I'm curious if anybody has experimented with teaching beginners to start somewhere around fifth position rather than first. Bear with me while I go into a long, confusing explanation.
For a few years I had little time for the violin, so I've been in a bit of a rebuilding mode for the past year. One issue I really wanted to fix was left arm/hand tension. I've never been very flexible, and this always made it difficult for me to position my fingers on the string with a straight wrist without pressing the base of my index finger into the neck. I could never rotate the hand enough. I made sure to apply the suggestion to reach back with the index finger rather than forward with the pinky, but I could never rotate very much. So I set out to fix this.
I noticed how comfortable I felt in about 5th-7th position, where my palm would rest on the side of the violin and my fingers could sit comfortably on the strings without any strain in the arm or wrist. So I used this as a starting point. I would play scales and simple tunes in fifth position for a while and then try to reach back to lower positions. Once fourth position would feel comfortable, then I would work my way down to 3rd, etc. Some days I never felt comfortable enough to really go down as far as 3rd without feeling overly tense, but I kept at it. Eventually I could work down to 1st position again.
I am still working at this a year later. I still play my first notes in 5th position and work my way down. The results have been very good. I don't think I'm any much more flexible, but still there is much less left arm/hand tension. It feels like I've mainly just learned how to use my hand better and how to adjust according each position. I can feel how stance and posture affect my ability to use my left hand correctly as well. Shifting feels smoother and easier. I don't use my head to stabilize the violin nearly as much, and I don't press my violin into my neck anymore (didn't even realize how much I did this before - and now I don't get the dumb red spot on my neck after practicing). And another cool side effect of the slow, careful practice is that my bow control has also improved. Now if it just didn't take me so long to warm up...
I wonder if it would be beneficial to teach beginning students left hand technique by starting them somewhere around fifth position. It seems like a struggle for most beginners to straighten the wrist and avoid squeezing the neck. Perhaps feeling a comfortable hand position further up the fingerboard and then working down to first could help one to learn better left hand technique more quickly.
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