Vibrato of Chords

January 10, 2005 at 06:59 AM · How do I get a strong, clear vibrato with chords that mingles(which restraints smooth movement) your finger?

Replies (47)

January 10, 2005 at 01:22 PM · This is a very good question. When playing chords or double stops obviously more fingers are involved so a higher variability of tension can also occur do to the fact. So the key to vibrating these chords is to making sure that the fingers are not pressed into the fingerboard as this as I have discussed on other threads is not effective due to the fact that the joints of the fingers lock from moving freely. Pressing the fingers and turning the fingerboard into sawdust will also cause the muscles in the forearm region to react negatively since these very muscles do control quite a great deal of what your fingers do in general. Violin playing is very athletic. I was watching the Jets/Chargers game on ABC the other night. It started to rain in the fourth quarter as a result the quarterbacks had a more difficult time throwing the football. John Madden explained on the broadcast how a quarterback who grips the football is extremely ineffective for that very reason. Gripping the football as he said can lead to fumbles and inaccurate passes I thought this sounded so much like playing the violin ineffectively. In a sense by doing the very same thing on the violin is counter productive and can as well lead to inaccurate intonation/shifting, a twitch instead of a vibrato, and also possible injuries.

January 10, 2005 at 10:18 PM · So when a student is repeatedly told to press harder into the strings with the LH fingers whenever the tone is muddy (which can be a bow issue, of course!) then the ensuing habit can lead to difficulty in acquiring vibrato. The football metaphor explains the mechanism so nicely. I love extrapolations.

January 10, 2005 at 07:20 PM · .

Inge you hit it right on the head, something I forgot to really mention which is that the bow is what makes the sound the LH fingers only act as typewriters. If you watch Jascha Heifetz or Milstein on video you'll notice how freely their finger joints moved. This would be impossible with pressure.

January 10, 2005 at 10:19 PM · Reading post after post in in the various threads about not pressing hard was an experience like coming from the wildernesses of Timbuktu (my apologies to any Timbuktubian) and discovering that the world is not flat.* Playing on the edge of fingertips probably doesn't help the matter - it would tense the hand. Perhaps with the cultivation of a light touch will tend to even affect finger shape, and vibrato will be on its way.

[*Edited: Reading Lisa's response tells me that the world is spherical or round: some people press and have reason for doing so.]

Oh, one thing (my black mood is lifting). When you say that the left hand fingers are essentially typewriters I know what you mean. However the very few time I have achieved vibrato simply by feeling vibrato there was a certain "musical emotion" that came with it as though it needs not only be executed physically but felt. And it would seem, in those brief encounters of the vibrato kind, that there was this feeling of unison between the expressiveness of the bow and of the vibrato a bit as though the two hands had become one --- does that make any sense?

Sorry, I should hijack the thread about vibrato with chords. Please do go on with the main topic.

--- I see KELSEY's question below mine. It's another thing I'm working on and since it ties in with the main topic I dare reiterate it. Why does the hand become more tense (for some) in double stops? Is there an ideal position for the hand that more easily places the fingers above both strings in question? Should a certain flexibility in the fingers be developed so that they can "reach around awkward corners"? Are there exercises in conjunction or before double stops that would create such flexibility or fingers that are strong but relaxed? Would people beginning double stops for the first time think double effort and therefore press harder on the strings?

January 10, 2005 at 08:05 PM · Any tips for loosening up a hand that's tense in double stops?

January 10, 2005 at 08:16 PM · There are bunches. I eagerly await Mr. Brivati's reply.

In the meantime, instead of trying full chords start with octaves, vibrate very slowly to make sure everything is in working order, and initially do the practice and loosening up without the bow. Go back to the most basic vibrato practice and use fingers one and four together instead of just one finger. These things helped me in the same situation.

January 10, 2005 at 08:46 PM · I press very hard when I play. I want the depth of sound that brings. But I play far back on my pads, my thumb is loose and in the approximate area of my second or third finger, my wrist is relaxed and in a straight line down to my elbow, and I am not squeezing - I am using the weight of my elbow (and my joints can easily move).

Inge: the elbow position under the violin determines whether your fingers are poised over the right strings. Put your fingers down on the strings that you want to play on (align your hand) and swing your elbow back and forth underneath - like a pendulum - and find the center point for your fingers. If your hand position, thumb position and elbow position are co-ordinated then it is relatively easy to vibrate on double-stops.

But here's an idea - you might not always want to. Try practicing double stops (without vibrato) until you can get your violin vibrating enough that you can hear the sympathetic tone that is produced when the double stop is in tune and the bow is working properly. I think that sounds better than vibrato in many instances.


January 10, 2005 at 09:02 PM · Lisa, your post was a veritable treasure trove. I am intrigued that you are the only one that advocates pressing - a different school entirely? I deleted the long response with more questions because it's not fair to the others. You wouldn't happen to have any familiar with the elusive "Russian left hand" that I asked about last week --- i.e. if my hand is placed in a standard way, my teacher's example is coming from a hand that is placed quite differently so that certain things look and act differently, it can be disorienting. It might also explain something of how I came to use the very tips of my fingers. --- Not that I'm there yet, but at the end of your post you talked about vibrating the VIOLIN itself?

January 10, 2005 at 11:09 PM · Inge:

I am sure your teacher must enjoy your endearing ability to take every small idea to its greatest extreme!! (wink) I am sure that your wonderful wit and sense of humor pulls him/her out of any frustration that may bring! :0) (By the way, I rolled on the floor with laughter at your post about your boss calling out all the multi-cultural names! Funniest thing I've read in a long time.)

And I also have to add that I have found it to be a mystery in old threads that I can be reading along and suddenly come upon a starred post that is no longer there!! (Is that you doing that to your own posts?) Now that you have deleted all your questions, my answer makes no sense in the thread! LOL

OK, let's get the last idea first. NOT vibrating the violin!! The violin RESONATES when played in in-tune double stops. For instance, try a fourth (use upper strings at first - it is easier to hear the resultant tone). When it is played perfectly in tune with a slow bow (and, for you, Inge, perfect weight and speed! lol), you will get a quite loud resultant harmonic tone (a third note - I tell my kids that it is magic lol). That is one of the ways I tune double stops. It is really satisfying too cause when it happens the whole violin just opens up and really makes the room ring (I tell them that when the violin is in tune it gets happy and sings another note! lol). (hehe, well, I would have answered my own question in the OR thread that I like practicing in the bathroom - lots of resonance!)

As for pressing... I hesitated using that word (I really hate the use of the word pressure regarding violin playing). I would rather use weight. But that was the word used prior to my answer and I wanted to emphasize that you can have your fingers "pressing" down the strings with a tremendous amount of weight and still be relaxed and flexible - but depends on how you use your fingers, wrist, and thumb.

If you play on the tips of your fingers, probably your thumb is aligned with your first finger or lower and your wrist is probably pushed out towards the scroll. That is a LOT of tension in the hand, fingers and arm. I'm too lazy to do that well. ;-)

It also produces a kind of sound that is not my personal goal.

Try this experiment - similar to the double stops. Pick a resonant note on your violin - probably second finger E on the A string (third position). Play it on the tip of your finger with a good sound in your bow - use a slowish speed so you can really listen to the sound. No vibrato - get the violin resonating with the bow. Now do the same note as far back on your pads as you can without lying your finger flat on the string. Which sound do you like better?

Maybe someone here can tell me the physical reason for this as I have never been able to figure it out. It seems that if you stop a string that it should not matter how much surface area on your finger you use to stop it - because the note sounds from the highest point of the stop, right? But, in my experience, stopping the string with more finger area does affect the sound! (I would love to hear an explanation of that.)

As for the Russian style hand position - of that I know nothing! LOL I think what I am describing is more of the old school which I assume is Russian, but I have no idea.

The way I think of it Inge, is that you can do anything on the violin anyway that works for you. But some motions are more efficient than others. Violin is soooo hard that I like to find ways to move where I get the maximum result with the least amount of effort (laziness, remember?). If you watch Olympic athletes perform sports that require extreme precision for speed or intricate motion, you will see that almost all the athletes use the same motions - because over time coaches have perfected this efficient movement thing into a real science. If you run and flail your arms and legs all over the place, you cannot get any speed up. You could still run, but you would lose a race. That is sort of the theory behind my practice. That is why I use the finger position that I do.

Here's another game to try. Go to a door jamb and attempt to hang off it by holding on with your finger tips. Try to imagine you are hanging on the edge of a cliff for dear life. Which position best holds your weight? (It will be with your fingers on the pads with a good arch in the knuckles. And by the way, try that on your tips. OW! It hurts!) Now do that on the violin. Either rest your scroll on a shelf about shoulder height, or hold the body of the violin with your right hand. Place fingers one, two, and/or three on the fingerboard on the pads (knuckles leaning toward scroll, tips pointing toward nose). Let go of your thumb and either pull your own elbow down and toward your body or have someone else do it. Don't try to resist the pull with your wrist - if your elbow pulls down, it should pull your wrist into a straight line. Then place your thumb wherever it feels relaxed on the side of the neck (probably it will automatically go across from your second finger if you let it). Tadaa, you have a great hand position (and a relaxed one too). Notice how hard your fingers were pulling down into the strings when your elbow was pulling down. That's how hard I press.

Last thought... I'll paraphrase what Oliver Steiner wrote in another thread: pick your teacher well and then trust them and follow their instructions! Don't use this board to always be messing with what they are trying to teach you - that can be really frustrating for a teacher. (But keep the investigating spirit - it is great.) :0)


January 11, 2005 at 02:11 AM · Dear Lisa,

I apologize for "my" mysterious disappearance. After I posted I felt it to be inappropriate to be diverting someone else's thread to such a degree for my own purposes and so severely edited it. I'm actually glad you "caught" it in time.

What you wrote looks very promising and may bring me on the last inch of a long journey back to normality. I can recognize a key when I see it. I understand exactly what you are saying about efficiency, athletes and all of that. It is what I'm after ... or rather away from the certain knowledge when something is very astray and creating blockages. It is the same thing. I will be starting my practice in a few minutes and will hang from the nearest door jamb. ;-)

I understand about resonance and interact with it all the time. My violin has wonderful properties in that department and is a delight. Only, you did say "vibrate" and I was wondering if you had same unusual violin-jiggling precurser to teaching vibrato. I've seen so many methods out there, one never knows.

My questions seem so many because they have accumulated for such a long time. In a lesson I may ask one well-placed one and these days they bear tremendous fruit - otherwise my role is to listen, watch and learn. And a finger pointing in the classroom for a second has to be replaced by a paragraph full of words on the screen.

Rather than messing with my teacher's explanations these things have allowed me to meet them as old embedded misconceptions underneath vanish. There has been such a change in the new year since the holiday preparation-induced pause that it has been met with delight and a touch of disbelief. With normality back I will be able to sit back and take things as they come.

My apologies to Josh for the digression.

January 11, 2005 at 03:03 AM · Lisa,

Just a theory on why good sound comes from pressing hard with the fingerpad, and from pressing lightly with the fingertip...

Maybe it's because the smaller area makes a more precise "node" for the string to vibrate.

Ideally, the nodes on any vibrating string are precise pinpoints. If you want the string to vibrate smoothly and precisely, you need to make sure that its ends are not just a specific distance apart but also precisely and securely clamped down.

On one end of the string is the bridge, which is a square, solid structure that clearly defines the node on its end; however, a finger is like a huge pillow (soft + large surface area) when compared to the string.

The finger doesn't necessarily need to exert too much pressure; all that is needed is that it precisely locates the node required to play a particular note and keep the unnecessary length of the string (between the finger and the nut) from vibrating. This is in contrast with harmonic notes, which are played with the finger deliberately raised just enough to define the node while also allowing the extra length of string to harmoniously vibrate.

By pressing hard with the fingerpad, one compensates for the larger surface area by providing more rigidity to define the node.

Just my two cents :-) Sorry if this post is all messed up; I'm sneaking in some time at work, hehehe >;-)

January 11, 2005 at 03:18 AM · Greetings,

nice to see someone else with work problems..

Like Lisa, I think a lot of the problem lies in the terminology. I hate the word pressing. It isn`t really what we are doing at all. But it is in a funny kind of way. Does the application of pressure equal pressing?

Perhaps it is more the weight of the fingers one is applying, but that begs the querstion of where the strength comes in becuase we are always told to `have strong fingers` or `such and such an exercise will strengthen the fingers so play it for eight hours a day` and I wonder if we really know what we are doing....? I belive the notion of finger strength is reall but thta it belongs in the spped that one can -lift the fingers- rather than but them down. The latter should really be a case of letting gravity do its job. With the necessary precision and speed in lifting the hand will become strong enough and the `applied pressure` will be enough.

Very often we should actually release the presusre on the string anyway after the note has began.

There are many great etachers andf players wh advocate a huge amount of applied pressure on the stirng (Heifetz included) and I think this is what they meant. Where we run into difficulties is , as Nate pointed out, the muscles of the forarm enter the picture and start contracting. The best way to avoid this @particular problem is perhaps to pracitce short trills or even just appogiaturas (like the first exercise in Kievman) with absolute focus on the lfting action and movement from the base joint of the finger.

Another problem to consider is where your base joints are. They are lower in the hand than most people think (not situated at the level of thewebby part between each finger). If one has an incorrect mental construct of the origin of the finger then a huge amount of extra squeezing and contracting occurs becaus eof the internal conflict one has set in motion.

As fas as vibrating ona double stop is concerned you might try centering your attention on the upper note. To what extent this differnet focus can be transferred to chords is up to you...;)

Ultimately getting better at the violin is a question of steadily increasing relaxation so a check of the wrist and other joints for tension during a chord (try wiggling the wrist back and forth for example) is useful. Experiment with thumb posiiton or tension too. You might also try working on finger independece by picking -one- finger of the chord and releasing the presusre while sustaining the pressure on the other fingers and so on. This might sensitize one to realizing that a particular finger is pressing way to hard and another not at all and so forth,



January 11, 2005 at 03:52 AM · Greetings,

incidentally, on the placing of the fingers, although simultaneous is ideal this is seldom realized and it is fairly often better to consciously work at placing the fingers sequentially 1234 irrespective of which string they are on. The placing is so close toegtehr in time it acts in efeftc the same as a simultaneous placing.

There isa useful discussion of changing chord spacings in this months Strad- an article by er Simon Fischer.



January 11, 2005 at 07:43 AM · Inge:

You're just great! I hope you've long since fallen off the door jamb! ;-)

You realize, (I hope!), that I am just teasing you and I think it is just great that you are so full of questions. It is the only way to find out things. And those moments of realization with one finger moved are the greatest. I hope you have lots and lots of those in your lessons. I would think you would, because you do so much mental preparation - the ground is well-tilled, so to speak.

No violin jiggling. lol To me when a violin is resonating it is vibrating. I should probably be more careful with my words.

And I think you did admirably in taking the thread to more intricate levels. Don't apologize!!


That is really interesting! OK, here's my thoughts so feed back to me on this. When I do this comparison for my students I press just as hard with the tips of my fingers as my pads (in fact, I "experience" pressing with the tips as PRESSING, but not with the pads - even though it is probably pretty similar pressure - god!). (But I do totally see that the "softness" of the pad needs more weight on it to totally depress the string. I tend to try to find that one little point with the center of my finger and really rest on it.) BUT if you do that (with just hard enough pressure to create a node, the tip still sounds more narrow and a sharper (not pitch) sound than the pad sound. Could it be that the pad is giving some kind of cushion to that node point?

I do play very much the way Buri described, with the finger relaxation coming from the base and therefore producing a lot of relaxed weight on the string (I think of it going even futher than the base though - because the elbow pulls down from the arch through the base joint through the wrist all the way down toward the ground). So maybe playing on the pads for me just gives me a way of manipulating that node point for vibrato and pitch that is an easier adjustment than the tip of the finger. See, this is where I am completely unscientific. All I know is that it sounds better (and feels more relaxed). I sure would like to know why though (in terms of sound - I know why it is more relaxed). Try that tip/pad experiment and tell me if you think there was a sound depth and resonance difference.

Buri: I just love your posts and totally agree with what you said. I practice those bouncy fingers everyday (when I practice! lol) - the ones that pop up off the fingerboard as fast as possible and come to rest in a fuzz tone on the top of the string completely relaxed (I like this exercise better than trill exercises - and it helps with vibrato too). And often I will hit a note hard with my finger on the string and then release it back a bit as the note catches resonance.

I love your suggestion of releasing pressure in one finger and sustaining it in others. Great idea!

Interesting thought about the top note of double stops... I was always taught the other way. I'll have to try it tomorrow.


January 11, 2005 at 08:18 AM · Lisa,

I agree with your idea that using the pad gives you more control over the string's vibration than by using just the tip; IMHO the greater surface area plus the finger's dexterity allow the player to make minute adjustments to the node.

In addition, it may be that using the fingerpad gives a "warmer" sound than the fingertip (which is hard and bony) because the pad acts much like the felt hammers in a piano: it's hard enough to make the string vibrate, but soft enough to dampen the vibration in such a way as to produce a warm sound.

(Compare the warmth of a piano's "hammered" strings to the sharp sound of a harpsichord's "plucked" strings)

Exactly how and why this happens (in the piano or the violin), I don't know. Perhaps a physics professor or musicologist could tell us, but anyway I think you know what I'm talking about.

I think the sensation of pressing down with the pad feels "heavier" than if you press with the tip, maybe because since the pressure is dispersed by the larger surface area of the pad then more pressure is needed to exert the same amount of force as when you're using just the tip (in which case all the pressure is concentrated at the end of the finger, thereby requiring less pressure to exert the same amount of force)

Please remember that all the above is just speculation on my part, based on thoughtful observation. I'm no expert! :-P

January 11, 2005 at 09:57 AM · The questions & answers in this thread are fascinating, but I think I must be missing something. Heavy downward pressure or weight must be counteracted by upward support of the violin to stop it falling, whether from thumb or shoulder. That would create tension, no?Pressure followed by quick release need not create tension, but the thumb must still support the neck at the beginning of the note? It cannot 'really' be that the violin is supporting the whole weight of the arm through the finger, unless the instrument is held very hard with the chin & shoulder? What am I missing?

Playing nearer the tips sounds more like an open srting to me, than playing on the pads, I think I read one 18th cent. account suggesting stopping the string with nails.

That raises the question of which of my teachers was right, the one who said that only beginners with weak pinkies are allowed to use open strings, or the one who said that a lot of violin music works well with open strings? A basic question which has puzzled me for decades! Which view has the best authority?

January 11, 2005 at 02:36 PM · Oh poor Josh - are you getting anything out of this indirectly for your initial question?

Lisa, I had no idea my doorsill had that much dust! My fingertips were gray - I'm ashamed of my housekeeping abilities. It was an interesting exercise.

January 11, 2005 at 05:35 PM · OOoo, I just love this thread!!


I LIKE that idea about the felt on the hammer - it makes sense - or is just pleasing - don't know which. BUT the comparison with harpsichord vs piano doesn't ring as true to me only because it is the method of pulling the string, not stopping it (pizz or bowed). Well, until we hear from a physicist I will use the image of felt on my hammers... (thanks!)

John: I got up intending to run around like crazy and had to stop and answer this. You have put into words the greatest paradox on the violin (and I think, of life). This is where my theology training really informed my violin technique. hehe I used to hate paradoxes because you can never solve them (or like Jan would say, "find the truth" oops my IQ is Buri, I solemnly declare that I am an idiot and completely daft!). You can only find the tension in them and live there. Since a theology degree I have discovered the absolute joy/delight/pain/transformation/frustration/redemption/agony of living in the tension of paradox.

You must allow your arm to pull down so it feels like a lead weight (actually BOTH your arms) while your violin stays beautifully in the air like a table to support the weight pulling it down. LOL Now, go practice and figure out how to do that! ;-)

That is CERTAINLY why shoulder rests were invented, but I think they are the wrong solution. They are the resolution to the paradox - not the living within the paradox. They are the declaration of truth (wrongly because of the black and white nature of the solution, objective as it were) on the outside, but not the truth that lives within (the grey area, the subjective, no rather more RELATIONAL state). LOL (wow, I could really run with this. OK, I'll spare you.)

I balance my violin on my collarbone and between the base knuckle of my first finger and first joint of my thumb (lightly). My violin is much more centered in front of me so my bow arm can hang by my side where it naturally rests. My elbow can hang, pendulum like, under the body of the violin (puts more stress on bicep, less on shoulder muscles). I use my shoulder in shifting, but it gets used and then released as I play over and over so there is a lot of motion there which mitigates against tension. That is the technique of it.

Actually, what has to be achieved is the sensation of complete dead weight relaxation while maintaining the proper level in the air with your hands. When you can do that, you'll be a great violinist! We have to trick our brain by using cellular/muscle memory and by focusing our concentration on other points to keep our brain from screwing the whole thing up.

One way to practice this weight is to use a resting point for your elbow. You can find a shelf that is elbow height when you are playing and rest your elbow on it. Let your whole shoulder girdle relax and use your right hand to pull your violin up into your arches (just to see the feeling - then let go). Then slide your thumb up and down the fingerboard to find where it is most relaxed. That is one sensation. Then rest your scroll on something and allow your arm to hang off the violin held only by the arch in your fingers. Move your thumb until it feels relaxed. Another way: have your teacher hold up your scroll and help you make those adjustments. You have to do these types of things over and over to memorize feeling. Gradually over time, your body "feels" what to do and can go there if your mind doesn't interfere. You will be able to do this relaxation better if your violin rests on your collarbone - a solid structure that is independent of muscles (even a shoulder rest doesn't have that advantage!).

I can't think of a better way of describing the process... Buri?

Inge: I am sure you will be practicing less today... I hear the vaccuum in the background! LOL


PS Now I am actually excited to go begin teaching! YAY!

January 11, 2005 at 05:38 PM · John:

PS what makes the open string sound resonant (as resonant as other notes) is the bow not the method of putting down your fingers. I love open strings (had my eyes opened on that by Milstein).


January 11, 2005 at 06:25 PM · I hear it too, Lisa - my upstairs neighbour has a vacuum cleaner fetish! Or as she puts it, "You play the violin. I play the vacuum cleaner." Maybe she'll do my door sills.

Interesting about hanging elbows. During part of my recovery I spent some time sporadically propping and unpropping my left elbow to get a normal feeling back. But your RIGHT elbow hangs naturally? FB then. My elbow gets raised quite high in the studio if it's not high enough - old style Russian. While I'm somewhat shoulder-fixated as being an area that will make playing more natural letting my right elbow hang is not an option. I think today I'll do what brought me back in the first place --- play and play sight reading until everything falls into place, find out how it's fallen into place so I can get there normally, and go from there.

Similar to what you wrote philosophically, I have long concluded that the violin is a balance of contradictions and every truth has its opposite truth. That swirly yin yang symbol seems to say it best. Straight bowing requires curved motions; a relaxed hand cannot be a limp hand; loudness through softness; softness through controlled strength .... not that this philosophizing is any help at all in the quest for vibrato in chords.

January 11, 2005 at 11:44 PM · Greetings,

at last someone posted an easy question...

John, you can use open strings a lot of the time. It just depends what color you want. Are you ghoing to start the opening of the Vivaldi a minor in third position or with an open? Viotti 22?

Very often the open is a powerful expressive tool becuase you can play a phrase once using a stopped not and a second time using an opne and so on.

The open string is also a device for facilitating getting into a new position by giving you some breathing space.

The advanced scale manual from Russia by Elizabeth Gilels also advocates open strings on the way up and fourths on the way down. A @procedure Galamian also reocmmended for helping with intonation.



January 12, 2005 at 12:14 AM · Thank you Lisa for taking time to reply, and Inge for stimulating the development of the discussion. I am tempted to say I know exactly what you mean - yet don't understand it at all. But that would be too paradoxical.

Another paradox - hard to avoid, though this may not be the place - is that many players write against shoulder rests but 99 out of 100 seem to use one... The feeling of isolation (I don't use shoulder rest) worried me so I tried to think 'scientifically' about weight and pressure etc. (my 'scientific' explanation for not liking shoulder rests is on the 'Too late now' thread).

Although I don't use a shoulder rest, I think that means the left thumb must go a litte under the neck to give support albeit with minimum tension (presumably what Auer had in mind?). Doesn't touching the neck with base knuckle of left hand inhibit vibrato?

January 12, 2005 at 12:17 AM · Thank you too Buri for the note on open strings. I have little confidence in any of the UK-trained teachers who taught me as a child, but the ideas they implanted (like never using an open stirng after grade V) must have been current in their music colleges I suppose.

January 12, 2005 at 12:23 AM · I also had one thought about the question as to why one teacher would insist on the 4th finger being used all the time and another teacher having different advice. My thinking about the 2nd teacher's idea was along the line of Buri's -- open string creates a different colour so one of the reasons to choose using it would be for musical (interpretive - tone colour) reasons. But given that we all start out with the fourth finger being the weakest, I would imagine that most teachers would want their students to use it as much as possible in order to strengthen it and an insistance to use it all the time might be for the purpose of technical i.e. physical development. Or are there teachers that believe that even *musically* it is best never to use open strings if at all possible?

BTW, open string vibrato is like a reality-defining magic trick when one first becomes aware of its existence.

January 12, 2005 at 12:21 AM · We have discussed left index finger tension recently, as this was also my problem. I have found that you can indeed find a good vibrato and keep the index in contact with the neck if you keep it relaxed and free to move back and forth along the neck. All this, and restless, too!

January 12, 2005 at 01:45 AM · Greetings,

John, the thumb doesn`t have to go under the neck any more to support the instrument. It rests a litlte more on the shelf below the index finger. No, the vibrato is not inhinited but I have also found that the violin will stay in place with the index finegr away from the instrument without much trouble. I just haven`t figured out why yet;)



January 12, 2005 at 03:37 AM · It stays in place because it's resting on the thumb.

Re: those who advocate not pressing or applying pressure, I wonder what they do when they're playing something that requires some finger extension.

January 12, 2005 at 03:57 AM · In what way would pressure be involved in extending a finger? I think for me the instrument initially rested somewhat on the first finger "shelf" as well. I still have a slight callous there from my "tight hold" days. I actually thought there was something wrong with that and was surprised to see it mentioned by Buri and maybe others.

January 12, 2005 at 05:15 AM · Hi Inge,

There are situations where I need to play a double stop which just isn't under my normal reach. I have to have one finger down as an anchor and then stretch the other forward or backward to get the interval. A 9th in first position would be an example.

January 12, 2005 at 05:31 AM · Greetings,

the amount of pressure must correspond to the job being done. In some cases it may be a great deal.

A simple device for icnreasing the speed of vibrato pointed out to me by Hugh Bean is to increase the finger pressure on a note.



January 12, 2005 at 05:31 AM · I actually thought that might be what you meant. I used to use my 1st as an "anchor" until I started injuring the joint at the nail and dropped that habit in a hurry. I've seen the thumb used as an anchor for the same thing quite effectively. The question was about playing with pressure on the string -- your playing finger would not have to have pressure on the string in the anchor situation, though, right? I guess the real goal is to keep suppleness and flexibility in the hand where it counts.

Maybe this is a good time to throw out an observation. I have been building strength in the fingers themselves off the violin through a Basics exercise. I've found that when one body part - the fingers here - doesn't have strength then to do an action muscles elsewhere are tensed. For the fingers, the whole of the hand might get tensed. In that pre-colle exercise on Violinmasterclass where the student raises the fingers while resting the hand on a desk, initially the tension would go right up to my shoulders and I learned to put my other hand on my arm to feel for that tensing, and consciously use ONLY the appropriate muscles. Ditto for the left. Kids get into it gradually. But if you start as an adult, and especially if you progress very quickly as I did in the first years, you can end up using the wrong muscles to do things, think you're stretching with the finger when in fact your "finger" is the hand that's doing the work, and create so much rigidity that it becomes counter-productive - not to mention setting up bad habits so that the appropriate muscles end up only partially taking over the task. This observation might be very appropriate to the question of vibrato and the more challenging finger positions in chords since it has to do with balance, flexibility, suppleness and enough strength to permit softness where needed. What do the "knowledgeable" people think about this?

January 13, 2005 at 07:08 AM · Hi John:

I don't use a shoulder rest and nor do any of my students (beginning or transfer). It just takes a few minutes to show any student who has always used one the benefit of holding without and they are willing to switch. I've never taught anyone that regretted making the change.

I do keep my thumb on the side of the neck a lot, but I move it around also. So I can slide up or down the neck depending on the step wise pattern I'm playing. Sometimes I use my thumb like I'm hitchhiking - resting the neck on top - usually when I want a very intense vibrato. I can also slide just under the side of the neck with the thumb (not completely under the neck for certain kinds of shifting). It really depends on what I'm playing. Rather than a static kind of rule, I try to place it wherever it most relaxes my hand. But the basic structure is that of it on the side.

Also, Jim, my violin does not rest on my thumb, it rests on the base knuckle of my index finger - or rather it is balanced between that point and a very gentle touch of the thumb on the other side of the neck. It is more a balancing thing than a resting thing. For finger extensions, I move my thumb. It is what I was saying above. If I am stretching my first finger back or my fourth up or both, I move my thumb up so it is still a fulcrum for my hand. That keeps my hand as relaxed as possible and maximizes the stretch.

Buri: that is exactly how I change my vibrato - lots of "pressure" lol! I think it is what John was saying - it increases the focus on the "node" of the note and makes it easier to get a rich, more intense vibrato.

Inge: I'm not sure I fully understood your last post, but I do think it is important to be able to isolate muscles and move some and not others - or relax some and not others.


January 13, 2005 at 03:12 PM · "Inge: I'm not sure I fully understood your last post, but I do think it is important to be able to isolate muscles and move some and not others - or relax some and not others."

I understand fully what you are saying about the thumb: you have put words to things I've seen. But beyond the physical description I like the mental process that goes with it. You don't start with the thumb: you start with the ease of the hand and the thumb happens to facilitate what is your mental focus --- playing that particular series of notes in that position with that stretch with an optimum relaxed hand, and the powerful and flexible thumb is the "assistant". And for that very reason the thumb is not relegated the task of supporting any part of the weight of the violin, because it is interacting with the actions of the fingers. I initially had the same function at the base of my first finger so I understand the idea.

Precisely, Lisa. I have a hunch that this happens when someone learns gradually as a child but it might not when learning as an adult --- especially when the emphasis is on doing the pieces and studies in tune etc. with little emphasis on how that is being done by the student. We have to KNOW that the fingers move by themselves and how that feels. Take that statement to any other part of the body. Whether the student is "tricked" or guided into making the appropriate motions without tensing up/misusing another set of muscles by being brought into it by physical guidance, correction, choice of studies, whatever -- or whether the student is told --- if you keep doing the same thing and keep using the same wrong body areas, chances are your technique will reach an impasse for a stupid reason. It's obvious once your aware of it and then "miracle growths" take place overnight. You described exactly what I was talking about.

January 13, 2005 at 11:27 PM · Lisa, the statement about moving the thumb to achieve a stretch is something that actually works! Now, if I can get used to it. Difficult stretches has always been my limitation on this instrument. I'm p.o.'ed at my teachers for never suggesting it. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if they discouraged it.

January 13, 2005 at 11:52 PM · Or knew about it. (mood showing) Not all teachers are made equal -- or, to be fair, use the same methods and techniques. And sometimes (I've discovered) they hold off on something because they feel it will mess you up if introduced too soon.

January 14, 2005 at 01:27 AM · Well, it would have been none too soon. I want my money back.

January 14, 2005 at 03:48 AM · Jim, seriously, don't get upset too soon. There are many ways to do things and sometimes teachers favour one or the other. Sometimes a technique that works wonders can also mess up something else if you try it too soon. Teachers have reasons for favouring one or the other thing, or for teaching things in a certain order. I would suggest that you diplomatically go to your teacher and ask something like, "Could you show me how using my thumb could help me perform these stretches?" or some stretch-related or thumb-related question. Or find another diplomatic and respectful way of broaching the subject. Don't do it in anger, and keep an open mind.

I think a number of us have been there, and sometimes we've even ended up eating our words (opinions) at a later date.

January 14, 2005 at 01:55 AM · If I got my money back it would be with 20 years interest. That adds up.

January 14, 2005 at 02:34 AM · Awww... Jim, I'm sorry. But we all have done something for years before figuring out a better way (or at least most of us humans). Try this just as an exercise: rest neck on first finger knuckle "shelf." Stretch first finger back toward the scroll and fourth toward your nose - as far apart as you can get (in the air, not on the fingerboard). Keep your wrist straight! Don't push it out towards the scroll! Slide your thumb lightly up and down the neck as relaxed as you can (while stretching)until you find the most comfortable spot. That is the hand position I use most of the time (where you end up). I teach my kids that exercise to learn their fourth finger in first position. (To make it less stressful for the urge to grab onto your violin, you can stabilize your violin with your right hand while practicing the stretch.) You can also swing your elbow back and forth underneath the neck (like a pendulum) to find its center.

After you get used to this position for your hand, you can use it for extensions. Also, sometimes for bigger intervals like you mentioned, you can base your hand in the position for your fourth finger and reach back with your first for the interval, adjusting your thumb to the center of the stretch. That always helped me with 10ths. And for bigger intervals, you need to bring your elbow further under the violin to give yourself more height over the fingerboard - that gives you more possibility of stretch also.

Good luck!


PS A teacher can only teach what they know!

January 14, 2005 at 03:49 AM · "A teacher can only teach what they know!" (Lisa)

Variation: A teacher can only teach what they know that they know.

My grandfather who apparently could make roses out of nails did not teach his craft directly to his apprentices. He said it had to be stolen with the eyes. The subtlest things cannot be taught, perhaps.

January 14, 2005 at 04:02 AM · That would put my thumb across from the 2nd finger, when the normal position has been across from the 1st.

Actually I didn't do it the wrong way for years, or you could say I did but it wasn't a problem till late. When it came time for for pieces with those kinds of demands, it wasn't long before I lost interest in violin. It was too uncomfortable. I recently have some time on my hands, so I started playing again a little, and naturally it wasn't long before I was up against the problem again. It's surprising how much you remember. It doesn't take long to get back to where you were. From now on you have my respect. As for the other slobs around here... :-)

My thread on "female technique" :-) was an attempt to cover this. My hands are the size of large womens hands.

January 14, 2005 at 04:16 AM · Inge, in my case only one teacher addressed hand position and not effectively. I think my hand position looked good, and probably would have worked for them, since they had hands the size of average men. My hands are little rat claws, or as I prefer to think of them, "surgeons hands."

PS have I seen those roses on Ebay? One for each of you.

January 14, 2005 at 06:13 AM · A weird thought that is post-midnight induced and vocal-inspired. I hated it when the conductor stand-in kept trying to teach the singers to reach the "high notes" by referring to them as those difficult high notes, and of course they would strain. I considered them low and didn't take part in the "advice".

WHAT IF one did a complete mental flip on the matter and consider those far off difficult to reach notes on the violin as very reachable, quite close, in fact? A visualization. I'm going to try it for the heck of it -- there's an old broken chord that I haven't done for ages that would be perfect. Do you want to join my experiment, Jim?

And talking about internal concepts ... what if you replace the idea of "stretch" with the idea of "reach". When I stretch I pull two things in opposite directions. When I reach I might still need to anchor myself somewhere but the whole motion is toward the object. I'd forgotten about that.

(This should have gone into the small-hands thread; sorry - thought I was there)

January 14, 2005 at 06:08 AM · Hah Jim:

You took long enough (with the respect that is! LOL).

Yes, across from the second finger. The thing that supposedly makes humans great are our opposable thumbs. The key being opposite. If you allow your hands to dangle at your sides, your thumb will naturally curve toward your second finger. If you look at the graceful curve in a ballerina's hands, the thumb is tucked under the second finger (or close to it). That is the natural position for the thumb.

Remember my personality? I'm lazy. Try and work less and get better results.

Inge: too true. But I believe that you can teach ALMOST everything in terms of technique. Then the subtlety is a matter of heart. ;-)


January 14, 2005 at 06:35 AM · Whoa Hey,

wow 44 responses, eh?

The last time I checked this thread was, hmm about when Lisa talked about hanging on the door jamb, and I tried practicing it ever since(not that I really practiced hanging on the door jamb -_- just so you know).

Uhh, I see how the pressing(holding down fingers with weight) should help on putting a pressure on a note. The thing is, I do not know why, but I find it very hard to hold the fingers down with the weight of your arm. In theory, it sounds great and it should produce clear sound in the chord(along with vibratos). But the problem is, my chin hurt...-_- when i do that.

I guess only thing to blame is myself. Well, since so many people approve the theory, I guess the problem with my practice is the misinterpretation of the text.

I guess the best way is to experiment with the pressures that I need for certain notes, and to apply the right amount.

Well, thank you, for all your responses. I find this kind of disscussion very interesting.

P.S - Inge, you don't have to worry about me. I'm fine^^.

January 14, 2005 at 07:07 AM · Josh:

Hold your scroll higher than your chinrest and gravity will push your violin into your neck (then you can relax your grip). If your scroll is lower than your chinrest then gravity pulls your violin down and you have to "catch" it by squeezing your chin and shoulder together. That hurts!

Go back and read my suggestions about finding a shelf to rest your scroll on so you can do the weight exercises. The trick is to "feel" that weight in your arm but still hold your violin up. If it were easy - everyone could do it! ;-)

Try not to press - we were talking about weight, not pressure and there is a difference. Wish I could show you what I mean... it is hard in print.


January 14, 2005 at 03:44 PM · One thing I've learned is not to do anything in its extreme form. An analogy of how I initially corrected things. Suppose you're driving a car and the instructor sees you're drifting to the left and says "Stear a bit more to the right.", so you haul the stearing wheel way to the right and are about to crash into the trees. So the instructor says "Stear more to the left." So you do the opposite and start veering to the other side. And then you think, "Is this instructor nuts? First he tells me left, then he tells me right, which is it? Lousy instructor!" The instructor is of course trying to get you to go STRAIGHT and down the MIDDLE ROAD. I think making changes and adjustments to what we have been doing is like that. No pulling the violin down with tons of force as though it were a bottle opener and your head was a beer cap. (Been there).

Lisa, the main reason I understand what you are saying is because you are describing very much how I related to the violin before it all fell apart. Though I can't quite describe it, there is an "up" to your "down" which I think is confusing Josh and I won't try to confuse things more by trying to explain myself. One thing that puts some things into place is the difference of the thumb's role as countering and helping (RELATING with) the other fingers, as distinct from that of helping to balance the weight of the violin. I'm not sure that it will be helpful to everyone, but it is helpful to me. And holding the scroll higher - yes.

BTW I had forgotten what sore fingers felt like. I seem to be using a bit more of the pads and my fingertips tingle when I type.

I am strangely enough applying both Lisa's and Nate's ideas, opposite though they seem plus whatever physical experience playing has given me so far.

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