spread and independency of left hand fingers

March 5, 2013 at 04:33 AM · One of my students has a very tight grip. Part of the problem is that he has a hard time placing the left hand fingers independently.

For instance, if he plays third, second, first finger, the first fingers end to be too sharp. The first finger places too close to second finger because it seems to miss dependence of the second and third finger.

Are there physical stretching exercises to recommend?

I have demonstrated finger independence exercises with the left hand as if playing piano, moving fingers in different patterns.

I also am working to loosen up his left hand with different exercises.

Any suggestions are welcome!

Thanks!

Shulamith

Replies (28)

March 5, 2013 at 10:20 AM · I'm personally a little dubious about stretching excercises for the left hand. A young person can risk damage.

The important thing about a good flexible left hand is to encourage virtually no pressure and grip - and no straining at all. Let his ears take his fingers to where they should go.

March 5, 2013 at 12:43 PM · It would seem to me that this student is in need of a fractional violin. His finger-placement problems are telling you that. Hereabouts, a nine-year-old, unless quite small or large for his age, plays on a half-size. The concept of using fingers in blocks, or using adjacent fingers to support each other and to help them fall into place in tune is a good one, not something to be avoided in young players and beginners/intermediates.

March 5, 2013 at 02:57 PM · Sue, you are on the nail!

Something I did not realise, but he should not be playing on a full sized violin until about 11 or 12 years old, depending on height and build. No wonder he can't stretch enough! For heavens sake, some teachers!!

March 5, 2013 at 04:27 PM · don't know if this is exactly what you had in mind, but it might help. the video below illustrates. don't know how much, but it did help me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSZ27Gpx3eM

March 5, 2013 at 06:47 PM · sorry if I am missing something....but where is the original poster saying that this 9 year old is playing on a full size violin??? I cannot see it....

March 5, 2013 at 07:44 PM · Jo - he must have deleted that bit !! (wink)

mircea negraia

I'm not saying that this excercise reportedly from Heifetz is not good, or that the person on the video is not competent, but ...

I do think that teaching people to bang down each finger so hard is a serious mistake. So, like much of what we see on the Internet - this can be dangerous stuff.

March 5, 2013 at 10:14 PM · There is indeed a video (documentary) on youtube about Heifetz and his life, where he is shown actually doing this type of exercise.

March 6, 2013 at 01:23 AM · Jo, the op did not say full-size. I made a suggestion for a fractional, based on the student's age, my visualization of the described problem, and my 45 years teaching elementary-school age kids.

March 13, 2013 at 04:37 AM · To Eric Charles,

I am the original poster of the message/questions, and I resent that you make assumptions. You assume the 9 year old plays on a full size. Then you assume (jokingly "wink") that I would delete parts of the message to come across in a better light. I resent that even more. But I should have probably clarified the size of the violin in the original post. This boy is playing on a half size and I discouraged the father to buy a bigger size until the boy's left hand can relax more!

My intention is to seek advise from other teachers through this website, because when you teach privately you have not many places to get feedback from, and I need feedback to, improve. And

March 13, 2013 at 05:04 AM · I am not a teacher, but as a parent, I would recommend piano for improving finger dexterity and independence. It has the added benefit of helping the student learn proper tune (assuming the piano is in tune), rythms, how to read sheet music, and how to listen for accompaniment while playing violin. Plus, the key to improving finger dexterity is repetition, and a child is far more likely to do repetition playing a piano than tapping a table. But if you are looking for actual physical exercises, Yehudi Menunin has a series of video tutorials for BBC that you may find helpful, but I would recommend watching them yourself first before deciding whether to share them. :)

March 13, 2013 at 07:48 AM · "shulamith barbe

Posted on March 13, 2013 at 04:37 AM

To Eric Charles,

I am the original poster of the message/questions, and I resent that you make assumptions. You assume the 9 year old plays on a full size. Then you assume (jokingly "wink") that I would delete parts of the message to come across in a better light. I resent that even more. But I should have probably clarified the size of the violin in the original post. This boy is playing on a half size and I discouraged the father to buy a bigger size until the boy's left hand can relax more!

My intention is to seek advise from other teachers through this website, because when you teach privately you have not many places to get feedback from, and I need feedback to, improve. And "

I think you have the name of the poster all confused here, but I assume it's me you are speaking to.

Before you really get your knickers in a twist let me remind you of the obvious, that these things were said as a joke.

In any case someone else brought up the subject of instrument size and not me, where I then said this thought had not occured to me, but that yes, it should be taken into account.

However, I get the impression that you know little about teaching. I may be wrong of course, but that's how you appear.

March 13, 2013 at 03:25 PM · This stretch happens over time. Look at your own hand. I can spread my left hand fingers two inches further than my right hand fingers, without stretching at all. It's three if I stretch. This happens over time. Don't do left hand stretches independent of the violin. Little kids tend to over exaggerate movements, and the kid could mess up his hand. At 9 years old, just focus on not too much pressure, good thumb position, and keeping the fingers on the tapes. After about a thousand times, they will get it. You weren't perfect when you were 9, and your student won't be either. Once the student is advanced enough for double stop studies, the hand will really open up. Don't try to rush them.

Your post talks about stretching, but not about proper hand position. If the violin is sized properly, the finger spacing should naturally be large enough to get the spacing correct. I suspect there could be a position issue. If the thumb is squeezing, it could collapse the palm and make the hand too narrow. If the thumb isn't positioned properly, it could cause the student to have to reach back for the first finger and forward for the second and third.

Peter's thoughts on your experience level are right on- what you are describing is a common problem for young violinists in their first years of playing. Teach Suzuki 1 to twenty students and you'll hear the exact same mistake made twenty times. It seems like you should know what to do with this. Perhaps taking teacher lessons from a Suzuki teacher would be more helpful than this forum.

March 16, 2013 at 09:17 AM · Folks, this is a 9 year old. All children grow at different rates and have varying degrees of dexterity. This young child will gain that in time. Don't try and make a virtuoso out of them just yet. Let them be happy having fun and learning to love the instrument. If they don't have it this year then they will get it next year. They are still developing. Be patient.

March 16, 2013 at 12:18 PM · You could try this from a 1908 book endorsed by Auer:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

March 16, 2013 at 01:36 PM · The fingers have to learn to adjust to the ear. If it happens the other way, all will be lost.

Andy

March 19, 2013 at 01:14 AM · Thank you all for the suggestions posted. The problem is sometimes hard to identify. Yes, I have only a couple of years of experience as teacher, but that is why I am careful not to just do something, but ask questions first in places like this and researching literature. For now the boy, who has a great bow hand and tone, (after he made adjustments I taught him....) is working on relaxing the left hand, placing it right, and keeping the arm relaxed. And I know this won't happen over night.

I love this blog, and hope to find more answers here in the future to improve as a teacher. (becoming a great doesn't happen over night either right?)

Thanks everyone!

March 19, 2013 at 02:40 AM · Bud you sure that picture isn't from a medical textbook on arthritis? It looks painful.

March 19, 2013 at 03:08 AM · Glad your kid's doing better. I (after the fact, unfortunately) thought of something my kid's suzuki teacher said- she described the left hand position as holding an apple in the hand. It seemed to help keep the hand in a rounded position. I still maintain sitting in on other lessons will help you learn tricks to teach your kids. Best wishes...

P.S. This post makes me want to ask question about the weird things your body can do after you play the violin for a while...I think I will.

March 19, 2013 at 12:05 PM · Shulamith, I have nothing to add, I just wanted to affirm everyone's support for you here, and respect for your question. Ignore the lone poster who seems to be going out of his way to offend you. I'm certainly offended. But as his bio reports that he is deceased, I think it's safe to say that it is a voice you can delete in your mind.

March 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM · Terez, maybe the poster has written this himself in his bio to "go away" of this forum. I'm sceptic. Who else except the poster would know how to enter his v.com account and tell that he is no longer here?

I do wish good luck to the original poster. As an adult with narrow hands, I have struggle a lot with this issue. This boy will still grow... I hope he'll be lucky ennough to grow big ennough hands to be comfortable on the violin later on. Best of luck to him!

Anne-Marie

March 19, 2013 at 03:34 PM · Shulamith, you might want to take a look at Galamian's "The Art of Playing and Teaching the Violin." It's pretty dense, but worth the effort of study. (You'll want to have your violin in hand!) When I read it in my later years, after a long break from violin-playing (and once upon a time I had earned a Master's in performance), it was a revelation, and jump-started a whole new approach to playing for me, and to my teaching. I am far healthier in my own body now, and can do things easily that just *killed* me in grad school; and my students all look great, feel comfortable, and nobody complains of sore necks, backs, etc. Galamian illustrates various shapes of hands, from small to large, approaching the instrument, and explains that the hand has to be shaped around the fingertips, which have a certain ideal angle to the strings and fingerboard. Even this can change, depending on what you're doing. There is not just one way to bring your hand up there.

Several people have mentioned such things as reducing finger pressure, keeping the hand rounded, and keeping the arm in a relaxed position, but hopefully still in a place that makes the hand as capable/available as possible. All of these are correct! (And I would add that the fingers need to be facing toward the bridge more than straight across the fingerboard - you might be surprised how many beginning students, and especially adult students, have a misunderstanding about that.)

But I've always found that none of these happen in isolation; they're all part of an overall picture of great posture. If the violin is too far toward the midline of the body, for instance, or if it sags, getting great arm position won't be possible. If the thumb is too bent in the farthest joint, it will lever the hand under the neck, so it can't be over to the right where it belongs. It is possible for fingers to be *too* much on their tips, just as it's possible for them to be too much back on the pads. Then there's the famous "pancake" wrist, and so on. Even the placement of the violin on the collarbone, how the head rests on the instrument, and the setup of the instrument itself (uncomfortable chin rest, too big shoulder rest, etc) can affect how secure a student feels, so he or she may feel the need to clutch the instrument's neck.

I don't think it's possible to fully answer your question without seeing the overall picture of the student. But if you want to grow as a teacher, studying the whole mechanical enterprise will help, including equipment setup. For this particular student, you can also try to reproduce in your own body the angles that the student is using, from how he stands and where he holds the instrument in relation to his whole body to what he's doing with his left arm and hand, and find out what it does to you. This might help you understand what muscles the student needs to release, in order to allow the fingers to find their places.

Best of luck to you with your own journey as a teacher. And welcome to the fellowship!

March 19, 2013 at 05:39 PM · >Terez, maybe the poster has written this himself in his bio to "go away" of this forum. I'm sceptic. Who else except the poster would know how to enter his v.com account and tell that he is no longer here?

Agreed, Anne-Marie.

And John, Peter's comments were rude and provocative. They offended me. I see no need to condone or not be too hard on such a poster. And who else besides a troll would write "deceased" on his bio?

March 21, 2013 at 06:50 AM · First thing is to tell the student to play on the pads of their fingers rather than the tips. It basically fixes the problem of "frozen fingers", and makes it easier to play faster and in tune.

The second is an excercise taken from Kato Havas called "giving hands". It is an extremely effective excercise that relaxes your handframe, and makes it easier to form intervals.

Have the student extend their arm as if they where going to play the violin. Then, ask them to extend their fingers, keeping the left hand relaxed, and the position natural. Have them imagine that they are holding a fragile creature in their left hand (like a small chickling, for example). This helps to make the hand relaxed, but not so much as to loose its shape. If the excercise is effective, you should be able to slip your fingers between theirs without any discomfort or resistance.

I think this video does a better job at explaining it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAe0AadmqZw&feature=share&list=PL4C54C6C6CCDE2E2E

It helps if the student keeps their left thumb naturally curved/straight under the neck rather than bent at a 90 degree angle. This keeps the hand frame relaxed, and avoids tension in the lower arm.

Hope this helps!:)

April 10, 2013 at 03:05 PM ·

My Corresponding Blog post - Enjoy

www.onlineviolin.net/beginner-violin-lessons-jumping-fingers

www.onlineviolin.net

April 15, 2013 at 07:03 PM · Thank you all again for the latest posts. I just checked back.

The relaxation exercises I usually try with students is similar to others: pretending to hold something delicate in the left hand with the hand upward, arm stretched. Then I ask students to bring their arm and hand in playing position, still pretend to hold the delicate object. I usually tell them it's a raw egg. or even a rotten raw egg; you don;t want to squeeze that one! Fingers on the fingerboard spread easier when relaxed. Usually students who really can focus on this aspect solely is able to play with a relaxed hand. The trouble happens when they also focus on the right hand, the notes, dynamics and the whole nine yards of playing violin. Over time I do see more integration of all skills, though. And as always: no students is the same; they all need a little different approach. I read Galamian, and will keep re-reading and learning from it.

And will keep using this forum as well. Thank you,

Shulamith

April 17, 2013 at 03:26 AM · Your mind works in the most mysterious ways, John. Most mysterious.

April 17, 2013 at 05:23 AM · Shulamith, your 9 year old student might need to work on hand and finger skills outside of violin. It might not be just the instrument that he grips tightly and can't have independent finger use, but this might be part of an overall difficulty in his hand use. May be some non violin exercises using elastic bands, tennis balls, playdoh, pushups, pushing map pins into cork board.

April 18, 2013 at 03:13 AM · Well, I have to offer an apology to start, because I am about to invoke whatever is v.com's analog of Godwin's Law and refer to material on playing without a shoulder rest.

However, I'm not specifically advocating playing without a shoulder rest here, and am just referring to some material which might be helpful here:

The following is video 2 from Alex Marcus' series on playing without a shoulder rest. In this one, he addresses the subject of clutching arising from fear of dropping or damaging the violin with some memorable illustrations.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9pMv4opDRQ

In the following video, number 4 in the series, he specifically addresses tension in the fingers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9spZUG4ETY

I'm not sure that the above two videos will address the problems this student is having entirely, and would caution you to address positioning generally including the angle of the violin, the arm and the elbow, if you have not already, and to consider direct consultation with a more knowledgeable teacher if need be.

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