Base Knuckle Height Relative to FB for Effect

March 4, 2016 at 08:20 PM · Do you change the shape or position of your hand frame for different desired tones? As an example, play 3rd finger first position on e string. Raising or lowering the height of the base knuckles relative to the finger board may result in a different tone or ease of fingering.

Thanks, stay pawsitive,


Replies (30)

March 5, 2016 at 09:31 AM · Yes.

For tone, we can vary the amount of fingertip "pad".

For fingering too, especially trills.

And with small hands, in order to maintain effective finger shapes on the lower strings.

March 5, 2016 at 09:31 AM · Oops!

March 5, 2016 at 11:19 AM · Chords and double stops often require a change in hand shape.

March 5, 2016 at 02:04 PM · Hi,

Personally, I try to avoid this as I find that it negatively affects many things, especially intonation. However, I find it difficult to overcome. Many of the great and most accurate players don't do that. Some people however do it successfully, so it could be an individual thing.

As for small hands, etc., there are other ways that I find are more efficient than changing the shape of the hand or its position and that of the arm.


March 5, 2016 at 02:39 PM · Thanks all. What is your default base knuckle height relative to the finger board say for the E string? Below, even or above the FB?


March 5, 2016 at 03:55 PM · For me, in the traditional way, the violin sits on the base of the first finger, with the thumb coming up opposite to its own natural height for the hand geometry.. Whether you release or not from the neck, I try to maintain that level. In my own very humble opinion, it is the same for all strings and shouldn't change from string to string.


March 5, 2016 at 05:55 PM · Christian, as I said on a recent thread, if I don't modify the basic violin support that you rightly suggest, I simply cannot reach the C-string with a curved, srong-enough pinky.'My slender-handed young lady students have the same problem on the violin. To avoid awkward twists in the wrist, I find swinging the elbow (to the right, with a strauight wrist) gives us a strong action (and reliable intonation!)on the lowest string. But the base of the index is then higher than the E-string.

Conversely, to avoid bunching-up my fingers on the highest string, I often swing the elbow to the left, and the base joint is slightly below the edge of the neck.

Double stops, arpeggios etc are another kettle of fish!

I have learned much to benefit these students by watching Kyung-Wha Chung, who has very small hands, (and Hilary Hahn, though her fingers are longer.)

March 5, 2016 at 06:21 PM · Hi David, I do the opposite of what Christian does. Rather than change finger shape to change strings, I rotate from the upper arm, what Galamian called the steering mechanism, and try to preserve frame and patterns across strings when possible. This means that I imagine an axis of rotation somewhere in the middle of the crook of thumb and forefinger; I think Adrian describes this as a wrench around a bolt, or something like that. So when I rotate to play on E string, the neck makes contact somewhere around the crease, more or less depending on finger pattern, and the thumb rises, elbow swings left; when on G string the neck makes contact below the base knuckle crease, sometimes the side-of-first-finger (SOFF) is almost on top of the E-string and the thumb rotates under the neck, elbow swings right. I too tend to rest the neck on SOFF, it's just a variable contact, and when the fingers are down, along with the thumb, they provide friction, but I let the neck fall diagonally down and to the right into my left hand, rather than support it up with the thumb. I find because of my short pinky I can't just reach with my fingers. Of course these are all abstractions, in reality things change and adjust all the time, particularly when you have to twist for double stops (i.e. lower finger on higher string, higher finger on lower for difficult settings of the hand, and vice versa for easy settings.) But having one clear octave frame across all strings provides an ideal shape to snap back to. As Ricci suggests I think higher left hand technique is based on all sorts of deviations from these ideals of frame and position, but for most of us you can't get there without going through a well established frame, clear positions and whole arm shifts. 

Edit: I see Adrian beat me to the punch, but I think my approach is very similar. When I play viola, my hand shapes and posture change even more, to the extent that I use two 1st positions.

Edit 2: So to answer your original question, I go more vertical for a narrower vibrato and for ascending rapid passages and fast stuff in general, and flatter for wider vibrato and thicker sound, especially in lyrical passages where I can balance on each finger.

Edit 3: I do see some do what I think Christian is prescribing (check out Ray Chen) but they seem to tend to have long spidery fingers. But also, they seem to have no frame, or organization to their left hand either. They just play finger to finger, note to note, and hit every one on target.

March 5, 2016 at 07:57 PM · Appreciate your responses. I'm more accurate with an elbow swing and pivot on thumb, but for a short single note on the G string I might just lay the pad of a straightened finger. Sometimes on E string 1st pos, might raise base knuckles up to be more on fingertips and not be as bunched up. Might be a base joint widening thing, not sure.


March 5, 2016 at 08:08 PM · Yes, rules should be designed to be broken when necessary..

March 5, 2016 at 11:06 PM · Oh by the way, I'm not recommending that anyone do what I'm doing. I'm somewhere in the maze and studying what's going on. I guess, Adrian, that I'm working on determining my rules.


March 6, 2016 at 01:04 AM · Hi,

Adrian, I answered the question as it was, namely this is what I do. If someone needs to do something else, that is good too. In the end, it is always about what works for you

Jeewon: I don't change the finger shape as I don't need to, but I do use my thumb to open or contract the hand as needed instead of rotating my arm for an extension for example. I also opt for something organized and frames. I have to mention as an aside that I happen to have an unusually long fourth finger in relation to the rest of my hand which plays a role. As for what I had in mind, I wasn't thinking so much of somebody like Ray Chen (who is a great players!), but more of someone like James Ehnes (or those with similar approaches).

David: the best is to take all of the ideas, try them out, and then select what works best for you.


March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · "not be as bunched up"

Kinda sounds like you're curling your fingers uniformly when crossing to the E-string. Is that fair to say? Also check that you're not hyperextending the base knuckles and pushing their palm-side (especially the first base knuckle) up into the neck. Usually, when things feel bunchy it's 'cause we're bunching them.

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · That's interesting Christian! So you're opening and closing the hand in the palm or just the thumb? Do you do that when crossing strings for a parallel motion too? That sounds cool.

Yeah, I can only imagine a long pinky would make things much simpler. I have envy.

I should add too that my approach helps compensate for a short pinky. But I think it also helps the hand let go of the neck and helps release any seizing in the left shoulder complex.

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · Darn tablet seizing up!

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · sorry...

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · oops...

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM ·

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM ·

March 6, 2016 at 01:09 AM · !@#$%^!

March 6, 2016 at 11:13 AM · "Bunched up"? I was thinking of the index, mostly.

March 6, 2016 at 03:01 PM · Adrian I think I get your index finger needing room and clearance from peg etc. My bunching was more 2nd and 3rd and sometimes 4th fingers.

Jeewon My old hands are not able to hyper anything. Clumsy? Absolutely. I try to keep a somewhat uniform curl in my fingers across the strings.

Christian Wow now something more to try out. Do I assume that the side of your index finger is away from the neck? Sounds interesting for vibrato.

Thanks Guys,


March 6, 2016 at 04:41 PM · "keep a somewhat uniform curl in my fingers across the strings"

When your fingers are on the string, are your baseknuckles straight? If you draw a line through the baseknuckles, is the line more parallel to the strings or more oblique?

March 7, 2016 at 12:44 PM · Hi,

Jeewon: I don't need to change anything when going from string to string for some reason. I use the thumb in a concept similar to what pianists do when opening the hand for large chords, namely that if I have to reach forward for an extension or larger pattern with the little finger, I open my thumb in the opposite direction to "open up" the hand. This enables me to make changes when needed without having to rotate the elbow or make changes to the arm etc. that would add tension across the arm, shoulders and back. Don't know if this explanation makes it clear or not...

David: The side of the index is not away from the neck, but it also doesn't press against it. It does release a bit, but I don't go for the gap thing. Vibrato in my experience is more affected by other issues is there are problems.


March 7, 2016 at 01:43 PM · Christian, may I ask if you use support from the shoulder, with or without a pad or rest, at least some of the time? I feel this has a bearing on how we model our left hand action.

March 7, 2016 at 01:58 PM · Hi Adrian,

I played for several years without a SR, which shaped how I use my hand. After trying a pad for a while, I do now use a SR again for a few months. In the end, my personal conclusion is that how we setup with or without a SR/pad and how our movements occur should not change. But, that is just my very humble opinion...


March 7, 2016 at 02:01 PM · Christian - I think I miss-understood. For thumb release where you moving up and down the fingerboard? I envisioned laterally across the fingerboard which perhaps caused my confusion.



March 7, 2016 at 02:23 PM · Hi Christian, I don't want to get too pedantic--thanks for bearing with me--but it sounds like you're pivoting side to side by bending at the wrist. That's traditionally discouraged but if you can play in tune it's certainly a more efficient way to cross strings. James Ehnes seems to break his wrist constantly in all directions for various contexts, but I think he does change the shape of his fingers too, for parallel placements across strings. It's barely noticeable, and I'm sure barely perceptible to him, because of his huge hands. It's what I would do too, if I could get away with playing on a half sized fiddle.

March 7, 2016 at 04:22 PM · Hi,

David: My hand height doesn't change. The thumb moves laterally back if I need to extend forward with the fourth finger (or expand the reach).

Jeewon: To answer your question, there is no change in the wrist. It's really hard to explain in a thread like this, but like I said to David, the movement of the thumb is lateral forward or back. The rest, I don't think about too much, but no hand or finger position is ever static. Does this make more sense?


March 7, 2016 at 05:24 PM · Thanks Christian. I guess when you say, "no hand or finger position is ever static," I can only visualize tiny pivots and variations within the hand. In pedagogy, I think for the sake of organization and consistency, it's useful to change one variable at a time, and so sometimes it's useful to keep certain other variables static (though never rigid.) But I agree, when playing real music, accomplished artists' hand and finger positions are always adapting to the context, never static.

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