Left hand 2nd-3rd finger stretch, independence
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  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).
That's not a stretch. Your difficulty suggests that your hand is positioned incorrectly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
OK, apologies, I misunderstood the original situation.
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)
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.
Thank you all for the suggestions of exercises! I think those will keep me busy for a while.
(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!)
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.
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?
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.
Erik, Jean, here is my hand setup:
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.
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).
Erik, thank you!
This may be impossible to fix over the internet. That's why we use private teachers. Anyway, assuming you have normal hand anatomy;
I didn't read every post, this is just what yhe pictures look like to me.
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. :-) )
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. :-)
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.
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.
@Han- "It could very well be that I'm pushing too hard (how many newtons of force count as a death grip?)"
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
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.
Parallel hand shape would work great if our thumbs were only 1" long :)
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.
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.
I meant "slip of the attention", not "slip of the violin". :)
LOL a video on meat doneness. That made my day.
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.)
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.
I'm going to try whistling; thank you Mary Ellen.
You're welcome--hope it is helpful to you.
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.
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. :-)
Glad it's helping. The worse it sounds, the more effective it is.
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.
Erik, thanks for your lengthy exposé.
Samuel applebaum (regarding the method book)?
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.
"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."
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).
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.
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