Which way for palm facing?

August 31, 2011 at 12:58 AM ·

In first position I have my palm facing my face when I play a B (first finger, second string) but the palm faces behind me for all other notes/fingers (including Bb).  Is there a school of playing that advocates that?

Replies (20)

August 31, 2011 at 01:32 AM ·

 I don't think necessarily about the palm, but rather the fingers: what is their position? If your palm is open for just your first finger, then the other fingers are probably not ready to play. I'd advocate a hand position for which all four fingers are positioned above the string and ready to play.

August 31, 2011 at 08:59 AM ·

Yes, you're right - the other fingers aren't ready to play. For that reason it's not always possible to have the palm facing the face for B (or A, E, or F#) but I find it's the default position when possible.

August 31, 2011 at 10:45 AM ·

I often wonder whether the height of the fingers above the string might not be responsible for the palm turning around. I find that when the base knuckles of the fingers are too low, the hand needs to rotate and the fingers start being perpendicular to the strings, whereas when the base knuckles are high enough - which is, I guess, entirely above the fingerboard - then you manage to put down all fingers with the palm of the hand towards your face, because each finger can move from the point it should: the base knuckle.

Not so sure about this observation though, try it out for yourself.

August 31, 2011 at 01:35 PM ·

Here's my palm (imaginary violin):


Here it is playing a B:

As you can see the other fingers are nowhere near the fingerboard. The palm will need to turn clockwise about 30 degrees.

August 31, 2011 at 01:41 PM ·

 I agree with Sarah. Also keep in mind the violin is pointing quite a bit to your left, so it is not as absurd as it seems that the palm can be faced largely towards your body. To try to be exact I would say, if a smiley face would be drawn on the palm of your left hand, the smiley face would look at your left shoulder, something like that.

August 31, 2011 at 01:45 PM ·

Sorry Sarah, I was editing - please have a look.

August 31, 2011 at 03:42 PM ·

To answer your question -No. This is generally considered poor technique. If your first is on A and your third is over E , this is good(if you are playing on A,E) ,but to have the third beyond the E string will cause problems. Some say to keep the elbow fixed(arm) in a position so as the fingers are able to reach all 4 strings.I find that this teaching strains the fingers and causes intonation problems. I teach my students to move the elbow(arm) to play the string., generally the third finger should be over the string to be played.

August 31, 2011 at 04:14 PM ·

 I always tell my students that playing fast is not a matter of talent or inheriting fast fingers, but rather having fingers in place ahead of time. Unless you have the fingers over the string most of the time, or at least try to cultivate the habit, you won't achieve speed.

Watch this video of Milstein playing Paganini, and notice how efficient his left hand is and how his fingers are right over the fingerboard:


August 31, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

I can fully understand why it is efficacious in most situations to have fingers already over the notes but as a default position i.e. the one with the least tension, is it not of value?

August 31, 2011 at 06:20 PM ·

But it's not like the palm is a flat plane.  It faces you in a general sense, but the knuckles fan toward your face.  It creates a round, cupped look.

August 31, 2011 at 11:25 PM ·


there are no schools on this issue and I don`t thnk it`s the default setting either.  What it seems to me is some attention to how the violin is put up may be required.  This is not such a simple process.

I would suggest that you make a habit of putting the violin up while having the left han near the body of the instrument rather than in first position near the scroll. This helps to recue length and leverage.

Second I would suggest you take a closer look at the kind of rotation you are using.  Try  putting your hand and forearm flat on a table palm down.  Now leave the little finger and little finger side of the hand/arm on exactly the same spot on the table and rotate the thumb side of the hand and arm over the top so the back of the hand is now touching the table. That is the exact method of rotating the violin up although we should actually throw the violin up.




back soon

September 1, 2011 at 12:36 AM ·

I think the palm facing is related to the position of the fiddle on the shoulder. If held over the chest area, as fiddlers do, the palm faces more to the face, but if held high upon the shoulder the palm will face more to the left of the shoulder requiring more rotation. This gives more freedom to the elbow and shoulder when shifting up and down the fingerboard.

Quit difficult to see in the pictures how you hold the fiddle, but it seems that you maybe holding it more in a central position over the chest, judging by the lack of rotation in the forearm and the lengh of the nail on the index finger. The nail length indicates the finger is placed very much on the pad rather than the tip of the finger causing the knuckles to be well below the fingerboard and thus requiring unnecessary movements to rotate the forearm further to play the Bb note. I think the forearm rotation is gradual as the fingers move across the strings, extending the fingers back and forth requires the spreading of the knuckles. 

I hold my fiddle very high on the shoulder and thus have good rotation of the forearm. But there are instances when I 'palm face', only when I play first finger, in first position on the E string, I sometimes do a little pronating to stabilize the fiddle because I have not any SR or padding. Sometimes I do alot of 'face palming' as well......

September 1, 2011 at 01:48 AM ·

Hi Bud, in addition to what Henry said about position of the fiddle, the placement of the chin on the fiddle will make a difference for the hand as well; i.e. placement over the tailpiece requires more rotation of the forearm, and placement on the left lower bout requires less rotation. 

If you try to align the fingers along the string without rotating the forearm (supination,) there will be excess tension in the hand. Similarly, if you try to supinate the forearm without rotating at the shoulder (external rotation,) there will be excess tension in the forearm. There is always tension somewhere regardless of the position; but there will be excess tension if a position is held with parts of the arm working at cross-purposes -- so if we align and position the left arm with external rotation at the shoulder, and supination in the forearm, in a coordinated manner it is possible to hold the hand with the palm facing the shoulder, with the fingers aligned along the string, easily and without excess tension in the hand. Of course there is nothing wrong with undoing the rotation to release those muscles from time to time. 

As for the idea of a default position, I would suggest that it depends on context. For continuous, fast passages, the default position would favor aligning the fingers over the strings. For slower lyrical passages where balancing the hand on each finger matters more than alignment, the forearm rotation may be relaxed. But it is mainly the rotations in the arm, and not the palm itself, that control which way the palm faces.


September 1, 2011 at 06:53 AM ·

Of course there is nothing wrong with undoing the rotation to release those muscles from time to time.

Thanks Jeewon, I think that's where I'm coming from. When the rotation is required I add it and yes, it means a lot of fiddling about with the wrist. Interesting there's no school that advocates such frequent releases of tension.

September 1, 2011 at 10:00 AM ·

"Interesting there's no school that advocates such frequent releases of tension."

Try to substitute 'alternation of tension and relaxation' with 'suspension'. I don't say that total relaxation in some muscles is bad, but imagine what we would start to look like if we tried to relax everywhere... Suspension, I guess, is the right word. Imagine there is a heavy weight at the back of your left shoulder, that automatically lifts your whole left arm. No need for tension, nor for relaxation. Anyway, I'm not so good at explaining this.

What I'm really worried about is your intonation. A "fixed" hand shape (don't like the word, because it reminds of tension - perhaps I should say "stable" hand shape) is necessary for good intonation, and it's only one of the many necessities for perfect intonation, I'm afraid.

September 1, 2011 at 11:19 AM ·

As much as I can, I keep my forearm rotated so that all the fingers are relatively close to the neck, hovering above the strings. 1st finger on the E is an exception, though I try not to rotate the hand very far, certainly not so that I can see my open palm & pinky is inches away out in space. All bets are off for some doublestops. Move whatever I have to get good finger contact & intonation. Sue 

September 1, 2011 at 11:39 AM ·

Thanks for all the responses.  I suppose I'll find out for myself if a 'fixed' or 'stable' handshape is a requisite for good intonation - we dig our own holes!

September 1, 2011 at 02:35 PM ·

Hi Bud, I neglected to mention the shoulderblade in my little chain of positional support for the left arm. If you try to externally rotate at the shoulder without contracting between the shoulderblades (middle and lower trapezius, and rhomboid muscles work together in scapular retraction,) it might feel a bit like you're pushing the shoulder ball and socket out of joint. So for good alignment of the fingers over the strings you'll want to support the rotations in your arm from the mid-back, swinging the shoulderblade down, in and back. If you're having difficulty with this position, it might be due to some weakness in the stabilizers of the rotator cuff. There are many exercises you can find online, but I like this routine, which can also be done without weights. Even if you don't need much strengthening, simple range of motion exercises will train the brain proper alignment. Much of strength building involves rewiring the brain, so to speak, in any case. I think putting on a new, stiff uniform is a good analogy for learning a new physical activity; at first the uniform feels quite foreign even thought it's fitted to exact measurements, but with wear and movement the uniform conforms to the body, just as with practice the body adapts to the new motions learnt and we become more comfortable.

For fast passages I think it's pretty clear that accuracy is improved with proper alignment; but also, efficiency and therefore endurance is only possible with good alignment and small, crisp, easy motions of the fingers. For fast contexts, the larger muscles do the work of supporting and aligning so the smaller muscles can have an easier go of it. For slower contexts, the fingers should be able to find patterns 'in the air' and place them accurately, for which intervals must be heard and patterns felt ahead of time.


September 1, 2011 at 03:10 PM ·

Hey Jeewon, as it turns out I'm pretty handy with my rhomboids!  I emailed you.

September 2, 2011 at 12:33 AM ·

Hi Bud, didn't realize you were a pianist. You must be very familiar with physiology involved in playing in general. Hope your rockin' rhomboids help you play with greater comfort on the fiddle.


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