Thumb not across the index finger - new rule
Please comment on the method of the LH thumb placement promoted by violin prof. Bushkova.
She calls the "thumb across the index finger" rule an Outdated Method and suggests to place the thumb more against the middle finger (or even more radically down across the ring finger).
Actually she suggests to place it "more naturally" - where it goes for comfortable placement which for many people will be more or less across the middle finger.
She noted in the video that many greats placed their thumb that way and not across the strict "across the index finger rule".
Here are the videos I refer to:
Trying to embed links:
No - standard codes don't work... sorry.
Sergio, you can grab the embed codes directly from Youtube, under the "share" button and paste them in.
It certainly helped me, but I have hand shape issues that required every possible trick to get a working left hand.
I was taught thumb across from index finger and in fact I play that way. It feels quite natural to me. US here.
Suzuki method when I was small taught thumb across from the index finger. However, Galamian in his book says if a smaller hand or other constraint is the issue the farther forward thumb is fine. Whatever works, essentially. Relevant photos on pages 16 and 17. I noticed my thumb was forward until I got my smaller violin and my viola thumb is still forward.
That doesn't feel natural to me. Recently I've been thinking about the natural resting position of the hands when arms are hanging down as a general guide for violin hand position (with obvious exceptions and variations). If I do this my thumb is naturally across from the index finger. Maybe that's different for different people.
Playing on my 16.75 inch viola, "thumb across the middle finger" helps with my fourth finger reach.
Violists have known just about forever that placing the thumb across from the index finger doesn't always work. And I think many violinists with smaller hands would do well to learn the left hand adjustments that violists make.
Andrew, well said.
sometimes i wonder if i even have the right brain personality to learn violin. i can never follow much the technical advice about hand/finger positions, bowing techniques, counting etc. in this case, if i were thinking about my thumb then my finger tips would probably stop moving altogether. when i try to count or use a metronome my bow hand stops. truth is i dont know what my body is doing when i play because im just in my ears and on the page, will my teacher drop me because at julliard nobody around her would bother with such a headstrong adult learner not actually being obstinate but more likely headweak? is there any hope for me? when i dont think about technicalities i am transported to the music directly and im getting better at intuitively cutting note values as the stem gets more flags. i actually am making progress and after 5 in person lessons with her before covid (bringing me up to 7 lessons now since i started 6 years ago) i at least bit the bullet and sent her the money for 10 zoom lessons to begin once i recover from todays hernia operation. sorry to blur the topic in this discussion but these are the thoughts and anxieties triggered in me by contemplating the original post.
OK, that makes much more sense. Thanks, Buri.
in playing without chinrest or shoulder rest, and without clamping down with chin except at moments of shifting down, my thumb is just half of the vee supporting the neck but not squeezing it. in that sense it points up into the air as fingers curl to whatever note. of course the other half of the vee is indeed the index finger... fantasy goal would be to play like eva saladin plays veracini --or pretty much anything she plays.
The Russians usually place the thumb more toward the middle of the hand -- between index and 2nd, or across from 2nd.
Guitarists, cellists, bass players, will all have the thumb supporting the second finger. Or grab a baseball, hammer, or tennis racket, to see where you naturally place the thumb. This also makes 1st finger extensions easier. As a teacher of beginners, at some point I ask them to place 4 fingers down in the H-W-W pattern (B-C-D-E on the A string), take the thumb away, then put it back where it is most comfortable.
Thank you for a bunch of supporting replies.
I prefer the thumb across or just slightly ahead of the index finger. If I'm playing a passage where the first finger has the melody (and is the most important note in a group) and there is a fourth finger extension, I don't want to have to extend simultaneously in both directions with the first finger back by a half or whole step and the fourth finger up by a half or whole step.
Different for small hands, different for violas. Common theme there. Also you will find your thumb is farther along if you are playing tenths because this also is a situation where basically your hand is too small unless you've huge mitts. Some people describe it differently -- reaching back with the first finger to reduce strain on the fourth (for tenths) -- but if you look at that static hand position, it's basically the same thing as if you move your thumb up.
Having small hands with an even shorter pinky, the only place I can place my thumb that allows me to put all four fingers down in first position is to put my thumb under the neck of the violin pointing backwards. I very much wish that were otherwise, but my pinky length dictates that my hand be more parallel to the neck than is ideal. I think learning in my 50s, with commensurate decline of hand and finger flexibility doesn't help either. I can really see the limitations in my hand position, however, now that I'm trying to learn vibrato.
This is an interesting video by Tobia Murphy on thumb positions:
I play without shoulder rest and have my thumb low, pointing almost to the scroll, it has become an automatic thing for it helps securing shifting downwards. But I am just am amateur. Anyway Buri's suggestion to make it a habit of moving it a little bit just to ensure that you find relaxation is a great one. Such simple habits can make a difference.
Filip Pogady plays with his thumb under the neck pointing to the scroll. It creates more separation between the index finger and side of the neck thus allowing greater freedom in the vibrato swing.
Buri, yes I agree the light touch provides awareness and security. I have experimented with Filip’s left hand technique and cannot manage to comfortably swing my left arm that far under the violin or find a secure enough balance point using only the thumb. But it is interesting to note how varied techniques can be among even top musicians. For example Nathan Milstein played with his thumb high over the fingerboard and Henryk Szeryng played with his right elbow above the wrist. I can’t even begin to describe Leonidas Kavakos’ technique! Haha
Buri, no disagreement but didn't Menuhin play with the index finger clear of the neck?
Good point Gabriel, Mr. Menuhin did instruct his students to touch the violin with “only the tips of the fingers and soft pad of the thumb.” His teaching was that of a clear free opening between the hand and the fingerboard.
Augustin Hadelich plays with the index finger off the board.
Eva yes I noticed this recently. This seems like another rest vs restless situation, but not on the shoulder.
Augustin mentioned in his conversation with James Ehnes that one may need to modify their technique to accommodate the size and shape of one’s anatomy. James Ehnes has large hands and easily reaches high over the fingerboard for easier reach and angle. Augustin, in contrast, has slightly smaller hands and must rotate his hand frame under the neck more to facilitate full access to the fingerboard. As a result his thumb is under the neck and his index finger separated from the side of the neck. I wonder if this is more common among violinists with smaller hands?
Buri, that is very interesting. Thanks for the insight! I’ve been listening to Mr. Menuhin’s recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas lately. I am reminded of his incomparable musicality and human spirit. His playing moves me like no other. Such a gift.
Just my opinion: The base of the first finger free or in contact with the neck of the violin is at least partly related to the choice of shoulder rest or no shoulder rest. What I have observed is that without the shoulder rest the violin wants to move forward, to the right, whenever it is not supported by the base of the 1st finger. Those players are also more likely to use the wrist vibrato, use more of the crawl-shift, with the thumb moving independently of the rest of the hand while shifting.
My dear friends - Please clarify one more thing for me:
My thumb moves freely. When I put down 4 it will slide toward 4th finger some. I teach placing the thumb comfortably, naturally. When you hand hangs down relaxed by your side, where is the thumb?
-Sergio;-- Good question.
I sometimes leave the thumb alone when doing a
Joel - thank you for exactly the answer I was looking for!
By the way, deviating a little from the subject - while probably not a common practice on violin, but does it make sense that one can use any 1/2 position as a "base" (not extension)?
"Opposite the index" means opposite its tip or opposite its knuckle?
Joel - thank you for taking your time to explain to me these "boring basics" - I really appreciate your effort!
Interesting question of biomechanics. Placing the thumb in the same plane as the first finger sets the angle of the palm in relation to the neck/fingerboard. That, sets the stretches between the fingers and dictates how far you can stretch the fourth finger.