I have faced this conundrum for a long time and would like to get some opinions on it.
I read all the classic violin books on correct fingering hand position and have studied the greats in videos/photos etc.
Much depends on a case by case, individual situation, depending on the length of your fingers.
My left hand/fingers are of average length, but I would say my thumb is perhaps a little short. My fingertips are 'bony'.
Here is my dilemma.
If I place my hand in fingering position, say 1st or 3rd position, I am able to get my best 'orientation' quickly, by having my left thumb an inch above the fingerboard (at first joint).
The web between my thumb and first fingers is NOT touching the violin.
The pros for this positioning is that I can quickly get into changes of position and just feel comfortable that I am
precisely in the right place to play the notes.
The cons for this positioning is that stretching fingers outside of the position is very difficult.
Vibrato is limited, not free.
Fast passages a little difficult.
If I place my hand in fingering position, say 1st or 3rd position, with my left thumb .25-.50" above the fingerboard
I don't have the security of 'location' along the fingerboard (for shifts etc.).
Pros of this positioning:
My vibrato is easier.
Can change from flat to upright fingering/vibrato.
I can play passages very fast.
Stretches are very easy.
Does anyone else struggle with this dilemma?
Do you move between the two hand positions like I do?
I don't see any pro player do this.
Paul, I just checked out Ray Chen (for the first time) and
actually his thumb is considerably longer than mine, so perhaps
instead of saying my thumb is "a little short" I should have said
it is "short".
For finer details of my thumb extension in my two left-hand postures:
1. Thumb is 1.25" above finger board in lower positions
2. Thumb is .25" - .5".
This may not sound like much overall, but everything is in relationship to one's hand/arm structure.
There is a distinct difference in feel for me between these two postures.
Again the first posture gives me a much more solid feel for where I am on the violin neck.
The second posture gives me much more freedom for vibrato and finger movement.
Andrew and Tom said I should do what works.
Well I guess it will mean continuing to go back and forth between the two depending on the piece or how I feel on the given day. :)
However, another teacher, much later, advocated a constantly changing hand position, depending on which string I was playing. She gave me arm swinging exercises to help develop a more flexible hand position - elbow forward, thumb down on g string, elbow under, possible peeping thumb for e string. It took a while (esp in positions) to sink in but helped a lot with having a relaxed hand (important for vibrato and playing fast). It might be a good idea to keep experimenting, but to aim for a relaxed hand, even if it means having to relearn shifting or finger formations ...
I can set my hand in a really solid frame for Schradieck, but I can also be more up on my fingers for vibrato; in the first case, the thumb just needs to be relaxed and out of the way, and in the second case, the thumb may need some minimum amount of contact with the neck to act as a fulcrum for the vibrato. I can move between these two attitudes, but I can also practice vibrato from a more stable handframe.
As long as my thumb isn't squeezing, then it's probably doing what is needed. The only time it does some really different that I need to think about is when I have a big stretch like a tenth, where it comes under the neck, or when I get up high in position, where it comes up the other side of the fingerboard.
My understanding is that a much more active thumb is needed if playing without a shoulder rest, particularly in shifting. I play with a shoulder rest, so all those nuances are over my head.
It is possible that your case is such a case: I assume you used your position 1 from the beginning with few problems--until vibrato showed up. And the reason you feel "at home" with position 1 is maybe mostly that you are used to it. "Retrofitting" your hand position in this situation is hard. It may be unavoidable.
At any rate this is a case where a teacher is required who can watch exactly what you are doing and guide you from there.
"It is possible that your case is such a case: I assume you used your position 1 from the beginning with few problems--until vibrato showed up. And the reason you feel "at home" with position 1 is maybe mostly that you are used to it. "Retrofitting" your hand position in this situation is hard. It may be unavoidable.
At any rate this is a case where a teacher is required who can watch exactly what you are doing and guide you from there."
You have read me incorrectly (as you will see below). :)
My position 1, raised thumb (in earnest) has been fairly recent.
My thumb up until this point has been almost always 'lower', barely peaking over the fingerboard.
Thanks Anish and Christian for your replies.
First I need to say that looking more at Ray Chen's thumb, I would say it is average to long rather than short. :)
I also need to fill in more about myself.
It may sound ludicrous to you, but I have been playing violin for decades.
I have been both a student and teacher of violin. Same for guitar, but I am self-taught on the instrument.
I got off to a really bad start on the violin because of poor violin teachers. :(
It took me approximately 20 years to figure out that my bow grip was so fundamentally wrong that no one, even the world's greatest violinists,
would have been able to play their instrument properly and not sound like a rank amateur.
Neither of my first two violin teachers took the time to spot my 'unplayable' bow grip! And one teacher was a fabulous player (assistant concert master of major orchestra).
Back to my dilemma. I will continue to experiment with the two postures.
I am gravitating at the moment to the more 'solid feeling of position' posture and am trying to build a decent vibrato with it.
For fast passages I can always dip the thumb and move to the other posture.
The other downside to the higher thumb posture is that the arm needs to be held slightly higher, which means fatigue will set in sooner.
I always thought Sarah Chang, a player I greatly admire, had a short thumb.
I was just watching her in a video and can now see that her thumb is average in length (actually longer than mine).
I had thought her thumb was short because she never lets it peak above the fingerboard.
It just goes to show there are so many possibilities when it comes to fingering hand/thumb positions.
And there is no Rule of Thumb (sorry about that). :)
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In my opinion the proper left hand position is dictated by what your personal body structure allows you do most naturally to achieve your goals.
Personally I was taught to rest my violin's neck on my first thumb joint in 1st position and to allow my thumb to project up higher in 3rd position. However, I have seen good string players do all sorts of things based on the lengths of the arms and the visible and invisible details of their hand structure.
Do it the way it works - otherwise it either will not work or it will hurt and likely (eventually) worse. It sounds to me like you know what works for you. If you find it limits what you want to do, try to find a teacher/coach you can trust to help you fix it. A good teacher should be able to understand how YOUR muscles work and suggest paths to sensible changes - and not be one of those "my way or the highway" types.
I think it is important to resolve such issues as soon as one recognizes them, because my experience is that as we age we all will eventually "age out" of the ability to change, or in fact, to improve in any way.