Left thumb worries 'again'

August 18, 2014 at 08:20 PM · Hi all, I would be very grateful if you looked at this video of my left hand and comment on my thumb.

You will notice it bends 'backwards', I have to say, it does this without me feeling it, my thumb easily bends backwards as forwards, even with no pressure on it. It is not voluntarily done.

I have the same problem on my right hand so my thumb will bend the same way on my bow hold and I don't even realise it is doing this!!! my teacher pointed it out to me but I can't 'help' it!!!

should I make it a 'life/death' priority to get this sorted? if so what do you suggest (apart from amputating it???)

I have to say that at times I feel 'limited' by my thumb, I feel I struggle with my vibrato a huge deal but then I don't know if this is 'psychological' due to me worrying too much about my thumb or whether it really is an impediment!!

thanks for your kind suggestions/input into this.


PS no it is not me playing the tchaikovsky's violin concerto LOL believe me, you did 'not' want to hear me playing!!

Replies (49)

August 18, 2014 at 08:52 PM · Left thumb: Concentrate on it every time you play.

As soon as it bends, stop and reassess your hand shape Don't worry if it takes a while, just keep working at it!

Right thumb: You could do what I did and switch to the Russian bow grip if your thumb doesn't like bending very much. This is especially helpful if you have short arms or cannot dig in properly with the Franco-Belgian.

Hope this helped! :)

August 19, 2014 at 12:09 AM · Realizing it's happening is already a great first start! I agree with A.O. in paying attention, stopping, and reassessing your body when you notice it.

Shake out you hand, naturally your thumb and fingers will come to rest curving inward - that's the hand shape to emulate with the violin. Unless your thumb bends backward naturally when you shake it out, your backward banana thumb adds unnecessary tension and the sooner you fix it the more freedom and agility you'll find.

P.S. Our symmetrical body likes to copy the other side. It's just a matter of changing the habit from a curved-inward right thumb that encourages excessive squeezing to one that's rounded and looks more like your hand's natural shape at rest.

A week of slow and focused practice will fix it. Yes it should be a priority because this is physically limiting.

August 19, 2014 at 05:44 AM · A.O. thanks, I already use the russian hold used to use the F.B but russian suits me so much better, see in this video (my thumb bends backwards 'big time' even with russian hold).


Dorian thanks, yes I only discovered last night that my thumb bending backwards adds tension to all the other fingers. I sat without violin and held my arm/hand in playing position and did a bit of 'air violin' (pretending to play), when my thumb is straight my fingers are much free-er (as expected), it could be this is indeed limiting me not just in my vibrato but also in learning to play 'up to speed', I have a problem in playing fast pieces....

the difficulty is that I really DO NOT notice when my thumb does that, 'at all', and I don't have a mirror to practice in front of (plus I would have to look 'backwards' in a mirror to notice it. However I will make a point of looking/stopping every few seconds from now on (no excuses LOL). It's just that my thumb bends so easily that when the neck of the violin rests above my first knuckle it will naturally (like butter) bend backwards, the only time it stays straight is when the neck of the violin rests on top of second knuckle, so I guess I will have to really learn to keep it there all the way (the way Abraham Shtern used to teach : http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/02/entertainment/ca-shtern2/2

thank you, both of you :)

August 19, 2014 at 07:59 AM · Dont worry about the thumb - plenty of players have thumbs like that.

However, you have a bad left hand position because the wrist sticks out too much and your fingers are too high on the strings which also means you are playing using the tips rather than the pads.

August 19, 2014 at 09:01 AM · >>...which also means you are playing using the tips rather than the pads.

I generally use tips of my fingers in a quick passage...I think it depends on the circumstance no?

August 19, 2014 at 09:26 AM · thank you Peter, I will look at that

but I thought we are supposed to play on our tips 'most of the times', or is there different ways of calling your fingertips?

here is a photo explaining what I mean by fingertips and pads (to me if we were playing on our pads all the time it would meas we would have squashed fingers on the fingerboard and unable to vibrato??? so we play on our tips and roll onto the pad during vibrato...)


August 19, 2014 at 10:08 AM · "I generally use tips of my fingers in a quick passage...I think it depends on the circumstance no?"

No, it's too hit and miss, and you have to change hand position to do this, which is bad.


The diagram is correct. But you should play on the pads and vibrato on the pads below and to the note.

See Ricci on Glissando for more details on this. He knew! And he could play the pants off most players.

August 19, 2014 at 11:36 AM ·

August 19, 2014 at 11:54 AM · I start by ensuring that the finger base line level with the string I am playing on, never below, and rarely above. Only then see where thumb goes. The tip vs pad question can come later.

Then I would try a complete, even exagerated change of thumb position: way back under the neck, then way forward opposite the ring finger, where you may be able to rest the neck on the lower phalange instead of the pad. Personally I simply cannot open my thumb as Mr Perlman does, and the shoulder rest (shhh!) takes the weight of my fiddle (viola or violin).

In a word (!) anything to separate the thumb from palm.

For the bow, spend a few minutes a day with an exagerated "cat's-paw" hold (all four fingers and thumb curved, with a "flat" hand): you might even enjoy and adopt it!

BTW, Jo, the photo by your name shows a fiddle with the bridge nearly halfway up th belly. Is it in fact a viola with a short string length (short neck and short "stop"?

August 19, 2014 at 03:43 PM · If you look at the video of Perlmann posted by Casey, we need say no more. Fantastic left hand and bow arm. It's a lesson on how to play the violin.

August 19, 2014 at 05:56 PM · >>No, it's too hit and miss, and you have to change hand position to do this, which is bad.

I don't hit and miss when I use the tips in fast passage...

I think Perlman's left thumb is a great example of flexibility and constantly balances what the other fingers are doing; it's never permanently stuck in one place or bent backwards all the time.

August 20, 2014 at 05:46 AM · I don't think playing more towards the fingertips (by the way I do not play so much on fingertips that I almost hit my nail, so it's not that bad) is 'bad', I have looked into this before and have now again, there seems to be 2 schools of thought and people play more towards fingertips or pads, this has been discussed here

before and in other places too and by famous pedagogues too.

Anyway, yes my wrist is sticking out a bit in that video, I am not sure why as this does not happen all the time and most of the times it does not, however even there there is 2 schools of thought and I have read that for some they think it is better when it sticks out slightly.

Back to the thumb: Perlman does have a thumb which bends backwards like mine but he plays with the neck of the violin resting above 2nd knuckle and not first. Maybe this is what I ought to do 'most of the time' and will persevere in learning this (in my video I do it briefly a few times).

August 20, 2014 at 09:22 AM · I feel strongly that your thumb can better feel the neck with traditional thumb posture. More nerve endings = more sensitivity. Having good thumb positioning has helped immensely with my shifting accuracy and intonation in general.

As for playing in front of a mirror, don't worry about left-right mixups. You've learned to do makeup, hair, and toothbrushing in a mirror, yes? After a few days, violin-in-mirror will be second nature.

August 20, 2014 at 01:14 PM · Hi,

Jo, looking at the videos that you have posted of yourself, I thought I would suggest some things. There are several basic issues of position that would need to be addressed, and they are affecting each other. One has to remember that everything is interconnected, so that something off somewhere will be compensated in the opposite side. Based on this, here are some suggestions:

1) Double-contact: you are supporting the violin on the thumb instead of the thumb and base of the first finger (as Perlman does; please notice that when his thumb opens up, it does not change height or location and neither does his hand unless he is shifting). Your left hand thumb is not coming up opposite the base of the first finger. So, to line this up, make sure that without rotating the left elbow to the right (which you also do) you setup your hand so that you can balance the violin first on the base of the first finger, then place the thumb up to whatever height is natural to its length. Whatever that height is, that is the correct one for your hand from the first to fourth position. In the videos, your thumb does not follow your hand as you shift up, but lags behind. The hand determines the position. As a result, your hand is currently too low in relationship to the neck of the violin. It is possible to play with other hand positions, but this classic one is a standard for a reason: it works with a very great majority of people.

2) Rotation of the left arm: the left arm should be perpendicular to the ground (upper arm) and not rotated to the right, although I know that this is taught more and more, but it leads to great tension and other problems. Great example of the left arm position in current violinists is James Ehnes (good position and minimal sideways movement). You also twist the forearm for the fourth finger instead of just dropping the finger, compensating for this twisting motion by bending the thumb out and changing the wrist angle, as the twist causes an imbalance, so drop the fourth finger but do not change your arm or wrist position.

3) Raising of the left shoulder/collarbone: you are raising on the left side instead of allowing the violin to rest on the collarbone. You are as a consequence raising the right one also and therefore end up bowing quite a bit from the shoulder instead of the forearm (again, if you watch Perlman, he plays from the forearm, not the shoulder). Keep the shoulders down.

4) Bow hold: your thumb is stretched because it is too far towards the pinky, and the collapsing occurs. Carl Flesch suggested that with the Russian hold, the thumb should not only be at least opposite the middle-finger but almost between the first and second finger with this particular hold. While this can be debated, lining up your thumb and middle-finger should help in bending as you will not be over-stretched.

5) Pressure: I am noticing in your videos that you are pressing the thumbs into the neck and bow (as well as pressing the neck on the chinrest). When you press, you will naturally collapse if you are double-jointed, in addition to generating tension. With the bow, this will also lock the elbow and cause you to play from the shoulder affecting your bow direction. To correct this, make sure that there is zero pressure exerted into the neck or bow by the thumbs. You should feel that the weight comes from the arm and entire hand instead of a particular finger or even the fingers themselves. Also, don't press down on the chinrest with the neck/jaw. If you find your violin is slipping to the inside, that is simply caused by the elbow rotating to the right instead of hanging down at the bottom of the pendulum (indicator: the upper arm should look like it is perpendicular to the ground).

Hope this helps - best of luck!


P.S. Nice to see you posting here again Peter.

August 20, 2014 at 06:50 PM · I'm kind of holding back on advice from now on because I think there is a problem with too much advice and people do not know who to take seriously. There are of course some very knowledgeable people who do give very excellent advice, whether its heeded or not.

One of these posters is Christian who has just posted some invaluable points about Jo's video of her playing. (Thanks for the welcome back too Christian).

I'm not sure if the young woman (Dorian) who posted about playing with the fingertips is a professional, but I think she should at least listen to some of the more experienced and highly trained professionals on this site even if she might quite possibly rightly ignore me.

August 20, 2014 at 08:32 PM · thank you Christian for such detailed and generous advice (and thank you to all other contributors too, Peter included!)

I will pay attention to the points you raised Christian.

I have to say I do play with 'double contact', always have, I would not know how to play without it, however my video may not be at the clearest angle etc, or did you mean that I need to angle the violin more towards the index finger? (the violin neck is always always against the base of my index finger.....).

Jus to clarify, you say that my hand is 'too low in relationship to the neck of the violin'...do you mean my fingers should be falling onto fingerboard from a greater height? (or that it looks that the neck of the violin is resting far above that base knuckle of index finger? if neck of violin feels just on knuckle of base of index finger then how can I make my hand higher in relation to the neck?).

I was not aware of moving my elbow to the right (apart from when I am going onto D and G string with 3rd and 4th finger in which case I do, maybe I do not return it to its neutral position? is that what you mean?), so thank you for pointing that out.

I have ordered a big mirror, I intend to start looking at all of these things daily and I hope I will improve soon, thanks

August 21, 2014 at 12:30 PM · I agree, Christian's excellent advice is detailed and precise.

Dorian's remarks, like my own, perhaps, are more "open ended", as a video shows hand shapes and movements, but we can only guess at the muscular tensions involved. Her advice is similar to that which I may give to certain of my own students.

I learn a lot from watching Mr Perlman but my hand build is so completely different (never mind sheer talent) (and hard work!) that imitation is impossible.

I would appreciate more background in the profiles, though. False modesty is of no use to anyone; and on the other hand, amateurs, late starters etc. often apply lively curiosity to problems that professionals will have forgotten about, or never had.

August 21, 2014 at 12:56 PM · Especially for you Adrian (kiss, kiss) I have updated my profile with more info. (I forgot to add the [wink])

Yes, and it is great to have some real experts on this forum, and also those invaluable links to fantastic violin lessons from Mr Perlmann and others.

P. S. Some people have the small hands and are totally unsuited to playing the fiddle, and yet they do it brilliantly. Mr P has banana fingers and yet he plays incredibly - so he's learnt to work around the problem. (High up he has to move fingers out of the way and use one finger for more than on note).It's a question of adaptation, study, and experiment. We could all possibly make it with the right attitude and open mind ...

August 21, 2014 at 01:29 PM · But Peter, you forgot to mention that you played the viola professionally (too ashamed?) but old age has forced you to fall back on the violin. I'm getting there myself. And I started at 14, so there!

August 21, 2014 at 02:06 PM · interesting profiles thank you Peter and Adrian :)

Adrian I never answered your question: the violin in the photo IS a violin, it is my 7/8 made by Crhistopher Rowe (which is now for sale as I have a new full size violin), I am sure it has nothing 'wrong' with the location of the bridge, maybe it just came out 'funny' in the photo when it got downsized/shrunk to be placed on this site?

August 21, 2014 at 03:55 PM · But, Adrian, I was born a fiddler and spent the first ten years playing it, only to fall foul of a certain woman (first wife) who insisted I earnt money for a living and at the time work was easier to come by as a viola player so I had to live with it (the affliction) and do a penance. I did work as a fiddler too (my fiddle teacher noted it looked and sounded like my style of playing on a TV programme) so even though I had agreed to play the viola as a punishment, I moonlighted on the instrument I loved the most. No one chooses to play the viola unless like me you had a dreadful wife, or you got frostbite above D on the viola A string.

By the way I started on the fiddle aged 13 and the viola aged about 23 by which time I was hooked by the aforesaid witch ...

P S I too dabbled in choral conducting, a great mistake really, and I'm too young to reveal my age. By the way, playing the viola at ANY age is liable to injure one's health ...

August 21, 2014 at 09:11 PM · Now I am too ashamed to admit that I chose the viola at 14, and added the violin at 24!

August 22, 2014 at 10:42 AM ·

August 22, 2014 at 02:12 PM · There is no such thing as shame unless you have fallen in love with a conductor ...

However, I should say that there are some very good viola players out there who were at the same Muzak college that I was at, and some who also studied with the same violin teacher as me and who are doing well. One is a professor at the RAM and in a quite well known string quartet. I exchanged old memories with him once but did not manage to ask the awkward question - why did you change to viola? Were you hoodwinked!! (Like I was!)

August 22, 2014 at 02:19 PM · Jo

In fact you should not worry too much, just be aware of the problem. I have it too some days. Other days it's just that I can't get the thing out of the case. That's much worse!!

What pieces are you doing? One mistake I made just now was to play too much repertoire, 3 concertos, 5 studies, several bits of difficult chamber music, and some other solo (easy) stuff, like Meditation and Spring Song by Frank Bridge. (A great party piece by the way and no big challenge). Then I found i was diluting too much and not keeping an eye on all those problems we, or at least some of us, get. We just have to be vigilant.

August 22, 2014 at 03:40 PM · OK... I will enter briefly:

I watched the video of your left hand in action.

My initial observation is that you simply have a weak joint in the thumb.

The question you should ask yourself is: Am I compensating for this fact in a way that is detrimental to the functioning of my hand?

To answer that question requires a brief look at the role of the thumb of the left hand:

Essentially, there are two jobs assigned to the left thumb--- orienting the hand to the instrument, and supporting the structure of the hand in a way that allows the fingers to fall on the strings in the way we desire.

In your video, I see you adjusting the thumb from time to time to contact the neck slightly deeper down the thumb. At these times, you are orienting the hand to the instrument. I also note that your thumb is most often placed toward the bottom of the neck, offering more independence for your fingers, and probably allowing a freer vibrato.

I do not have a problem with either of these things. I simply notice that it looks awkward due to the weak joint. Although the change between these two positions of the thumb occur frequently right now, I do not see them creating other, more unhealthy issues to the function of the left hand.

I must say that while it is of course wise to not squeeze too much with the thumb, it is also important to realize there will always be a certain about of counter-pressure felt as a consequence of the downward force of the fingers. This is true in BOTH hands of the violinist, and care must be taken to monitor the degree of this counter-pressure so that it does not become a bad sort of tension, but an important part of the physicality of good playing. Again, a certain amount is both needed and inevitable.

Essentially, I would offer the opinion that unless your playing function is impaired by something you are doing to compensate for the weakness in the joint--- don't worry about it. Instead, keep your focus on these things: 1)The structure of your hand (the fingers as they relate), 2) The point of contact between the strings and the pads of your fingers, 3) The amount of good counter-pressure you will encounter in general (not allowing it to grow into unnecessary tension), and 4)The ease and frequency with which your hand stays oriented to the instrument.

If these things are your primary focus, the thumb will naturally adjust itself to where it needs to be. If it looks occasionally awkward but doesn't cause harm---so be it.

As Forrest Gump said: "That's all I have to say about that".

August 22, 2014 at 04:50 PM · thank you David.

Liz, essentially my teacher says what David says...just in a much more 'simplified' version ie: there is no problem to him, if it work for me then that's all that matters. He does however comment on my right hand thumb bending inwards and he has asked me to pay attention to that.

August 22, 2014 at 05:24 PM · I would agree with your teacher about the right thumb. Different matter altogether. It must remain bent to act properly as a spring. Good luck with all of it! :-)

August 22, 2014 at 06:51 PM · Hi,

I am a bit pressed for time…

First off, thanks Peter and Adrian for the kind words. I am glad that the post helps.

Peter, I undersand your feelings about giving advice, but please know that your advice is valuable.

Jo, I had prepared a post with answers to your questions, but reading recent posts, I will pass since I think it may differ from your teacher and create confusion and I don't want to interfere. So, best of luck!


August 22, 2014 at 08:20 PM · christian, no your advice was very welcome (as is everybody's) and I was really looking forward to your replies, I am very grateful you took the time to help me, it would be a shame if you feel you have to stop now.....

I know there can be different sort of advice out there, I am 'grown up' enough to know that and grown up enough to take all advice coming to me and find the 'happy medium' hopefully somewhere along the line :)

John, thank you, you are right. I seem to have 'moments' with my bow when it is straight and good for a while then it goes all pear shaped again. I have to say when I did that video I was very very angry and uptight and that showed a lot more in my bowing and my tone (yes you cannot hear my tone, I made sure you could not as it was horrid on that video LOL).

I have a long way to go I know, can't wait for that big mirror to arrive :)

August 22, 2014 at 09:23 PM · Jo

Yes, there are problems with your bowing but there is a limit to the possibility of putting it right by suggestions on here.

You really need to see a good teacher who will quickly sort these things out, for example proper bowing arm levels etc.

If you can't get a teacher then I would suggest a book like Ricci on Glissando as that has some very good suggestions about bowing included on a DVD, and his advice for the left hand is superb. He was a master with both the bow and the left hand.

Reading posts here will only confuse you even though those from Christian are excellent along with at least one or two other persons. (The professional players and teachers). You need face to face hands on teaching to really address these problems, which with the right person could then be easily sorted.

Sorry, I realise on re-reading that you may already have a teacher, in which case he/she should address these problems.

August 25, 2014 at 10:20 AM · Jo

I've been thinking a lot about all the problems we face as violinists. Prompted a bit about sorting myself out, and the points you made in this thread.

It seems to me that there are outstanding players out there who have never had too many problems and so some of them don't even have to think things through too much.

These are often the people who are generally a bit on the small side, with shortish arms and big hands. So they basically don't have a left hand problem, the fiddle sits nicely on the lower or even extreme lower end of the thumb, and their fingers (even if on the fat side) flash around the fingerboard guided by a good ear, with no problems.

Then you come to the others, who are tallish, have long arms and medium sized hands. Problem, because they have to think out their left hands a bit more and get the hand position right for them, and be more careful with sensible fingerings. By no means impossible and there are plenty of outstanding players who achieve this.

When it comes to bowing, they can't just do it naturally like the short arms lot, owing to their long arms. So they have to adapt, which often means bowing around the corner a bit especially at the point, or the middle to point.

No one is built the same, so in most cases we have to adapt, although I'm sure some people will say the violin has to adapt to you. Personally I think it's a two way street.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts which might help, as we all (mostly) have to think out of the box.

August 25, 2014 at 11:52 AM · Thank you Peter,

yes I agree with you on that (size of hands/arms/thumbs etc).

I am concentrating at the moment on teaching my thumbs (both hands) not to bend backwards whilst playing but rather to stay more in a 'neutral' position or slightly curved (same position the thumb would rest if you leave your hand hanging 'loosely').

I am not happy with my vibrato though my teacher seems to think the opposite, he says it's not ok, it is 'beautiful', I told him I disagree, we carry on peacefully disagreeing on that one.

When I do any vibrato to me it feels 'difficult' and often a struggle to do it and I feel a little tension, I don't think I ever feel relaxed but rather like I am working 'hard' at it with little results. This makes me think I am doing something not quite right with my left hand, that if I got that right then the vibrato would feel more relaxed/easier.

Anyway, I'll keep trying to figure it out. Thank you for your posts.

August 25, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Deleted post. Using a different method of communication - the spirit world ...

August 25, 2014 at 08:22 PM · Hi Jo,

Have been out of town and haven’t had time to look at this thread. Since you really want to know, I will try to answer your questions...

1) Video: it is true that video is limited to camera angle and perspective, which means that one can only examine/ascertain from what is seen. In a live lesson, one can examine the student from all perspectives, which is something that one cannot do on video.

2) Double-Contact: Double-contact and touching the violin with two places on the hand is not exactly the same though can be confusing in the way it is most often presented. The idea is that the violin rests on the base of the first finger as a primary support, or point of contact or of balance, to which the thumb coming up opposite side of the neck acts as a secondary support/contact. If one pushes the thumb lower, then the contact is on the side of the first finger above the base, rather than the violin sitting on the base itself. Close location, but different feel and function. You seem based on the videos to use the thumb as a primary support and push it lower than what would be its natural height, which appears in the contraction of the muscle near the base of the thumb. When double-contact is done well, the shape near the base of the thumb will be round, and more U-like, whereas a thumb that is pushed down will have a more V-like shape in this area. Hard to explain in a post, but hope this makes sense.

3) Finger-height: Finger height is based on the shape of the hand as a whole. For example, the height at which the thumb comes up is dependent on its length, and the length/distance between the root of the thumb and base of the first finger and the other fingers. Since this varies from hand to hand, the thumb may appear at a different height, but the principle of using the base of the first finger as a central point of reference for the balance of a hand becomes important of achieve the correct balance for each particular hand; sort of the constant to all the variables. When one forces the thumb to be lower, then the whole hand will be lower.

4) Elbow: there is no need to bring in the elbow for the 3rd and 4th finger going across the strings as this actually brings the fingers back, combined with the twisting rotation that you do in forearm, meaning that you have to stretch further to reach the fingers. It is best to simply reach forward with the fourth finger. If you are having difficulty then, you can open the thumb back, or move it back to open the hand. Sort of like doing the splits: your central point of balance remains in the middle and you open both sides equally to reach, rather than contorting from any side or direction.

Really have to run - best of luck and cheers!

P.S. Your bowing issues are in their most basic format, due to the fact that your thumb and middle finger that are not lined-up as I mentioned previously, that you are pressing the fingers into the bow and moving the bow from the hand instead of the forearm which together cause the elbow to lock and the bowing to occur from the shoulder creating an arc like motion.

August 25, 2014 at 09:19 PM · John I don't understand what you are saying :D

Christian, thank you I'll work on those points. (sorry for brief reply am tired need my bed :) )

August 26, 2014 at 11:00 AM ·

August 26, 2014 at 12:20 PM · 'got you' now John :D

hahaha thanks :)

August 27, 2014 at 09:04 PM · never underestimate 'the power of the bathroom wall' John ;)

August 28, 2014 at 11:36 AM · Hi Jo, I just spotted your v.clever video and thought I'd bung in my two cents worth. You've had tons of great advice and I'm not here to negate that at all, but in case you find it too hard to adjust, there is another solution. You have a very pronounced hyperextension of the thumb joint, and yes, it's obvious when you are pressing a bit hard. But it also seems as if you find your thumb is a little on the long side and you don't really know where to put it. This might not be the case but it's looking a little cramped somehow.

My teacher has taught me to place the thumb underneath the fingerboard, the way you do, only stretched out to its full length. This way, in first position the tip fits neatly into the little 'crook' to the lower left of the join between the base of the scroll and the nut. As you move up the fingerboard into other positions, the thumb pad slides down underneath the fingerboard and stays there, until the very high positions where it slides along the bout rib. It's a bit like making the 'thumbs up' sign and playing with the hand in this position, albeit horizontally. It always trails behind the hand, so to speak. It slides in reverse the same way, no need to bring it up at all. I still have contact with my first finger knuckle, but my teacher just uses the thumb as support, her hand is away from the fingerboard, loose and open and moves easily.

It makes for easy and quick reach of higher and G string positions and allows perhaps a freer vibrato. Speaking of vibrato, I know your frustration. The harder you try the worse it is. After a great deal of time the key I found was to relax, relax, relax. I could only practice it in a certain frame of mind or it wouldn't happen. And when it did, it really was mind blowing how easily I was able to perform it. Keeping it nice, though, is a daily motivation. And yes, my teacher also advocates regular mirror time, not for hair brushing either :)

August 29, 2014 at 10:46 PM · thank you Millie, have given it a go but so far what feels best is what Emilie Grossman talked about in this old thread:


it was a thread about vibrato with no shoulder rest but Emilie went onto explaining (with photos) on how she holds the violin (when doing vibrato and when not). This seems to work ok for me at the moment....well I am still need of practicing my vibrato but it's the hand position which feels most relaxed anyway...

August 30, 2014 at 08:09 AM · Emilie's version sounds about right and will lead to the sort of hand position that I have suggested, if I understand her description correctly. It sounds similar to what Ricci suggests.

August 30, 2014 at 09:21 AM · Just checked.

Emilie's photos are superb.

Many of my students play like this, with or witout a SR. I can't: my own thumb cannot assume this horizontal position without bringing the base line of the fingers too high over the fingerboard. Many other of my students are have hands like this.

Also, using my thumb in this way, I find my vibrato - on the viola - rather stiff and bleating. Using the pad of the the thumb allows me all styles of vibrato, from wide & wobbly to narrow & intense to gentle & discreet..

August 30, 2014 at 09:27 AM · Keep in mind though that it is perhaps best not to get too hung up on vibrato, because it tends to cause innacuricies in the left hand, and blurrs intonation.

I'm always mindful of the story about Oistrakh, and when someone mentioned his vibtato getting a bit out of control. He then spent weeks playing a different Mozart concerto each morning without any vibrato.

If he needed to do that then I'm damned sure we all do! (It can be a study or anything for that matter, although Adrian will disagree as he is not in favour of studies ...)(wink)

P S I didn't know viola players use vibrato ... (wink)(Oh, you are naughty!)

August 30, 2014 at 02:46 PM · Vibrato is often very overdone. I find it is relevant to this thread because if we can produce all kinds of vibrato at will, (with or without a SR) then our left hand set-up must be OK., whether or not it resembles someone else's..

August 30, 2014 at 08:05 PM · I like my left hand the way described by Emily's photos...

however when I vibrato this happens with my fingers (do you think it's because like Adrian I end up with my fingers too high above the fingerboard?)


(basically I end up with a vibrato which looks like the one you do on a cello or double bass...)

August 30, 2014 at 08:24 PM · Your hand is rather tense and the vibrato is too much on the fingertips and not enough on the pads. It should also be from the fingers more, and faster and less wide. And yes, you are too much over the strings. Move from below the note to the required pitch.

But really you need the whole left hand sorting out before working too much on vibrato.

P S I may be wrong, but do you use a Russian bow hold?

September 2, 2014 at 04:40 PM · Yes Peter, I use a russian bow hold

PS the vibrato in that video was not how I really do vibrato, I was just 'posing' to show you all that my fingers find it hard to bend at first knuckle and kind of 'lock' when I try to vibrato with neck of violin supported on the lower knuckle of thumb (as per Emily's photos)

September 3, 2014 at 06:28 AM · A Russian bow hold is fine and many outstanding players use it. I did myself for a while and only converted back to the F-B because I felt it gave me a bit more flexibility at the heel of the bow. It's a very personal thing and I'm happy using either hold, although I mainly "stick" with the F-B. (Pun intended!)

I also like to roll the stick quite a lot and the F-B is good for that too.

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