Left Hand Position

June 3, 2004 at 06:54 AM · I'd always been taught to contact the violin with the side of your index finger in first position. But recently someone suggested keeping the hand totally off the neck, so that just the thumb and fingers make contact even in first position. The elbow moves more to the right and remains in relatively the same position on all strings.

I'd be curious what you all think about keeping the hand distant from the neck, and how you hold the violin in first position.

Replies (24)

June 3, 2004 at 06:58 AM · Greetings,

we had this discussion very recently so you might find a trawl through the archives helpful. I don`t know if we came to any real conlusions but here is my opinion/prejudice, for what its worth.

A beginner must learn to play with the index finger touching the neck of the instrument. This is a way of developing technical security. At a later stage when vibrato is being worked on and the technique is stable the student will develop their own awarness of when releasing the neck is useful for more expressive vibrato. But, to start off the neck does, in my opinon , fail to create a securely grounded technical base to work from. I disagree completely with the idea of a fixed positon for the elbow. On the contrary it is extremely mobile and the rule of thumb is that it stays under and supports the little finger. It varies from player to player but on the g string it may have to be well to the right and on the e much further to the left.

Failure to develop this mobility is one of the sloppiest errors of teacher`s of beginners around. Incorrect use of the shoulder rest can also inhibit this movement too much.

Incidentally, one of the resaosn for the great technical security and expressiveness of players such as Heifetz and Milstein was their extensive use of contact with the instrument by the left hand. They used touch to find their way around the instrument. and often had more contact with it than the left hand of (some)modern players.

Cheers,

Buri

June 3, 2004 at 12:20 PM · Buri, on this issue of left hand contact, I was wondering how much/far the wrist may be bent in towards the violin body. In Brazil this is called to play "bandejinha" (the nh is pronounced like the Spanish "enye", so bandejinya), i.e. "small tray", because you look like a waiter carrying a tray. I recently saw K. Briggs playing in that Yanni Taj Mahal concert and she seemed to me to be bending the wrist a bit. Since I have a short 4th finger, bending the wrist is the only way I can get close to playing the Geminiani chords.

June 3, 2004 at 12:30 PM · Greetings,

there are certainly case whre even the biggest hands need to bend in to play chords. It is not really an issue as long as it is recognized as an expedientcy rather than the norm. I love the waiter description,

Cheers,

Buri

June 3, 2004 at 01:00 PM · I should have specified that Briggs was playing arpeggios, blues pentatonic scales in her jazz solo, going up and down the positions and not playing chords.

Yes, bending in shouldn't be the norm, so as to avoid overstretching and injury, but w/ the short 4th finger condition it seems to become inevitably "endemic". I am aware of the danger though.

June 3, 2004 at 03:06 PM · Tristan ,your wrist must not be bent for an habit . first of all for medical raisons since the tendons don't work in their right position but also for physiologico-technical raison : If your wrist is not steady and supple the fingers slow down and lose their precision.

Stability of the wrist is partly due to the position of the arm that must be in a neutral position or in external rotation while the forearm in turned opposite 'in slight pronation'

You may flex your wrist to transfer fingers from E string to G string ,bent it toward the forefinger for a trille or toward your pinky to play large intervals but you have to come back to a neutral position as soon as possible. The rotation of the wrist (to play arpegios for exemple ) is to be avoid ;it is better to use the whole arm from the shoulder .

June 3, 2004 at 04:32 PM · Hi, Alain, thank you for your response. I agree w/ you. I will transfer this discussion to the correct thread started by N. Crane on short 4th finger hands and reply to you there.

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=4103

June 3, 2004 at 10:35 PM · Having small hands, my left hand is not able to reach the 4 comfortably. For me, I adjust the weight of my hand on different fingers, depending on which finger I am playing on. For example, if the note were on the first finger, my thumb would be closer to the nut. But if it were a four, my thumb moves closer to the bridge to chance the balance of my hand. This changing in balance helps my left hand stay fluid and free of tension (for the most part at least). Then, if you are playing faster notes and such, there is not much time to change the balance of your hand for each note, so you then have the thumb positioned where the balance is more on the 2nd and 3rd fingers. Your 1st finger extends down and your 4th up to hit the notes. And you bring your elbow around to be more "over top" the violin. Then, you can get that "hammer" type playing, so your fingers can be independent of each other in these fast passages.

As for the wrist, mine is pretty much supple and straight too (very very tiny bent - couple degrees and not really noticeable, makes no difference). Hope this helps, tell me what you guys think.

June 4, 2004 at 12:27 PM · Well chris ,you have a keen sense of observation and a good sense of adaptation. Do not change anything .

cheers

June 4, 2004 at 07:45 PM · you know, this reminds me of some problem which I was thinking about for the past week or so.

When I play on the G string, the center of the pad of my finger kind of sits in between the G and D strings while the G string is actually being stopped with the side of the finger's pad. I know this is because my thumb is more closer to the fingerboard and not enough under the violin. But, if I were to play using the center of the pad to stop the G string, then my thumb is almost directly underneath the instrument (not directly, but pretty close) and is that OK? I can still get a good swing out of my vibrato. This happens on the D string as well sometimes (center of finger's pad in between D and A).

So, should I be playing with the center of the pad to stop the string at the expense of having to bring my arm more around the violin and thus bringing the thumb more directly underneath the fingerboard? Thanks.

June 4, 2004 at 08:41 PM · Greetings,

Chris. No.

Cheers,

Brevity.

June 4, 2004 at 08:58 PM · Thanks for the brevity, but any extra thoughts? So do you think that it is ok to have only the edge of the pad stopping the string? What do you guys do? My thumb is not completely under (jsut to clarify) but close.

It is ok to be a little inconsistent then? On the E and A strings, the center of my finger's pad stops the string but G and D, more of the finger's edge does.

Thanks.

June 4, 2004 at 09:16 PM · Buri, I wasn't sure what you were saying no to. Which one?

June 5, 2004 at 12:33 AM · anybody?

June 5, 2004 at 12:46 AM · Greetings,

sorry Chris. Bit of a hangover.

It is not really a yes /no question abouthow flesh to have on the strings. In more vibrabt passages you use more , in more etchnical stuff you use less. That is you move the string away from the center of the pad slightly to the left of the center line.

Actually, I guess you do need more flesh on the g string .

My over all impressions from what you say is first, like Alain said, you seem to have a good sense of what you are doing so don"t get too bogged down in hard and fast rules. Trust your instincts and your ear. Sometimes it is better to forget about the bloody thumb. The fingertips do the playing!

Second, stay with the general rule of thumb (sorry!) that the elbow is in a line that supports the little finger whatever string you are playing on.

Third it is possible that you need some more left right elbow mobility and this is affecting te way you play on the g string. But this is rather complex in itslef. For starters one option to play with is rotating the violin on its axis rather than keeping it flat. Both Stern and Oistrakh did that a lot and it is standard technique for viola players who tire easily because their brains are smaller...(but neater)

It also opens another can of worms becuase your shoudler rest may be causing you some problems even if it feels confortable right now. Do you use one? If so, what?

Cheers,

Buri

June 5, 2004 at 12:57 AM · I use a kun. As for the fingertip placement issue, I was playing and it just seems very natural to me even when I have more of the side of the flesh on the G and D strings. I can still get a really slow, wide juicy vibrato out of it, suprisingly enough. I guess the side of the fingers are touching more since my fingers are more collapsed when I play slower passages than fast passages, which require tall fingers. Still, I seem to be getting a nice slow, wide vibrato (sometimes I wish I could make it faster as well). So I guess I'll just go with what feels natural to me (not to mention, when I play with the entire center part of the pad on the G and D strings, my thumb has to go almost beneath the neck which causes it to clamp against the instrument a lot). Thanks Buri once again.

June 5, 2004 at 06:53 PM · Buri, you mentioned keeping the elbow in line with the litte finger. If I take the side of my first finger off the violin and come up over the finger board with my left hand to play on the E string, my elbow is now far to right. In your opinion, can the elbow still support the little finger here, or does the elbow have to be to the left?

I'm noticing a lot tension in my thumb, hand and lower arm if I don't have the support of the side of first finger touching the neck.

June 7, 2004 at 05:09 AM · Greeetings,

Elizabeth, sorry about the slow answer. The extent to which the elbow can travel udner the violin in highe rpsoitions is very variable and is related to the length of the humerus (upper arm bone). In my case I can`t go that far. It is bette rnot to worery too much about aplying astrict rule here. Find the natural and best position for the finger sand then let your arm organize around that.

The second part was an observation about removing the index finger causing tension. Yes, it does. (in my opinon) One reason ther older palyers had such relaxed and soft left hands is they maintained a lot of soft and gluey contact with the instrumnet. Also helps your kinetstheticx snese more. I can vibrate equally well (or badly) perhaps whether or not I am touching so I have mnever had that much sympathy for the idea that relinquishing conatatc is always more `expressive` or such like,

Cheers,]Buri

June 7, 2004 at 05:03 PM · Buri,

In your opinion, where do you think is the best place for the side of the left first finger to be making contact, let's say in first position? Is it at the base where the finger meets the hand, or somewhere around the near the first knuckle? I think I've been holding the violin too low on the finger, so that the first finger was collapsing backwards, and prompted suggestions, in the first place, to keep more space between the finger and the violin.

I'm trying to decide whether to change the way I hold the violin in first position on the E String. I seem to be ok every where else on the finger board. If my hand is away from the violin in first position, then there is a cleaner move up the fingerboard..the hand, wrist and elbow are all aligned as I move up.

Otherwise I've been swinging my elbow left to right as I move up in position, and people have commented that this looks awkward. But, without the support of the first finger my hand, arm and thumb are tense..maybe this will go away as I get used to a new positon?

June 8, 2004 at 11:35 AM · Greetings,

Elizabeth, the index finger should touch lower down than you are doign I think. Much closer to te base knuckle. This does depend on how long your fingers are to soe extent.

Kepeping the hand parallel to the e string with the finger off if causing tension and it won"t just go away.

I think it would help to practice a lot of very slow shifting on the e stirng using sevcick opus 8. Skip the first few pages and strat wth the exercises where you leap three or four psoitons at a time. As you go up the hand shouldmake a beautiful curving shape as it changes from double contact with the index finger to double contact with the base of palm and instrument. This slight roatation of the forarm and hand is important. Remeber to drop the shoulder down and bac before shifting and then allow the whole arm including the upper arm to particpate in the shifting action although the fingers lead. On the way down lead with the thumb but also have a nice relaxed wrist that actually points slightly towards you before you settle in the lower position and it striaghtens. A very small movement indeed, but you don"t want to get locked nto the idea of hand and arm locked into a single entity. The great players don"t do thta. Left wrist fluidity is important.

You might find it helpful to practice these long slow shifts without a rest to see exactly what is going on then go back to the rest,

Cheers,

Buri

June 8, 2004 at 03:01 PM · Buri, thank you. I'll go and try out what you are suggesting here.

June 8, 2004 at 05:30 PM · Elizabeth,

I was reading what you are having to say. Mind if I suggest something too? You cannot play completely loose on the violin 100% all the time. However, in order to minimize tension, you have to have many releases of this tension. You can't get that from soley deciding to have your arm in one position. for example, when you stated that you are shifting without moving your elbow left to right, that is a very easy way to build tension. You need to release that tension by moving that elbow to the right more, so you are more over the violin. This required anyways since in higher positions, you should be more over top the fingerboard. Remember, don't ever get stuck into playing according to rules (ex: keep elbow, wrist, and knuckles always in line). I agree with Buri that the wrist should be flexible. Not only that, but the entire arm needs to be flexible. Playing the violin well is about internalizing motions and being able to execute from muscle memory. Don't try to play it according to rules and regulations - that creates a lack of tension release which will just cause you to be more tense. I can see that you are trying to change your basic foundation in your technique. Once you do that, always keep in mind that you are never going to play pieces that you can base soley on your basic technique. You need to manipulate your foundations to suit the piece, always looking for a way to internalize the motions needed to play that piece most easily. Hopes this helps.

-Chris

June 9, 2004 at 06:03 PM · Chris,

Thanks, that does help. Everything you say about flexibility, tension release, and manipulating basic foundations to suit the piece is important to remember.

June 9, 2004 at 05:29 PM · Elizabeth . I 've found in a very old Vln methode (around 1910) a rule concerning the the position of the neck from the Thumb-forefinger "pincer" ;You must be able to poke the point of the bow under the neck. You may try it but I am not sure this rule might apllied to everybody . Cheers

June 9, 2004 at 06:10 PM · Lefebure, thanks, I tried pushing the point through, and there seems to be enough room even if I maintian contact with the left finger.

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