Reprogramming Left Thumb
Greetings all! I recently discovered after 13 years of playing that my left thumb has been in the wrong place the entire time. This realization came after acknowledging a series of problems with my left hand, starting with intonation problems in higher positions where my fingers would fall in a different place every time they would drop to problems with the 4th finger either missing the string altogether or not being able to reach far enough without locking the last knuckle - all leading back to the positioning of my thumb. I have always played with the thumb extended straight back well behind the 1st finger. No teacher has ever noticed or corrected me, even in undergrad. While I'm not sure how that escaped them... regardless it did and now I'm in the process of trying to reprogram my left hand placing the thumb opposite the first finger or just slightly in front of it. As you can imagine... attempting to override 13 years of muscle memory is QUITE difficult. My method of approach is currently lots of slow practice staying in position and working across the strings basically playing 2 octave scales, as well as practicing shifts between the positions very slowly and consciously making sure to take the thumb and first finger up and down the neck at the same time, which is a REALLY bizarre feeling due to not having the thumb dragging behind the entire time like I'm used to.
Does anyone have any thoughts or ideas on particular exercises/etudes that might be helpful in retraining my left hand in this situation?
Thanks and cheers to all!
When I went through this repositioning as a teenager, my teacher had me do a bunch of the early exercises in Schradieck op. 1 book 1, as well as a lot of Sevcik op. 9, and Sevcik op. 1 books 3 and 4. It took months.
Ah yes I just came to this realization as well when I was at a summer string camp at UNT this past week. The professor told me she heard that my thumb was behind my first finger. I have no idea how she did that, but she was correct in assuming it was. Maybe she heard the tension in my left hand.
Christian, I have to say that as unfortunate as it is, I'm also relieved to hear I'm not the only one who has had to go through this! Your story is all too familiar, I am positive that I developed it for the same reason, trying to reach the 4th finger around - my pinky was also collapsing in the same manner. I do have a rehearsal tonight and a chamber concert tomorrow, I've already taken the time to try and go through the repertoire slowly while adjusting the thumb, but I know I will inevitably fall back in the habit while performing once I slip into performance mode. I will just have to mitigate it as best as I can until I can ingrain the new habit. Over the past few days since I realized it, I've been simply practicing scales and shifts slowly and checking the frame of the hand in my mirror. I have noticed that when I'm not slowly and mindfully practicing this new skill, I have caught myself tensing up and starting to squeeze, but as soon as I notice it, I take a breath, drop the violin, and then start again.
Actually if it would help, Julia Bushkova has a youtube channel where she has a series of videos about technique and such. There's one about stretching that helps you see what is possible with the left hand when you don't squeeze in a higher position and then you'll be better able to replicate that in first position.
I think one way that might get your thumb in the right position for you - if you are up to it - is to play without an SR for a while. Its simply not possible unless the thumb plays two roles: one to support the fingers and the other to support the instrument.
My left thumb is very awkward. I must go back to Galamian and Fischer. I think I'm vaguely aware that it's intimately connected with my wrist straightness.
It's not so much wrong as it is old-school. I have seen that thumb straight and behind the 1st finger in photos in older method books. I don't want to trigger another shoulder rest debate, but my opinion is that without one, for many, not all of course, the violin will slip down and forward when we completely release the left hand for shifting. The violin then needs constant support from either the base of the first finger or the thumb while shifting. In that method of shifting the hand and thumb move separately, not at the same time.
Last night I was trying to find a video of Menuhin I had seen (I don't think he worried about Galamian at all, probably too old to) and thinking, it will depend on hand size, so it has to be comfortable for you.
If you watch top soloists you'll see their hand positions are all over the map. By definition these people are outliers. Their methods are not necessarily the best examples for students.
Joel wrote: "that without one, for many, not all of course, the violin will slip down and forward when we completely release the left hand for shifting. The violin then needs constant support from either the base of the first finger or the thumb while shifting. In that method of shifting the hand and thumb move separately, not at the same time."
Hello all! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful replies. Christian - fortunately I have some spare time at work today, so I will most certainly have a look at those videos! I'm happy to report that after a few days my hand is at least "starting" to come around, but there is certainly much more work to be done. Joel - I certainly have gotten that feedback in talking to several other people since this came up for me - that some people do, in fact play with the thumb behind the first finger - but as you mentioned, this seems to work best in those with large hands which I most certainly do not have :) As I mentioned before, this first came up due to issues with my 4th finger and my other fingers never dropping in the same place consistently. Since I have moved my thumb up, I have already found that not only do I have far less tension in my left hand, but my fingers are finally able to move much more rapidly and much more accurately. The trick so far is not falling back into autopilot and letting that thumb creep back again. I find it most difficult when shifting down, shifting upward is much easier to keep the thumb in line for me.
Wow that is a huge coincidence indeed! Who is your former teacher? That makes me wonder how they came across her videos. I only knew about them because I study at UNT albeit with Philip Lewis instead of Julia Bushkova and happened to come across them one day when I searched her name on youtube. She also brought them up while I was at the string camp wondering if I had seen her channel and I answered in the affirmative. Perhaps there is some sort of connection between your last teacher and Bushkova? The music world is a small one after all.
that "Milstein exercise" by Bushkova is a great pedagogical aid! thanks for the link.
You might also find useful Julia Bushkova's other Youtube channel ViolinClass. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmlbf-MPAmMQsBrzr61GLdw
Jean - My pleasure. Her channel really is a very useful tool. I wish she had started it sooner. But she has To”d me she has more videos she plans on doing.
Hi Christian! I'm not sure if she has actually connected with Julia before but she's pretty worldly in her knowledge and resources when it comes to pedagogy - Marcy Trentacosti of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. :) As I have discovered, the music world is QUITE small!
I ignore my left thumb and leave it to its own devices. Unless I look I wouldn't know what it's up to. Suffice to say I play SR-less, have no problems with shifting, and vibrato happens when I want it to. I think my thumb is controlled by what my left hand, fingers and arm are doing at the time, and not the other way around.
My basic view of this thread is, "what Joel said."
Just looking at the video posted above by Nate gives me a neck ache. And a hand ache, and shoulder ache...