Teaching Left Handed Students

June 7, 2007 at 08:16 PM · After many years of teaching I have my first student who is left handed. I was wondering if there is anything in my teaching methods I need to change when teaching someone who is left handed. Are there any left-handed violinists out there who can tell me if it affected their ability to learn. Thanks for answering.

Replies (24)

June 7, 2007 at 08:26 PM · I never pay any attention to handedness when I teach. There is so much to learn from scratch that I never noticed any difference. I have, however, only had a couple of left handed students so I don't speak from much experience.

June 7, 2007 at 09:17 PM · There's absolutely no difference. They hold the violin in the same manner, they have the same bow grip, they'll ecounter the same obstacles as any right handed player would ecounter. I myself am a left handed player I will admit however the one obstacle i used to have was bowing but i'm sure that is a problem for all left handed players. Also, not sure how true this is but i think left handed players have an easier time learning vibrato.

June 7, 2007 at 10:32 PM · Treat them the same. I'm a left-handed professional who plays the regular way, as does Joseph Silverstein and some some other distinguished southpaw violinists. Each hand has a very different, but equally important job to do. Thus we must all end up very highly skilled with both hands. I really don't think it's a particular advantage or disadvantage to be left or right-handed.

June 8, 2007 at 08:48 PM · I posted the same question on this discussion board when I got my first left handed student, and we discussed it extensively. I'm sure you'd benefit from reading it. It's at http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=6053. In general, before starting a new discussion thread,it's good to see whether we've discussed that very topic on v.com. That's why the Nileses put "SEARCH THIS SITE" in a box on the left of every page.

BTW, my leftie student, now in her second year, is playing beautifully with both hands.

June 8, 2007 at 09:04 PM · I've heard southpaws are more creative, so I'd leave room for them to 'create'.

June 8, 2007 at 09:09 PM · yes, Pauline made a good suggestion.

A lot of good things have been discussed in her thread two years ago:

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=6053

June 8, 2007 at 09:09 PM · I would teach the student as you would any student. However, you might mention to that student that you expect great things, as he/she starts out with an advantage of being left-handed. (Large motor skills come into play, but the tricky stuff often depends on the fine [small] motor skills which he/she already has in greater abundance in that arm than someone who is right-handed, and who has not developed his/her fine motor skills (in the left hand) to the degree that your lefty has. The fingering is done with the left hand and requires more fine motor skills than large motor sklls. A lefty has an advantage here. The bow arm (initially) requires more large motor skills, so a lefty is not penalized at all.

June 8, 2007 at 10:50 PM · I guess I will repeat what I have said in the other thread:

I am a very left handed person, and when I started violin in Soviet Union, they were great at noticing these differences.

Unfortunately when I left Russia at age 10, I had to find many things on my own.

One excellent book that helped me alot with the bow arm was "Drawing on the Right Side of your Brain".

I believe it is still very much in print.

I think that many (right handed people) don't realize how awkward it is to develop motor skills with your weak side.

Say like asking a right handed person to throw a ball with their left or use a hammer with it etc.

I do recommend (and have done this with my students), that they look outside of the violin as well in order to improve motor skills with the bow arm.

Afterwhich when they apply the newly learned visualization of the paths of the right arm mvt., things become more clear (especially when they are addressing issues like bow levels, bow speed etc.)

speaking from personal experience.....there are very few teachers who truly understand the challenges of a "very" left handed student.

For those who (are right handed and ) would like to know, imagine, putting your bow in your left hand, and try visualizing the string levels let alone playing on them.

Then try a different activity, like football. Throw the ball with your left. If that side of the brain has never received information regarding all that is required in that activity, the result will be obvious.

For very left handed kids, they may require extra attention in what I am talking about.

Many develop extreme tension(in the bow arm) due to lack of correct instructions.

It is worth while for a teacher to spend extra time on basics of the fundamentals of the bow arm.

Bow levels.....developing right hand finger springs etc.etc....

There are many degrees of left-handedness.

Those kids that are extremely left handed, without proper instructions, end up being very tight and clumsy in the bow arm.

Those are the ones I am talking about, since I was one of them, I can speak from personal experience.

I found many answers by myself, since most teachers (and that includes some of the best) did not see these issues as being issues at all.

It has alot to do with changing the equilibrium of the brain, as one teaches their left side the many different task required to improve.

June 9, 2007 at 08:53 AM · Gennady makes many many good points I think. Having had the great privilege for some reason I do not understand to be tutored by three musicians without sight in my lifetime (2:guitar, 1:piano), the fine points of compensation I think are significant for southpaws as well.

And I take exception to comparing the sighted with left-handed persons also, but the way one adapts in a right-handed world is too comparative to others who have to adapt significantly. But in at least two of the three people who helped me, they were given a Margaret Meade like freedom to be themselves with their music--and it showed. I didn't have enough experience really with the third to comment.

One of the two has complete mastery over the keyboard; and, can transcribe using a tactile intelligence that is literally phenomenal, and for one without that innate ability it borders on the mysterious.

So the real question for approaching left-hand violinists for me, is how to tap that reservoir of what has been described as sensitive creativity by some who looks at left-handed people? How does one navigate Gennady's experiences, and nurture that 'something' that seems to exist for left-handed people without thwarting anything in the process.

History is clear that left-handed people were forced to adapt. It is also clear that they suffered as a result in some cases, with things ranging from being more accident prone to in my mind, damaging their potential in giving what I imagine may be superior interpretative and expressive abilities. Finally, in my mind this is unacceptable. Find good solutions--really good solutions, or don't go there.

June 9, 2007 at 04:21 PM · This is very interesting. I am left handed but never gave much thought to it. I started playing late (age 12) but the left hand issues of vibrato, shifting, etc. did not pose more significant problems for me than for anyone else...if anything my teacher felt that I learned quite fast...however I do remember having a major pain with the Bach E major Praeludio string crossings when I first learned that piece way back when...and I also had the 'bow arm tension' some of you have described. I think it is better now, but there are still times when my right arm feels 'uncoordinated' and awkward. I practice string crossings slowly, in rhythms, and try to keep the upper arm relaxed.

I'm one of those 'intermediate' lefties who writes with the LH but does literally everything else (holding scissors, eating, playing tennis, etc) with the RH. Weird, eh?

June 9, 2007 at 07:58 PM · not really Barb...

June 9, 2007 at 08:19 PM · Barbara,

eventhough I am extremely left handed (and left footed too), as a little boy in Soviet Union, I was taught to write with my right (since they forbid me to do it with the left). But in art class, I explained, that I can draw only with my left (so they obliged me for art class).

So when I came to the US, I could write with my right (eventhough I am a leftie), but then I learned how to write with my left, and then learned to write with both at the same time (a very good exercise), and then write with both at the same time in retrorade (a very good and not so easy exercise).

June 9, 2007 at 09:52 PM · Gennady,

Quite a good circus trick, and maybe that would help in learning piano scales?!

...I can write semi-legibly with my RH on a blackboard while standing, but not while sitting at a desk and writing on paper...but then, I was never forced.

ps, how do you know you are left-footed??? That would be something to see...!

June 9, 2007 at 10:06 PM · I agree completely with Gennady. Being left-hand dominant myself, Erick Friedman had to work with me a lot on bowing. He had to teach me how the bow fingers worked for such strokes as sautille and we worked on flexibility at the frog. This stuff came a lot more naturally to some of his other right handed students. He also taught me to lead with the bow, and not the left hand. Following the left hand is a common mistake that left handed violinists make. If the left hand faulters and the right hand is following the left hand, the bow inevitably stops too. I had this problem until I learned to think more with the right hand first, I still struggle with it and have to make a mental note of leading with the bow. I remember Friedman once had me play a g-flat minor scale in tenths at the beginning of one of my lessons (not warmed up). My bow began to tremble and went off the sounding point as I ascended up to the top of the scale. He stopped me and told me that no matter how difficult a thing I was doing with the left hand, it could not affect the bow. I played the scale again leading with the bow, and the tenths were a lot more in tune and easier to play

June 9, 2007 at 11:42 PM · Hey Nate,

Yes Erick was great.

When I was at MSM, I took a few lessons with him privately.

He was wonderful. I will always remember his advice and inspiration. I also loved his artwork in his place (the sketches of Heifetz, Oistrakh etc.) that he made.

Barbara,

It is easy to know if you are left footed....just get out and play some soccer. If you feel like a dork hitting with your right, but feel more natural hitting with your left....Behold! you are left footed too :)

June 10, 2007 at 03:57 PM · Hey Gennady! So nice hearing from you. That's great to hear you worked with him. Would you by any chance know Dodo or Dale (two of EF's students)? Yes he was really multi- talented as both a violinist and pianist, a wonderful teacher, and an excellent artist. On my desk right now is the original sketch of Oistrakh he drew: http://www.josephcurtinstudios.com/news/strad/jan90/images/oistrakh.jpg According to what I know, he was a self-taught artist.

Cheers,

Nate

June 10, 2007 at 05:05 PM · Hi Nate,

Yes sure, I grew up with DoDo. And Knew Dale as well, in fact I worked with him on Broadway, in Studios, oh and actually he (Dale)invited my to Maryland (Erick's festival), where I played some solo stuff with Erick F. conducting.

I remember that drawing well. Are there any others on the web?

Erick was a very unique person indeed...

June 10, 2007 at 05:35 PM · Nate,

These are really interesting comments about leading with the bow arm while doing something tricky with the LH...I had not thought of that but will give it a try.

My first teacher (Stephanie Chase's mother) was from the Sevcik school and had me work a lot at the frog using Sevcik etudes. I hated practicing them but they were quite helpful in the end. We never identified left handedness as a specific issue but I did need extra help with string crossings and making smooth bow changes.

Later when I was at MSM, Carroll Glenn had me think about the various "levels" or angles at which the bow intersected the string during string crossings...that was helpful on some level, although sometimes over-visualizing can get in the way...

I regret not meeting Erick Friedman while at MSM, but the drawing of Oistrakh is terrific!

Dale Stuckenbruck was a friend...is that the Dale you mean?

I believe he is doing quite well now although I haven't seen him for maybe 20 years...

Gennady,

I'm definitely right footed but completely talentless where soccer is concerned...I was probably not in your league of violin playing either, but I do think we were at MSM at about the same time...without revealing any years, I was the same vintage as Maureen McDermott (Kerri's cellist sister) and Laurie Hamilton. I lived just next door at 3111 Broadway, a wonderful old rent-controlled building, which I think has now been replaced by the new residence hall. I had a wonderful time at MSM. Ah, le bon vieux temps...

June 10, 2007 at 06:04 PM · wow,

It's a small world.

You know, Kerry and I grew up at MSM prep together, and then stayed on at MSM for BM and MM. I knew Ann-Marie far better, since we were pretty close at one point.

And Laurie Hamilton I know very well.

In fact she was just out here in Seattle visiting, and was over for dinner to meet my family etc.

We had a great time!

BTW Barbara, we (the Seattle Symphony) will be on tour to California next season. Come and say hello?!

June 10, 2007 at 06:19 PM · wow indeed...!

Ann-Marie is an amazing pianist, such energy!

I remember when Laurie played the Prokofiev #1 with the MSM orchestra...I didn't know her well, though.

Anyway, I will watch for the Seattle Symphony next season, thanks!

June 10, 2007 at 06:31 PM · we will be on tour in April 2008 (I think the first or second week).

June 10, 2007 at 07:10 PM · I checked and you won't be at the Mondavi Center (big new hall a mile from my house)...too bad, but maybe you will be in Sacramento or SF...I will keep my eyes open.

June 11, 2007 at 04:47 AM · Hi Barbara and Gennady, yes Dale and Do Do are good friends of mine. The next time I speak with Dale Gennady, I'll mention I talked with you and Barbara. To my knowledge that is the only pencil sketch by Friedman on the internet. He made many more great sketches which were in his studio at Yale. Do you by any chance play in Mostly Mozart Gennady? Is the Seattle Symphony coming to NYC any time soon?

June 11, 2007 at 05:25 AM · Nate (and Gennady),

Such a small world. Thanks, v.com!

Yes, please say hi to Dale (and Heawon, his wife) for me...it has been a long time. He also knew my parents. I would love to hear how he is doing.

This really takes me back...I feel I've lived a couple of different lives since MSM, but it is good to get in touch with these parallel universes from time to time!!!

Gennady,

I suppose your season is long over by August, but I will be in Seattle at the end of that month for a meeting. If you are in town, let me know if/where you are playing, and maybe I can stop by.

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