finding the right left hand position for long and slender fingers

May 2, 2010 at 03:04 PM · Hi Y'all. I'm a 24 year old violinist who has struggled with vibrato for sometime now. I have very slender long fingers with a particularly long thumb. I have struggled to find a hand position that i feel comfortable with for vibrato. I tried to play with a high thumb, in an almost total grip position but i found it hard to swing or move my hand backwards and forwards, plus i feel that my finger tips dont have enough flesh or cushioning to pull this hand position off (this i did without a shoulder rest). Then i tried a hand position with a lower thumb but it looks kinda weird, my hand isnt as round in this position. This i found only worked with a shoulder rest. So what i wanted to ask is, are there particular left hand positions that accomodate a particular hand? Does the use of a shoulder rest also affect this? I know its also related to comfort. Are there any youtube videos of violinists with long fingers that i can watch to see? My dream is to have a vibrato like itzhak perlman, but is hands are HUGE, and they look pretty meaty. I notice that he doesnt use a shoulder rest and he grips his violin..

Replies (17)

May 4, 2010 at 05:39 PM ·

Angelica-- This is a very interesting topic to me, because for years I have observed my students and how their different body types impact the way we approach the violin. Long slender fingers have been part of my observation, especially slender fingers with long nail beds.

I participated in a master class years ago with the guest soloist of the Wichita Symphony, and I was amazed at the FAT ROUND vibrato she was able to produce with her skinny long fingers. So I know it can be done! I remember she used a shoulder rest, and I also noticed that she rolled her fingers WAY BACK on the pads of her fingers, which gave her the sound of fat, meaty fingers. If I were you, I'd visit her web page and study how she approaches the violin. Her name is Chee Yun...there's a great photo right on her home page.

I am a strong advocate of shoulder rests. I don't see why anyone would give them up, unless you are of a particular body type that truly doesn't need one. (I'd say that is maybe 1 percent of us) Using the right shoulder rest can free the left hand to do it's job with ease.

Regarding your thumb, I have noticed that taller people have a good portion of their thumbs sticking up past the neck, and the neck makes contact in the "crook" where the thumb joins the index finger. But the important thing is to make sure you aren't SUPPORTING the violin with your left hand. THAT is what a shoulder rest is for.

Shop around for shoulder rests...there are so many, you can find the one that fits you perfectly. (I've even had one custom made before by violinist/woodworker....if you want his name, I can give it to you. He is very intuitive and understands "violin lingo".

Check out Chee Yun.....I know you'll find her example helpful.  Let  us know what you figure out, so we can help our students better.

I'd love to hear from some tall people out there.

May 4, 2010 at 07:50 PM ·

But the important thing is to make sure you aren't SUPPORTING the violin with your left hand. THAT is what a shoulder rest is for.

aaaaggghhhh not again!


May 5, 2010 at 02:34 AM ·

This is interesting! I have been struggling with the same problems (except the fingertip part), but my hand frame is opposite to yours - tiny hands, short thumbs & pinkies, and relatively thick fingers, and I thought people like you have it easy playing the violin... I tend to have a high thumb too, despite of its length - I think it's because the base of my thumb is extremely low in relation to the other fingers, so in order to have the other fingers stay curved on the fingerboard, it has to stick out. I found that gripping is actually the most comfortable and efficient hand position for me (This will probably give teachers heart attacks). I do use a shoulder rest and haven't been able to do without. Sorry, I don't have anything to offer but my sympathy. Good luck finding a solution soon!

May 5, 2010 at 03:07 AM ·

 I don't know what you can make of this but Ferenc Illenyi has the longest fingers imaginable. Perhaps you can get a glimpse from this clip.

May 5, 2010 at 03:59 AM ·

 For me, having some of the violin's weight sit on the left hand doesn't adversely affect my vibrato. Most violin teachers I've met disapprove of the "high thumb" position that you describe and that I use *most of the time.* For me, having the violin neck sit deeper on the thumb puts my fingers higher, meaning that they come down on the strings at a slightly steeper angle. This makes it easier to finger one string without interfering with the one next to it. This also means that I don't have to bring my elbow in as much to get the same angle of attack.

In the thread below, fellow v-com member Emily Grossman posted some pictures of her thumb-work (I avoid using thumb position since the thumb is in constant motion) where the violin neck generally sits deeper, or closer to the 2nd joint from the nail of the thumb than what I believe is more commonly taught.

There are quite a number of big-name soloists whose thumb-work would make some teachers do a double-take. These soloists include but are not limited to: Heifetz, Milstein, Francescatti, Rabin, Ricci, Szigeti, Elman, Varga, Perlman (as the OP already mentioned), Vengerov, Ehnes, Kaler, Hahn, Haendel, Rosand, etc.

It should be noted that this list includes both those who do and don't use rests, and those who use something in-between. It should also be noted that in general, they supported the violin to various degrees with their left hands, from barely any to a lot (Milstein).

I think that whatever approach you take (high or low left thumb, more or less support from left-hand, with-or-without SR), it's important that you be able to play without having to devote attention to your left thumb. By that I don't mean that you should be able to play without it, but that the thumb-work is so natural that it practically organizes itself to your needs.

For instance, I acknowledge the importance of the left-thumb, but I treat it as something that holds up the violin for me, and it just so happens to be attached to my left hand. In that sense, I only ever pay attention to the other 4 digits, and the thumb simply arranges itself so I can do whatever.



May 6, 2010 at 12:12 AM ·

If your hand position is fine for playing and you are not squeezing the neck to the point of muscle tiredness in the thumb, then don't worry about it.  It is not likely the source of your vibrato problems. A really nice vibrato happens when you solve the dilemma that some finger muscles have to be very relaxed to let the finger joints flex, and at the same time other finger muscles have to press the string down.  Sounds conflicting, but its only hard at the beginning.

Put a towel against the wall, press the scroll into it, and hold the violin against the wall with shoulder pressure. In your normal hand position, put one finger on the string lightly and roll it back, then roll it forward. Do wrist vibrato. No bowing yet. Do this with each finger on each string for a total time of 5 minutes per day for 1 or 2 weeks.  Watch your fingers and look to see that all 3 joints are flexing in each finger. (The 4th finger doesn't flex much, don't worry.) In the second week, push down a bit harder on the string, but not as much as if playing. 2 or 3 weeks into this, use the bow with long strokes, but mentally think about large, smooth round motion in the left hand fingers. Concentrate on getting all 3 joints of each finger to flex.  After a week, play scales or simple slow patterns and keep the joints flexing.  Later, you can work on large versus small vibrato, slow versus fast, hitting the string with the vibrato motion already happening, etc. but start slow and simple.  After  month of the above, you will see a dramatic improvement, but it take several months of work to get everything working well.

May 6, 2010 at 02:10 AM ·

I have students with this problem ."V" type fingernails and no padding  underneath them.It does making playing string instruments tough . General rule of thumb is to use your third finger for proper hand height.Other then that I don't have a real solution. If you love the violin ,maybe you can look into surgery.Get them to add some more fat padding to the finger tips.

May 6, 2010 at 03:43 AM ·


I suppose the reason the shoudler rest and similar debates drags on and on (although I though we had fouind a reaosnable balnce on thisbsite) is that some people insist on making absolute statements from a  very limited amount of experience.  This is not intended as aninsult.  Any one human being, is generally not be a wide enoug model of experience to make categorical staemnets about certain aspects of the violin one way or another.

Persoanlly all my students tend to end up not using rests.  Why? They find it more comfortable.  It really doesn`t make that much diffenrece what the physique is if you know what you are doing.  Why would anyone give up a shoulder rest?  The only reason is that it works better. 

The arbitrary ``1%`  of people can do without ` comment is not remotely base din anything except a desire for it to be so.   Even questionnaires on this site have shown that although a substantially highe rpercent do use rests the figure of 1 percent is meaningless and misleading.

As are authoritative staements about holding the violin with the left hand.   Milstein and the other Auer studnets palyed thta way for a reason and so do the peopel who folow that ;line of thought.   I hold the violin exclusively with the left hand and so do my restles sstudnets.  It`s simply someone else doing something else.    Stating that your way is the absolute and only sensible way is actually pretty insulting.  Usually the shoulder rest debates on these sites are actually conducted ina fairly open minded and `okay thats what you do` kind of atmosphere.`  It`s a real drag when someone on the opposite side of the equation starts acting like one is stupid or incompetent.



May 6, 2010 at 06:32 AM ·

Really hate to bring this up, but I must ask.  Is there a relationship between body size and instrument size that makes a significant factor in SR or sans SR feasible and/or comfortable?  I've found I am comfy sans SR on violin but simply cannot manage my viola without a rest at all.

May 6, 2010 at 10:13 PM ·

"Other then that I don't have a real solution. If you love the violin ,maybe you can look into surgery.Get them to add some more fat padding to the finger tips."

If this was possible, I would run to have this ; )


May 7, 2010 at 03:38 AM ·

Sheesh Yuri and Graham! I didn't know I was stepping into such a heated debate! I apologize for stepping on toes, sincerely!  In my little "universe" of colleagues and students, the 1% comment is true.  But I will acquiesce that it is only in my little universe.

On a more positive note...I think this shows the influence we have on our students! Why do all of my students play with shoulder rests? Because they find it more comfortable. Why do Yuri's students play without shoulder rests? Because they find it more comfortable. There we have it. It is a matter of preference, and a matter of how it is presented, and by whom! I apologize for presenting it otherwise.

Anyway, no harm, no foul!





May 7, 2010 at 05:27 AM ·


Lora, thanks for your positive reply.  No offence taken. 

I`m really not trying to put people off writing  (although I may regretably do so at times).  It`s just that one really can end up denigrating what others are doing the moment we become kind of dogmatic about things taht cocnern us pasisonately.  Your second message reflected to me a perfectly reasonable position on why `doing x` works in such a case and `doing y` in another. 

Unfortunately when we comepletely deny the validity of `x` or `y` we are inevitably saying that someone, somewhere is an idiot.  I am considered an idiot in most spheres of my life so I`m just trying to hang onto my last iota of self worth here....

Keep on truckin`


May 7, 2010 at 03:49 PM ·

"Really hate to bring this up, but I must ask.  Is there a relationship between body size and instrument size that makes a significant factor in SR or sans SR feasible and/or comfortable?  I've found I am comfy sans SR on violin but simply cannot manage my viola without a rest at all."
Unfourtunately, yes I think there is and I remember much more competent players who also  told so...   Such things as bony vs more padded collar bones, neck lenght, chin or shape of your face etc do play a role... Some are very lucky and can play anything the way they want... People as my teacher with no neck and broad shoulders can play with or without a rest as she wish on every shaped violin (those of all her students or collegues). She just "fits" in all chinrests too ; )  Others have to work way harder to find a setup.  I personally had so much trouble I ended up inventing my own...  and she approved it was ok.  The most flagrant example I can think of about this close relationship between setup and bodies is when you look at the players before and after the rest era.  More variety of players especially more slender players appeared when the rest appeared... (This is just my observation comming from obsession about setups and in no way something "scientific".) 
Setup is so important I agree!

May 8, 2010 at 08:59 PM ·

My advice is to experiment, explore and practice with complete relaxation. Most of my students can hold the violin perfectly well and comfortably with or without a shoulder rest. They walk around with perfect ease and bow nicely on open strings. They can even play first position scales that they perceive as simple and easy. However, when asked to perform a piece of music or attempt to do something a little more engaging they lift their shoulders, clamp their hands hold their breath and insist that they need a higher shoulder rest. I am mostly kidding, of course, but the core observation is that the need for shoulder rests, specialized chin rests, pads of all sorts, etc is not physical but somehow psychological and stems from rushing to do something that has not been mastered in a fundamentally relaxed way. The inappropriate use of "props" is often just a way to bypass solving the fundamental problem of learning to hold the violin in a completely relaxed manner.

My second observation is that almost everyone, at some point or other, in their violin playing endeavors wants some specific advice and a solution to a perceived physical defect. The perception is that to play a certain chord or vibrato or whatever given the fact that his/her fingers are too long, too short, too fat, etc. is impossible. The most effective advice I have found is simply to try whatever you are trying over and over and over, striving for a better understanding of the physical process and experimenting with many small variations until, suddenly, the playing becomes very easy. Often, the difference between easy and almost impossible is just a collection of small microadjustments that are unique to each player.

Trust, relax, try to understand what is physically happening and make your own adjustments to accommodate your own physique.

May 8, 2010 at 10:43 PM ·

I tried to do what Auer said about keeping the thumb between fingers 1 and 2 (closer to 2 than 1)... but that doesn't work for me at all, my intonation is horrible in that grip. My thumb rests comfortably across from my 1st finger sometimes even extending back toward my G peg. I have no problem with shifting at all, I haven't seen anyone else like this. I think, like others have said before me, to find a position most comfortable for you, it will be fine as long as it doesn't mess with the functions of shifting and chord production.

I stopped using a rest because I started to develop this dark mark on my collar bone, sometimes it would hurt or go numb. I get more sound out of my violin (overtones, at least under my ear) with a rest, but I like the organic sound I get restless. I had some violin friends I trust listen to see if playing restless had a huge affect on my playing, thank goodness it didn't. The only thing I noticed, concerning my thumb,is that without a rest my  thumb pokes up from under the board, but stays under with a rest. I guess that it's because the thumb takes on a slight supporting role.

May 8, 2010 at 11:44 PM ·

"The perception is that to play a certain chord or vibrato or whatever given the fact that his/her fingers are too long, too short, too fat, etc. is impossible."  

I imagine that teachers must be sick of hearing these as "excuses" ; ) but can it always be exuses?

Maybe nothing is never "impossible" but it is definitivly easier for some people to do x thing than for others...  (not just in violin, in life in general) This is scientifically prooven when scientists observe a group of animals. Certain individuals are more skilled than other to do something in particular.  (maybe some would like to think than no but we are animals too ; )    But the good new is that we can work hard and overcome a good part! Also that this is why people are complementary.  Not all skilled equally at the same things.  

Good luck, interesting discussion!


February 4, 2012 at 08:30 PM · In support of the first comment. Here is a link to Chee- Yun performing Strauss. Her fingerings are very clear here, especially in reference to "rolling the fingers towards the palm" while using the first finger for vibrato. I noticed it also helps to life the middle finger for vibrato with the pinkie finger as how Chee- Yun does it.

Hope this helps :

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