January 24, 2006 at 07:19 AM · I have been thinking a lot recently about Paganini’s left hand technique and the idea that some of it may have been based on an extreme backward extension. This concept would relate to earlier ideas about shifiting on the violin (Baroque technique) in which the fingers precede the thumb in a downward shift and then the thumb follows but is anathema in “modern” technique in which the hand and thumb move


A good example of “non shifting” would be in the 8th caprice beginning in the 9th measure after the double bar. It is possible to play for almost 11 measures without a shift of the hand if the hand remains basically in the 4th position. Another example would be in caprice 4 starting in measure 17. If the hand is almost in 3rd position, but the fingers extend back at the onset of the passage it is possible to play without shifting and this sets you up for playing the following 10ths.

Is there any literature I can refer to in order to confirm or deny my hypothesis? Thanks

Replies (20)

January 24, 2006 at 07:59 AM · Ruggiero Ricci wrote an article in The Strad about it last year. It was linked to the consequences of playing without the chinrest.

January 24, 2006 at 09:40 AM · Ricci is writing a book about it. We'll see if he has the time to finish it, It would be nice to read it. But it is not an essential technique that you have to learn to play Pag. Ricci himself said that he just 'recently' "discovered" this way of playing, but the fact is that he did not have that much problem playing Pag. before this revelation :)

January 24, 2006 at 09:13 PM · My teacher back at home was telling me about this, and we horsed around with the idea. Not surprisingly, it makes a lot of Paganini works easier. The opening to "La Campanella" can be pulled off with absolute perfect intonatin, the opening to Paganini's 5th caprice also is greatly assisted by this idea. The only slight problem we ran into was that there was a tendency to go sharp when playing in first position. I'm curious to know if anyone else has tried this technique, and what their expreiences have been like.

January 24, 2006 at 11:05 PM · Greetings,

I am not sure it is `anathema` to modern technique in which finger and thumb move together.

In his way they p@lay interview I think it wa sOleg Kryla () who claimed the Soviet violin schoolhad made notable contributions to violin pedagogy and playing the music of Paginin by its discovery of the tehcnique of playing in three positions at the same time. I have always viewd this claim with some scepticism since many players actually evolved this technique naturally. Szigeti is a good example.and I think Fransecatti probably did it a lot too.

My first teacher who studied with Brosa was familiar with the technique and taught me it when I was 12 although I don`t reclal using it for anything .....

I have also seen the Japanese violinist Reiko Suzuki (with very small hands) play the octaves section of the Sibelius first movement with her hand in third/4th virtually the whole time. Very flexible lady.



January 25, 2006 at 03:25 AM · I don't think this is good unless you have mastered the conventional technique. Then, you can naturally develop this type of left hand work. Lucky for me, I have big hands so I do this all the time.

January 25, 2006 at 04:39 AM · Pieter,

You sort of answered part of the question by saying you have a large hand and do this naturally. Itzakh Perlman has a large hand and in my observations rarely "shifts" . He sort of plants himself in a middle position, then moves his had around to get the notes.

January 25, 2006 at 08:22 AM · Well it all depends on the passage. Sometimes using ones size is a big advantage, and other times I think it's better to stick with following the thumb. Again, I really don't think it's good to fool around with this until you have somewhat of an idea of what your left hand is all about.

January 27, 2006 at 02:28 AM · I actually do know something about this since I did learn all the Caprices about 35 years ago and still practice on them and constantly develop new approaches. I actually can play more difficult pieces like Bartok Solo Sonata and Roger Sessions Solo Sonata as well as 4 of the Ysaye. This is not an idle question.

January 27, 2006 at 04:11 AM · Greetings,

no.Its a very useful question. It gets right to the heart of how one thinks about the fingerboard at a higher level of playing.



January 27, 2006 at 07:04 AM · Bruce, my statement wasn't specific to you or anyone. I just think that "cutting corners" (which if you think about it, is not the case at all) isn't good until you've established a good left hand technique. This definately makes playing easier, when there are big jumps. For example, in Prokofiev 2 in the 2nd movement on the third page (where there's a section of 16ths) it's much easier to plant your hand in one position and extend than just jump around and rely on luck and some muscle memory to get the right notes.

January 28, 2006 at 02:33 AM · Interesting topic.

I think Pieter's of course correct. One must walk before they run.

I also have to agree with Stephen on questioning how different what you're examining is as compared to current training. Yes, for sure, there was a change in favour of moving the thumb with the fingers (or even the thumb ahead of the fingers), but doesn't it really depend ultimately on the passage you are trying to play as to which you are going to use.

And since Baroque music was limited in its technical requirements this change was only natural.

Bruce I like your first example with the 8th Caprice. However your example of the 4th confuses me. Yes I understand that one can have their hand in a 'sort of' mental third position focus to play the passage, but really isn't it simply another example of many where one can use sliding thirds, or alternate 1/3's 2/4's and, pedagogically, wouldn't this be easier than what your're suggesting? And wouldn't either way set one up for the 10ths since you're playing an octave and a c on the g before the 10ths which, no matter what you choose to do for the passage in question, will result in being set up the same?

As for Paganini 'extension' techniques, imvho, they have more to do with other components than only the use of the thumb's relation to the fingers (though this is of course one aspect). Paganini was inventive on many different levels. Take, for but one example, his advancement of the trill. His 'Devil's Trill' caprice is a great piece to develop left hand power and endurance, probably the best there is, and exponentially better than Tartini's.

But it also has a number of occurrences where both contraction and extension techniques must be utilized. An example of contraction is bar 8 where the F 1/8th (first F on D string and played with 1st or 2nd finger) is played together with the trilled open A and C (2 or 3rd finger respective to which finger is used on the F). Either way you must contract the hand to play the C together with the F, but with a different finger. Personally I wouldn't view this as an example of fingers leading the thumb since your thumb is going to be in the same place basically.

And btw, (though I'm unsure whether this is what book you've mentioned Mattias) Ricci has a book on left hand technique that has been out for quite a while. I use it every day and I'm greatly appreciative of how it has, better than any other technique book, increased the natural stretching capability of my left hand.

January 28, 2006 at 03:33 AM · From Eugene Fodor:

" In using the experience of playing Paganini's compositions, and analyzing the many accurate sketches of his left hand in playing position, one can readily see that it cannot be considered that his technique, in any way involved a "thumb position." This erroneous theory, reported recently to explain the slight groove next to the fingerboard on the "Cannon." states that Paganini's thumb was the cause by rubbing the top. The true cause was from the bow rubbing the fiddle in this spot, in a case with no bow holder, (the only kind available in those times) when it traveled for countless weeks and months. This type of wear is typical in many old instruments, including my own del Gesu, but is perhaps more in evidence on Paganini's violin because it must have been "on tour" at that time, in that type of case, more than we can probably imagine."

More here:

Just some things to think about.

Not personally offering an opinion one way or the other.

FWIW, Fodor can play in more than one position without moving his thumb, as stated in The Way They Play, Volume 3. He advocated this technique in the 70's, and I'm sure many before him used this. Doesn't it really depend upon the size of the hand?

I doubt, for example, Midori can play in several positions without moving her thumb, yet her caprices are more than adequate.

Mine on the other hand...well, I keep trucking along....

January 28, 2006 at 04:36 AM · Rick, concerning the 4th caprice I concur with your comment, ' your example of the 4th confuses me. Yes I understand that one can have their hand in a 'sort of' mental third position focus to play the passage.' and this is an excellent way of describing one way of playing that passage. I was just trying to go slightly out of bounds in the execution of the passage.

January 28, 2006 at 04:46 AM · Rick responded the following: "And btw, (though I'm unsure whether this is what book you've mentioned Mattias) Ricci has a book on left hand technique that has been out for quite a while. I use it every day and I'm greatly appreciative of how it has, better than any other technique book, increased the natural stretching capability of my left hand."

I would be curious to get a copy of this. Although not a student of Ricci myself, I had the good fortune to meet him on an airplane flight when I was a student at Juilliard in the early 70's travelling back to my home in Indiana. We had quite a nice conversation. He said that whenever he was out of shape on the violin, he just played through all the Caprices (Paganini) and that got him going again. This was one of the best, free lessons I have ever had. Not being of his level, I found if I could get through all of them in a week and just working on problematic passages in each my playing improved dramatically.

January 28, 2006 at 05:06 AM · Here's a peek inside of Ricci's book:

Incidentally, Ricci played with Fodor on a cruise ship for at least one year...

January 28, 2006 at 07:12 AM · My two favourite Paganini-ists are Ricci and Fodor. I would have loved to have been on that cruise.

I took a few lessons with Ricci back in the early 70's in a Summer camp he came to for a few years. I heard him, very close and personal, play all 24 Caprices without hardly a breath between them, and he does indeed, as Bruce states, use them as his warmup exercises.

William I have the Set of 'The Way They Play' (except for 1 because I still don't feel like paying such a price as is commonly asked for it). Number 3 is one of my favourites with its indepth interviews on technique and pedagogy with the likes of Fodor, Szeryng (these two had a great relationship, almost like father and son), Michael Rabin, Margaret Pardee, Dorothy DeLay, Aaron Rosand, and others.

January 28, 2006 at 07:59 AM · Rick and Bruce, No. It is not the same book. The new book will cover only this topic (Pag's hovered thumb). The previous is more an introducion to his way of intonation with a few other topics mentioned.

September 7, 2012 at 03:57 PM · I am reviving this thread which I started in 2006 about extreme back and forward extensions. This is in regard to Victor Flores "Shifting Question."

This was before Mr. Ricci's book came out, by the way.

September 7, 2012 at 04:48 PM · A relevant and very recent book is Stanley Ritchie's "Before the Chinrest", available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats .

September 11, 2012 at 01:52 AM · Bruce, I'm absolutely convinced of this about Paganini. Studying the caprices without a chinrest and on plain gut strings, one finds that a strictly position-oriented approach is impossible! But also, perhaps surprisingly, much of the writing feels more natural in this way than otherwise, at least to me. With all the shifting, having more of the weight of the violin in the hand supplies a nice sense of groundedness. It becomes more balancing act and less geography test.

Ricci's book is useful for baroque violin study, though it is of course not intended for such. The text I find quite unclear and tendentious, but the exercises are fantastic.

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