Left hand 2nd-3rd finger stretch, independence

Edited: October 19, 2017, 2:02 PM · I have problems with the following line:


My intonation is OK in the first bar, but in the second bar, either the C is sharp or the B is flat. No matter how slowly I [edit] simultaneously put down 1, 2, and 3 to play the D [/edit], it seems that I cannot put down the 2 and 3 with enough distance between so that I get a correct C whe I lift the 3 (I have learned to quickly adjust the 2 when I lift the 3, but that doesn't work well in fast note sequences). Also, on the way up, I think I'm pushing my fingers down too hard, as I need the friction between 2 and the fingerboard to prevent 2 from moving sharp after I put 2 down. I've grown quite a bit more callus on my 2 than on any other finger.

If I try to separate the 2 and 3 while keeping 1 and 2 together, without holding a violin, it looks like this:

Believe me, this as far as I can get and I really need to strain my hand. When I asked my wife (who does not play the violin) to do the same, she had no problem to create a gap of more than a finger width between the 2 and 3. It's as if my tendons are wired incorrectly.

Are there exercises that can increase the stretch effectively? I'm willing to build a contraption that stretches my the fingers while I'm asleep, but I am worried that I will injure myself (and so is my teacher).

Replies (59)

October 17, 2017, 9:56 AM · That's not a stretch. Your difficulty suggests that your hand is positioned incorrectly.

Calluses indicate that you're pressing too hard. You'll get a little toughening of your fingertips, but big calluses are almost certainly the result of inappropriate technique.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 10:13 AM · I'm not sure what you mean by "that's not a stretch". In any case, my teacher didn't see a problem with the hand position; she just told me to be patient. But I am not patient; the issue with the low 2 is my main intonation problem at the moment; I'd like to get rid of the problem.
October 17, 2017, 10:19 AM · If you aren't in the habit of keeping your fingers down while playing, I think that would be very helpful in this case. Play 1, leave it down; play low 2, leave it down; play 3. Now when you release 3, your 2nd finger should still be in the same place.

A more advanced playing technique is the use of independent fingers, but the fact that you are struggling with correct low 2s suggests that you aren't yet ready to use independent fingers.

Lydia is correct; 3 to low 2 in first position is not considered a stretch.

October 17, 2017, 10:20 AM · NO, no device stretching. With 1 & 2 in position, try tapping exercises with the 3rd finger toward the note your aiming for. It might take awhile but eventually get to where it needs to be.

October 17, 2017, 10:36 AM · In the first bar, I put down the fingers one by one and keep them there, and I have no problem with the intonation. A sequence abcdcba wouldn't be a problem either. The problem occurs when I need to put down 123 at the same time with all fingers in the right places, like in the second bar of the example or in a downward A minor scale (starting from the E string). The exercises that you (MEG and JA) propose are no problem for me, so I'm not sure how they would lead to an improvement.
October 17, 2017, 10:49 AM · OK, apologies, I misunderstood the original situation.

In this case, then try NOT putting all three fingers down at once in the second bar of the example. Practice playing open A - 3 - A - 3 with *only* the 3 going down until your 3 can reliably land in the correct spot. Then play the 3 (with only the 3 down) - while holding it down try placing your 1st and 2nd finger (1st in the usual spot and 2 as close as possible next to it)- then release 3 and play the 2. If it is in tune, great! If it is too high, then repeat the exercise with the thought of increasing the distance from 3 to 2, or of keeping 2 closer to 1--whatever visual you find more effective.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:15 AM · JK1)
You don't need to stretch fingers sideways to create finger patterns. Here's another way to setup the hand.

1) Hold the hand in playing position, palm facing you, hand open (as if to signal "stop.") Practice the 'twist'. Without moving the wrist, rotate the baseknuckles so that the pinky (4) stretches toward you and the first finger (1) twists away from you, so all the fingers fan out in a twist. You'll notice the 1st finger points away from you, from vertical, the other fingers point toward you, from vertical, to greater and lesser degrees. Go back to starting position. Repeat.

2) Hold the hand in playing position and pronate the forearm (rotate the whole forearm and hand together) so that your thumbnail is facing you, hand open. Practice various finger actions:

a) Keep the fingers straight. Bend all fingers only at base knuckles, at least 90 degrees to palm, or as far as possible. Back and forth.
b) Keep fingers curled. Bend all fingers at baseknuckles as far as possible. Back and forth.

For the following when you curl the finger, open the baseknuckle and vice versa:
c) Practice forming curled/straight patterns: do a) then keeping 2, 3, 4 straight, curl 1 and back; keeping 3, 4 straight curl 2, 1 and back; keeping 4 straight, curl 3, 2, 1 and back

Combined with the twist, this action of curling certain fingers and straightening others is the basis of forming finger patterns.

See the following for more details on finger action, searching for "one handed clap":


d) practice the "one handed clap", then practice slapping the fingerboard, then slap and gradually aim each finger to its target, then tap various finger patterns i) all together ii) one finger at a time, but always feeling the pattern for the whole hand, between placed finger and the fingers in the air

Always use the "one handed clap" muscles (the lumbricals, instrinsic muscles of the hand) to lower the fingers. The extensors raise the fingers. It's useful to inhibit the flexors when placing fingers by lowering fingers slowly and gradually, only using the lumbricals, and raising them explosively with the extensors (use only harmonic finger pressure when fingers touch the strings for this exercise.)

Use the curling and straightening of the fingers, "finger shapes" to aim at pitches, and combine different shapes to create various finger patterns. Clearly differentiating lift/place actions from finger shaping actions within the hand will differentiate brain maps and facilitate LH technique.

Don't worry about intonation until left hand action becomes fluid. Start with mobility in order to develop stability.
I know there are those who advocate starting with making the baseknuckles as parallel as possible to the strings, but I think that's a more advanced action for later.

Edit: I second Jim, nooooooooooo contraptions!
October 17, 2017, 11:37 AM · I used to have this problem. I discussed my general issue with hand frame here (included is a picture of what I used to do)


The folks there pointed out that my knuckles were too high above the fingerboard. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve solved by lowering my base knuckles. It might not be the problem in your case, but it fixed it for me.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 11:40 AM · Simon Fischer's Warming Up, the first exercise (it's a tapping exercise), will help you with this. The rest of the left hand on the first 3-4 pages as well.

However, as was said, if your setup is bad then you will have difficulties that can't really be sorted out without dealing with the setup problem itself.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 1:27 PM · Thank you all for the suggestions of exercises! I think those will keep me busy for a while.

Jeewon, I hope that I understand your description correctly. See the photos below. Is #1 what you mean by "twisted hand position"? And are #2 and #3 what you mean by your point 2a? (hand open, bend one finger at base knuckle)

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:16 AM · JK2)

Yes, except for your picture 3, bend all fingers together as far as they will go, 90 degrees to the palm, bit further if you're able, bending only at the base knuckles (if you're not used to this it will work out your lumbricals quite a bit, so take it easy, building strength gradually.) [Edited above post]

As a 2a)ii) you could bend individual fingers (bending only at baseknuckle while keeping rest of finger straight) but don't necessarily fight against the other fingers while moving the active finger (especially for pinky, allow the 3rd finger to follow the pinky, while keeping it from folding completely at its baseknuckle.)

Work individual and combinations of fingers in 2c)

Edited: October 17, 2017, 1:37 PM · (edit: wow, Jeewon, thanks for the pictures! I can bend individual fingers only about 60-70 degrees, so I have some goal to aim for!)

It's weird, I'm a fairly skilled touch typist, and I went through a lot of finger-independence exercises on the piano. Still, this sideways 2/3 independence was never covered, so it seems.

I feel tissues/tendons being stretched with Jeewon's excercise, so no "contraption" needed. :-) I hope it's really a matter of "developing brain maps" and maybe some gain in flexibility. To me, the skill that I wish to develop seems to be as difficult as raising one eyebrow at a time, or flapping my ears.

By the way, you seem to know a lot about the anatomy of the hand. How did you pick that up?

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:16 AM · JK3)
Just reading, first on internet, then anatomy books, going back to internet once I started learning names of certain muscles, 'cause the book learnin' is so hard...

I guess it started because I was trying to write about technique in an unambiguous way. It's tricky 'cause it gets pretty technical.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:17 AM · JK4)
You're welcome! I got into all this brain map stuff reading lay-person books on neuroplasticity. But even strength is largely neurological, from what I've read in kinesiology texts. Before there is any hypertrophy (growth of muscle cells and fibres) there is greater recruitment of fibre bundles, which is purely neuromuscular. So strength, speed, control (finger individuation) all has to do with building new brain maps and connections between maps.

I don't advise doing too much at once, but once you get pretty good independent control of each finger bending, you can help that action be extending the non-active finger.

So 2a)iii) would be the same as ii) but you just extend the the lifted finger. In pairs, bend 2, lift 1 then lift 2, bend 1; bend 3, lift 2 then lift 3, bend 2; bend 4, lift 3 then lift 4, bend 3; go back and forth. You can do this with straight fingers or curled fingers. You'll then be very prepared for 2c).

2a)iii) Extension/Flexion at baseknuckles (MCP joints) in pairs of fingers (1 and 2 pictured); with a) extended fingers b) curled fingers:

October 17, 2017, 10:31 PM · I'd bet money that your left-hand setup is wrong for your particular anatomy. You probably need an index contact point that is placed closer to the tip - rather than the base - of the finger, so that the 1 finger lands more flatly.

Please post a picture of your left-hand setup on the violin.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 1:19 AM · Jeewon, a nice thing of your exercises is that they don't require a violin, so I can practice on any occasion when my hands are free. But forgive me for asking before I commit to spending the next months building a reputation as the guy who's always fidgetting with his left hand: how do you know that the exercises will help resolving for my particular problem? I would suppose that the books on neuroplasticity were not discussing violin pedagogy. Do you use these exercises with your own students?

My own teacher and the teachers here all seem to suggest that I should use a correct left hand position and practice, on the violin, in getting the finger positions right, in various fingering patterns. Your approach is rather different and unique.

Erik, I'll make photos later today (EU time). What is the best angle? From someone standing on my left?

October 18, 2017, 2:10 AM · Dear Han, you can get a good feeling for the hand position Jeewon is trying to get you at, using the so-called Gemiani chord. Place the fourth finger nicely rounded and relaxed on the note D on the G-string. Then place the third finger on the note G on the D-string; then the second finger note C on A-string; finally first finger note F on E-string. All fingers should remain soft, not forced, and the final joints (closed to nail) should remain soft. While in this chord you should be able to lift and place back one of the four fingers without disturbing the others. This is easy to do for people with a trained left hand, but can be very hard to do for beginners. So do not despair if this appears impossible for you. But it gives you a concrete goal. Suppleness in all parts of the left hand is the key, not forcing. This suppleness is also the goal of Jeewon's exercises. Left-hand position is also key of course. This is hard to explain or correct by email. One of the things to pay attention to is that you are not forcing your wrist away from you. Allow it to adapt to the fingers. Wrist and fingers should not fight each other.
Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:17 AM · JK5)
Precisely what Jean said! :)

Please feel free to question away until you're satisfied. If you can't ask questions on the internet then where can you.

I'm not one to do or recommend anything for the sake of it. I'm always looking for progress, so I would suggest doing most things only until it helps you get to the next step (sometimes I suppose it's worth just doing something for the routine of it.) If you were to try your passage above right now and were able to play it in tune and fluidly I'd say stop with my exercises. Also, I would recommend taking any exercise or idea and doing it on the fiddle as soon as possible, as I also believe in the specificity of movement. I wouldn't expect anyone to do off-fiddle exercises for more than a few times over a few days, to get the gist of it. Of course it's useful to revisit exercises from time to time if it helps you to move better on the fiddle. But to be clear, what we want is better movement on the fiddle.

If you're open to it, I could keep going with a progression of exercises (I think progress is circular or spiral, so any progression is an abstraction of how we actually learn) which will take you to Jean's supple left hand setup. But it'll take some time, and of course it's no substitute for face-to-face instruction.

To give you full disclosure, I'm not currently teaching and haven't for some time now (except for brief tutoring here and there--this summer I worked with an actor colleague at this theatre festival where I work.) I don't have a lot of experience with beginners, though I have used such exercises on beginners. And most of my experience has been with early to mid teens, rehabbing their technique, including many cases of inadequate left-hand setup, in preparation for getting into post-secondary music schools.

I don't know where this static, uniformly curved finger, parallel baseknuckle hand posture originated (nothing against Suzuki, but I think I first saw it in a Suzuki secondary source) but I believe it is an impediment to higher left hand function. You can get away with it if you have larger hands, fairly uniform length fingers and longer arms, but even then, I don't think proponents of it have the most efficient finger action possible, and I don't think it's a good general starting point for most people (since most people don't possess 'violin hands'.) I do think that supinating the forearm and/or making the base knuckles more parallel has it's place in certain contexts, but it's a deviation from a more relaxed, supple hand posture which Jean described. Also, even though there are older sources which suggest making the baseknuckles parallel, it's actually a pretty rare default posture among top players. My opinions were formed from the teaching I received, my teaching and tinkering with my own playing (except for my long and wide palms and (almost too) flexible joints, I have pretty bad hands for violin playing,) but also from a lot of reading and observing from that perspective.

So if you're willing to follow along, questioning all the way, I'm willing to dish.

Edit: added pictures for 2a)iii) above

Edited: October 18, 2017, 10:26 AM · Erik, Jean, here is my hand setup:

1: Correct intonation after playing A-B-C-D.
2: After putting down all fingers at once. The D is correct, but progressing through C-B-A will result in bad intonation for C (and usually B as well). I can correct finger 2 while 1 and 3 stay down, or while lifting 3, but I don't have time for that in faster passages.
3: Attempt at "Gemiani chord" (my teacher calls it "Galamian position"). Finger 1 tends to drift to the A string and I doubt that the whole chord is in tune (DGCF# is too dissonant for me to tell and I tend to touch nearby strings with some fingers). Otherwise, I can lift and replace fingers individually.

Jeewon, "If you can't ask questions on the internet" - heh, some folks (both on vcom and IRL) respond negatively to words that might be interpreted as criticism or questioning of authority.

I am not sure what "parallel base knuckle" exactly means.

"Follow along"... now that you've put so much effort in explaining, I feel obliged to do my best to put it to practice. But this is going to take time; it's not really compatible with vcom's policy of closing topics after one month.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:17 AM · JK6)
It doesn't have to be so formal as all that. And you don't have to feel obligated in any way... I'll just post a few more things. If you find it useful, I'll post a few more, and see what happens. We'll probably get bored talking about it before the thread closes :)

Let's call a line drawn from the tip of the middle finger, palm side, to the middle of the inside of your elbow, the midline of the forearm and hand. If you draw a line, more or less, perpendicular to the midline through the base knuckles, let's call that the bk line. If you rotate your hand and forearm so that the bk line is close to parallel to the strings, that is making the base knuckles more parallel. Some people suggest that should be the basis of the posture of the hand, but what it does is force open the base knuckles, making them unnecessarily stiff and makes you want to spread the fingers sideways (as in a Vulcan salute) to form finger patterns. Both these actions setup the hand in a rigid way and you're kinda stuck before you even place a finger. When the fingers are placed, the base knuckles should be bent, flexed. The base knuckles open as you play a pitch flatter (curl the finger to place the fingertip closer to the scroll) and they close as you play a pitch sharper (extend the finger to place the fingertip closer to the bridge.) They open completely when you lift the finger 'high' into the air (keep the fingers curled in the air.) Of course, for most people, the first base knuckle is quite open most of the time and, if you don't force it open, the pinky base knuckle is quite closed most of the time. But if you place the fingers 'nice and curled,' base knuckles uniformly open and parallel to the string, you're fingers are stuck.

I don't think you have that problem at all. But our motion is often inhibited by how we conceive of joint structure and movement (the Conables* talk about how body maps of the brain can often be inaccurate) and in the context of a foreign activity, concept of motion determines quality of that motion, whether in a good or less good way. The example used by Bill Conable is that of the shoulder complex. Many people believe our shoulder joint is somewhere between our upper trap and deltoid, and so they try to bend there. Or many people believe we have a waist joint, instead of a continuous segmented spine, and so they try to bend at the waist, thereby tilting the pelvis foreward and sharply curving the lumbar region. In truth our shoulder is articulated only at the inner clavicle to the sternum and the only way to bend down properly is to bend at the hip sockets. In your case it maybe that when you try to play a whole tone between 2 and 3, you spread your fingers sideways (which many a Trek actor found almost impossible to do without assistance from the other hand) and what I'm saying is that is an unnecessary, and parasitic movement. To play a whole tone you need to curl the lower finger, opening it's baseknuckle, or extend the upper finger, closing it's baseknuckle. I'll try to take some pictures when I've got more time.

*Conables: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0962259543/alexandertechniqA/

October 18, 2017, 1:03 PM · Yep, so notice that your thumb has to grab back closer to your 2nd finger in order to get leverage to pull/push the other fingers into position.

Without seeing/feeling your hand in person it's difficult for me to say precisely how to fix your hand, but the first thing I would personally do is this (You'll need a shoulder rest for this setup to work.... otherwise, you'll "grasp" the neck too soon and tension will be built into the position.... if not using a shoulder rest, have something to support the scroll of the violin):

1) Relax your hand.

2) Slide the relaxed hand down the neck until your 1st finger is naturally floating DIRECTLY above the B-position on the A string (I would personally have a tape on the B-position for the purpose of consistently setting this up, but whatever). It should be there naturally; you shouldn't have to "Make" the 1 finger reach the B.

3) Lower your entire hand simultaneously (lower as in towards the floor) until the first finger starts to press into the B position, and keep lowering until your thumb tip is even with the top surface of the fingerboard. At this point, your 1st finger will have flattened significantly.

4) Lock out your thumb joint so the thumb tip is now pointing away from the neck of the violin, rather than up in the air. You should feel the joint of the thumb coming into contact with the neck of the violin now, and the tip should not be touching anything. The joint will be slightly UNDER the neck, but not all the way. Basically, in the 7:00-8:00 O'Clock position from your point of reference.

5) Now, the violin is supported by the joint of the thumb, and the index on the other side prevents it from moving off of the thumb joint.

6) Add your 1st finger. It might feel like a "hug" more than a "press." Add your 2nd, and bring your elbow more UNDER the neck (think of the point of the left elbow moving to the right about 1/2"). Add your 3rd, and bring the elbow under 1/2" more. Add your 4th, and if this can't reach without the other fingers getting pulled out of position, then pull your elbow under even more, until the 4th can reach.

This is much easier in video form or in real life, but let me know how it works out for you. The idea behind this setup is that given your anthropometry (which appears to be that you have a very long 2nd finger compared to your other fingers), we can artificially "shorten" the 2nd finger enough through a certain hand setup, so that it can play close to the 1 finger, and then compensate for the now-shortened 4th finger by using "elbow swing" (bringing the elbow under the neck) combined with increased lumbrical action in the 4th finger. Meanwhile, because the thumb has been brought down and is now supporting the violin from the bottom of the neck rather than the side, this will reduce overall tension in the 1-4 fingers, which also gives the 2 a better chance of touching the 1 while also allowing the 3 and 4 to stretch adequately. It also "lengthens" the 4 to have a lower thumb position.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 1:26 PM · Jeewon, About the parallel base knuckles: I think I understand now what that means. And I find it absolutely impossible to get my hand in that position and put the fingers on the strings. I would have to supinate my forearm close to the limit. On the other hand, I don't have a problem with the Vulcan salute (with stretched fingres, that is).

Photos 1 and 2 (a few posts up) show that the base knuckle of 1 rests against the fingerboard; the knuckle of 4 is out of view, but it's about 3 cm (1 in) from the fingerboard (for playing E5 in 1st position).

I'm assuming that when you speak of "opening" and "closing" the base knuckles, you mean opening=stretching/extending, closing=bending, right? With the non-parallel base knuckle line and using purely knuckle opening/closing, combined with finger curling, I end up like this picture.

It results in the finger-2 tip moving along the arrow. I can kinda put down my fingers 1/2/3 all at the same time in this pattern (it would require some practice to do it smoothly and accurately), but now finger 2 tends to touch the E string and 1/3 touch the D string; I don't think that will work in the long run.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 2:32 PM · Erik, thank you!

Regarding my anthropometry: this is my hand, with a scale in cm. Finger 2 is indeed a bit longer than the rest; not sure whether it counts as "very much".

I find it difficult to follow your steps 2/3. With the tip of finger 1 above the B position, there are still many (infinite) ways to position the rest of the relaxed hand while the finger tip stays in place. The end result of step 4 is more clear: my thumb should be in a different position than what I'm used to. I tried it the other way around: put my fingers 1/2/3 on the strings in the B/C/D positions, then rearrange the hand to get the thumb in the position that you describe. Indeed, it feels like there is less strain in my hand. See the picture below; (5) is the old thumb/hand position and (6) is the new one.

When my thumb is in this new, more comfortable position, my wrist bends, just like in the first weeks of my violin journey. I think it's not supposed to do that. (note that the difference is bigger than how it appears on the photos.)

October 18, 2017, 2:40 PM · This may be impossible to fix over the internet. That's why we use private teachers. Anyway, assuming you have normal hand anatomy;
Grab a baseball or tennis ball firmly in your left hand. Notice that the hand is round, with the base of the first finger pushed out, and the thumb will be opposite the 2nd or 1st finger.
Next, with the violin, find third finger D on the A string, octave above open D. Release the thumb and put it back where it is most comfortable; that is your 1st position. alternate 3-2-3-2, D-C#-D-C-D-, etc. Next alternate 1-2-1-2, B-C-B-C#-, etc. The thumb does not move, the other fingers are off the fingerboard, the arm is stable. Hope that helps.
October 18, 2017, 2:48 PM · I didn't read every post, this is just what yhe pictures look like to me.

The picture with your hand and the ruler: it looks like your hand is tense with fingers squeezed together?

Both photos with the violin look like extremes - too far bent, one out and one in.

Straighten your wrist, relax your grip, lighten-up on your fingertips- both look like you have a death grip going on.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:18 AM · JK7)
When teaching adult learners, or rehabbing pretty advanced, impatient, ambitious kids, I've often had to impose the idea of 'bracketing.' When working on one thing, bracket everything else. Give yourself some leaway so that you can focus on the one thing. It's not easy to do I know.

Touching adjacent strings is not only ok, but necessary in certain contexts, so I would bracket everything but finger motion along the string for now. Lateral motion is a whole other thing, as is clearing other strings, which has to do with aiming fingers at a certain incident angle. Of course in real music all these elements come together in a seamless way. But it's good to practice components so that when you do have to figure out a more complex passage, you can break it down in to simpler components, and build it back up.

If you feel pretty good with finger curling/extending, I would next apply 2c) on the fiddle, then add the idea of overlapping and "underlapping" fingers.

-Place 1
-Lift 2 (by which I mean, hyperextending 2nd baseknuckle while curling 2 (not forced, but naturally curled into the lift) so that the tip of 2 is above the middle knuckle of 1)
-slowly, gradually lower 2 so that its tip lands on top of the 2nd knuckle of 1, keep lowering 2, slowly, gradually, brushing the inside edge of 1 until the pad of 2 overlaps the nail of 1, and keep going slowly gradually until 2 gently touches the string, without pressing, upon which 2 lifts explosively into the air again; repeat.

Do this with the other pairs of fingers. Don't worry about whether you form a semitone or tone for now.

I suspect what's happening is that when your fingers go down they tend to squeeze at their second knuckles, which causes the tips to separate. This is usually accompanied by excessive pressure from the thumb and squeezing between thumb and palm area of 1.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 3:23 PM · Joel, I do have a private teacher. Apparently, this low-2 problem occurs with her other (very few) adult students as well, not with the children that she's more experienced with. She told me that it will get better over time. (Credits due: she said similar things about a lot of other beginner issues and she turned out to be right. :-) )

Anyway, your and Erik's suggestions about the thumb position seem to help! On the DCBA sequence, the C-B interval is much smaller now. It used to be consistently about 140 cents; I have been able to hit 100 cents a couple of times. (Unfortunately, with both of C and B a bit off-pitch in the same direction).

In your 3-2-3-2 exercise, do you mean that finger 1 is off the fingerboard?

October 18, 2017, 3:36 PM · Jim, yes my hand next to the ruler was tense because I tried to keep it flat on the table, while holding the camera at sufficient distance and at the correct angle. :-)

It could very well be that I'm pushing too hard (how many newtons of force count as a death grip?). As I mentioned in before, I have developed the habit of relying on friction between finger tip and fingerboard to keep fingers in place while moving other fingers.

I have to quit for today as it's 12:35 AM here. I find it amazing how eager you all are to help me! Thank you!

October 18, 2017, 3:40 PM · Han, your picture #6 indicates that you never lowered your overall hand closer to the floor - you only locked the thumb out. Lower the hand so that the thumb tip is LEVEL with the top of the fingerboard, then lock the thumb out. Meanwhile, on the other side, the index should also be lowered so that the 1 lands with an even flatter angle than it currently is.
Edited: October 18, 2017, 6:46 PM · Han: I had a similar issue when I started as an adult. Due to a sports injury, the movement of my second finger was not independent of my third finger. Assuming the issue is not due to ligament damage or other injury, this is what I did (and still do) to overcome it.

Do daily practice of scales in thirds as a warm up to limber up the fingers then I do 1st position ascending and descending scales using my fourth finger instead of open strings and leaving my fingers in place until I have to move them. The minor scales (harmonic and melodic, ascending and descending) are especially useful for developing that second -third finger independence.

If you want lots of music to play and exercises where the second - third finger independence is stressed I recommend checking out the Doflein method book 1 “The Beginning“. The whole book 1 is based on developing the correct attitudes of the fingers necessary for the violin. Developing second -third finger independence is a focus. Doflein’s method books can be hard to find since it is somewhat out of favor by many teachers. It was written back in the 1930’s. It is readily available on Amazon or from Shar if you can’t get it locally.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 7:39 PM · @Han- "It could very well be that I'm pushing too hard (how many newtons of force count as a death grip?)"

Think of the force you put on the string in levels. 1 = light pressure(resting the finger on the string very near no pressure at all) // 5 = hard pressure. Starting at 1, draw the bow across a string; increase the pressure slightly to the next number and draw the bow again. Do this for each number, when you get to a number where the intonation sounds good that's where you stop adding pressure.

As for squeezing the neck, hold the violin in 1st position then slide your hand toward the body of the violin. If it doesn't glide easily, you have too much pressure. Forget Newton.

October 18, 2017, 9:19 PM · Han-- following up on that. Yes, have the 1st finger off the wood for that 3-2-3-2 combination. Leaving fingers down is sound when learning where the notes are, but later, lifting fingers when not in immediate use helps relax the hand. And it will improve both vibrato and intonation. Exceptions to that would be: prepared fingering, and when doing stretches, when you need an "anchor" measure against. How much pressure?; enough to put the string on the wood, no more. Using too much finger force is like stomping around on hard pavement; eventually your feet start hurting. thanks~jq
October 19, 2017, 4:57 AM · hi Han, just a quick response, skipping over all the other responses (isn't this a great forum, contrary from what you would judge from that dreadful "Paris experiment" thread), plan to read them later in detail! but in some of your photos I seem to see the pushing of the wrist away from you that I warned against. if you do that there is no way to have significant distances between 2nd and 3rd finger (the original topic of this thread). if you ease your wrist slightly inwards it makes really a lot of difference in that specific respect. I seem to see the pushing away in the three photos you posted at 10:26AM, and in photo 5 of 2:32PM. I do not see it in the photo of 1:26PM and photo 6 of 2:32PM. anyway maybe I get the wrong impression from these photos, but it is really something to guard against.
Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:18 AM · JK8)
Here are pictures of 2c)

N.B. just a reminder these pictures show maximum effort, not yet what fingers look like on the fiddle. Also, thumb position is not accurate, just out of the way to show what the fingers are doing.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:19 AM · JK9)

So we agree that the parallel hand shape doesn't work well. When the hand is uniformly curled and we try to form finger patterns, it's very difficult to control placement of the fingertips.


If we just forget about spreading curled fingers sideways, and instead use an obliquely shaped hand, it's very easy to control placement of tips of fingers by curling and extending pairs of fingers.

October 19, 2017, 12:55 PM · Parallel hand shape would work great if our thumbs were only 1" long :)
Edited: October 19, 2017, 10:28 PM · Thank you all again for your comments! I don't have too much time tonight to respond in detail to all. What I get: fingers (including thumb) should be lower than in photos 5 and 6; wrist should really be straight or slightly bent inwards. Photos 7a/7b below show what I manage to do now.

The outermost two phalanges of finger 1 are almost flat on the fingerboard. The low 2 comes almost natural this way, without need to press hard to prevent it from sliding sharper! On the downside: I find it hard to get the thumb much lower than this, with the thumb tip level with the fingerboard, and locking out the thumb rather than grasping the fingerboard takes conscious effort - it slips [edit: the thumb slips back into grasping mode] when I try to figure out how to make a photo through the mirror, holding the camera with the right hand...

October 19, 2017, 2:53 PM · It is difficult to make these changes, but as we get better we must often swap security in exchange for freedom. The grasping of your thumb from the side is the best way to feel secure holding the neck, but that security is also preventing the freedom of being able to play all of the finger-positions on the violin.

Initially, it will feel wrong, but that was also true of when you learned to hold the bow properly. Holding it like a club probably made more sense initially, as far as your motor skills were concerned.

If the violin is "slipping" when you lower your thumb and then lock it out, it means that the index is not holding the neck from the other side. There should be a very light "squeeze" between the joint of the locked-out thumb and the index on the other side, in order to hold the violin properly when there are no fingers placed. Once you place a finger, it is acceptable for the index to separate from the neck (although I would personally recommend you keep the index touching for the sake of consistency in the beginning stages of learning the violin).

October 20, 2017, 12:37 AM · I meant "slip of the attention", not "slip of the violin". :)

Update: when I play music rather than that boring 4-tone scale, my thumb starts to hurt (muscle pain). I will need to learn to use much less tension.

Also, I vaguely recall that this is the left-hand setup that I was taught at some point. I think I changed to a much higher hand/knuckle position when I was assigned exercises that required me not to touch adjacent strings. With this setup, I can't play those exercises anymore. (Yes Jeewon, bracket the problems, I know.)

And I think I will collect Jeewon's explanations and photos in a document, to print out and keep on my music stand.

I'm very motivated to get these hand-setup problems ironed out. In my teenage years, I developed a bad embouchure (lip technique) on the trumpet, which made me hit a brick wall after 5 years (Around abrsm grade 7 equivalent). An attempt to relearn basically threw me back to absolute beginner level and I gave up. I really don't want something like that to happen again.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:19 AM · JK10)
(It's funny how you bracketed the acknowledgement about bracketing :)

Before we go to the fiddle, I'll briefly address the nebulous idea of relaxation. I've always found it to be useless as a general directive, and only helpful when the command referred to a specific action, or a muscle during a specific action.

Learning a new skill has largely to do with inhibiting unwanted movement (as Todd Hargrove explains; see also "Coordination") and so we're constantly on the watch for action which inhibits or even cancels the desired action. It's almost a never ending process, as it comprises a large part of our technical practice, but also we have to remain ever vigilant for signs of fatigue (a prelude to pain and injury) and learn how we change as we age, or train to 'forget' how to move well. (Sometimes our brain maps change because of overuse: see "Dystonia – a disorder of dynamics of brain plasticity modulation?" or "Using the brain to retrain the body to overcome dystonia".)

So learning a new activity has to do with selective muscle use, inhibiting antagonists, and also limiting agonist muscles to do just enough and no more (which is context dependent,) lest we develop a sort of 'writers' cramp. Once we get better at inhibiting and limiting certain action, then we turn our attention to coordination, training the movements we do want.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:20 AM · JK11)
Was trying to figure out a way to keep taking pics with my phone... but I don't think I can shoot both hands without the DSLR. While I figure out a quick way to setup I'll leave you with "doneness":

What we want is to return to "raw" as much as possible. And rarely go into "med-rare" territory.

Check: ball of thumb, the palm area between thumb and 1st finger (between metacarpals,) pinky-palm, and belly of the flexors (superficial layer, intermediate layer, deep layer.)

Gently holding the flexors just above the elbow with the right hand, feel the difference between curling the fingers (without bending the baseknuckles) and bending the baseknuckles (without curling the fingers.)

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:21 AM · JK12)
Haven't setup the DSLR yet, so I'll just skip the 'checking doneness' pics and move onto alignment.

Another problem with the general idea of relaxation is that a truly relaxed state is not a great starting place for action. In sports you assume a 'ready stance' to be ready to move. We can learn a relaxed posture for the hand, which is necessary especially when balancing on one finger for a full vibrato motion. But, similar to ingraining a ready stance, priority should be given to learning a 'ready posture' for the hand, which maximizes alignment for finger action and forming the 1-4 octave frame.

In A1, the first picture of a relaxed hand is good to instill, as it's nice to able to just take a break in between passages. The second picture shows how fingers are positioned over the middle of the palm if we aim fingers with an overly relaxed hand. The third picture shows a typical grabby hand. Because the hand is not poised to maximize leverage from the baseknuckles, the fingers tend to curl first (action from the flexors,) the thumb and ball of thumb tend to react to the flexors, the fingers squeeze the string (instead of throwing down from the baseknuckles,) the thumb/ball of thumb respond with a squeeze, the finger action is laboured and mushy.

A1) Bad alignment:

To maximize finger action we need a 'ready posture' as pictured in A2) The hand is poised, slightly more tense than a completely relaxed, layed back hand. Pivot the hand to the left, so the right edge of the wrist is straight, throw fingers from baseknuckles (lumbrical action) and supinate slightly, twisting the baseknuckles to align the fingers over the ball of the thumb. On the fiddle each string should be over the ball of the thumb and fingers aligned along it. From this ready position, when the fiddle is suspended in the hand, the pivoting action combined with the slightly active lumbricals (fingers thrown over) add leverage and will depress the string, without needing to press further. Because the action of the wrist and fingers rotates counter-clockwise, the palm doesn't squeeze in response to finger action. The fingers are thrown by the lumbricals, rather than squeezed, so they move discretely and with speed.

A2) Good alignment:

October 24, 2017, 12:27 PM · LOL a video on meat doneness. That made my day.

Anyways, my opinion is that the closer to the TIP of the index that the neck of the violin contacts, the easier it will be for you for place your 2 next to your 1.

To put it another way, think of setting up your 1st finger as LOW as possible (towards the floor), to where it can barely press the A string. Now, press B, C, D, E. Now raise the 1st finger by a Millimeter or two, and see if all of the fingers can still reach their positions.

Repeat this until you find the HIGHEST position that the index (1st) finger can be in, while still allowing you to place B, C, D, E.

NOTE: the thumb contact point - on the other side of the neck - should not be changing during this process. ONLY the index!

Also, I don't think you should be worrying about the Gemiani chord at this stage, although I'm sure some would disagree with me about that.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 7:23 AM · JK13)
In general, when we can't seem to move a certain, necessary way, it's usually because we aren't letting ourselves do it, often because of some contrary action elsewhere. If we can't place fingertips together, it's because we're spreading them apart, in the following pictures, by squeezing second knuckles together. As we train for independence of fingers we learn to let go of those squeezing actions.

Left pictures: squeezed 2nd knuckles; tips separated
Right picture: released 2nd knuckles; tips allowed to come together

The last concept we need before going to the fiddle itself is the idea of overlapping (and later, 'underlapping') fingers, which I think I touched on above.

October 31, 2017, 12:15 PM · I was a bit silent in this thread since I don't have so much to add; I'm practicing my new hand setup and finger movements according to what Jeewon and Erik have been explaining here. I feel that I need to tackle those basics first, before I do the scale exercises that others have recommended. (I tried the scale at the top of this thread for several weeks without the slightest improvement, whereas the change in hand setup made a tremendous difference.)

Fortunately, my teacher did approve of me asking for help here and trying out a different left-hand setup. Phew!

Re Erik's post (two up from here): if I put my hand really low (close to the floor), I may be able to reach all the strings, but it gets really hard not to touch adjacent strings.

In Jeewon's post above this one, do I understand correctly that the first four photos are "don't do this" examples?

The bad news: I have too much left-hand tension in the new setup. My teacher gave me exercises to reduce thumb tension. The other fingers also hurt, also many hours after I last touched the violin. I've had computer-related RSI problems in the past and this type of pain is a warning sign that I take seriously. I've reduced the amount of daily practice and I am trying to learn to get my fingers in position without strain...

October 31, 2017, 2:06 PM · Try practicing, in whatever hand position you are using, with "whistles" instead of solid notes. "Whistles" consist of letting the finger lightly touch the string in the proper position in the manner of playing a harmonic, instead of bringing full weight down on the string. This should produce a sound that could be described as whistling (if one is charitable), or hideous (if one is not). I tell my students, the worse this sounds, the better you're doing it.

After practicing in this manner for as much as you can stand it, then add *just enough* weight to your left hand fingers to make the notes sound clearly; no more. This will most likely be less weight than you're used to using, but it's all you need.

Good luck.

October 31, 2017, 3:01 PM · I'm going to try whistling; thank you Mary Ellen.
October 31, 2017, 4:19 PM · You're welcome--hope it is helpful to you.
November 1, 2017, 10:55 AM · Hmmm yeah, unfortunately all of my advice will probably manifest in the wrong way without me physically being there to form the hand into the correct shape, and to modify the advice based on seeing how the structure of your hand responds to it.

I do worry that you have any pain at all, since a comfortable position is more important than just about anything else. I'd much rather have a student set up in a comfortable, relaxed way that allows them to play tension free, than in a way that allows them to reach B, C, D E simultaneously.

November 1, 2017, 11:34 AM · It's quite refreshing to practice with the light touch that Mary Ellen recommended. I'm not sure whether I'm doing it as light as she had in mind, but at least I don't press the strings all the way to the fingerboard. It doesn't sound pretty, but with a heavy practice mute it's bearable. :-)

My own teacher's exercises amounted to letting go off the thumb, but then it seems I compensate the lack of thumb counterpressure with something weird with the first knuckles of the other fingers and with the chin rest, rather than by reducing finger pressure.

November 1, 2017, 11:37 AM · Glad it's helping. The worse it sounds, the more effective it is.

I usually suggest to my students that they reserve such practice for times when they are alone at home, and be sure that any small animals are out of the room. ;-)

November 1, 2017, 12:49 PM · By the way, you really shouldn't be practicing with a mute (if at all possible), as it will allow you to get away with things that you shouldn't be able to. If hearing damage is your concern, I recommend an earplug in the left ear (cotton or rolled up tissue paper is fine). Try not to completely plug the ear, though - just enough to make it quieter.

Particularly in the instance of "whistling," the mute could cause issues as it will dampen the overtones and allow you to get away with less-than-ideal finger pressure.

In the instance of sound-point correction, having a mute on will allow you to play either too close or too far from the bridge without being punished by the tonal response.

It makes a big difference in the overall progress of students, in my experience, to avoid practicing with a mute on, as well as avoiding electric violins (same problems as mutes). Oh, and it makes it harder to recognize intonation, since a big part of that is overtone related.

Practicing without a thumb is occasionally useful for teaching arm vibrato, in my experience, but in very few other situations should it be used, for the exact reason you mentioned (compensation via squeezing with the base knuckles of the fingers).

Regarding your previous response, about the lower hand position (towards the floor) allowing your fingers to reach BCDE, but making it impossible to not hit other strings accidentally: sometimes we have to compromise certain things in the early learning process because the niche hand strength is simply not formed yet to do everything in a "textbook" way. When you see pictures in textbooks of how a student's hand should form, you are seeing an experienced player's hand, or perhaps the very flexible fingers of a child. They are NOT using a brand-new student's hand for those pictures. So to expect a brand-new adult player to be able to hit the same finger formation - which might mean BCDE while simultaneously avoiding brushing of the other strings - will be counterproductive, in my opinion. The reason being that we can develop other skills while the niche hand strength forms, because building those tiny muscles takes substantial time. So we don't want to hold off on developing all of the other skills just because the hand isn't forming perfectly yet. We want to build solid bowing, music theory, and musicality, while also encouraging the left hand strength to develop slowly and correctly, through a linear progression of hand-evolutions that eventually lead to the correct muscles being engaged. We can't learn to lift 500 lbs by starting with 500 lbs. We have to first learn the movement with 100 lbs, and build up from there, otherwise we would spend the next 70 years repeatedly failing to left the 500 lbs, and no progression would be made. So we "compromise" by starting with a lower weight.

My opinion is that the "100 lbs" in this analogy is you lowering your left hand towards the floor so that you can comfortably reach all 4 relevant finger positions, even if it means compromising your ability to only touch 1 string at a time. Over time you'll be able to lift your left hand slightly until you're able to both a) reach all 4 finger positions and b) only touch 1 string at a time. But the far more relevant of those two options, for a beginner, is the ability to hit the 4 finger positions, since it allows a path for proper strength development while simultaneously allowing you to play music decently and learn the other skills involved in music. So that's the compromise I would personally choose as a teacher, rather than spending months obsessing over a "textbook" hand position and subsequently delaying the development of other, equally relevant skills.

November 1, 2017, 4:52 PM · Erik, thanks for your lengthy exposé.

Re the mute: I've read many times that it's better for one's development to practice without mute, but you're the first who actually explains why! Does those reasons also apply to a small round (Tourte?) mute? Indeed, hearing protection is a reason to use a mute, but another reason is that I often practice at late hours. Regarding intonation: the bottleneck seems to be finger control, not the last +/-10 cents that would match the partials in double stops or in a duet. (In some exercises, my intonation improves drastically if I sing along.)

Re left-hand development and lifting weights: I understand what you mean, but my teacher follows a method book that includes exercises/songs that require me not to touch adjacent strings and I can't tell my teacher that we should skip those exercises because my left-hand position needs a couple more months to develop. So I'll be muddling along during the coming months.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 12:58 AM · Samuel applebaum (regarding the method book)?

Also, keep in mind that intonation is heavily influenced by its relation to the sympathetic resonance of the violin itself, not just in duets or double stops. So it's difficult to train when using a mute, in my opinion.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 1:09 AM · No, "Play the Violin" by Van Elst, Rompaey, and Meuris. The method was developed about 10 years ago by Dutch and Flemish teachers and seems to be very popular among teachers here in the Netherlands.

It comes with CDs for accompaniment and example (usually tracks with a heavy beat, not really my taste) and mixes arrangements of folk and classical music with a lot of compositions by the authors. Most tunes are just 2 or 3 staves and I find most of them rather childish, but I try to see them as small etudes in disguise. I've been tricked many times by the apparent musical simplicity of the tunes until I was confronted with all my technical errors, during the next lesson. :-)

If I page through the Suzuki books, I wonder how it's possible that someone can spend a year on a book with just 15 (?) one-page songs.

November 2, 2017, 5:22 AM · "If I page through the Suzuki books, I wonder how it's possible that someone can spend a year on a book with just 15 (?) one-page songs."

Very easily, if you're four. ;-)

To be fair, it's only books one and two where the pieces are so short.

Edited: November 2, 2017, 9:52 AM · JK14)
Sorry to be unclear Han. In the top 4 pictures of my 13th post, the two left pictures show finger tips separating because the second knuckles are being squeezed together. The two right pictures show fingertips being allowed to come together, as you'd do for a semitone. I'll try and get back to some more pics once I have more time.

Mary Ellen's "no pressure" exercise is a great one, and should be done... well, forever. One could argue that most of our practice should be done with very little pressure. Once you learn vibrato, the vibrato action itself helps to create a solid tone. There's an exercise Mimi Zweig calls "the elevator" wherein you train how much pressure you need. This site is for bass, but explains it in some detail:
http://www.notreble.com/buzz/2010/08/09/technique-series-minimum-finger-pressure/ I would recommend you use a metronome to measure the 'elevator' going down from surface of string to bottom over 4 counts and back up. Also, because it's for the bass, the author describes how the thumb counters the motion of the finger. On violin you don't need to do this, or at least, the thumb's action should be barely perceptible.

Check out Zweig's free StringPedagogy. I haven't actually seen the online course, but have her DVDs. I think it's the same content.

I haven't got around to setting up my camera yet, but next I'll try and show how the stronger fingers must always yield to the weaker fingers when they are playing together. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1) The forearm rotates about the pinky side (the radius, the thumb-side forearm bone, rotates about the ulna, the pinky-side forearm bone.) Getting back to midlines, if you draw an imaginary line from tip of ring finger to inside-elbow, that line is roughly your axis of rotation. Most people when forming a playing posture of the hand grab the neck and string with the forefinger and thumb, then try to wrap the pinky around the "first finger axis." Not only does this action cause a lot of internal tension, it requires great force in the thumb and forefinger to anchor it, in order for you to be able to get the sensation of wrapping the 3rd and 4th fingers around and onto the string (there's actually no rotation happening, but rather a folding of the hand onto itself.) Instead, plant 3 and allow 1 and 2 to rotate away from you as in 2) below

2) Finger placement should be trained from the 3rd finger (later, also 4th) and down to 2 and 1. 3 is easy to tune to the open string below. Place 3 with a solid posture (as you've been doing with 1 and 2.) You'll notice when you place 3 on A-string with poise, 2 wants to hover over D and 1 wants to hover over G. That is what Dounis calls the "easy setting of the hand" and should be ingrained first (1 on A on G-string, 2 on F# on D-string, 3 on D on A-string, 4 on B on E-string.) He calls the Geminiani setting the "difficult setting." Starting with a good hand posture + easy setting, without moving 3, drag 2 onto A-string, and 1 onto D-string, as if to pluck the strings. Then drag 1 onto A-string in similar fashion. You should feel 2 and 1 are much less planted than before. 3 is now planted and 2 and 1 are yielding to 3 (later, you can do a similar thing with 4 being planted--where you might have to tweak the height of your hand, the vertical contact of side-of-first-finger to the neck, in order to find a comfortable 1-4 frame, similar to what Erik described above.) You might even have to curl 2 and 1 'under' so to speak, so they hit the string more to their left sides. N.B.: this set up is for finding a good balanced posture for your 1-4 frame. It's not the most relaxed state your hand can be in, but offers a good frame to train your finger action.

November 2, 2017, 11:46 AM · It's actually quite common for students to spend a year or more on book 1. Inconsistent practice, a lot of physical tension that can't easily be undone, or a general lack of talent can all lead to this. Be glad that you're able to take book 1 for granted, as it's very challenging for some (to play cleanly, that is).
November 3, 2017, 5:23 AM · About the Suzuki books, I can tell from the progression of difficulty of the pieces in those books that you need quite some time to make the corresponding progress in skills. The part that find difficult to understand is how all those little technical skills that you need to develop are covered in a suitable balance. The Suzuki method doesn't seem to encourage practicing individual skills in isolation. I would feel frustrated from learning to play pieces that make rather big jumps in difficulty. On the upside, the Suzuki pieces are much more musical than the "nursery songs" that I have to deal with.

I started Küchler Concertino op. 11 back in August, which was quite a jump in difficulty level. I'm now rather tired of it, even though it still isn't at the performance level that I'd like to have (still 6 weeks until the recital...). I'd imagine that with Suzuki, I'd always have that tired feeling.

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