Correct Left Hand Position Tips

August 11, 2018, 6:06 PM · I recently switched teachers and she has discovered that my left hand position has been slightly off all these years. Specifically, my knuckles seem to pop out more than it should. Until then I was playing advanced pieces and etudes. Now, I am having a hard time even playing a basic 1 octave D major scale with the correct left hand position. Does anyone have any tips or exercises for the left hand?

Replies (13)

Edited: August 11, 2018, 6:39 PM · First thing you should do is go to yet another teacher, play for him/her and see what he/she says about your left hand. Maybe you'll find that your new teacher is a bit too dogmatic about this. What makes me suspect that is the word "slightly" in your post. It is possibly just the geometry of your hand that makes you "pop out" your knuckles.

Now it is possible that your deviation from the standard is such that it may hinder your progress in later years. In this case you'll have to be patient and try to learn the new hand position. I have never done such an exercise myself but people I knew who had to told me that the transition at the end happens faster than you fear at the outset.

At any rate I'd want a second opinion before embarking on such an exercise.

August 11, 2018, 7:04 PM · It's not unusual for student to switch teachers and be told "you've been doing it ALL WRONG!"

Sometimes it is true. But you will get many different interpretations of the subtleties of hand position.
For example, I happen to teach a tilted bow as the default, and that means the pinky sits not on the top of the bow but on the next facet over. If you put the pinky the top, the bow is more likely to be flat and thus harder to control on spicatto.

It's just one example. For left hand position, you will get a wide range of opinions concerning exact thumb or elbow position. The basic question with a new student is whether changing something is likely to help or hurt the student. If you were playing at very high level already, I may not change anything.

This is another example of us not knowing anything about your level, goals, or age.
I really wish people would post some basic information about themselves.

August 11, 2018, 7:11 PM · Background is in a previous post of hers: LINK

20 years old, playing 8 years, was studying with a "quirky" violist in the Honolulu Symphony (who is teaching her violin). Seems unclear whether she's an intermediate or advanced player (signs point to intermediate), but teaching 20 students herself.

August 11, 2018, 7:31 PM ·

Tension is the deciding factor. Just because something doesn't look right doesn't really mean it's wrong. If your technique is causing tension, pain, and over-practicing with poor results than it needs to be changed.
A before and after pic would be nice.

August 11, 2018, 9:39 PM · Video would be ideal, especially playing the scale.
August 12, 2018, 4:04 AM · After your previous thread, I'm glad you switched teachers!

If you can no longer play a simple scale, then the new hand-shape is wrong for you, at least for the moment.
Watch numerous videos of known soloists, with various hand sizes and finger lengths, as well as your teacher's own playing.

Do you keep a contact with the base of the index at all times?
Without this contact, does your thumb provide stable support, (mine cannot) or do you rely on a shoulder rest? Etc, etc.

But re-training something which works is very difficult to accept.
How about spending ten minutes a day on the new shape, and the playing twenty in your usual manner, so as not to lose all you have acquired.
If the new shape is in fact better for you, it will take over.

August 12, 2018, 9:33 AM · I would recommend scales in fixed position, especially major scales starting on the second finger, and exercises on double-stopped thirds, especially minor thirds between the fourth and second finger. You can actually start in third position as the distances are smaller there, when you are comfortable there, move to second, then to first. Like Adrian said, it is all about gradually acquiring a new habit; the new feeling that is formed by doing the exercises for a short time daily can gradually permeate into your normal playing.

In doing these exercises the following points of attention have been the most important for me personally. For you these may be unproblematic and your problems, if any, may lie elsewhere.

(1) Play mainly on the finger tips; the fingertip placement dictates the shape of the left hand [Galamian].

(2) Discover a position for your left hand so that fingers can fall naturally onto the fingerboard, moving from the base knuckles, the hand itself remaining perfectly still. Feel free to ease your wrist a little inwards, if only to avoid the common tendency to actually push your wrist outwards.

(3) In particular the fourth finger should be soft and nicely curved. Its end joint must be loose and flexible (Rivarde exercise). The remaining fingers go from there, downwards, to their respective places. Depending on the size of your hand and the length of your fingers, this means your remaining fingers must stretch a bit downwards, the stretching taking place between the base knuckles. The space between the first and second finger base knuckles may actually have to open up considerably. For example when playing in first position the first five notes of a C-major scale up and down, starting on the A-string, CDEFGFEDC, fingered 234121432, leaving fingers 3 and 4 on the A-string.

All of the above comes straight out of Simon Fischer's book "The Violin Lesson" which I highly recommend.

In the end, like Scott and other have said, left-hand position is individual. If it works, it works, the first test typically provided by fast, clean passagework. For example, could you play Wohlfahrt opus 45 no 18 cleanly with good tone at actual Allegro speed? Then you probably shouldn't worry?

August 12, 2018, 11:26 AM · Hand position in the violin is, to some extent, like parenting:
Whatever you're doing is...WRONG
August 12, 2018, 11:46 AM · My unprofessional professional advice:
Do whatever's comfortable and whatever works. You can try various shapes for a few days at a time (to get used to each one) and see what gets you the best results. Of course, I'd say to just hold in however it feels natural.

Another secret: the left hand/ wrist shape is fluid. Don't feel like you always need to keep the same shape or keep your wrist straight if it would be easier not to.

August 12, 2018, 12:06 PM · "Specifically, my knuckles seem to pop out more than it should."

I think I have a similar problems, but my teacher has never pointed out as a mistake...

I mean, sometimes I watch people play violin with a perfectly lined left hand; this means: the hand is in the same line as the bow, and the index finger is most of the times very much follows the same line (with the possible exception of playing some sharps). That kind of left hand is too umconfortable for me, I need to put a lot of tension to place the tip of my middle finger next to the tip of my first finger. I've seen some people do it, but I think it doesn't work for me.

Edited: August 12, 2018, 12:21 PM · Cotton's advice to "do whatever's comfortable and whatever works" seems very rational, but remember that if you are learning the first few Suzuki books in first position you can get by with practically any hand position. If you don't believe me, watch a few of the great fiddlers like Vassar Clements or Benny Thomasson. They get around just fine with hand position that would make most classical teachers cringe.

The key is to develop hand positions that will allow you to progress beyond where you are now. And I agree with Jean that practicing scales in thirds shines a bright light on "what works" in your LH technique -- and what doesn't.

August 13, 2018, 4:38 PM · I once asked my russian teacher about the left hand position and especially about the thumb... at first she didn't even understand what I was asking and why I was asking that. After I clarified, that I want to know what she thinks is the best thumb position for the left hand (I was trying to get that magic formula out of her), she told me it is up to me... Sometimes less words make more sense.
Now my opinion on the knuckles:
I think lower knuckles are good for the sound, because the finger fall flatter, which gives a warmer sound and more possibilities for vibrato.
But generally the main rule is: Do what sounds best and works best. Some techniques are impossible to play with low knuckles (some chords for example).
As long as you are not running into any major trouble and dont let the violin neck fall into your hand, you can get away with many hand positions. Usually the length of the fourth finger determines the left hand position and forearm angle.
August 14, 2018, 2:55 PM · Paul, it's definitely a process of your technique getting more refined as you play harder music, but you don't want to start out completely in left field either.

Regarding the process of refinement, I read somewhere that new undergrads reading Galamian's book and fixing a bunch of issues was known as the "Galamian Car Wash". Funny, but true.

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