No shoulder rest => High Thumb position
Hi to all,
Was wondering if you knew about high left thumb resources - it’s been dawning on me since I’ve ditched the shoulder rest (long road!…) that something wasn’t quite right, and I think I found what it was: the easiest grab of the violin with enough support is a « mandolin grab » a la Dounis horizontally, but in my case the natural position is the first phalanx completely above the fingerboard.
Considering that I see photos of a lot of pre-shoulder rest with thumbs with first phalanx not touching anything (Kreisler, Heifetz, Milstein, Ricci at times, I think I will stop there…), I started wondering if there was a connection between this and the « no shoulder rest approach). Does anyone teach this? Auer does not and I don’t think Massart did either. But I think it makes wrist vibrato very very easy including on double stops.
Any thoughts about this? Or alternatively where did these guys pick this up and why even though they were taught other stuff while growing up?
Thank you Stephen: I did forgot to mention that. My position IS the Milstein exercise position with the index brought back (« stretching back « now makes more sense) but the thumb in the milstein exercise (relaxed and natural) is vertical pretty much between fingers 2 and 3, and the neck on the thumb side is touching the base phalanx of the thumb. no thumb tension ever because very unnatural to squeeze from that part of the thumb, plus shifting is easy and instant vibrato is very relaxed (key reason why I was looking for improvement from the « norm » - hard to carry the violin with left hand with no shoulder rest AND vibrate instantly esp. double stops). Only issue is large stretches but I can get a 9th in most cases so problem 99% of the time.
So much depends on the length and feasable angles of the lower two thumb phalanxes (i.e. down to the wrist). For example I cannot get my thumb to be horizontal while sticking out leftwards. "Hands are as different as noses"..
I've been playing without a shoulder rest for over two decades, and one thing that is a definite for me is that there is no static thumb position. For the few students I had who have played this way as well, the concept was to put the thumb wherever it needed to go to sound good without excessive tension.
You want your thumb to be in a position where extensions with the fingers are easy to achieve. It should be very relaxed as Gene noted. You are correct that those players you listed tended to use a higher thumb position. I’ll add Itzhak Perlman and Oscar Shumsky to that list. There have also been tremendous players, who did not use shoulder tests, such as Leonid Kogan and Aaron Rosand, who played with very low thumb positions. So clearly there’s more than one way to peel the orange.
Written descriptions can be more confusing by using the word "joint" to mean "bone" or "phalanx". A bit like calling the hand a "wrist"...
What's interesting to me is that number of students I work with these days who are completely averse to holding the violin even a little bit with the left hand, in the belief that it would limit their movement.
I also play without an SR. My conclusion? There is no 'natural thumb position'. The best way is to play with all the possible positions you can think of - train the thumb to use as many positions as possible (without errors such as falling into the notch) and then let it find its own way and forget about it (until something doesn't work of course). Then there are a lot of 'I didn't know my thumb could do that??' moments...
I also play without SR and no longer think about my thumb. initially though, I noticed that for shifting down it helps to point the thumb downwards, as a kind of stability support. but nowadays this happens instinctively.
I also play without a shoulder rest now (finally bit the bullet and fully committed this past summer after going back and forth) and Kreutzer 11 (I think that's the one Buri is talking about) was a huge part of me figuring out how to shift without that support I was used to with a shoulder rest.
It is also difficult to ascertain from videos the nature of the contact between the base of the index and the side of the violin neck, especially when playing on the E-string.
High thumb or low thumb? On the side of the neck or underneath? Opposite the first finger, or second finger, or somewhere in between? Pointing straight up or pointing backwards?