Left Hand Stretches without violin

November 14, 2011 at 02:19 AM · Can anyone recommend a stretching exercise I can do with my left hand to hit those 4th finger notes? Preferrably something off the violin so I can do it outside of practise. I'm an older beginner with good sized hands and long fingers. Just can't seem to get out far enough to hit the D-A-E or B - I'm always flat. I've been doing the one where the hand is placed palm down on a surface and the fingers splayed out as wide as possible. Been doing that for a month now without much to show for it.

Replies (21)

November 14, 2011 at 03:24 AM · Greetings,

personally I think you would be better off trying to find out the exact cause of the problem while using the isntrument. It probably isn`t your ability to sretch perse.

A common error is to have the hand set a litrtle too close to the scroll with the weight balanced on the first and second fingers. One should set up the left hand by making sure that the little finger is confortable and curved (assuming one has hands like yours) and gently try to educate yourself to keep the balance of the hand of the tird and fourth fingers whiloe tyhe first inparticlar is psychologuicvaaly speaking , stretching back, if necessary. this is how tyhe hand actually functions as a stretchign machine.

As you have already discovered, independent stretching is not particlualry egfficacious and may even be harmful in the long run.

Other finger exercises away form the instrument are often useful.



November 14, 2011 at 03:24 AM · Be sure to consult your teacher if you have one.

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EDIT: Your hand position must allow you to curve your fingers right over the strings so that you lift and drop from the base joints. Don't cock the wrist backward -- this will lengthen the distance the fingers must travel to reach the strings.

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I wouldn't bother with special off-instrument hand exercises -- just remember what happened to Robert Schumann.

Be sure your hands are thoroughly warmed up before you start practicing. Basic principle of exercise physiology: Stretch muscles when they're warm. I take a 20-minute walk before practicing; then I run very warm water over both hands and wrists.

Try setting down 4 on the target note -- you mentioned D-A-E-B. Then reach back for lower note. Keep 4 down as you reach back: D-A; A-E; E-B; B-F#. You already have hand size in your favor. I'm not so fortunate: S-M-L-XL-XXL -- that's me near the lower end -- size M. Yet I can play 10ths in 1st position, because I practice some stretches daily -- observing posture and hand-positioning.

Speaking of positions: No idea where you are in this part of your technique; but, FWIW, 3rd position is home position to me. I start my warm-ups there before going down to 1st position. That way, I stretch the hand a little at first, then a lot. If you already have 3rd, or as soon as you get some training in it, I recommend starting your practice there.

Finally, if you have Schradieck's School of Violin Technics, Book 1, try the 25 exercises on the first two pages -- small doses, not all of them in one session; do them in rotation. Keep each finger down as long as possible -- until you must lift it again. Keep the tempo moderate. The fingers are among our weakest parts -- no muscles of their own. It's the hand and forearm muscles you need to develop for finger independence.

Hope this helps. Keep us posted.

November 14, 2011 at 01:22 PM · Just being lighthearted - I would suggest that you practice scales on a viola. Then, when you go back to your violin everything will be sharp and you'll have the opposite problem. :)

---Ann Marie

November 14, 2011 at 06:17 PM · It could simply be that your violin scroll is pointed too much in the direction parallel to your own body's centerline. Perhaps if you aim the violin more to the left you can reach the the 4th finger notes.


November 14, 2011 at 06:51 PM · Don't stretch with your fourth finger.

Reach BACK with your first finger. :)

November 14, 2011 at 08:27 PM · Here is a bit more information - I'm trying to learn Silent Night. It starts G-A-G-E. I can hit the G accurately, but I can't get the A (4th finger) without releasing from the G (3rd finger). I always get a A-flat. Course, I could do an open A, but I'm pretty sure I should be able to do it with the 4th finger. So the problem is really getting separation between my 3rd and 4th fingers. I know - practise, practise, practise - but I'm hoping to find something I could do without a violin (like something I could do during a boring meeting )

November 14, 2011 at 09:11 PM · "I can't get the A (4th finger) without releasing from the G (3rd finger). … I should be able to do it with the 4th finger."

Yes -- no argument there. Start with 1 on E before you place 3 on G. If you can hold down these two fingers in tune, then add 4. Raise and drop 4 to see if you can get it in tune -- without lifting 1-3.

You've got to get used to playing this way -- now. Basic principle in violin-playing: Keep fingers down as long as possible -- till you must lift them. To illustrate: Schradieck, Book 1, already mentioned, first exercise has the repeated ascending/descending line on the A string:

A-B-C#-D-E-D-C#-B / A-B-C#-D-E-D-C#-B

If you lift your fingers, you 1) jeopardize your intonation; 2) slow yourself down. In rapid ascending/descending scales in more advanced literature, this will throw you way off beat and leave you in the dust.

"So the problem is really getting separation between my 3rd and 4th fingers."

Definitely get a teacher or an experienced player to go over this part of your technique with you. If you think 3-4 is tough, wait till you get to something like Kreutzer 9 -- with its repeated 2-4-3-4 patterns. That's the kind of hand-busting exercise I won't do two days in a row.

"I'm hoping to find something I could do without a violin (like something I could do during a boring meeting)."

Again, I'd ditch this idea. That’s just chasing the symptoms instead of dealing with the problem.

Three other things that might help: 1) Beware the left-thumb death grip. 2) Set your left hand more nearly perpendicular to the fingerboard. 3) Don't let your left elbow swing leftward. That will defeat your purpose in trying to keep the fingers curved right over the strings.

November 15, 2011 at 01:38 AM · I'd go the other direction to shape the hand.

Put down fourth finger on A, then the third finger on G, *then* reach back to first finger on E. During this, do not stretch the fourth finger at all, keep it relaxed and curved. The challenge is to find this hand shape, while fingering starting at the first finger for intonation purposes (building up in whole and half step increments).

This approach is what makes challenging intervals like octaves and tenths possible later in your playing development.

November 15, 2011 at 04:00 AM · Lots of good ideas here to help you. I would suggest playing open D, E, F#, and G with the correct fingers and leave them down on the D string. Try to experiment with the thumb position so that is between the E and F# (that is well forward). Check that all your fingers are down. Now play a slow trill (in quavers - perhaps 4 notes to a bow) G and Ab. Then try G and A. Then try alternating between Ab and A while sounding the G in between (in the pattern 3,4,3,4) without letting any of the other fingers drift up in pitch. When you get this try semi-quavers.

I know it is on the violin but I think exercises away from the violin might be a problem at this stage. Hope that helps, and good luck with your Xmas music!

November 15, 2011 at 08:43 AM · Hello,

My advice comes with a caveat- I'm a beginner myself so have only my own seriously limited experience so far (seven lessons, so sorry if I'm talking out of turn) but I had *such* a similar problem. So I just wanted to suggest it might not be your lack-of-stretchiness so much, as it wasn't with me.

 I have extremely puny hands and stumpy dinosaur arms. However, the problem turned out to be not so much my 'diminutiveness', but that my arm just wasn't under the instrument enough, which was pulling my hand out of position and meaning I was either straining my fourth finger (cue lots of 'aaargh, my knuckle has been possessed by some sort of jumping-bean demon' type involuntary knuckle-snapping movements), or allowing it to drag my other fingers sharp, especially the first. Certain things were impossible for me- for instance, a study I have been working on that required me to go quite rapidly between 4th finger E and 1st finger E actually sounded like a blocked drain. And it was *supposed* to be a mill-wheel :-(

Teach had me bring my elbow RIGHT under, almost stupidly under, THEN put my hand in first position, THEN allow it to settle naturally. The result was no awkward stretching, with a more relaxed hand, a lighter touch on the strings and miles better intonation pretty much instantly. I now do the 'elbow swing' every time before I play, as otherwise I find I lapse back into the horrors- a tense, out-of-tune claw-like hand with locked knuckles. Sometimes when I'm tired I drift back to the Bad Ways, and it affects everything: neck hurts, position shifts go lumpy like I'm driving over a cattle-grid, and nothing, NOTHING sounds in tune, which in turn makes me grit my teeth and press harder on the strings, which makes my back tense, which makes... etc etc. You get the idea.

Anyway, sorry if this doesn't help, but something to think about maybe? It really was a magic bullet for me.

Also sorry if v.com ignores all my paragraphs, as it seems to do sometimes! I promise you they were there when I typed them.

November 15, 2011 at 11:04 AM · Everyone is giving out good advice. I just want to add something about off-instrument stretches: they don't work. You can't simulate the stretch motion without the fingerboard. However, there are few exercises you can do without the violin:

1. Hold all your fingers down like a pianist's hand. Now try to lift every finger one by one, as high as possible while holding others down. This will help you to stretch the base joint muscle and improve finger action.

2. Practice 4th finger trill. Start with the pianist hand, hold 3rd finger down and start to drop and lift the 4th. The key here is to develop your brain so your brain can gain conscious control of every movement of the 4th finger. You want to start slow so the brain can learn to send the signal correctly.

Another good non-playing exercise you can do is to place all your fingers down on the fingerboard. Starting with 4th on B on E string, 3rd on D on A string, 2nd on F natural on D string, and 1st on A on G string. Like others said, you want to place the 4th finger first, make sure it's curved, hold it, then work your way to place other 3 fingers in the proper position. Hold it for 10 seconds. You should feel a slight burning feeling. Let go your fingers and relax for a bit, and then repeat the process. You can do this while watching TV or using the computer late at night when it'd be too loud to practice.

Schradieck might be enough to learn how to stretch but I think the process is too slow. It's better to combine some non-sounding exercises to stretch the fingers out.

November 16, 2011 at 12:02 AM · About placing 4 first and then stretching back with 1: While I agree with this procedure -- in fact, I was the first in this thread to suggest it to the OP -- I view it more as a first step -- a learning step or warm-up maneuver -- to open up the hand more and get the feel for the proper stretch and hand position.

But there are times, especially in more advanced music, when he will need to start from 1 and then place 4. If he relies too heavily on starting from 4, there's further risk of faulty intonation with the lower fingers. With 4 already down, you can’t hear the pitches of 3 and 1.

"Schradieck might be enough to learn how to stretch but I think the process is too slow. It's better to combine some non-sounding exercises to stretch the fingers out."

Just take the first two pages of Book 1 with the guidance of a good teacher or coach; this part goes quite fast -- provided that you have proper posture and form. Try them in rotation on four successive days -- 1-6, 7-12, 13-18, 19-25; or three days -- 1-8, 9-16, 17-25.

About non-sounding exercises: This may not count as non-sounding, but I start my first finger gymnastics in 3rd position on each string without the bow, right after tuning up, just before vibrato exercises, to get the blood pumping fast. I hold 1 down and then strike 2, 3, and 4 in turn, each one several times. But I can clearly hear the intervals, even without the bow.

November 16, 2011 at 04:58 AM · Thanks for all the great suggestions. I'll give them a go this weekend and let you know what happens.

With my hand relaxed, fingers naturally curved and palm facing toward me my 4th finger naturally goes behind the 3rd - so my fingers have some learning to do!

November 16, 2011 at 08:02 AM · I would like to echo the suggestions of Lila and a few others re the left elbow. Until I was prepared to bring it far to the right I also had trouble with out of tune pinkies, especially on the G string. Now when I play, I can at least see the tip of my elbow below. It works.

November 16, 2011 at 09:13 AM · I agree with Millie. Moving my left elbow a little to the right (not much) does the trick and pushes the pinky into the right position. No stretching involved. A C-nat or C# on the E is also comfortably playable in tune for me in a way that it isn't without that small elbow movement.

[Edit added] I firmly agree with those who don't approve of stretching exercises (cf. Schumann and the termination of his performing career). It is far better to think of "reaching" for a note rather than "stretching". That little elbow movement I've described is an example of enabling a "reach" and not using a "stretch".

November 16, 2011 at 03:30 PM · If you have a GOOD teacher with agood tech on violin ask him. My self used Trills Sevsik,Schradieck bk for finger articulation. i mysef practice slow and who needs 4 pinky finger Fritz kreisler almost didn't uused 4 intead 3 ad play lkean angel.

December 3, 2011 at 08:19 AM · I don't want to start a debate but I question the wisdom that "no stretching" is necessary - all you need to do xyz and magically you can reach a note.

It's true that you once you have a developed hand frame, you shouldn't need to stretch to reach all notes within an octave. You can't play fast if you have to stretch and struggle to reach the pinky note every time.

However, for late starter with less flexible fingers, it's beneficial to perform some stretching exercises. An example is 1:14 of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSShCqRRcrU

Without additional stretching exercises, I don't think any adult starters can play third, fingered octaves or 10th unless they have huge hands.

As for the Schumann "Finger Wrecker" story, I was so intrigued and did some researched about it. I've read several articles researching Schumann's hand stories and all pointed to the same conclusion - he most likely lost his playing ability due to mercury poisoning for the treatment syphilis.

December 3, 2011 at 09:28 AM · Just to dispel a notion, I would like to note that at age 36, my fingers are just as flexible as they were when I was younger, but now my fingers are ever so more articulate and strong.

Late beginners, take hope. And take fish oil and glucosamine.

December 4, 2011 at 01:19 AM · Hi Emily,

I assume you practice regularly and thus your fingers are as flexible as they were when you were younger.

Adult learners can definitely regains their finger flexibility by performing stretching exercises.

December 4, 2011 at 09:54 AM · David, while not a stretching exercise, here's a simple technical note. If your fingerboard is the horizontal line, try to line up your knuckles with it (where fingers connect to hand). Adjust this by moving your elbow more or less underneath the instrument. make sure to turn your palm in towards the neck too.

October 27, 2012 at 01:45 AM · Having some similar problems on the G string when I put down the 4th finger D and then a 3rd finger C# it's hard to keep the 1st finger down. My teacher came up with an exercise that helped and picked a Sevcik to work on this week. I have a lot of trouble stretching the 2nd and 3rd fingers open and keeping them relaxed. The C# is particularly troublesome. I think I have some tools to use.

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