Left hand technique for pressing on strings

October 10, 2020, 6:47 AM · Recently I’ve noticed my third finger popping in and out of its joint at the base of the hand while practicing, which causes pain when practicing, so I’m trying to keep my fingers more curved and looking for ways to play with less tension to see if it helps.

So my question is...When playing a note with your left hand, do you “squeeze” your hand so that the pressure from your finger is counterbalanced by other parts of your hand supporting the violin? Or do you essentially “hang” your hand on the violin without any counterbalance within the hand itself, but then you have to squeeze with your chin to keep the violin from falling down?

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Replies (11)

October 10, 2020, 8:16 AM · Don't press at all. Just drop the finger with velocity.

I think of my hand as floating in space, positioned touching the violin. I don't think of it as hanging at all.

The violin just rests on my shoulder, as I conceive it -- supported and stabilized by the shoulder-rest. I don't squeeze down, though my jawbone serves (passively) to prevent the violin from falling.

October 10, 2020, 8:20 AM · Yes to the second question. The left hand isn't supposed to hold the violin, it needs to be totally relaxed. I once had a doubt about it and our good member Christian sent me this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9TiCZMENWI
I've been training this Schradiack exercise book, and it's great. Take a look! :D
October 10, 2020, 9:08 AM · I learned to hold the violin between my jaw and my collar bone, which I can do with only the normal weight of my head. It is nice if one has a short neck and high shoulders so the violin can rest there when the left hand is at the neck of the violin. When one is not built that way a shoulder rest (and for some, a higher chinrest) can be a big help.

A number of very fine violinists claim they play with the violin "resting" on their collar bone and they do rest the neck in (or "within") the thumb crotch.

Finger pressure should be no greater than necessary to stop the string to create a steady (pure) tone; no greater than the amount that allows for vibrato (but that comes much later) and shifting. I never have a sense that I am pushing the neck down on to my thumb (even if I might be).

October 10, 2020, 9:20 AM · I think that there are often misconceptions in discussing this topic, as if it's exclusively one way or another. However these positions wouldn't arise if they didn't have some validity or value, so the opposite isn't entirely true either.

Maybe Nathan Cole's videos can help - to reduce the pressure applied. He's also stated that the main difference with restless playing is that the left hand supports the violin.


October 10, 2020, 12:06 PM · Thanks for all the responses! I have also watched both videos. I’ve concluded that I definitely play with a lot of tension and will be working on the suggested exercises. Hopefully my joint will stop popping and I will be able to play without pain going forward. :)
Edited: October 10, 2020, 3:32 PM · Andrew said it well. Another thing to watch out for is thumb tension - If your thumb is pressing too much, it can tend to encourage overpressing in your other fingers as well.
October 20, 2020, 1:40 PM · Hi C.Q.!

I had the same question a few years back.....

First, there is the technique, yes. But you have to get loosened up on the violin. And that can happen, with not so good technique too! I'd suggest (this is only suggestion, you'll see what you would like to do) that if you have this issue, then put down the violin more often, do something else, and try again later.....

When you feel like you're loose from playing, put it away for that day.....

Funny.... just met my mom at the uni she teaches. She was of course asking if I already have a job. To be honest, I don't see how I could not avoid having a job.

I actually had more than two profession so far, and could not suzstin a living for longer periods of time, from those professions. I think this will be the same with music. It's just the environment here, and the attitude towards self-proclamation, which is of course a Western construct.... or idea...

There are jobs now, but for instance I cannot work in any environment in low-status jobs (which I would like, because I would play more violin), because of the degrees I have.

What perspective is it for a 10 year old, that I'm quarrelling with the cleaning lady (my future colleague) in his school?

(I mean, i cannot even take a job as a cleaner).

If the workplace is honest, they would never hire me, for this reason. If it is not, then I'll have someone to quarrel with there for sure :D


October 20, 2020, 1:52 PM · No squeezing. The left thumb and first finger are just touching the neck of violin, don't squeeze it. Relax your hand and place your fingers on the string with good articulation.
Edited: October 20, 2020, 5:00 PM · Perhaps we should back up to even before you touch your violin.
The setup of the instrument is critical to be able to play it properly. In particular. the distance from the strings to the fingerboard should be very small:

1. Close to the nut (at the pegbox end of the vibrating strings) the distance from the strings to the fingerboard should be just sufficient to fit a normal business card between strings and fingerboard. It really takes very little force to touch the string to the fingerboard.

2. At the other end (top end) of the fingerboard the separation between strings and fingerboard is greater (typically about 3 mm for the E string and 5 mm for the G string). It takes more force to touch the strings to the fingerboard in the higher positions, but it is not really necessary to press them all the way down.

Coincidentally I am in the process of getting some new insights on "stopping" strings on instruments:
Our older granddaughter, who took violin lessons from me for 10 years - starting 25 years ago - just emailed us from Crete (Greek island, where she has lived on and off part of the last 2 years) that she is studying to play the Cretan Lyra. This is a small 3 stringed, bowed instrument, held in the lap in cello position (gamba?) but it is fingered with the left hand by pressing the fingernails horizontally against the strings. This is some clue as to how light the finger pressure can be.
I suppose I will be learning more from her as she was to have her first lesson from Kelly Thoma today. You can see and hear Kelly's performances on YouTube.

October 21, 2020, 2:07 AM · Hey David!

I agree. That is a good advice. Sometimes tensions in the left hand can arise just by confusing students. The left hand should be relaxed!

Sadly, if someone develops a bad habit from not properly informed about violin techniques (like in the Joseph Heller, catch 22 novel), they may be surprised, that when they complain to their teacher, they are even falsely accused of not paying attention, or always looking elsewhere for their problems. Not really accepting, that they were botched in the first place.

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