Amount of left forearm rotation in respect to the fingerboard

Edited: December 31, 2021, 9:29 AM · I see there are 2 schools of thought on how much the left forearm should be rotated under the fingerboard which in turn defines the position of hand/fingers of the "fretting" hand.

- First school of thought can be illustrated by this method of positioning the hand on the FB:

The motto of the above school would be as this: 'Rotate the forearm as much as possible to position the fingers almost perpendicular to the strings.'

- Second school of thought goes in the opposite direction and warns against doing what the above school motto proclaims.

They say: "Players with short upper arms or pinkies are being (WRONGLY) taught to bring the base of the fourth finger closer to the neck of the violin by twisting the entire forearm to the right, thus bringing the fingernails into an angle which is perpendicular to the string.
the fingers of the left hand in the first through fifth positions should be placed on an angle, with the fingernails facing in the same direction as the string and towards your face."

Question: Why are there so extreme approaches to forearm rotation degree? How much does CORRECT amount of forearm rotation depend on individual hand geometry?
(The second school completely disregards the individual hand features).

Here is an example of a small hand violinist who is by the way a violin Dr. who goes by the second school.
I see that she barely rotates her forearm at all and holds her hand almost perpendicular to the FB with fingernails facing her.
Her pinky is almost straight when she reaches over with it to stop notes on the FB and yet she manages to successfully play with that questionable config.

She often drops her pinky by the side of FB also. Doesn't look like the 'legit' hand position to me but it works well for her.

Replies (29)

December 31, 2021, 9:48 AM · Can there not be more than one way to play the violin? There are many great players with varied techniques for hand, arm, finger and thumb posture. The commonality is that they all appear relaxed and natural.
Edited: December 31, 2021, 10:43 AM · I used to play way 2 but found I couldn't use my desired vibrato so I'm now way 1. The idea of way 2 to me was to relieve the pressure of rotation whenever possible. I don't play Wohlfahrt anymore either - rubbish music!

Thanks for the video. I didn't think anyone else played that way!

Edited: December 31, 2021, 11:14 AM · The person on the video is not a very good advocate for the second dogma: She turns her hand every time the pinky needs to reach over to the G string. At that point her hand looks essentially like the one in the first picture.

There are opposing geometrical constraints here that need to be balanced. "Torquing" the forearm is indeed uncomfortable and probably not conducive to a nice relaxed vibrato (I don't see another way how hand position would impact the tone). On the other hand the pinky can not be elongated and needs to be accommodatediced (also by using it straight like seen on the video--I do the same).

Seems to me one school is Scylla and the other is Charybdis. Find your way to a solution in between them.

Edited: December 31, 2021, 11:22 AM · I wasn't very comfortable with her intonation. Maybe it's just me? I believe the size of the person has a lot to do with elbow position. Also how many notes your playing in that region.
December 31, 2021, 2:03 PM · It seems to me that her intonation issues are a direct result of her left hand posture; instead of having her fingers right above the strings and simply dropping them into place while economizing motion, she has to jump around and contort her hand over and over while trying to hit her target from the side. The distance her fourth finger has to travel to reach the string is considerable. I could see that affecting timing as well as intonation.
December 31, 2021, 3:07 PM · This player's intonation is a consequence of the "whack-a-mole" approach to fingering, with individual fingers trying to "hit" each note, independent of the others.

Building up the hand frame by whole/half step intervals is critical to intonation accuracy.

January 1, 2022, 2:59 AM · that was my very first etude, some 45 years ago or so :-)
January 1, 2022, 11:54 AM · Indeed her intonation is not good enough for a demonstration video. Arpeggios involve carefully prepared "diagonal" intervals across the strings.

Her hand may be OK for vibrated sustained notes, but for more complex passages we need four curved fingers hovering over the notes to be played.

January 1, 2022, 5:40 PM · Greetings,
the position of everything is dictated by the left hand fingertips.
I feel kind of sorry for the person on the video, unless she is claiming to be an instructor in which case I don’t :)
Using the video as a jump off point for discussion, I would say the biggest overall problem is something we often see, even up to college level (and , heaven forbid, beyond) of incorrect use self, specifically neck. It seems ot me her head is being squeezed forward to meet the violin rather than the instrument being adapted to a natural use of the head and spine. The problem is then compounded by absolute immobility. No moving/flexing release of anything cf Milstein! If this was my student, after discussing posture and how to support the violin , I would encourage her to spend practice time with the head completely off the violin.
Another point about intonation which may help newbies here. That might have sounded relatively well in tune depending on how sensitive one’s ear is. But, in reality , a huge percentage was off. One way totalk about this would be in terms of key sensitivity, leading tones and such. However, I think it is equally important to cultivate the habit of listening to notes in terms of wether they are dead-sounding or not. That is , a note can be pretty much in tune yet not in tune with the instrument so it completely lacks any kind of natural vibration or resonance. There are numerous examples of this here. It is a point worth focusing on in my opinion.
January 1, 2022, 6:52 PM · I have been taught to rotate the left arm as appropriate to each hand position so that the hand frame is maintained for proper intonation. My intonation is still off but if I do not rotate the left arm not only is the intonation off even more but the hand and wrist are prone to stress injury.
January 1, 2022, 7:26 PM · Greetings,
exactly Ann.
Raymond mentioned it the other day in another thread. One of the most beneficial stretches I have found for the shoulder joints (not to mention whole body) is lying on your back doing aa full body stretch. (arms overhead on the floor)
I try not to fall asleep while doing these..
Edited: January 2, 2022, 6:25 AM · Good Morning,
I was originally taught in an approach similar to the second hand position.
After 6 years of playing (always weekly private lessons) and attending one of Nathan‘s summer courses I came to the conclusion that I have to change some of my technique to improve tone and intonation. After some search I found a teacher who had my physique (short), a great technique and was willing to overhaul my technique. We are working on this for 9 month now.
Now my hand set up is similar to the above listed first hand position and my bow technique is changed as well. But it is a very slow process and before entering such a readjustment one has to be aware that a nasty time has to be overcome. I am really enthusiastic in regard to my tone right now (probably just for now, but I savor the moment). My left hand still feels a bit uneasy and indeed it is difficult to get the stretch between pinky and third finger (I have a passage where I have to cover in first position 1,5 steps between third and forth finger, my hands are tiny, really tiny). But I feel more secure especially when covering faster passages. I am working on Bach a minor and P&A. (7,5 years of lessons and a bit when I was a child, thousand years ago)
Take care,
January 2, 2022, 3:22 AM · Does anyone have an example of this etude that is in tune? To hear the difference?
January 2, 2022, 5:15 AM · rachel BartonPine has recorded them. I think…
January 2, 2022, 3:36 PM · Agreed with Buri. Intonation is approximate. OK for early levels but not for this level. Third finger reaches too far, sharp. Fourth finger lands short, flat. The cure for that is to re-calibrate the first position, have the third finger as home base, instead of the first.
As already mentioned, we want to have the fingertips in a line, hovering over the string. To do that we have to turn the arm. The horizontal angle of the violin makes a difference. And she has her chin to the right side of the tailpiece, completely out of the guarneri style chin rest. That points the fingerboard more towards the front.
Anyone can test for their optimum horizontal angle by putting all four fingers on a string and moving the violin around, from straight in front to all the way to the side. Do that 4 times: 1st position E and G strings, high position E and G strings. If you can find one angle that does not stress the arm or hand you are very fortunate.
One of my teachers said that I could not turn my arm far enough, possibly because I started too late- 11 y.o. He did not have solution for me. When I was playing 1st violin orchestra high notes sometimes my fourth finger would slip off the fingerboard and hit the top of the violin with a popping sound-very annoying. Much later I fixed that by moving the violin angle more to the left, from about 45 o to 60 o. There is is price to pay for having the violin too far to the left. The bow arm then needs to reach around more, stressing one of those back muscles.
January 2, 2022, 4:05 PM · Greetings,
as you say Joel. In fact, this particular player might have a better hand position simply by moving the fat end of the fiddle , as opposed to the scroll, to her right so the jaw is more on the chin rest. That would automatically place the finger board a little closer to the little finger.
January 2, 2022, 5:26 PM · It think it was Josef Gingold who said that the purpose of your left-hand position is to reach the notes. Could have been Ivan Galamian.
Edited: January 2, 2022, 5:36 PM · I have pondered this question since this thread appeared. I think there are many aspects to this.
First of all the violin's position must be comfortable for the player. Fingers must be able to reach the notes on all strings in first position. Also, the angle (to the left) of the violin must be compatible with the player's right arm so that straight bowing on all "sound points" is accessible.
We are taught to frame our left hands when we start to learn to play - but eventually that "frame" gets (or better get) build into our nervous system so the notes are accessible even when we play without all our fingers simultaneously on the strings. Cellists get used to playing this way. Put another way, the entire fingerboard gets built into their neural network at high reliability.**

** One thought that finally gelled for me is a sports analogy between fiddle playing and basketball (not that I ever watch basketball except when it passes my eyes on news programs) when i see the marvelous 3-pointer shots from up to 45 feet - an even more. I did the "math" (actually just arithmetic) and this is pretty close to same thing as landing a 2-octave jump to one-cent accuracy on a violin fingerboard - approximately 1/500 or 0.02%.

Another thing, where you put your chin and what angle to the left your scroll points can significantly affect your vibrato depending on how your wrist and elbow flex. Most of our joints are "designed" to flex optimally in one direction and vibrato works best if ours can be vectored in our personal optimal direction. This can be pretty easy on a cello or guitar, not so much on violin - especially for long-armed people who have to point the fiddle way to the left and tuck their elbows way under. It would be good to have a teacher help work these things out from the time of students' beginnings.

Edited: January 3, 2022, 4:25 AM · Is it possible for long armed people to play double contact without shoulder rest? Is it typical for long armed people to struggle on e string caused by a lack of space?

rotating elbow to the middle also tend to pull the shoulder forward. I wonder how much of this forward rotation can be tolerated. My understanding is that round shoulder is not ideal for upper back muscle &shoulder joint.

I also find arching my upper back a little backward achieves similar effect of rotating the elbow. Is it safe to do it occasionally?

January 3, 2022, 8:33 AM · The response of your own body should tell you if something you are doing is safe for you or not. If you feel hand, wrist, neck or arm pain or numbness you may be on the edge of doing something wrong for your body and should pause to assess that.

However, when I was younger (40 to 50 or so) I had a 30 minute violin warmup routine that did cause me some discomfort and if I continued to play through it it went away before the warmup session ended and I went on to practice whatever I was working on.

Regarding lack of space for your fingers, take a look at Itzhak Perlman early in the movie "Everybody Says I Love You" and do what he does with his large fingers - just keep moving them out of each other's way. It seems to work for him.

Edited: January 3, 2022, 5:50 PM · Here’s my problem with the OP’s premise to his question:

The first article, while problematic in its own right in that it advocates for the “natural left hand position” being “the palm almost parallel to the neck of the violin” (more on this below), makes absolutely no mention of “forearm rotation.” If there really is a “first school of thought” as pertains to forearm rotation, then this article fails to be representative of that.

The second article, on the other hand, takes a more sound approach in that excessive forearm rotation is discouraged, advocating instead for a “pronation of the left hand,” a supple turning of the hand with a soft wrist and knuckles that allow the fingertips to naturally fall on the strings at an angle. If read more carefully, one can see that the second article is more in line with Carl Flesch (p. 5-7) and Galamian (p. 12-18), who both warn against too much forearm rotation (the very thing that the first article wrongly espouses). Furthermore, Galamian - as well as Dounis, and even more recently Simon Fischer and Rodney Friend - state that the the fingertips on the string determines the angle of the fingers, the setting of the hand and the position of the arm (I agree with Buri’s posts above). Violin playing is such a “gestalt” thing that one question really begets a whole series of questions, in that the topic of forearm rotation necessitates consideration of the arm, hand and fingers in totality (and yes, the shoulder and back muscles too).

The second article by Ms. Keyes is in my opinion an excellent one, grounded in the teachings of the masters and beneficial to its readers. Given that Ms. Keyes is a well-respected teacher and performer, I would much sooner see a video of herself performing and demonstrating proper left hand technique than the example the OP posted which - put aside the fact that it is rife with problems that have already been outlined in previous posts - does not represent well the concepts outlined in the second article, or in any of the great teachers’ writings. Ms. Keyes’ YouTube videos of the Chausson Concerto and the Beethoven Triple Concerto are excellent examples.

Finally, I would recommend Odin Rathnam’s wonderful tutorial on Wohlfahrt No. 17 (and the rest of the book), also available on YouTube. If nothing else, his half notes are exactly four 8th notes long.

January 5, 2022, 7:14 AM · Is Dylana Jenson still around in these forums? I'd like to hear what she would have to say about this topic :)
January 5, 2022, 8:35 AM · This is about Biomechanics and everyone's biology is different. Some people have Paganini hands with long flexible fingers while there are others at the opposite extremes - and that is just the hand. The neck, clavicle, shoulder, upper and lower arm as well as the rest of the body are different.

Simply put, there is no "One Best Way" each musician is a complex combination of human and instrument.

Basic posture is essential but even there adjustments have to be made for each individual. In the final analysis, the best postures are the one that work for you and enable you to have the best sound.

January 5, 2022, 8:36 AM · Just some minor points...

One cannot pronate or supinate the hand without rotating the forearm. The wrist joint does not have a ball-type structure that would allow such a movement independent of the forearm. When talking about hand pronation/supination, one is also talking about rotation of the forearm.

When reading the literature, be careful of the terms pronate and supinate. They are frequently used in the opposite meaning of what has been mentioned here.

A pronation of the hand/forearm in medical literature is rotation that leaves the palm pointing to the floor. This is the opposite of what we do with the left hand when moving the fingers over the fingerboard.

Edited: January 5, 2022, 3:34 PM · How are we rotating the forearm? Where does the brain impulse to muscle movement initiate? If we think of this movement starting from the elbow joint or even further to the larger muscle groups in the back, this can provide us with a completely different perspective. Try holding your arm up with your 'air ' violin and moving from 'within' the forearm vs. initiating the movement from the elbow joint or back. The wrist essentially remains in the same position and the left arm moves more as a 'unit' corresponding to the angle of the fingers location to the string on the fingerboard. This is the same initiation process when exercising the motions of the arm for shifting and the vibrato. In this sense the smaller motions of the forearm are 'reactions' to these larger muscle movements.
January 5, 2022, 10:30 AM · The first one is wrong. It sounds like Menuhin's very personal (wrong for anyone who isn't Menuhin) approach. The first link is the idea of someone who sells violins after working in tech, not a professional violinist or violin teacher.

I didn't see anything super-obviously wrong with the woman in the video. She does look a little tense, but my guess is that if she listened to herself more carefully she would make the adjustments needed to play in tune.

If you start with certain basic principles, like a fairly straight wrist, a thumb that doesn't grip, and fingers contacting where you want, with the overarching goal being relaxation, then you'll tend to try and minimize all the twisting and turning, and you should be able to play relaxed and in tune.

January 6, 2022, 4:47 AM · I read Charles mentioned a first finger twisting drill (third finger down on A string, first finger playing E on D string, and F# on E, without moving hand/wrist).

I assume his approach is to maintain the index contact while not moving forearm very much while playing. Which I find terribly hard to accomplish. It seems once my third finger is pressed down, I cannot move my first finger from D or A string to E string anymore without some dramatic swing of elbow towards left and also releasing all my other fingers on A string. I am not sure whether I am doing something wrong or his technique just does not suit me due to my arm length. Any advice/comments are appreciated.

Going to discuss this with my teacher but we found doing so online to be pretty hard. Cannot wait to have in-person lessons again.

January 6, 2022, 5:11 AM · If like me, you play viola with short fingers, Charles' drill will be accompanied by a swinging elbow.
But in certain double-stops where a lower finger is "hidden" by a higher one, the lower finger may have to curl under itself somewhat and push the string to the right rather than down onto the finger board.
January 6, 2022, 10:46 PM · Is there a term for Charles's twisting drill? I am trying to find a link on Youtube but don't know what to search for. I am 6'6 with long arms, and this elbow twisting business has really squeezed by left anterior deltoid muscle, not a pleasant feeling and my left hand form/technique suffers on e-string as well.

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