Thumb not across the index finger - new rule

Edited: May 19, 2021, 10:31 AM · 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She calls the "thumb across the index finger" rule an Outdated Method and suggests to place the thumb more against the middle finger (or even more radically down across the ring finger).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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Rd6JcWN8_I
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T7iQaS_flw

Trying to embed links:
[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Rd6JcWN8_I[/video]
[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T7iQaS_flw[/video]

No - standard codes don't work... sorry.

Replies (50)

May 19, 2021, 10:58 AM · Sergio, you can grab the embed codes directly from Youtube, under the "share" button and paste them in.

Yes, "more naturally" would indeed be a better starting point for anything on violin.

May 19, 2021, 11:19 AM · It certainly helped me, but I have hand shape issues that required every possible trick to get a working left hand.
May 19, 2021, 1:49 PM · I was taught thumb across from index finger and in fact I play that way. It feels quite natural to me. US here.
May 19, 2021, 1:55 PM · 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.
Edited: May 19, 2021, 2:48 PM · 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.
May 19, 2021, 4:26 PM · Playing on my 16.75 inch viola, "thumb across the middle finger" helps with my fourth finger reach.

I think it's a matter of personal style where you put your LH thumb. It's more important to have a loose grip that adjusts as you play than determining a fixed thumb position.

For a comedic take on LH thumb position, Twoset did a skit on this recently: https://youtu.be/cH3pjSMNaXg
(It seems they are in the "thumb across the middle finger" gang)

May 19, 2021, 4:28 PM · 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.
May 19, 2021, 4:57 PM · Andrew, well said.
May 19, 2021, 4:59 PM · 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.
May 19, 2021, 5:04 PM ·
May 19, 2021, 5:07 PM · Greetings,
to be fair to Julia, in the videos I watched of her teaching beginners to set up the violin stands, she is quite clear that one finds the thumb position by simply looking at where it falls naturally and that is applied to the instrument itself. Therefore, I I suspect there may be a slight misunderstanding here. What Julia is adamantly opposed to is the pointing backwardsOf the thumb so that it appears to run straight along the neck of the violin,. In virtually all cases this is somewhat detrimental to technique and does need to be unlearned although some people do actually playing that way.
I have never seen a video of Julius in which she does not insist that one place according to the natural proclivities of each individual is unique hand.
Cheers,
Buri
May 19, 2021, 6:12 PM · OK, that makes much more sense. Thanks, Buri.
Edited: May 21, 2021, 7:50 AM · 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.
May 19, 2021, 7:12 PM · Greetings,
there are a lot of videos on youtube these days of Leonid Kogan who was, in my opinion , technically superior to Heifetz in many of the aspects of hard coreleft hand technique. His Paganini stuff is just jaw dropping. Watching his thumb technique, especially anticipation of shifting, is a salutary lesson in violin playing.
Cheers,
Buri
May 19, 2021, 8:12 PM · The Russians usually place the thumb more toward the middle of the hand -- between index and 2nd, or across from 2nd.
May 19, 2021, 8:47 PM · Greetings,
not sure if it7s a vodka thing or not. Conversely, I was at music college with a fantastic violinist from Singapore called Karen Tan. Her hands were so tiny she kept her thumb well under the neck pointing towards the scroll. Became a front desk player in the Singapore Symphony orchestra...
Cheers,
Buri
May 19, 2021, 10:21 PM · 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.
Edited: May 20, 2021, 7:38 AM · Thank you for a bunch of supporting replies.
At least I see no one objects this "natural thumb position" methodology.

I was skeptical about this "thumb across the middle finger" position for the following reason: I've always assumed (believed etc.) that the thumb-index frame is used to navigate the violin neck and I always associated that with the first position setting.

You can see that I'm obviously anchored mentally to the first position and have always considered the thumb-index frame as a good starting point, the "mainstay" of the left hand that is supposed to be a measure of the departure and return to the "safe place".

I'm still to develop basic skills in the first position as I'm always in the on and off the violin mode.
Returning this time (I normally go in couple months ON/OFF periods) I wanted to consider this new thumb position (if it suites my physiology) as I don't have large hands (only 1 octave span on the piano at most) and a rather short pinky.
Maybe it could sort out to some degree my awkward "Dorian" tetrachord fingering stretches.

Edited: May 20, 2021, 8:19 AM · 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.

I'm trying to think of an example (perhaps Rode caprice 4).
May 20, 2021, 3:17 PM · 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.
May 20, 2021, 3:44 PM · 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.

My first teacher was real stickler for keeping my thumb upright and high on the neck. She basically said to forget about using my pinky. My new teacher approach is for me to use my pinky, even though it makes for a more challenging hand frame.

May 20, 2021, 3:46 PM · Greetings,
assuming you have found your natural thumb position here are a couple more points.
It is Surprising the number of even very advanced musicians who actually are not aware of the structure of the thumb compared to the other fingers. The Sun is an extremely long digit , The base of which is very close to what is known as the wrist. this might not seem to be such an important point, but if one has a mental construct of the thumb which is actually based on the length of the other fingers this can actually inhibit movement in the hand. Therefore it is very important to study the structure of the hand both intellectually, perhaps through The Internet, but also use your fingers to identify exactly where the joints are and where movement should be taking place from. Alexander technique is very helpful in this regard.
Before you practice, having set up your hand, it is a very good idea to slideThe thumb up and down the neck of the violin as far as it got to promote relaxation. While doing this you can note the actual range of motion of the thumb as mentioned above. The other exercise you can do is remove the thumb from the neck and bring it under aforesaid neck , that is moving it sideways instead of lengthways. You should incorporate these little relaxation routines into your practice since squeezing with the thumb is one of the most egregious problems of violin playing.
Cheers,
Buri
May 20, 2021, 4:15 PM · This is an interesting video by Tobia Murphy on thumb positions:
https://youtu.be/UaW4m2vSGHQ
May 20, 2021, 4:20 PM · 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.
May 20, 2021, 5:02 PM · 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.

https://youtu.be/a_6dO9szEH8

May 20, 2021, 5:12 PM · greetings,
That’s interesting John.I may not be completely understanding the point, butThe problem for me would be that I tried to avoid separation of the index finger from the side of the neck.Having the index finger lightly touching the side of the neck, the so-called double contact principle is, in my opinion, vital for fingerboard awareness and technical security. This very light contact Does not actually inhibit the vibrato swing at all as far as I am aware.
Cheers,
buri
May 20, 2021, 5:31 PM · 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
Edited: May 20, 2021, 6:40 PM · Yep,
Kavakos is a law unto something or other :) You are absolutely right about the variety of ways of doing things. I would just respectfully note in passing, just to ensure newbies other than yourself don’ get confused on this issue, that the double contact principle is spelled out in Galamian’s book and is, in my opinion essential. I wa going to say that there are basically no top players who dont keep this light touch as the default setting but I would then I might be inundated with counter examples so I will just say that I am not personally aware of any top player , be they orchestral or soloist who plays with the index finger away from the neck. It is that important. In fact, as a guideline for looking for a teacher, if they try and make you play this way , I advise people that this is a warning sign that teacher may well have a very mediocre understanding of the kinaesthetics of violin playing and one should go elsewhere. At the very least , they have not read Galamian’s book which is weird in this day and age. Perhaps more seriously, they have either not watched great players of the last 100 years or they have, even when watching them, failed to glean the most basic understanding of violin technique summed up by Ricci beautifully as ‘We do not jump around the violin, we crawl.’’. Incidentally, as a non rest user I spend a modest amount of time everyday on Dounis exercises in thirds and fingered octaves always making sure that the downward shift is proceeded by the thumb. I exaggerate this action during the practice. If one want a look at perhaps the most natural and beautiful use of the thumb ever then one could do worse than watch the videos on youtube that do close ups of Heifetz left hand.
Cheers,
Buri
May 20, 2021, 7:51 PM · Buri, no disagreement but didn't Menuhin play with the index finger clear of the neck?
May 20, 2021, 8:01 PM · 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.

https://youtu.be/mvV4A6lz-0w

May 20, 2021, 9:16 PM · Augustin Hadelich plays with the index finger off the board.
There is a YouTube video where Hadelich and Ehnes are talking about this difference in their hand position (at 13:30)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iK7z4ES6lD8

May 20, 2021, 9:39 PM · greetings,
Yes he does seem to be teaching that way in his lessons on the left hand. However, looking at his wonderful performance of the Chacconein Switzerland
https://youtu.be/37XLOkXYLfw
I would say he is using a lot of index finger contact. Not all the time, but the default setting.
cheers
buri
May 20, 2021, 9:40 PM · Eva yes I noticed this recently. This seems like another rest vs restless situation, but not on the shoulder.
May 20, 2021, 9:44 PM · yep,
you can see hadelich well away from fingerboard here:
https://youtu.be/NUkY-CUVIh4
cheers
buri
May 21, 2021, 9:56 PM · 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?

James Ehnes commented that we can get too wrapped up in technique but what’s important is the sound coming out. I believe Leopold Auer said something to the effect that one may play the violin with their nose as long as it sounds good! haha.

Buri, to your point, I believe your Galamian school is probably most appropriate for the vast majority of students, especially novices. But I propose that teachers may benefit from keeping an open mind to technical variations when needed. Students come in many different shapes, sizes, ages, physical abilities, and mental aptitude. Sometimes a unique approach can be worthwhile.

May 21, 2021, 11:33 PM · greetings,
thats interesting John. i am not sure exactly what i am picking up from the video but i thin Ehnes ids red herring. Rather , it is the structure of of Had the Rads absolutely huuugehands and immensely long fingers that creates the necessity for that gap.
i am not an advocate of the galamian school in particular. i simply note that keeping light contact as a default setting but releasing when necessary is actually extremely important for accurate playing and teaches who advocate otherwise are misleading their students. i am not taking the
menuhin teaching scenario as counter evidence because his genius may have compelled him to propose extremes to make points with much deeper or complex underlying messages. the kinds of things he proposes are a gold mine of insight and ideas for the most thoughtful teachers but have not become a mainstream approach to teaching beginners,
incidentally, everyone i have ever taught has been treated from their own unique perspective,:9
cheers
buri
May 22, 2021, 12:23 AM · greetings,
And just to preserve my sanity, I checked out Menuhin playing Paganini on YouTube which contains many shots of his left hand from the direction of the scroll which show clearly his very heavy and sensible reliance on light contact with the index finger when playing in the lower positions.
cheers.
buri
May 22, 2021, 6:38 AM · 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.
Edited: May 22, 2021, 10:39 AM · 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.
May 22, 2021, 7:57 PM · Greetings?
Joel?I think you are absolutely right. The trend towards less contact with the neck has a great deal to do with the predominance of shoulder rest use. I am not against shoulder rests if people want to use one, but I do find they inhibit the ability to rotate the violin along a longitudinal line which I think can be helpful.
John, I couldn’t agree more. Having been motivated to listen to a few clips of Menuhin again through this conversation, I do feel more deeply moved by his playing than can be expressed in words.
Cheers,
Buri
Edited: June 1, 2021, 8:54 AM · My dear friends - Please clarify one more thing for me:

- In the first position (being trapped there for the time being) - when we use 1/2 position fingering scales, for instance Eb-Dur (D-String), Ab-Dur (G-string) - does the first finger "pull" the thumb with it in the "framed" fixed manner or do we keep the thumb fixed for the whole position (with the 1/2 downward position extension)?

Let me clarify it a little further (for the lack of clarity):
- Suppose I found a comfortable position for my thumb and it's across the 'high 2nd' placement in the First position, that is if I play the D-Dur Major scale in the first position, my thumb is right across my 2nd finger which is set on the F# of the D-string.
- Now, if I want to play the 1/2-position Eb-Dur on the same D-string - Do I adjust the thumb placement and follow the index finger so my thumb takes the new placement across F-nat, 1/2-step down from F# ?
-OR-
- Do I keep my thumb fixed at the F# mark all the time (in which case the distance between the thumb and the index will increase for Eb-Dur compared to D-Dur)?

June 1, 2021, 10:45 AM · 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?

The first time someone puts down their left hand fingers on the fingerboard, then have them slide the thumb to make sure not gripping, then tap thumb. The thumb will always go somewhere between 1st and 2nd finger.

Make a loose fist. Open up one finger at a time starting with 4. Don't go straight with fingers. Just let them peel off like a flower opening. This will give you a comfortable thumb place.

Edited: June 6, 2021, 10:08 AM · -Sergio;-- Good question.
1/2 position is an important concept that is not used often enough.
There are two ways to play those notes (Ab-Eb-Bb-F). 1st finger extension is whenever we pull the 1st finger back an extra half-step behind the thumb and the rest of the hand stays the same. The thumb does not move. 1/2 position is whenever the 1st finger is a 1/2 step above the nut, AND, the fourth finger is a 1/2 step lower than the adjacent open string. The thumb moves lower with the hand. 1/2 position makes all the "difficult" flat keys mechanically easy. Some students will accidentally let their hand/thumb move while playing the 1st finger extension, distorting the intonation of the notes that follow.
1st finger extension can be done in all positions, like getting an extra note out of your hand and becomes useful later on when doing the crawl shift, fingered octaves and 10ths. Cellists use 1st finger extension all the time. Guitarists use the first finger as a type of capo for bar chords.

Experiment: Play a C maj scale in 1st position, using the fourth finger. Then move the whole hand back a 1/2 step and play Cb Maj. 7 flats. Compare that fingering to the more awkward enharmonic equivalent scale in B.
2nd position is also very useful and also only a half-step away from 1st. Play C Maj again, then move 1/2 up and play C# Maj.-7 sharps. Then move to 1/2 position and play Db Maj.

June 1, 2021, 1:32 PM · I sometimes leave the thumb alone when doing a temporary semitone shift.

Also in whole-tone scales, where the hand creeps forward on each string, or diminished scales where it creeps backwards, we can "allow" ourselves to open the fingers symmetrically, often in "quarter" positions. But it must be prepared consciously

June 2, 2021, 8:34 AM · Joel - thank you for exactly the answer I was looking for!
Adrian, Laura - thank you as well for useful insights.
Edited: June 2, 2021, 9:11 AM · 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)?
That is, starting with the 1/2 position, move up the neck - 1st, 1 and a half, 2nd, 2-1/2, 3rd, 3-1/2 etc.

Joel, you said: "2nd position is also very useful and also only a half-step away from 1st."

Forgive me my ignorance but the 2nd finger can take the High-2 and Low-2 placement. Does it mean we have two 2-nd positions?
On the D-string, for instance, the 2nd finger is used for F-nat in the D-moll scale and for F# in the D-Dur scale.
Which of this 2nd finger placement is associated with the 2nd position "home base"?
- I assume F# on the D-string is the conventional 2nd position placement for the 1st finger. Right?
Then returning to my previous part of the question, if we move to the 1-1/2 position, that is to F-nat with our 1st finger, not as an extension - is it a common practice or rather a misnomer?

June 2, 2021, 2:15 PM · continued-
Thanks Sergio.
Yes, you can think of 1/2 position as an alternate home base when playing in the flat keys. I do more of that when playing Viola.
If F nat. on the E string is not felt as an extension, behind your thumb, then you have probably slipped into half-position.
Because each finger can play two (or more!) notes our fingering system and position system overlap and cause confusion.
Take a look at a guitar and an advanced level guitar chord book. Their system is to give each half-step fret a number; 1,2,3,4,etc..
After 4 centuries of tradition it is too late for violinists to switch to that. Here is what works for me; Each half-step going up a string is a distinct position numbered; 1/2, 1, 2, 2 1/2, 3, 3 1/2, 4, 4 1/2, 5, 6, etc. Notice that there is no 1 1/2 or 5 1/2 position. It also happens to match the notes of a natural minor scale. And it works for all 4 of the string instruments. The first finger and thumb indicate the position.
Example: A- string, first finger on C#. Is that 2nd, or high 2nd position? Then 1st finger on Db. Is that 3rd or low third position? Mechanically they are the same so I think of both of those as 2 1/2 position. I don't care whether it is notated in sharps or flats.
This 1/2 step position concept becomes more useful on Viola, and necessary for the Cello.
3 out of 4 of our basic finger patterns have the perfect 4th interval between the 1st and 4th fingers. The Whole step pattern (W-W-W) is an augmented 4th. It is either a 4th finger extension up or a 1st finger extension back. It is important to know which one you are doing. The thumb does not move.
IF you let the thumb move after an extension then you are doing the valuable technique of the crawl-shift, which is another topic for another day.
Some teachers and players might call all of that unnecessarily complicated. It works for me.
June 2, 2021, 4:00 PM · "Opposite the index" means opposite its tip or opposite its knuckle?
June 4, 2021, 3:17 PM · Joel - thank you for taking your time to explain to me these "boring basics" - I really appreciate your effort!
I still don't see a reason why not to take every 1/2 position for granted - as you correctly referred to the guitar player's practice, maybe I'll have to reread your answer above and think about it a little more.
Anyway - thanks a lot for now.
June 6, 2021, 3:31 PM · 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.

Placing your thumb farther away from the body of the violin will rotate the palm closer the fingerboard/neck and change the finger to finger stretches.

Placing the thumb closer to the body of the violin will turn the palm away from the neck/fingerboard.

In the end it all comes down to the basic principle of: "What works best for you."

In my case, since I have a short fourth metacarpal - therefore a short fourth finger, I want to bring my palm closer to the neck/fingerboard to the point of almost parallel.

People with longer fingers may find that turning the palm outward works better for them.

FWIW: I find that changing the strings by moving the elbow forward to play the G-string and then backwards a bit for the D, A and E-strings keeps the thumb-first finger relationship stable in that position. Of course, playing in fifth position and above has an entirely different set of biomechanical needs.

Bottom Line: whatever works for you keeping you on pitch all of the time is the right thing to do.


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