Violin super powers

March 19, 2013 at 05:22 AM · A few years ago, I read a book on neuroscience, specifically, how your body changes when you play music. For instance, the area of th ebrain in charge of fine motor co-ordination of a pianist is over developed on both sides of the brain, but a violinist is only over developed on the right side (corresponding to the left hand fine motor control). It makes me wonder what else my body does to accommodate my violin playing. My left hand spread is nearly 180 degrees with no stretching at all. I've made an (unattractive) layer of subcutaneous fat under my right chin (that my doctor has confirmed is not cancerous). Just out of curiosity, what 'superpowers' have you developed as a violin player? (I can also tell which neighbor is mowing the lawn based on what pitch I hear).

Replies (34)

March 19, 2013 at 07:39 AM · I seem to have developed the ability to pick out certain sounds when there is a lot of noise going on at once. I can hear the dog whine at the front door (after escaping the backyard just so he can come in the house) while the telly is blaring and a loud phone conversation is going on. I know which neighbor has arrived home based on the sound of their car. I have also developed an intense dislike of any music I have to learn containing more than four flats, whereupon my usually endless patience immediately deserts me and I want to run howling from the room.

March 19, 2013 at 09:10 AM · I can hold my arms up 'in frame' for ballroom partner-dance (think waltz, foxtrot) endlessly. Actually I'm not sure which came first here, the dance frame or the violin one - but likely it started with my childhood violin training.

March 19, 2013 at 12:57 PM · Thumb and index muscles especially in the bow hand. An ugly bump full of water on my bow index (doctor says it's a protection cushion. The same as the water bumps students can have after folding a pencil for very long...) A little more spread in my left hand.

Of course I have better ears... but they were already pretty good to start with. I always was a musician at head who could sing in tune and play instruments by ear even if not "trained".

Honnestly, nothing really "special" or "interesting" developed!

I was hoping that my hands would become stronger and bigger (as everyone told me when I started and complained about my narrow/weak hands). After 8 years of relativly consistent practice, I can't tell the little changes are that amazing. My conclusion is that the professional players have great hands for playing the violin to start with...

That's why good teachers could pick up a child's hand and have a good idea of its musical potential. A little anecdote: my little neice has big baby hands and no neck at all. My family would like her to have more neck because many thing don't button or zip way up but I'm very happy for her as a violinist :)

Anyway, not many very interesting things "appeared" on my side, happy if it's better for some others! 180degree hand spread, wow that would be my dream :)

March 20, 2013 at 03:46 PM · Doing trills. Not very useful for keeping the Bad guys at bay...

March 20, 2013 at 07:45 PM · John :)

March 21, 2013 at 01:14 AM · The ability to placate and seduce mosquitoes with vibrato (one actually kept landing on my bow once while playing).

The ability to attract low flying aircraft when tuning. Happens every time! I imagine it is the spirit of Ginette disrespect intended.

March 21, 2013 at 12:29 PM · Like the classic Superman, I'm able to leap many positions in a single bound, and bend steel E strings in my bare hands!

But probably my greatest super power is my un-erring abilty to hit with my bow any stand light or microphone within reach! I find that unlike with some other bowing techniques, I never even have to practice this. It's just an innate gift! ;-)

March 21, 2013 at 10:46 PM ·

March 23, 2013 at 11:32 PM · Ellie beat me to it. The few times a year I make tortillas from scratch I can turn them on the griddle with my fingers. I spent a week in Mexico eating everything I could and nobody used a spatula to flip their tortillas.

March 24, 2013 at 01:27 AM · Interesting discussion. I don't know if there's any research on this, but I suspect that any activity requiring finger independence is easier for string players (and perhaps pianists). I recall counseling a paralegal who claimed to be able to type as fast as one can talk. I asked him whether he played the violin or piano. He looked at me amazed and said, "How did you know I play the piano." Actually, typing is the same neuro-physiological activity as playing a string instrument: The ability to instantly translate visual notation (or sounds and words) into finger motion.



March 24, 2013 at 01:22 PM · Violin playing itself is the superpower of all superpowers. Few mortals dare claim it.

March 25, 2013 at 03:48 PM · After beginning the violin at age 7, I quickly developed relative pitch. I had perfect pitch by the time I was 14.

Like several other people have mentioned, my left fingers are very callused. And even though I'm right handed, my left fingers are more coordinated than my right fingers. They get lots of practice. :-)

I was playing "Pass the orange" with my family a couple months ago (that's where one person picks up an orange and holds it with his chin and the next person tries to take it from him with his chin, etc.), and everyone was struggling to pick up the orange. When my turn came, I easily picked up the orange and held it securely until the next person took it from me. To me, it was perfectly natural to have an object under my chin. (Obviously, I'm the only violinist in the family!)

When I listen to a recording of a violin, I can visualize exactly what the violinist's fingers are doing (I know whether he played that E with his second finger or fourth finger, on the A or the D string, etc.). I can also "see" his bow moving. I'm guessing that most violinists can do this, but it's what comes to mind when I think about my answer to this question.

March 26, 2013 at 12:31 AM · Heheh-hmmmm-mine is the knack to annoy people. Especially on the weekends at 8:00am sharp.

March 26, 2013 at 01:36 AM · Here's a real one - finger control. I'm a scientist by career and made my name (such as it is) by doing experiments that were exceedingly difficult in that they required exceptional hand/finger control. I have always attributed that ability to playing the violin through my childhood. This came up in another topic where I referred to a research paper - quite an old one - that showed the finger cortical columns (muscle/sensation input/outpub) were larger for children that had studied violin.

March 26, 2013 at 02:01 AM · I have the uncanny ability to gently remove my violin from the case without banging it up. Still workin' on the bow, though.

March 26, 2013 at 09:04 AM · I can clear the house of cats with two bow strokes

March 27, 2013 at 01:11 AM · Elise - yes, we violinists have magical powers! LOL...

March 27, 2013 at 02:03 AM · Well - I can ignore screaming 8 year old boys while in the middle of a piece of music... LOL

They know the rules, wait until mommy's done with the song before bugging her unless there's blood involved!

Interesting about the let hand in children who study violin, although it's one of those things that you hear, and say, "that makes sense!"

March 27, 2013 at 03:06 AM · apart from driving my neighbours insane...hmmmm

I guess my left hand fingertips are extremely sensitive now - buttery fingers and also I can play a 16th double stop interval...kinda useless but o well ~

March 27, 2013 at 08:33 AM · Steven - er, how do you double stop an interval (rest)? :D

March 27, 2013 at 03:17 PM · Elise,

sorry I wasn't clear. I meant I can stretch that far :P I guess I can't multitask at all...always typing the wrong thing -_-

August 23, 2013 at 10:15 PM · When I'm listening to classical music (even pieces I've never played before), I can do fingerings because of my perfect pitch. Like while listening to the piece, my left hand will be fingering an "invisible violin" in this case, air.

August 24, 2013 at 09:25 AM · Vincent - have you thought about getting a virtual violin keyboard made that is sensitive to the position of each note? With that you could transcribe music automatically by ear!

August 24, 2013 at 03:16 PM · Too late for that stunt: The Vatican have already released the Miserere into the public domain.

I'm naturally rather ham-handed, so what my violin playing has done for me is to bring my abilities a little closer to normality, or compensate for deficiencies. But I suppose one spin off has been that I've been able to handle some equipment without risking RSI.

Elise, I'm ashamed to admit that even the abstracts of your papers are above my head - I don't think I could even dream up a question to ask you that would make myself sound clever, unlike in some seminars that, in reality, are also above my head. And now, you're going to admit that you also do your own mathematical modelling (We had a paediatric surgeon at the Hammersmith, who had created for his department one of the world's first medical databases, using fortran, and then lost interest in computing altogether)!

But I am reminded that the first piece in Kenneth Anderson's "First Violin Album" (out of stock at Amazon) was entitled "The Day Old Chick". I'm sure you'd love to have THAT hanging somewhere in your office!

Eugenia, the UK's Lord Winston has recently made some TV broadcasts examining your very subject.

August 24, 2013 at 05:15 PM · I started (viola) at the ade of 14-1/2, but I benefitted from 5 years of piano (both hand were "connected") and much singing as a choral scholar (inner and collective listening).

Although thoroughly right-handed, I find I can use all tools (spanners, saws etc.) with either hand, so there is some use in playing the viola...

August 25, 2013 at 03:44 AM · Elise, as per your comment, I have done a quick search and found this as a woodwind midi controller. I also discovered that "electric" violins can be outputted to midi. But did you mean like a violin with a capacitive fingerboard that can sense what position/where your fingers are? That would be cool! I play around with Finale and this would be a great idea (kinda like using a midi keyboard controller).

August 25, 2013 at 03:45 AM ·

August 25, 2013 at 05:37 AM · Vincent, I think the midi violin softaware "corrects" intonation to the nearest semitone, like the auto-tune used in recording singers with good legs but no voice..

August 25, 2013 at 09:15 AM · Shifting. My hand just goes where I want if I 'hear' ahead. I just know what it'll feel like. Almost as if its being pulled there after the fact instead of pushing it in real-time. Weird I guess.

August 25, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Not entirely, Ryan.

I have learned (from a physiotherapist) that the "joint" or skeletal memory is as important as the muscle memory; the positions, once learned, are there "waiting for us". Just as well since muscles depend more on sleep, drink, digestion, DIY etc. than ligaments..

August 26, 2013 at 07:56 AM · Very true! Probably a result of my wonderful first teacher-

Escaped from behind the iron curtain and had a teaching style which made our hour-long lessons into 3 hours of 'no fix it. No not right. Again again again again.' What a guy! He told my Mother to throw me on the ground and stomp on me if I refused to practice. When my dog died he said it was good for Bach. If I had the flu he would come anyways and wait until I was done up chucking and then make me do scales.

I cherish it now despite my loathing it at the time. My insatiability for high-quality results, passion for music, and my technique fundamentals was such a gift...

So I guess I have to change my violin superpower!

I play a 16" cello that you hold like a violin and occasionally can make it articulate!!

August 26, 2013 at 08:33 AM · Vincent: "capacitive fingerboard that can sense what position/where your fingers are?" Exactly, that's what I meant.

Actually, it might be quite the teaching tool and phenomenal for composing - it could even pick up stresses such as vibrato.... Indeed, if you added a stimulator it could be used backwards to tell you where to put your finger! LOL!

Patent applied for (of course I won't, never do)...

August 26, 2013 at 08:36 AM · John R - sounds like you are in science too - in which case I would probably have as hard a time understanding your work as you mine. I have done a little modeling but my mind is not good at those kind of structures, its really ideas based. I learned long ago if you want to model, collaborate with a good modeller!

"The day old chick"? Have to look out for that one :)

August 26, 2013 at 09:52 AM · My former Russian violin teacher was a wizard at the craft and during each lesson had me do simple drills for playing descending arpeggios. Going upwards on the fingerboard, for the violinist, is relatively easy as we tend to aim for reaching notes close to the violin bridge (or our physical body).

Downward appeggios depend upon leaving a point of strength (near the body) and then descending along the E string toward the scroll. Going downward in pitch is as if we are aiming for nothingness until we finally reach 1st position. This motion (away from the body) is a precarious path with only skeletal memory and relative pitch to help us along our descending path.

The 1st 2nd and 3rd fingers are totally dependent upon the 4th finger to lead the way gong downwards. The smallest 4th finger leading the charge downwards into the bottom of the arpeggio is a difficult task. Ask your teachers if they are addressing this important violinistic task.

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