Left thumb position query
This is a question for those who play predominantly WITHOUT a shoulder rest (meaning that the violin is supported by the hand and the collar bone):
What is the usual position and orientation of your left thumb in first position? As much detail as you want to provide is helpful, as well as any insights into how this position benefits your playing (if indeed it does).
I'm interested because I'm in the midst of working out an optimal thumb position for myself, so I'm curious to know what rest-less people are doing successfully these days and why.
I've scoured all the past violinist.com 'left thumb' discussions I could search for (there are many!), so I have a broad picture of the possibilities.
I myself play with a shoulder rest, but have you watched how to play without a shoulder rest videos on YouTube? I think those could be more insightful and clear than just text posts. There's some videos by Murphy Music Academy that seem to be particularly detailed.
Thanks Ella, I've watched Murphy Academy (and practically everything else on the internet). Tobias provides a number of good options, but I'm curious what works for others and why. For additional context, I'm a (way) older adult learner, playing mostly Irish but trying to build a solid core of technique to take me in additional (fiddle) directions.
Jon, let me start out by saying I think you should let your body be your guide. Try to be as comfortable as possible when playing in first position. I assume you want to play for the rest of your life and that means you may change many aspects of your playing posture as the years roll by. You may even add shoulder rest(s) as comfort calls for it.
I play without a shoulder rest, it happened more or less by accident - I used to have one ages ago that slipped from its place every time I put the violin down, so I got sick of putting it back on and adjusting=).
Whot Buri wrote. As another restless violinist ;) I think we all go through phases of trying to figure out where to put the thumb - but its really the other way round, to find out try playing it and look where the thumb goes! That said I found it useful to try playing with the thumb in various positions. Its like training to be an athlete: its not enough to know how to use your muscles for one task or another; you are not trained until your muscles automatically function in any task, learned or not.
I have done this often with students: Put all four fingers down on one string with one of the finger patterns. Adjust the position of the elbow so that the fingers have the correct posture, landing at about a 60 degree angle to the fingerboard. The teacher then holds the scroll. Release the thumb. Put it back where it is most comfortable. It usually moves forward, opposite the low second finger spot. This orientation of the left arm will be different for the four strings. If you do not use a stabilizing shoulder rest the base of the first finger will stay in contact with the neck to prevent the violin from drifting forward. Without the shoulder rest the thumb does more of the work of supporting the instrument. You will probably use more crawl-shifts or have the thumb move either before or after a shift, instead of moving with the arm during a shift. As you move to higher positions the thumb gradually moves under the neck, eventually hooking on to that saddle block where the neck meets the body of the violin.
Thanks for all the thoughtful replies.
One of the biggest advantages of playing without an SR is that the violin can rotate along its long axis (collarbone-thumb). This allows you to move the violin opposite to string changes and minimize bow 'rotation'. Practice this and make sure your thumb does not impede it for it can greatly facilitate your arpeggio motions.
I love Buri's, Elise's, and Victor's posts on this.
Rules of thumb, haha! When I started out 2+ years ago I don't think I appreciated how many variables I was going to have to solve in order to succeed, and how long the progress curve would be.
Jon, when I started playing without shoulder rest, I initially placed the violin neck quite near the end of my thumb. Getting used to it more and more I find that the violin neck now rests on my thumb in the joint. Beware though, like Elise wrote above, to let it rest completely in the webbing of the thumb.
I think Joel covered it, but it’s really not about the thumb—it’s about the position of the 4 fingers. The tops of the 1st and 2nd fingers should be about parallel to the strings and be neither scrunched nor extended. So get finger posture correct and let the thumb fall where it may.
Anyone would have thought that all our thumbs and hands are different! Wow, I think I'll write a research paper on that....
"Not getting in the way" does seem to be a big part of it. If my thumb were positioned right opposite the index finger, I'd have to move it out in order to get a nice A - D double stop. As it is (slightly toward the nut), the two digits just kiss at an angle and this additionally gives me confidence that everything is aligned correctly.
Hi all! I am happy to say that I am cured from this obsession about the thumb position which I used to have from 12 until 20. Here are the key elements worthy of being mentioned:
I've played without a shoulder rest for violin and viola for over twenty years.
Is there a possible way of doing it wrong? I heard that you can pick up bad habits in learning violin that are potentially difficult to correct in the long run.
My problem is that I was originally taught,88 years ago, to rest the neck in the curve of the joint between thumb and hand. Try as I might, I still find myself doing this.
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