Tight hand playing thirds

January 24, 2019, 1:02 AM · My teacher just started me working on thirds. It’s going alright except in first position on the G-D string. Im working on C major scale in thirds and using 1-3 fingers for C-E and then 2-4 for D-F feels like a BIG TIGHT stretch in my hand. The only way I can alleviate it a bit is bringing my elbow very far under the violin and then that makes my shoulder tense. Is it normal to feel this tight in the beginning?

Replies (17)

January 24, 2019, 1:25 AM · Try rotating/pointing your violin significantly more to the left than usual, and slightly up as well, and see if that alleviatees the tension. Often times, a lack of flexibility in the left hand is due to the violin being too much in front of you.
January 25, 2019, 3:10 AM · Were you able to try this, Christopher?
January 25, 2019, 3:25 AM · It does help, but my teacher doesn’t like my violin out that far because my bow goes crooked at the tip. I used to hold my violin that way, almost 90 degrees to the left, but she stopped me from doing that.
January 25, 2019, 3:54 AM · Hmmm, in that case the only acceptable compromise will be to increase the inward tilt of your violin by adjusting the shoulder rest, so that the strings are more accessible to the left hand.
January 25, 2019, 5:46 AM · How about - just a suggestion - also rotate your hand around it's axis a bit more (along with elbow under violin) to bring the pinky finger closer to the fingerboard... That should relax the hand because pinky does not have to stretch that far. You can keep it rounder in shape that way, potentially relaxing the hand more.

As per elbow under violin, check out Hilary Hahn at her playing here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpnIrE7_1YA. She is a downright gymnast... So elbow under violin is almost certainly necessary.

Edited: January 25, 2019, 10:23 AM · Christopher that D-F major third is definitely a stretch, nothing to feel bad about. The magic tip is to place your fourth finger first, nicely soft and rounded, only then stretch your second finger downwards to find that F-spot on the D-string. Let your hand, elbow and arm do what they need to do to remain relaxed. Find that position, it will indeed involve bringing your elbow to the right and also easing in your wrist a bit. The accommodation may be appear bit extreme at first but in the beginning the priority should be the remain comfortable and soft while fingering that third. The longer you practice the more natural it will come, your hand will become softer.
Edited: January 25, 2019, 7:02 AM · Yep. D-F is a big third!

Even though I have been practicing scales in thirds for a long time, I feel your pain "in microcosm" every time I start. With the first few I can feel the stretch in my hand, and then after a minute or two it gradually relaxes, and then eventually if I keep going I will feel fatigue. My guess is that you're on that spectrum too, and with additional work and conditioning you'll realize more relaxation of your hand and the strain will dissolve. Right now I think your hand is just fighting itself. Don't try to practice your thirds more than a few minutes at a time for now. Practice in the mirror to make sure you're not doing anything out of sorts with your hand position. What Jean Dubuisson suggested is a very useful and quite general strategy for stretchy intervals. Eventually when you get to tenths, her method will not be only helpful but mandatory.

On the other hand, gaining a little more reach (or at least, less painful reach) with the fourth finger is a desirable quest too. For this I recommend studies that have fourth-finger reaches (duh!) and the easiest way to find those is to open up a book of studies and look for pages that have a lot of "4" printed in the score. There is no need to print "4" if that's a natural fingering -- you print it either if it's an alternative to "0" or if it's a stretch. So for example Schradieck Book 1 Exercise VII.

Another thing you could try is make sure you can do D-F# first, or the D-F interval transposed to the other strings first. That way your landing will be a little softer.

Edited: January 26, 2019, 7:12 AM · You might also try adjusting the position of your left thumb, bringing it forward to be more across from your 2nd finger instead of the 1st finger. I've found that letting my thumb be more flexible in terms of position has helped a lot to alleviate left hand tension, especially on the viola.
January 26, 2019, 9:00 AM · My advice is exactly Ingrid's. Place the thumb further forward. Center and balance the hand on the 2nd finger.
January 26, 2019, 11:42 AM · It’s been a few days and it isn’t as bad as before. I just have to get used to moving my elbow that far to the right. That seems to help the most.
Edited: January 26, 2019, 4:30 PM · Great to hear. Keep that pinky rounded! The power should be in your base joint and perhaps also in the next joint. But the end joint should be floppy.
January 26, 2019, 12:35 PM · If you think about it, bringing your thumb forward is, to a first approximation, mechanically the same as Jean suggested -- reaching your second finger back instead of your fourth finger forward.
January 26, 2019, 2:24 PM · Yes, my teacher is on my case about the thumb as well.
January 26, 2019, 2:40 PM · And as always, a picture/video would elucidate the problem greatly.
January 26, 2019, 3:52 PM · Left elbow position is definitely a factor in comfort on the lower strings. Just don't overdo it so it's tense.
Edited: February 4, 2019, 2:30 PM · My opinion might be unpopular here but I think it is normal to feel tight in the beginning. The black and white idea of "OMG tension is BAAAADDDD" and "OMG you should not stretch or you'll end up like Schumann" could be misleading to newer players.

I recommend practice 10 mins of 2-4 and 1-3 fingered octaves and 5 mins of 10th every day. 2-4 third is a piece of cake once your hand can easily stretch 2-4 fingered octaves. I wish someone taught me this when I was learning thirds because it would've saved me a lot of time and griefs.

I also recommend doing some silent stretches on the fingerboard with your violin while watching tv.

Your overall technique and intonation will skyrocket and will no longer struggle to play any 4th finger stretched notes.

There is no magic to this except that you must always stretch down from 4th finger.

Check out this great stretching video by Prof. Julia Bushkova: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pBKW_UPRSc

Edited: February 4, 2019, 3:20 PM · That third, 4-2, D-F, on the low strings is definitely a stretch. What can help is to release the 1st and third fingers, and modify your 1st position; third finger is in a comfortable, neutral spot, 4th finger pushed out a little, 2nd finger pulled back a little, thumb forward and under until it feels comfortable. You can't fight anatomy. I have a short 4th finger and can't do the 2-4 octave, or the major tenth, at least not in tune. An alternate scale pattern in thirds is; 2-0, 3-1, shift, 3-1, 4-2, shift, 2-0, etc.

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