbow is free to be used as a large-scale shifting device rather than some time-consuming, tension-inducing pendulum.

February 25, 2007 at 07:52 AM · Fascinating discussion.... It appears that some do teach that the elbow flows back and forth pendulum like though, and narrows the ranges.

I found Emily's image of 4th finger plucking each string very useful and used it nearly immediately with good success; and, Emil's (unless someone mentioned it earlier)I guess, image of hand shape and finger action only too...

For adults though who often have no flexiblity compared to children beginners I still have to think though that like with one version of learing vibrato where the range get's smaller and smaller, that the same could be applied to finding that shaped hand as long as it is part of a larger series of steps in minimizing motion.

It all reminds me of me stomping my foot(not a pretty sight) trying to keep time without the metronome, and finally getting it where I can use my big toe only ;)...

When I get time, I think I'll read the entire thread.

For various reasons (thick arms and shoulders notwithstanding), it was really really difficult to get that lightness of hold on my left side (arm, relaxed, angled fingers etc).

My friend who was a tennis coach bribed me to color her kinesiology books for her in college. I think that it would be a really good addition to violin teaching to have all this clearly in a dedicated systematic fashion--especially with what we now know concerning flow....

Now, off to my ballet lesson ;).

February 25, 2007 at 01:37 PM · well, here is a Coke challenge,,,

do your 4 fingers on G string, followed by 4 finger run on E string, or vice versa....

excluding emil who can do incomprehensible things on the fiddle by the sound from his playing, anyone else who can manage minimal movement of the elbow can send in the clip and get one year supply of free beverage of your choice from,,,somewhere.

if the frame of the hand is to be maintained in that case, thus a constant, 2 variables exist, namely, wrist and "elbow" motion (the latter in this context is actually a misnomer because the swaying of elbow left to right is actually from the shoulder as it engages in internal and external rotation, essentially a rotator cuff function).

in other words, to maintain a constant hand frame, one needs to incorporate a combination of "elbow" and wrist motion, ranging from nil elbow to max wrist, to half and half, to the other way around, or any combo within...

the question is: which one is it for you, the regular flavor, the diet, or whatever.

which one works the best for you, in terms of efficiency and efficacy...

this whole thing reminds me of a cheesy saying: do it at your own pace but as soon as possible.

February 25, 2007 at 04:52 PM · Something like that... Anyway, the whole discussion is helping me fine-tune the relaxed left side better, and find that efficency.... There was another post (I think in this discussion) about placing all four fingers on each string and feeling the elbow's natural relaxed range that was something like Emily's 4th finger plucking that I found really useful--the plucking though disqualfies tension better though for me; and now I'm going to use the 4 fingers shaped image just described previously--I think that will help alot....

I'm pretty sure Emil signed a pact with the devil! ;).

February 26, 2007 at 02:09 PM · I have a very different opinion from the one that Emil has expressed.

Check out How Muscles Learn: Teaching Violin With The Body In Mind by Susan Kempter. Moving the left arm from the shoulder to get the fingers to cross strings allows one to retain a constant position of the left wrist and fingers. It promotes moving the fingers straight across the fingerboard, and it allows the same finger muscle combinations to be used in pressing down the fingers on all four strings. Thus students both learn muscle movements more quickly and play better in tune.

This is not to say that there aren't excellent players who don't use this technique. But in my view, their fingers work harder than they have to. And, as has been said, the required arm movements are very subtle and easily accomplished.

I have composed a series of 60 progressive exercises in the first position to teach this technique and have used them very successfully to improve students' pitch and facility. The exercises show when to move the left arm (and the right arm at the same time, for that matter, for string crossings) and in which direction.

February 26, 2007 at 04:46 PM · I must agree with Nate and disagree with Emil and your teacher, both of whom seem a little rigid. And I must disagree as well with people who watch videos of Heifetz or Perlman and try to do what they do.

The concept here is a very simple one: the arm does whatever it has to do to support good finger position. The fingers should be on their tips, free to vibrate, and not touch other strings. The left arm movement should never be exaggerated, and the amount will vary according to the person. If your fingers are relaxed, able to do what they need to do, and open strings aren't touched unnecessarily, then I wouldn't worry about it.

It's amazing how incredibly dogmatic teachers can be. Berl Senofsky forced me to use a wrist vibrato for 2 years. Daniel Heifetz, in a trial lesson, wanted me to remove my shoulder rest (I actually did for a year on my own and hated even picking up the fiddle).

February 26, 2007 at 05:45 PM · For me, the elbow swing under the instrument has simply loosened up and helped me relax my outer tricep, my left shouldner and ultimately the relaxation has migrated into my left hand for vibrato and shaped hand.

I think at least for me, it's not like a chicken wing or something, but just getting out of a strict scrunching posture that lacked flexiblity. The result has been signficiant in f4 on G, as well as all other strings; and, particularly so in upper positions.

That's what I perceived in the orignal question as well, though maybe a little over stated.

February 26, 2007 at 06:02 PM · they also say aim for star and land on the moon.

except, those who landed on the moon aimed for the moon, hahah.

the thing missing with chicken wing is whether it is to be mild, hot or suicidal.

February 26, 2007 at 07:06 PM · When teaching this left arm 'swing' I call it the 'sunrise' and 'sunset'. The student should be able to see the round area of their palm 'the sun' near the thumb as they reach for the G string 'sunrise'. The 'sunset' occurs when they move to the E string. Simplified but gets the point across and easy for them to remember.

February 26, 2007 at 08:10 PM · Finally got a chance to read the entire discussion, hoping that Al Ku doesn't commit suicide--there's plenty of wings at the Colonel's.

The things in common seems to focus on efficeny and as least wasted effort as possible as a main theme; and, relaxed flowing reach as a secondary theme that seemed to be the spirit of the original post.

Beyond those two, Emil's concern that too much elbow or even motion period might lead to wrist wrangling stuck with me as well.

Also two perspectives implied were there: learning as a child, and playing as an adult--which appeared to lead to different interpretations as well as perspectives along the way. Of course my perspective was trying to loosen up the tense joints and muscles of an adult learning. The other valid perspective seemed to be getting a young person doing good habits. How these differ, probably depends on using flexibility versus creating flexiblity.

Really good stuff--which will eventually save me some dollars on Aleve.

February 26, 2007 at 08:50 PM · al j, there is a chinese belief that you eat things of similar form or shape to boost your own. for you, chicken wing may not be a bad idea for your shoulder flexibility:)

i have never seen emil play, but judging by his recording, i hate to bet money againist him for advocating something that i have a hard time comprehending.

then, if emil's line of thoughts is to be validated, go to youtube and watch 10 videos of heifetz carefully and you will agree that to barely move the elbow tip is possible.

to me, that is the ultimate, that you move but others do not even see you or hear you move, a bit like kung fu theater.

what does it take to reach that level? to be aware early on? to explore the alternatives and one day wake up and look back and say,,,ahhhh?!

February 26, 2007 at 10:24 PM · Sorry everyone, I started to read all the posts, but I was getting lost in the jungle, so I didn't get through all of it.

My general thinking: Arm steerage is over-rated.

If I notice strange arm steerage related issues wreaking havoc--either because of a left arm which is too stiff or too loose--(fingers getting there slightly after the bow, messy string crossings with the left hand etc.) I might suggest some exercises involving the issue of sound in question. Normally I don't even mention the left arm. Instead I draw attention to the issues of sound at hand.

The result--uncanny. Without ever mentioning arm steerage, the problem takes care of itself, and often, I notice a natural little pendulum activity developing on its own. Most often my students do it and don't know they are.

I think that is, in essense, what Emil was getting at--did I get it right Emil?

I guess what I'm saying is, nature has a way of directing the right impulses far better than a forced exhibition of arm flexibility. Far better to let nature take its course. That way you'll end up doing it without knowing it (intuitive adjustment trumps all for tension alleviation, IMHO).

That said, it's not a bad thing to notice the way the left arm adjusts itself to certain musical demands, and it's good when a teacher makes mention of something which might free the student. Sometimes, just telling a student "your fast passage is very muddy sounding" won't cut it--they'll frustrate themselves trying to find the answer when the right "steerage" could lead them to greater freedom (i.e.--"you know, you CAN move your arm--it's not against the rules of violin playing" or "I wonder if the reason your fingers are having trouble moving faster is related to the fact that your arm is simultaneously trying to develop bird-wing muscles" tee hee hee.)

February 26, 2007 at 09:47 PM · "your fast passage is very muddy sounding" won't cut it--they'll frustrate themselves trying to find the answer when the right "steerage" could lead them to greater freedom (i.e.--"you know, you CAN move your arm--it's not against the rules of violin playing"

Very loud witches dance amen!... That was precisely my problem; and, not only with the left arm. And show them for goodness sake--in all things.

February 26, 2007 at 09:51 PM · "al j, there is a chinese belief that you eat things of similar form or shape to boost your own. for you, chicken wing may not be a bad idea for your shoulder flexibility:)"


"what does it take to reach that level? to be aware early on? to explore the alternatives and one day wake up and look back and say,,,ahhhh?!"

Now to get there in feeding pressure with the arm into the bow.... What I said earlier about Emily's image of f4 plucking was so helpful, and I copied the whole conversation minus these to my notes..

I understood Emil, as I watch my left wrist in the mirror alot because I 'do not' wish any more pain.

I think the thread went in a few related directions so closely related as to obscure fine points.

February 26, 2007 at 10:21 PM · Thanks for the vote of confidence, Albert . . . I laugh at myself for talking out of both sides of my face!

There certainly is a very delicate balance for a teacher to maintain--tell them too much, show them too much, and they'll never find the answer for themselves (it'll be a forced representation of what they think you want filled with tension and awkwardness), tell them too little, show them too little, and they'll frustrate themselves to death trying to find the doorknob which is right in front of them.

Honestly, most of the time I'm teaching, I feel like I'm dancing through a minefield.

I have a six-year-old student working on the second violin part of the Bach Double Concerto. She's the most talented violinist I've ever known. These issues have become incredibly acute since she's been my student. She picks up on the smallest details and my guidance has to be subtle. Violin playing is so natural for her, it normally works better when I stand clear of her talent (She plays perfectly in tune, without crunchy sound, with nuances and expression on a 1/4 size violin that barely fits her).

Other talented students are wired differently and need to see the nuts and bolts. Still others need to logically understand what is being asked and the process of production. It's all a matter of finding out which way the student's mind accepts and processes the information. Boy . . . now I've got us sidetracked!!!

February 26, 2007 at 10:29 PM · That's very true. I learn by watching examples, but soon make it my own--sometimes too soon, but that's better than not at all. And going back and re-learning is a chance to further fine tune--at least that's what I tell myself.

But I also learn verbally, and by discussing concepts--so I'm pretty much all over the place. I do know I need to know what and where it fits in. You can adjust my elbow a hundred times and unless we discuss it, it's a waste of both person's time.

I'm looking forward to Double Bach and things that apparently six year olds are learning--sheesh. I had exactly the same experience with Fiocco...

February 27, 2007 at 09:40 AM · Kimberlee, the statement you made "arm steering is overrated" made me think.

Natural movement of the body doesn't seem to exist, actually. I mean, it does, but not everyone moves "naturally." Some people have a different understanding of the way their body works, and I see all kinds of awful contortions while students attempt to change strings. I have also inherited a lot of students from teachers who have told them to always tuck their elbow in. So that's what they do--with the best of intentions, of course. Their movements don't make sense. I think the vote here would be for movements that make economical sense.

Emil, am I right? I think that if you and I sat down and discussed it, we may actually be on the same side of things. I would love to watch you teach your method and learn a few things about the frame of the fingers that you focus on developing. It's a good idea, at least from what I can glean from your readings. I'm always on the lookout for good concepts to steal, and I will be spending some time now thinking about what you described in your writings.


February 27, 2007 at 12:48 PM · in one of emil's posts, he has made it clear that it may take a while even for his students to get it, thus, it goes along with the thinking that to an average, uninitiated person, the concept, correct or not for everyone, is not "natural". it is essentially reverse engineering after studying the efficiency of the masters and then try to retrace the steps. it is as natural as picking up chopsticks and using it for the first time.

however, one must bear in mind that for some individuals, certain physical manuevers are simply not easy to accomplish against the standard of the norm, if there is such a thing. John Mcenroe has a horrible looking swing, but his timing is second to none at tennis. Jim Furek laughs at his own swing, but he is number 2 in the golf world. look at how people drive a car. no, we are not created equal:)

i think the key is to know ourselves: our strength, our limitation and try to find a way within the frame of mind and physicality, in order to excel.

physiologicall, usually form dictates function, but there are enough exceptions to the rule.

if we all can learn to move the right shoulder up and down for smooth across-string bow transitions, some of us cannot manage to MOVE the left elbow to optimize playing?

we beg the authorities to be more lenient:)

February 27, 2007 at 07:23 PM · Good metaphor with the chopsticks, Al.

For most people this is certainly the case--things become natural once they are learned. But, people also present a certain set of natural tendancies which cannot be ignored. Within certain perameters, it works better for the teacher to stand aside while nature takes its course.

I think I've just basically restated your point, Al--albeit, not as aptly (so, everyone, go back and read what Al just said).

It is such a difficult job for the teacher to teach. She must evaluate the tensions, she must discern the student's readiness, she must communicate in a manner which enlightens the mind of the student. I mess up most of the time. At any rate, all that messing up and trying again has helped me know what I'm striving to achieve--and, I think that's basically how my students learn too! A bunch of mistakes and trying again.

Incidentally, Dave, I think that's the answer to your question we've all hijacked and taken to a different planet. Just keep messing up and trying again. You'll figure out what works for you.

It's good you know about the arm steerage issue. Now that your eyes are open, you'll notice what happens when you let your arm move vs. keeping it in one spot. Don't think of it as "the answer" and don't think of it as "ridiculous" either. Think of it like this: "Well, now I've got more to work with."

February 27, 2007 at 06:00 PM · "It is such a difficult job for the teacher to teach. She must evaluate the tensions, she must discern the student's readiness, she must communicate in a manner which enlightens the mind of the student. I mess up most of the time. At any rate, all that messing up and trying again has helped me know what I'm striving to achieve--and, I think that's basically how my students learn too! A bunch of mistakes and trying again"

that is one of the most candid and factual things on this thread. in my humble opinion, a student can learn much more from a teacher who is actively learning and searching. the same student changes day by day, physiologically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, interest wise, etc. it takes a very sensitive and caring teacher to catch up with the student. what a responsibility and priviledge.

February 27, 2007 at 07:05 PM · Emily said: (I think it was Emily)

"Natural movement of the body doesn't seem to exist, actually. I mean, it does, but not everyone moves "naturally." Some people have a different understanding of the way their body works, and I see all kinds of awful contortions while students attempt to change strings."

LOL! Some day I full intend on doing my kokopelli demonstration on youtube! ;).

uh, if he hasn't faded away into oblivion because we haven't named him...

Seriously though, I'm not so sure it's so complicated--of course this is hind sight. Once one gets the balancing, flowing, arm feeding pressure, shaped hand, relaxed elbows, it seems a predictable set of things--it's just in the getting there that at least for me has been like a West Virginia road map--and I'm still getting there of course..

I think, if I were going to work with adults wishing to play anyway, I'd insist on--and I do mean insist on, just these things even if they only learned detache, slurs and detached notes on open strings. (So that's an adult student perspective) And I would not linger with them just for the income either.

The two perspective nature of these remarks, again echoes the perspectives mainly taken in the broader thread--forming good habits early v. learning good habits later sort of.

It would seem by this time, that especially given Suzuki and mass-production, that just like it is known when to move up in violin sizes, that when to instill these balancing and flowing concepts would be well understood.

For instance there is some dissonance in the fact that Dave expressed his situation so poignantly and clearly, and has not already mastered the relaxed elbow and arm under the instrument. But of course, I'm really glad he did.

Over the last few days, I've been able to apply Emily's f4 plucking, Emil's shaped hand across the strings, and Al Ku's chicken wings for aged shoulders nicely. So on a clear winter night, look towards Orion--and there--you will find my left elbow. ;).

February 27, 2007 at 09:39 PM · Thank you so much, Al. How kind of you to say. My best teachers have all shared a similar trait--their willingness to learn.

When I get myself off my high horse and learn a little humility (usually painful), I am rewarded hugely. Instead of wasting my time hoping my students will "get" the information I'm ramming down their throats, my eyes are opened to all the things they're teaching me. Then, a crazy thing happens. I start really listening to them. I truly hear what is going on, and I see them for who they are. That is what I mean about having to discern their readiness, choose the right way of communicating, evaluating the blockages to success. The times I'm really listening to them is when I'm most likely to share something which will actually teach them.

Excuse me for sharing something so personal, but for me, teaching has to start with love. That's the bottom line, and I see that process as an active one which involves perspective, work, humility, grace, meekness, and letting go of personal agendas. Don't go thinking I'm a great teacher either . . . it's frightening to me to think how often I'm off the mark.

Now, that's gotten a bit heavy.

Albert, I'm afraid that in a world of mass production and Suzuki, teachers are still trying to understand their students. While I have a basic understanding of when to introduce certain techniques, most of the time I find my "understanding" being turned on its head by all of my super-capable students. They're always surprising me.

So, I resort to the trial and error method. I'm pretty pragmatic. We search around until we find the thing that works.

And now you see the pickle we teachers are in. IMHO, if you're lucky, you find one with a lot of tricks up his sleeve who's willing to take a little journey with you called "let's learn to play the violin."

As for me, I learn how to play the violin all over again with every student I teach--and there's the great reward. I get better too. Actually, Al Ku said it beautifully--"what a responsibility and a priviledge."

Maybe someone else out there has the magic formula though.

February 27, 2007 at 07:54 PM · I hear you clearly!. ;).

I always learn from those I tutored in the past--most clearly: patience and listening. I took that to the tutoring environment though--the listening skills. Early socialization.

You sound like a really involved and caring teacher Kimberlee--I wish you were my teacher. What I was trying to express, because of my ability to visualize, do Karate kid cross applications, and step outside the box, it just seems that those motor skills at least in a selective fundamental basis seems really teachable from the onset. My mom taught multiplication tables using rock and rap extremely successfully, so I've always thought like this at least for the past 25 years or so.

Your pragmatism seems much closer to the real world than anything I've heard in awhile. An acquaintence just shared a weight feeding into the bow arm exercise along these lines that is cool.

February 27, 2007 at 09:21 PM · Right you are. And I hear you too. I wish I would've learned multiplication the "rap" way. I can just see myself doing math problems in my head at the grocery store with a rap beat accompanying my thoughts!

Oh! And what about that exercise? You've got me curious now!

Functionally, there are "basics." This is another point at which I, at times, feel stymied.

My personal discoveries on this issue are these: I must make a choice about what I will teach my students and when I will teach it. I will not abdicate my responsibility by relying on a "method" (I'm not making a value judgement about any method, I'm just saying the teacher should be responsible to make a decision about what is being taught whether she goes with a particular method or not). That choice is best made when I'm really "listening" to my student. That way, even if I'm using a method or method book, I'm hopefully making it from an informed perspective.

Personally, I've never found a "formula" for churning out great violinists. (See, I told you I'm not the greatest teacher the world has ever known--read my ridiculous comments at your own risk)

That being said, there are all sorts of methods I love. I love reading Auer and Galamian and Flesch and there are aspects of the Suzuki approach I adore. I teach out of the Suzuki books because I like the step-by-step organization of the literature. Since I still don't know everything, I'm learning new methods and systems all the time. But, I make the choices (right or wrong) and I don't rely on a method to make them for me. If I'm doing really well, I'm at least making the attempt to be in the listening space most likely to lead to a good decision. And, the more I learn along the way, the more options I have when making my decision.

By the way, it was really scary for me when I realized just how pivotal my decision-making is to my students. That understanding normally keeps me out of "autopilot" mode, and keeps me making mistakes and learning. As I said--with every student, I learn how to play the violin all over again AND IT IS GLORIOUS!

Man, what is wrong with me. Did I just decide to blog this dumb thread or what? I am so sorry for anyone who's slogged through this. At least you'll know to skip my posts from now on :D!!

February 28, 2007 at 09:29 AM · Kimberlee, you're just being too apologetic for expressing yourself. Now, apologize!

February 28, 2007 at 04:29 PM · Yes Ma'am. I'm stealing your "where is one tape, where is one tape, here it is" song--flying by the seat of your pants is the best kind of teaching.

March 1, 2007 at 12:28 AM · That's definitely not my song. I don't use tapes.

My song is "Finger birdie number one, sings his song and has such fun!" (Actually, that's from Shirley Givens.)

March 1, 2007 at 12:48 AM · Finger birdie number 2 says let me! let me! I'm not poo

finver birdie number 3 says i can do it look at me!

finger birdie number 4 says ouch that hurts don't do no more

March 1, 2007 at 07:30 AM · Rather than consiously move the elbow I first have beginning students drop each finger lightly on the string and watch what happens.It is incredible the number of permutations.I think I mentioned in another post that when I tried 4th finger pizz.I found that many beginners tended to tense their other fingers completely distorting their hand shape. If I see that the elbow doesn't move naturally then I talk about it.I have my students hold their violin with the hand in 5th postion when they start.This prevents the elbow from being held too far to the left and brings it nicely under the violin.When they go down tio first position the elbow is usually well placed.Most of the elbow problems I have had have been related to clutching between the thumb and index finger and once that is solved the elbow moves around naturally.The game of find the natural harmoinics is great fun and has the students exploring their finger board.As for playing on the E string I have my students move their hand slightly to the right rather than the elbow slightly to the left which usually causes all sorts of problems.

March 1, 2007 at 03:35 PM · Thanks Janet. That's good info I can use. And I will too! I'm starting a new student today.

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