Left hand death grip

June 25, 2010 at 05:30 AM ·

Hello to all! I have had a problem in the past with my left thumb wanting to grip the neck (when I am trying really hard, HA!), and this problem resurfaces when learning something new and difficult. Any tips or tricks to break myself of this habit?

Thanks!

Replies (52)

June 25, 2010 at 06:17 AM ·

You're not holding the violin close to you; you are holding out your hand, offering the music to the world.

If you think of using the left hand as holding anything, your reflexes may try and... well... hold.
If you think of it as giving, then your reflexes may release, not hold.

NOTE: I'm not a teacher, just another player. If this advice conflicts with any other advice, take the other advice.

June 25, 2010 at 09:10 AM ·

I have been fighting this bad habit myself. I hope you are able to break it. What I have been doing is stopping anytime I feel my left hand getting tense and shaking it out.

June 25, 2010 at 09:31 AM ·

@Roland That sounds like a nice way to think about it.

I was always taught that you know you're ok if you can take your left hand off the violin without dropping it. In other words you' should be holding it between your shoulder and chin not holding it with your hand.

June 25, 2010 at 01:41 PM ·

One exercise that might help with the death grip is to put something soft, like a sponge, at the tip of the scroll and stand by the wall with the scroll pressed lightly into the wall (with the soft thing between the actual scroll and wall of course).

This will help free up your left hand and shoulder, you won't be clutching the violin and you can focus on a light, smoothly shifting left hand and making sure that your finger action is correct.

You can also do this while taking your thumb completely off the side of the neck and letting the natural weight of the fingers provide the required pressure. When you do this you CAN"T squeeze which might make you more aware of the squeezing when you put the thumb back.

June 25, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

Interesting... that exercise reminds me a little of Clayton Haslop's advice on how to use the music stand to correct some left hand inaccuracies. You can find it here under the title "Another use for your music stand".
Good luck!

June 25, 2010 at 04:19 PM ·

Alayana's advice is very similar to the exercises I did at one time to solve this problem, which was very difficult for me to work through.  I addition, I played my normal practice routines for an entire week with my left thumb completely off the violin neck and not touching anything.  It seemed to get other muscles and the brain comfortable working without a strong grip by the thumb. The following week, when I "allowed" my thumb to touch the violin neck, it was easier to keep it loose.  Keep mental focus on it during various exercises, and it will eventually yield.

Also, it may be helpful to realize that you are not going to drop the violin.  If something were to get seriously out of control, you have many reflexes that will kick in to grab the violin and save it. So remind yourself when your thumb tenses that you are not going to drop the violin.

June 25, 2010 at 06:32 PM ·

I'm a thumb squeezer too. What helps me, when I think of it, is Simon Fischer's advice to "play against the tension of the strings" with the left hand fingers, not against the fingerboard. And if the counterpressure from the fingers falls away, the thumb no longer has a reason to press.

Hope this helps,

Bart

June 25, 2010 at 08:37 PM ·

Such great responses, thanks to all for your help! Funny how sometimes a bad habit will resurface and the suggestions may help me break this habit for good, or at least keep it in check.

Also it is so great to read about others having the same problem!

June 25, 2010 at 11:19 PM ·

I see, from your profile, that you're taking music courses, but there's no mention of violin lessons.  If you are studying the instrument with a teacher, be sure to have your teacher go over the thumb aspect of your form with you.

If you're not with a teacher, I recommend finding one.  This person should be able to tell you right away what's wrong.

Jude's input is similar to what my teacher told me -- be sure that you're holding the instrument between chin and shoulder -- not holding it with the left hand.

Although, ideally, I would rather observe your playing -- and, indeed, your whole setup -- before offering my own suggestion, one possible factor comes to mind -- the left wrist.  Be sure to keep the left wrist back enough so that the fingers will stay close above the strings -- so that you won't have to strain your fingers to reach the notes.  You need to be able to raise and lower the fingers from the base joints. 

If you master this part of your technique, then your thumb should find its right place for the size and shape of your hand.  I don't know if you are playing in any higher positions yet; but this kind of work will definitely require the thumb to go under the neck.  A death grip at this point would be the death knell for more advanced playing.

Another caution: Be sure that the inside of your left index finger stays clear of the neck.  Keeping the left wrist back will help to make this part of your form easier.

June 26, 2010 at 12:39 AM ·

 Greetings,

it is rather regrettable that the advice to `support the violin with the head and shoulder and not the left hand`  is so often repeated as though it is the only and absolute truth about holding the violin. The most recent contributor to this board and pedagogy in general who states this is a complete fallacy is of course,  Clayton Haslop.  He follows in the tradition of perhaps the greatest school of violin playing ever (Auer) and Milstein in holding the violin with the left hand.   The strength of the denial of this vital information  contributes to a vast amount  of  unneccsary tension , injury and misuse of the body. It  is derived in part from not understanding the principles of supporting the violin with the left hand.

The left hand is part of the arm which is an extension of the body forming an organic whole. There is no sense of a a discrete left hand struggling to hold up a weighty instrument. There is no restriction on shifting or vibrato. period. Indeed,  with the scroll of the violin high so the weight drops into the body (its resting there, not held up by a distored hea d position) the violin floats and the left hand experiences a great sense of freedom as it caresses its way around the instrument.  

Those who blindly follow the belief that the instrument is held up by the head and shoulder clamp almost invariably have the violin held pointing downwards and continually crank up the rest making it harder and harder to use well.  Hence the inexorable journey towards monster shoulder rests that physically straightjacket players in one poistion.  This incorrect downward pointing leads to further tension in the bow arm as extra strength is needed to stop it slipping towards the fingerboard too.

So, I will continue to point out  as much as energy permits  what works for me and my students as well as many of the great and not so great players of the last 100 years,  in spite of the adamant claims to the contrary,  I hope people will investigate and if necessary reject this approach,  too.  Hopefully they will also  apply the same approach to what is sadly being accorded the status of fact on this site by dint of sheer repetition.

Cheers,

Buri

June 26, 2010 at 02:49 AM ·

The more I teach, the more I think that we violinists like to overcomplicate the solutions to our technical problems. The hardest part about learning to do a complex task like play the violin is to isolate bad habits and get rid of them. The solution is often a simple one; constant awareness of the issue at hand is the more difficult task. 

The hard part is already over! You identified a recurring problem in your playing and when it effects you. It sounds like you grip too hard when you're working on technical passages. I think the solution is actually quite simple: stop squeezing excessively in the left hand. You know what a relaxed yet active left hand feels like - make that your ideal and don't settle for less.

What if you just made keeping your hand relaxed just as much a priority as playing the right notes? You're probably (as we all do) psyching yourself out during hard passages and are afraid to make a mistake in terms of rhythm or pitch. Make hand tension at least as big a mistake as a rhythm or pitch error, and you'll force yourself to repeat any passages where you notice tension, even if the notes are there.

June 26, 2010 at 05:33 AM ·

 I still like this article that Michael Schallock wrote a long time ago, about holding the violin:

http://www.violinist.com/violin/how-to-hold-a-violin/

He very reasonably asserts that one does not hold the violin entirely with the head, nor does one hold the violin with the hand, but that it is a balance between resting the violin in both places, and that a minimum of pressure should be involved. To quote the article: 

"...ongoing support of the violin shifts constantly between the left shoulder, jaw, and left hand, with contact with the collarbone remaining constant..."

"The violin resting lightly on the collarbone and the jaw resting gently on the chin rest establish two stable points of contact with the instrument.

"The violin is also supported, but not held tightly, by the left hand. The neck of the violin should rest gently against the base knuckle of the first finger of the left hand. The side of the thumb should lightly contact the neck of the violin across from the first or second finger. The base of the first finger provides most of the support for the neck of the violin with the thumb providing gentle counter pressure so that the violin does not slip down into the web of the thumb."

There is much more, including illustrations; check out the article with the above link.

June 26, 2010 at 07:01 PM ·

the thumb should never squeeze the neck. as soon as you notice it, recognize you've created a vice and you must let go immediately.  the thumb is there for balancing the opposing fingers and occasionally the arch between your thumb and your first finger/or if you have a small hand, the thumb itself, MIGHT be used partly to allow the violin to rest on it, but only when necessary.  even then, it's a loose grip, not a vice.

edited to add: in fact, I wouldn't even call it a 'grip' because you should never have to 'grip' your violin with your thumb, learn how to play it without 'gripping' it. Now, the jawbone and the clavicle are a different story altogether.

 

June 26, 2010 at 09:10 PM ·

I have had some luck  relaxing the left hand "grip" by doing more warm-ups on open strings, followed by warm-ups with harmonics---experimenting all over the fingerboard with the lightest touch possible.  Combining that with long, slow bow strokes, anywhere from four seconds to however long I can make them, gives me plenty of time to remember to relax that hand (and everything else).   Trying to always feel the vibration in the left fingertips has given me some feedback that has helped, too.

But, having what I feel is some success with all this, I've noticed that now I'm most comfortable, and my left wrist is the straightest, when I do NOT rest the neck against the base of my index finger.  That index-finger-base connection, which seems universally advised, makes me want to bend that left wrist outwards just a bit.  If I just balance the neck more on the thumb (took me about a month to change my default),  the wrist is straighter and the shifts and vibrato come easier. 

I'm not sure if I've created a new bad habit or not, but at least the left hand is more supple, relaxed, quick and accurate.  I don't know whether to work that index finger base back to the fingerboard and try to straighten the wrist, or just continue the now comfortable balancing act.

June 26, 2010 at 10:38 PM ·

...this article that Michael Schallock wrote a long time ago, about holding the violin:

http://www.violinist.com/violin/how-to-hold-a-violin/

----------

Thank you -- I must have been on the same mental wavelength first thing in the morning, because I had a faint recollection of  reading Mr. S's article on this site some time ago.  The description is true to life, and my own practice routine bears it out.  The balance, now that I've stopped to analyze it in slow motion, does, indeed, shift, depending on the need of the moment -- e.g., the hand holds more while remaining in position, less during shifting.

June 27, 2010 at 02:34 PM ·

Right on Buri ! - about the fact that it is not necessary to use the head/chin to hold the violin. As you know, it is a minority view about violin posture, but the violin will rest on the shoulder with the neck relaxed and the head straight up.  With no clamping, all the muscles of the left shoulder, arm and hand are relaxed and can move fluidly.  And with this shoulder and neck relaxation, performers don't get severe shoulder and back problems after 20 or 30 years of performing - one of the "dirty secrets" of the violin world.  Violin schools should teach this posture.  It is a big mystery about why they don't.

June 27, 2010 at 05:27 PM ·

re:  I still like this article that Michael Schallock wrote a long time ago, about holding the violin:

http://www.violinist.com/violin/how-to-hold-a-violin/

I have this, and other interesting violinist.com threads, bookmarked.

July 1, 2010 at 01:50 AM ·

Wow, I was really wrong. Sorry. I guess this is something I need to try and re-think. I do get pain at the back of my neck on the right of the spine. Proably gripping too hard! Thanks for the insights. :) 

 

July 1, 2010 at 05:15 AM ·

 Unable to send this via e-mail so am posting here:
Dear Phil,
 I read with interest and curiosity your discovery that it was easier to  keep your wrist straight with the violin neck resting more into the thumb than with, as you correctly observed, the "universally advised" index-finger-base connection.
 I hope you won't mind a few comments and questions about this.
  First, I'm curious if you are double-jointed to any extent, because I have found in teaching students who are double-jointed that their wrist collapses both sideways as well as front to back when the neck of the violin appears to lean in to their index finger and to correct this, I've had to have them think about angling the finger more to the left of center of the pad and lean into the string leftward ( feel weight leaning in that direction) to help stabilize their wrist more.
Secondly, if you look at your left hand at rest by your side, you'll probably notice that while the wrist and forearm are in a relatively straight path with each other the inside of the hand, where the palm is, is curled to some extent, as are the fingers. So when you lift your hand up to bring it into playing position that natural curve should be preserved.
If one shifts beyond fourth position, it is clear that the neck of the violin will have to rest into the thumb since to negotiate around and on top of the bout of the instrument the index finger ,and with it the rest of the hand, will have to move off of the neck of the violin.
   But in the lower positions, it is good to feel the sideways distance across the neck between thumb and index finger to gauge the location of each position, like calipers measuring around a surface, since the neck widens as it approaches the bout of the violin and sensitivity to this widening helps determine where the hand should find itself for a given position.
  You will note in the following video, at about 1:14,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPcnGrie__M
 that when it comes to vibrato and playing octaves that Heifetz has his wrist slightly pushed out. This creates intensity to the vibrato and prepares the hand for shifting beyond fourth position and is not extreme.
The inside of the palm of the hand can still be relaxed in this slight pushed out wrist position.
Those who play without chin rests and minimum vibrato, as in the period instrument musical groups, do indeed slide and shift around with the thumb under the neck a lot of the time but almost always go back to a default position that shares the neck resting between both fingers.
Check out these two videos: the first one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvNQLJ1_HQ0

gives at 1:39 a close up view of the left hand of the player that clearly shows the dual support of the neck resting gently on the first finger ( index)  and the thumb.
 The other is a demonstration of the role of the thumb and fingers in shifting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-9r077PCBc
As you see from the player's hand the fingers are kept so close in their curled position over top of the string that a gentle brush of the index finger against the neck is inevitable.
The type of chin rest one uses, its height to fill in the gap between the neck and the cup of the chin rest with the violin resting on the collarbone, the depth/thickness and position of  any shoulder pad, shoulder rest, or sponge used will also effect the tilt of the instrument and that tilt can be changed thus effecting the balance of the way the neck will rest between the thumb and the index finger.
 I am not saying it is wrong to rely on the thumb a lot but I don't see a real reason to avoid letting the neck lean into the index finger also, as long as it is not causing tension, and a slightly outward wrist can have advantages in certain circumstances as seen in the Heifetz example.
  Good luck and hope you continue to enjoy a relaxed left hand,
  Ronald
 
 

July 1, 2010 at 08:24 AM ·

I love Buri's post, it is exactly what I would say only I am not as good in expressing myself :) thanks Buri for the very informative post.

July 1, 2010 at 09:10 PM ·

Buri, how beautifully put!

At risk of repeating myself (o.k., I AM repeating myself) I was badly brought up - grip the violin with the shoulder on a firm rest, index finger away from the violin etc. Luckily, my next teacher made me throw away the rest and just let the violin rest on my left hand between the thumb and index finger as others have described better than I can. To quote - I had to learn to walk around the violin instead of jumping around. Gave me much more control of the sound and intonation - the fingers could actually adjust instead of going down like a vice - and no more pains in the back of the neck.

Do a google search for "violin playing as i teach it" by Leopold Auer. The first entry is in google books and you can read it online.

 

July 2, 2010 at 05:52 PM ·

Ronald - thanks for all the tips and the links.  Your advice about left finger pad placement worked like a charm!.  At least for me.  It seems so simple, now that I feel it.  And everything connected (which is everything, really) is easier.

July 7, 2010 at 12:36 AM ·

You shouldn't be gripping this violin at all with your left hand. All the support you need should be where the violin rests on your neck.

The purpose of the thumb is to act as sort of a guide or support for the rest of your fingers as you play, so it should not exert force on the violin. The best thing to do is relax before you play difficult passages and you will eventually grow out of this habit.

July 7, 2010 at 08:09 AM ·

July 7, 2010 at 08:09 AM ·

Tell us a bit more please. Do you use a shoulder rest? How long have you been playing? Do you have a teacher?

July 9, 2010 at 02:56 PM ·

One way to help loosen your left hand grip is to wiggle your left thumb while playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in first position.

July 12, 2010 at 03:24 PM ·

I think a lot of good things have been said here, with interesting links to articles, and some good advice from Stephen Brivati

All that I would add is that the violin should always be free and the head and chin should come off the instrument quite a lot of the time.

What I have come to realise is that if I am leading a quartet and I have to do a lot of waving about to keep the so and so's together, and keep the tempo going, I can't be gripping the instrument at all. So it has to be totally free and loose, and I must also still play properly.

I would advise that one can (and should) practise this without other players around you. Just imagine you are "conducting" (sorry to use a dirty word!) them and bringing them in. If you are gripping with the chin, head and left hand it won't work, and you will be locked.

If you watch the great players and also quartet leaders you will see them moving the instrument around (not too much though, Josh Bell overdoes it) and it is all totally free.

So yes, a compltely free head, chin and left hand, all of the time.

July 20, 2010 at 09:21 PM ·

I find the death grip happening mostly when I'm struggling with the Bach finger torture trying to get fingers to go where they've never been before!

September 11, 2010 at 11:54 PM ·

They say shoulder... but I think they should be calling it collarbone. If you're placing it on your shoulder you must have a really long neck.  When placed on your collarbone, the support of the left hand becomes a necessary thing. Just to slighty hold up the violin, mostly supported by the thumb.

September 12, 2010 at 03:06 AM ·

Hi to all, and thanks for all the input, and to Lisa Fogler, I started about 42 years ago in school. Don't have a teacher at the moment. Did want to add that for me it is a nervous reaction, trying too hard or something, and thankfully am having less difficulty these days. Have tried a number of different shoulder rests, I like what I am using now a lot (and I won't mention which one, everybody is different after all!:) And I think I was still in the process of getting over a teacher I had last spring, who wasn't much of a teacher, but she did sneer at my breathing, the way I hold my face, and other things. The more I am just enjoying the moment, the less it happens, at least with this shoulder rest.

Thanks again to all, especially Buri. I love reading his posts!

September 13, 2010 at 02:03 AM ·

Wow, I can relate to that question! At times, I developed a painful swelling of the bone/joint on my index finger. Some days I am more likely to grip than others, and its more common in difficult passages too. Now when I practice, I concentrate on relaxing my left thumb, for without the thumb, its quite impossible to grip. Some passages can be played with the thumb completely removed from the neck.  I'm not so sure a better shoulder pad or chinrest helps, I've used many types over the years but now use neither. I would think tight neck and left shoulder muscles do NOT help to relax your left hand technique, so go easy on the neck grip. Look at old paintings of baroque and classical violinists in action, and they appear more relaxed in posture than modern day violinists. Much more sensable back then, no?  Modern music and virtuoso works will require a stronger neck grip, however.

September 13, 2010 at 02:47 AM ·

I have another idea that may help with loosening the grip, It always works for me. Play two octave scales on single strings without the thumb Start slow at 60 for the quarter note, and once you feel that you're relaxed and can do it without your thumb. double the notes per beat, so going from quarters to eighths, triplets, up to sixteenths. When you get to that point play a regular scale incorporating your thumb back in with very light pressure. It  may seem unorthodox, but it works for me!

September 13, 2010 at 02:28 PM ·

If the left thumb is tight then the whole hand will be tight, intonation will be unreliable, shifting up and down will look and feel awkward, and vibrato will suffer.  

 

Watch carefully the violinists in a Baroque ensemble, and see how they do it without shoulder rests and chin rests.  The music was written to be playable. 

 

 

October 4, 2010 at 06:01 PM ·

" I'm not so sure a better shoulder pad or chinrest helps, I've used many types over the years but now use neither. I would think tight neck and left shoulder muscles do NOT help to relax your left hand technique, so go easy on the neck grip. Look at old paintings of baroque and classical violinists in action, and they appear more relaxed in posture than modern day violinists. Much more sensable back then, no?  Modern music and virtuoso works will require a stronger neck grip, however."

 

If you need a shoulder and a chinrest then use one.

If you lift your left shoulder and grip the instrument you will give your left hand constipation, especially in tricky passages. This tightens vibrato too. Sometimes we do not realise we are lifting the shoulder. Lift the head off the chinrest (or fiddle) at any difficult left hand passage. Watch videos of David Oistrakh - he does this all of the time. Keep the left wrist flat or slightly bent inwardsl, NEVER the other way. Left hand palm up away from instrument would be slightly bent down.

Move with the music too as if leading a quartet as this frees one up a lot. Be extrovert.

October 6, 2010 at 06:55 PM ·

Thanks for the laugh, John.  I will use this mental image when I get stage fright on Friday.  And when my thumb comes off, I will mail it to you.

October 6, 2010 at 08:42 PM ·

That's very good , John.  It may not help my thumb problem, but I'll certainly never take my socks off again!

October 7, 2010 at 11:14 AM ·

If the thumb is bent it is much more likely to be gripping.  Anyone with the death grip will have a clearly bent thumb.  My teacher is introducing me to the mysteries of  arm vibrato (ok, so it's not absolutely necessary, but it'll be nice to be able to do it), and for that you need a relaxed thumb that is in gentle sliding contact with the neck.  Of course, it doesn't actually slide along the neck when you're doing the arm vibrato but moves naturally on the same spot in response to the arm movement.  If the thumb is bent it will tend to grip and will be stiffer than it should be  and won't be able to do its job for arm vibrato, so a fairly straight thumb is indicated.

October 8, 2010 at 09:40 AM ·

"Excellent tip."  No thumb intended.

October 9, 2010 at 11:44 PM ·

The thumb can be bent and extremely relaxed at the same time.

 

October 10, 2010 at 12:58 AM ·

I reckon the extremes should be practised, because there are occasions where a left hand grip is useful, especially if one plays without a shoulder rest and does not clamp the head down on the chin rest. The violin can be pushed into the neck and also change the tilt of the violin. A grip helps with chord playing and keeping anchor fingers down, but it is never a death grip which never lets go or releases. But , I am a self taught player so what would I know?

October 12, 2010 at 01:01 PM ·

I don't know if this will help, but I made this video as a response to another post re playing without a chin rest.  The left hand feature is the same, regardless.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xfrV-xw380

October 12, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

I saw your video, BUT I'm afraid you appeared to be lifting the left shoulder ... back to the drawing board?

October 12, 2010 at 04:19 PM ·

Some of the sound from the violin comes from the back plate.  The player may not be aware of it, but the listener is.  Holding the violin on the shoulder, whether it's raised on not, or whether a shoulder rest is being used, will deaden the vibrations of the back plate to a certain extent and adversely affect the sound.  I believe some shoulder rests can also block some of the sound from the back plate, especially some of the more elaborate scaffolding you see around.  This may explain why players sometimes comment on how much better their violin sounds when they take the shoulder rest off (it probably also implies that they have a fundamentally good posture anyway).  

A chin rest, unless it is carefully fitted, is also well capable of deadening the vibrations of the bass side of the top plate – an important issue – which is easy enough to check for yourself while playing by getting someone to put their finger on the bass part of the top plate anywhere between the bridge and your chin.

October 12, 2010 at 07:39 PM ·

Peter, I lift my shoulder, I draw my shoulder down, I hold my shoulder level with the ground, I hold the violin high, I'll hold it low, I'll tilt it towards the audience, I will do whatever I find comfortable for ease of execution and for control over exectution.  No need to go to any drawing board, except to always look at the drawing board of infinite possibilities.  Nuance, by the way, has more avenues the more mobile you become.  Additionally, the violin often lifts off my shoulder completely if that's where it goes when it needs to. To be succinct (and the reason I posted this was in lieu of the discussion of the death grip), in my video, I said floating.  Held properly, the violin and bow are essentially in perfect balance to achieve your end result.  Those points of balance constantly vary.  I hold my violin rather loosely.

October 12, 2010 at 08:05 PM ·

 Hello Rebecca,

First, check your shoulder rest.  You should be able to comfortably hold up your violin with just your head and your shoulder without any strain.  90% of the time, left hand tension comes from having to support the violin where the shoulder rest left off.

Second, play the potato chip game!  You can use real or imaginary chips.  Try and hold a potato chip with your left hand thumb against the neck of the violin.  If you are too light it's going to fall.  To hard, it's going to break the chip.

Third, try doing something easy like a scale and randomly drop your left to your side at different points.  Shake it out and then fluidly put it back into playing position.  The point of this exercise is to not give your hand enough time to let the tension build because you drop it every few seconds.

October 12, 2010 at 11:20 PM ·

Micheal, I enjoyed watching your video, for the second time.

Finally I can play my violin without anything for shoulder support. Apart from the more beautiful resonant sounds I am hearing, the violin is also very much lighter in weight so that the left hand is able to take more control of holding and adjusting the violin. The left hand pressure can be applied in varing degrees for to localise weight on the anchoring finger and playing chords, this grip becomes the contact point for support. Support is shifted between various locations, including raising the shoulder, but this is not needed all the time, because sometimes the vioin floats. 

Due to the decreased weight of the violin without shoulder support, I experimented with my chin rest because I just found it impossible to shift down without the ridge of the chin rest. So I modified a chin rest by cutting off the cup part which leaves just a ridge to hook my chin over when shifting down. Now that there is no cup my head does not clamp down to support the violin, simlpy because there is nothing there and also the ridge would be uncomfortable with prolonged pressure. So my left hand takes care of supporting the violin most of the time.

Now that the violin is free on the shoulder, it tilts, in the direction of the bow stroke, this has a very interesting effect on bowing especially the bite of the bow.

'Caressing the violin'....I would like to read further discussion on this aspect, it concerns the application of left hand pressure (grip is a better description) which eliminates the idea of *positions* on the violin......the notes are all there!    It seems the notes are easier to find and I think this maybe due to the lack of pressure from the head, thus not impeding the natural flow of commands from the brain. 

November 1, 2010 at 12:36 PM ·

I'm just bringing this thread back to life again by suggesting that people should have a look on youtube at Michael Rabin playing various things including the Tchaik.

This is an example of an incredible left hand where he appears to be able to do anything quite effortlessly. Notice the thumb too.

Quite a good lesson!!

November 1, 2010 at 01:18 PM ·

Have a look also at Itzhak Perlman here playing Klezmer, for instance from 2 min on.   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkmFgQ9fM94 

What I think is happening is that because the left hand fingers go where he wants them to go he does not let them be constrained in any way by a fixed position thumb.  So the very variable position of that mobile  thumb looks like it is determined by what the fingers are doing, and not the other way round.

November 1, 2010 at 01:44 PM ·

Trevor

Yes, quite an amazing lesson.

And you know what, his left hand is just the same as Michael Rabin's. A completely free left thumb, and sometimes the kneck drops into the fork between first finger and thumb.

November 1, 2010 at 10:37 PM ·

You can see something similar happening with Ricci's thumb in his performance of the last movement of the Tchaikovksy on YouTube. 

April 1, 2016 at 01:41 AM · I have the same "death grip" issue, and a number of questions regarding the responses on this thread. Some suggest keeping the thumb away, but then what offers reciprocal pressure when pressing strings? Others recommend keeping the wrist back to bring the other fingers closer, but for me, that drags my pinky away, and my fingers are on the shorter end of the spectrum. (I'm a pianist, and this has never been an issue in 30 years.) I'm still a novice violinist... will my left hand twist more naturally over time to better position over the strings? This has become a constant frustration as I advance. Recommendations are very much appreciated.

April 1, 2016 at 02:31 AM · Kendra, I had the dreaded "death grip" in the past, but it gradually diminished over the years until last year when it was all but gone. And then I thought, what did violinists do in the days before the chinrest (i.e. before 1820), because they were also playing without a shoulder rest (not invented until the 1940s). Any tension or stiffness in the left hand would have destabilized the violin in those circumstances unless the player was holding it in place with an almighty downward pressure of the head, which would exacerbate the tensions already in the left hand, to say nothing of long-term physiological effects. They knew how to support the violin easily and freely.

I therefore experimented with removing the chinrest (I hadn't been using a shoulder rest for years), looked at videos of of Baroque players, paid attention to my posture, and practiced my shifts over a period of weeks last autumn, using the exercises my teacher had shown me. It worked. After a couple of orchestral rehearsals and concerts without chinrest and no disaster I got rid of the chinrest just before Christmas, haven't used it since, and have no intention of doing so. The result is that my left hand is more relaxed and fluid than it ever has been, movement over the whole length of the fingerboard on all the strings is less restricted and easier, and there is the bonus of the violin sounding better without the clamped weight of a chinrest impeding its vibrations. Bowing is better as well, because if one limb is relaxed the other limb apparently tends to relax in sympathy, by some strange neurological osmosis.

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