Left hand position

said: Jul 7, 2011
 145 posts

Need some help with left hand technique.

I’m finding it really hard to stop my pupils letting their wrist go into the violin.pan handle as my teacher use to call it.

I mention it over and over again to them. I also ask them to check that they play on the tips of their fingers.Still how ever number of times I say it they don’t do it.

Thank you

Rachel Schott said: Jul 7, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
126 posts

Either it is physically impossible for your students to do what you ask or THEY AREN’T LISTENING TO YOU. You’re probably talking too much.

Solid, gentle, repeated taps on the inside of the wrist should do it…as if you are checking a watermelon for ripeness. Pointing won’t work. Tapping the skin won’t work. Tap gently through the layers until you are communicating with the inner workings of the wrist. (God I sound like such a wacko)

Take this ‘tap’ to anything else you notice when you do your checklist, too. Believe me. Standing up to tap a wrist, a foot, a tense shoulder back into balance is WAY less exhausting then finding a kind way to say these things out loud.

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Jul 7, 2011
Wendy Caron ZoharViolin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
78 posts

@nelly the elly: Here’s a suggestion based on my own idea of “L and C shaped hands” and LH pizz:

I start out with forming the hand into shapes the child can relate to, where the thumb is correctly positioned, the violin neck resting on the pad or second joint of the thumb, and with the left line of the palm forming what I call an “L-shaped hand” (a backwards L). I then ask the student to feel free and comfortable with this position, like a stop sign hand, and wiggle the fingers. Then we make the hand into a rounded “C-shape” (backwards C) and tap the strings with the fingertips. Open and close the hand lightly. Tap, and then run the fingers up and down in the C shape 1234321, back to L, and drop the hand down to the side. Repeat and make it into a game.

All this is done before any music is played. This is for the pre-playing set up stage. From here I go into left hand pizzicato on open string songs I’ve composed for my students. Best at first is to use 3rd and 4th fingers alternately. (This is based on a Samuel Applebaum clinic I attended as a child.) LH pizz sets the hand naturally in the right shape and you won’t have the problem of a pan handle wrist to begin with. Also, this lets the child make music before they tackle the problems of the bow. Give the open strings songs some words, nice rhythms, and away you go! Kids love it!

Good luck!

Wendy Caron Zohar

said: Jul 8, 2011
 145 posts

That’s a revelation for me, I’ve never realized left hand pizzicato is for the shape of the hand, I’ve always just thought of it as just finger strengthening! Funny I’ve just started doing it really a lot with my younger children. I will make up some tunes for it now. Big thanks!! Nelly the elly

Jacob Litoff said: Jul 8, 2011
 Violin, Cello, Viola
Millis, MA
42 posts

Yes, left hand pizzacato is great for shaping the left hand. There is a nice fiddle tune by Hollis Taylor, called “Bear Creek Hop” that uses the left hand pizz for strengthening and shaping the left hand and fingers, that I’ve used many times with my students, for shaping their left hand. But it isn’t a suzuki piece. So most suzuki schools I know would have forbidden me to use it with my students.

Also having them balance a grape or cherry tomato on the palm of their left hand while playing, without having it fall on the floor or get squashed against the neck of the violin can help get a good shape of the left hand.

said: Jul 8, 2011
 145 posts

I was trying to get a 5 year old pupil to do left hand pizz but his fingers kept collapsing when he did it. I was doing it for his 4th finger, he just didn’t seem to have the strength in it to actually pluck. How can I get him to do this?!

Sue Hunt said: Jul 8, 2011
Sue HuntViola, Violin
372 posts

You need to get the finger curled round the string ready to pluck, then rather than using finger or hand action, swing the elbow under the violin towards the G string. All he needs to do is keep the finger curved and the elbow will do the plucking. This will help strengthen the finger without putting huge strain on it. Easy does it!

Brenda Lee Villard said: Jul 8, 2011
Edina, MN
27 posts

Come on Jacob. You wonder why people view you as negative? (I”m quoting your comment from the blog about old Suzuki books.) Now you throw in the comment “…which would have been forbidden by most Suzuki schools” is just not necessary and it is so disrespectful and simply not true. LOTS of Suzuki teachers—from the young ones to the master teachers— throw in extra pieces, extra exercises, extra studies, games, skills (ETC) to help our students be the best players that they can be. If you are really this unhappy with your perception of Suzuki, then don’t be a part of the movement—or go get yourself more training so that you can truly understand what it is the rest of us are already doing. Your passive aggressive comments are unnecessary, extremely unprofessional, and not at all in the spirit of what Dr. Suzuki would have wanted. Please stop already!

Jacob Litoff said: Jul 8, 2011
 Violin, Cello, Viola
Millis, MA
42 posts

Well Brenda Lee, I”m just putting in comments that have been presented to me by suzuki schools here in MA. I’m disappointed with these comments I’ve gotten. I”m glad to hear that not all suzuki schools are like this. I don’t think the schools I’ve gotten these comments from are following in the steps Dr. Suzuki would have wanted. I try to throw in extra pieces , games, exercises, and I do so much for my students, but when I talk to some of the other suzuki schools around here, like the one at the Longy School of Music, they say that things like that aren’t allowed in their schools. I”m unhappy with schools like this, not with the Suzuki system as I learned it. I highly praise all schools that allow those other games , pieces, exercises, scales, doublestops, etc So I certainly give praise where it is deserved. And I hope that my comments will help bring these other schools back to following the dreams of Dr Suzuki.

Brenda Lee Villard said: Jul 8, 2011
Edina, MN
27 posts

Ok, Jacob.

Eleanor Bennett said: Jul 9, 2011
 Violin, Viola
Villa Rica, GA
62 posts

Wow! R u willing to share the songs?

Sent via DROID on Verizon Wireless

Eleanor Bennett

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Jul 9, 2011
Wendy Caron ZoharViolin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
78 posts

I would like to share the songs but as I’m very new to the Suzuki world, I will wait for advice on when and where is the right place to share some of my ideas regarding these and other points on string (particularly violin/viola) pedagogy. I do have lots of accumulated innovative ideas and love learning from my students as I teach. Constantly evolving, growing!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Jennifer Visick said: Jul 9, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
943 posts

Wendy, you are welcome to share your teaching ideas and Pre-Twinkle or supplemental songs here on the forum—that’s part of what it’s for!

If you have a document you want to upload or attach to one of your posts (if it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s copyright, of course), you should be able to do it by clicking on the “picture” icon to on the right on the formatting bar when you post.

(The formatting menu is the one with icons for Bold, Italics, Colors, Text size, Quoting, etc)

Another window should pop up, from which you can either upload some new file from your computer or choose to attach a document you’ve already uploaded in the past. You can then choose to insert the file as either just a link, or as a picture (with a download link).

For example, I’ve uploaded and attached a version of Pop Goes the Weasel to this post.

When I teach pre-twinkle left hand pizz., I start with this (an idea I got from Susan Kempter. It can teach the very young (pre-school age) student not only the pizzicato with plenty of time for the parent or home coach to help the student get set up, but also how to wait your turn and not play just anytime you like, and how to listen for your “entrance”).

I’m a violist so I wrote out the “teacher” part for viola—for non-Alto-clef readers, that’s starting on the open D string there, and obviously can be played on piano or violin or guitar or what have you.

Pop Goes the Weasel

Sara said: Jul 15, 2011
191 posts

Wow! Someone else knows “Bear Creek Hop” too?! That’s awesome! I’ve never met anyone that knew that piece. It’s a favorite little tune I learned in Texas as a youth. My students also love it!

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Teresa said: Jul 18, 2011
Teresa SkinnerViolin, Viola
63 posts

Will someone post a link to “Bear Creek Hop”?

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Virginia Thompson said: Jul 19, 2011
Virginia ThompsonViolin, Guitar, Piano, Cello, Viola
Saint Petersburg, FL
17 posts

I just found it and will post it on my website soon as I can. However you may go to Amazon.com and click on MP3 and probably purchase it for .99
Would you like the sheet music. I have it

Virginia Thompson

Eleanor Bennett said: Jul 19, 2011
 Violin, Viola
Villa Rica, GA
62 posts

I would like to have it

Eleanor Bennett

Yann-Bor Wen said: Jul 19, 2011
Yann-Bor WenViolin, Viola
Houston, TX
4 posts

Me too please! Thanks! :lol:

Teresa said: Jul 20, 2011
Teresa SkinnerViolin, Viola
63 posts

Me three! :P

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Jennifer said: Jul 26, 2011
Jennifer MobergViolin, Viola
Dehbori Kabul, Afghanistan
70 posts

I find that nearly all pancake wrist issues are attributed to the fact that the head is not doing a proper job of holding the violin, and there is not enough space between the “thumb pit” and the neck of the violin. Kids mush their wrist up onto the shoulder or neck because they feel insecure, that the violin is going to fall down (and if they feel like they need to support it, it probably IS going to fall down…)

So to fix this, I like to talk to my kids about the “Kangaroo family.”
Basically, under the left arm is where the daddy kangaroo lives- big space, because he’s the biggest…..

Between the wrist and the violin is where the momma kangaroo lives- please don’t squish her!

In the “thumb pit,” under the neck, is where the baby kangaroo lives— inside momma’s pouch.

It is also helpful to indicate where the thumb and first finger get to touch the violin (side of thumb, base joint of first finger). I draw stars there, because it somehow reminds my kids of the Australian flag, and kangaroos come from…. Australia… : p

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.”


Patricia said: Jul 26, 2011
 Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

I find there are alot more students with double joints in thumbs—that don’t help their playing? I am working with a Physical Therapist to figure out ways to promote healthy development of their hands with these double joints. Has anyone else noticed how many students they have that are double jointed?

Teresa said: Jul 26, 2011
Teresa SkinnerViolin, Viola
63 posts

YES! I have several that are double jointed including a child who is a Downs syndrome kid. I have them make an “OK” sign with their fingers and thumb, then using resistance, use a finger from the other hand to G E N T L Y press against the first knuckle. This helps build strength, but only if the DO IT!

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

said: Aug 5, 2011
 145 posts

Virginia Thompson

I just found it and will post it on my website soon as I can. However you may go to Amazon.com and click on MP3 and probably purchase it for .99
Would you like the sheet music. I have it

I would really like a copy of this song too. Could you email it to me too!! Thank you :)

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 8, 2011
Elizabeth FriedmanViolin, Viola
48 posts

My primary left hand image is Finding Nemo’s house… the fingers are the sea anemone, which are flexible so that Nemo can swim through them but curved over the fingerboard so he can hide, and Nemo’s cave is the hole created when the neck balances on the first knuckles of the thumb & first finger. If the wrist collapses, there’s no place for Nemo to hide, and the sharks can come and get him.

Of course, now that it’s not as popular/new a movie anymore, I need to come up with something different. Another image is the crocodile pond… you don’t want one, and if your wrist is straight the crocodiles will all fall out. (This has backfired a couple of times with boys who ‘want’ the crocodiles anyway, but has worked lots of other times.)

I also like Rachel Schott’s idea about tapping the wrist—I do that quite a bit as a reminder.

As for playing on the tips, I take a Sharpie and mark the inside corner of the fingers, then have them play simple songs until they can demonstrate it… especially older kids will be very motivated to do it if they have to play lots of scales and review pieces! Also, teaching the tunnel in Lightly Row, etc., helps to get the hand in position—the left hand simply can’t be collapsed if you’re going to do those things.

With little ones, have them hold their violin up and balance a quarter on their ‘tabletop’ fingers while you play Twinkle, and see if they can get through a whole variation.

Hope this helps!

Sue Hunt said: Aug 12, 2011
Sue HuntViola, Violin
372 posts

I have had quite a few students with double jointed thumbs. All of them have managed to acquire more stability by taking a lesson from the bow thumb, which touches the bow at the corner of the nail.

Most importantly, make sure that the shoulder and chin rest are right and that the child has a good violin hold.

Then, with the base line of the first finger near the nut:-

Place the thumb gently by the violin neck at the best height for the individual child. It should look and feel like a very soft banana, not ramrod straight nor bent like a coat hanger.

Rotate the thumb slightly.

It will touch the neck by the side of the nail which is nearest to the first finger.

This will pop the bottom joint of the thumb out, instead of letting it collapse.

Music in Practice

Teresa said: Aug 12, 2011
Teresa SkinnerViolin, Viola
63 posts

I have a student who is a Downs Syndrome kid and ALL her fingers are double jointed! We’ve been working almost a year now, her left hand fingers are getting stronger every day. We’re still working on this left thumb challenge. I need a little more clarity… when I try out your suggestion of rotating the thumb slightly to touch the neck by the first finger side, my thumb bends so the tip of the thumb is slightly pointed to my nose. Did I miss something?
Any suggestions for curved pinky on the bow hand? I’ve suggested to the parent to get a “Bow-Buddies” fish but she doesn’t want to spend the money.

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 12, 2011
Elizabeth FriedmanViolin, Viola
48 posts

For thumb position, the best trick I’ve used is Ivan Galamian’s old one of a wine cork (or a chapstick tube for little ones) in the ‘mouse hole’ under the neck of the violin. It helps keep the thumb from collapsing and/or being really tense.

As for double-jointed fingers—I know a very successful professional cellist whose left-hand fingers are all double-jointed, and he has managed to make a very good career without having rounded fingers. My pinkie is double-jointed. I have tried and tried to fix it, and so have all of my teachers, and now I just accept that it’s the way it’s going to be. You just learn to deal with it. The only thing I can’t do with my left pinkie is left-hand pizzicato because it’s painful—so I’ve found other ways to make do. I can vibrate and trill with no problem, and my pinkie is very strong—but the joint has always collapsed and continues to do so.

Of course when teaching, I start from the point of wanting all my students to have ‘tabletop’ fingers, and I assume that their hands will be normal and that such an expectation will not be a problem for them. I don’t let anyone squeak by! Even if their pinkie collapses a little bit, this can usually be helped by having a ‘closed’ left-hand position and moving the left elbow in slightly so that it helps to support the hand. But for a student with truly double-jointed fingers—be empathetic, and don’t set up unrealistic expectations for how their hand is going to look—what’s important is whether it works. I taught a student once who had a pinkie like mine, and she was so relieved to find out that she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She’d been trying and trying to fix her finger and nothing worked. I gave her some tricks and helped her figure out how to strengthen it even though it wasn’t ever going to be curved and pretty.

As for a curved pinkie on the bow… it was a revelation when I first found out that the pinkie is not supposed to be on the top, exactly, but that it goes on the back side of the octagon, near the top, next to the third finger. I used to use pinkie pads but almost never do now (only in extreme circumstances)—I just put a little piece of tape where the pinkie is supposed to go and have the student practice putting it there, over and over again, with a game. Taking away the crutch has made such a big difference, and has really helped for developing good bow holds. No more problems with curved pinkies, to date!

said: Aug 15, 2011
 145 posts

Elizabeth, Would you share the game you play putting the little finger on the bow? Thanks, NTE

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 15, 2011
Elizabeth FriedmanViolin, Viola
48 posts

Hi, sure!
This I got from Pat D’Ercole, who was my teacher trainer for Book 1.

Bow hand—use a Sharpie to put dots on the inside corner of the bow thumb, and then on the inside of the 2nd and 3rd fingers, on the first-knuckle line.

Stand Up Bow Thumb
Stand up bow thumb (make a thumbs-up)
Take a bow (thumb wiggles up and down, ‘takes a bow’)
Open your hand
Match the dots (match up the thumb’s dot and the other 2 dots to make the bow bunny)

Then have the child check to see if they have a “bump” on their thumb, and not a “wrinkly old thumb”.

Then, once this is mastered (which may take a couple of weeks for little ones, but may be mastered within 5 minutes for older ones), do the above, then:
First, you set the bow: Take the bow in your right hand like a tennis racket or baseball bat or whatever, hair facing up. Slide the bow stick along the child’s thumbnail, starting with the tip, and ending at the silver part of the frog. I usually put a small sticker where their thumb is supposed to go, and when the bow has slid to that part, the child matches the dot on the thumb to the sticker.

The rest of the bow hand should be set—none of the fingers 1, 2, or 3 should have to move at all because they’re already in line. The pinkie then naturally sits next to the third finger, on the back side of the top, to properly balance with the thumb. I usually put a small piece of auto striping tape roughly where the pinkie is supposed to go, rather than a pinkie pad—this seems to work really well and forces the child to find a comfortable spot for their pinkie.

Then, I have the child recite to me why they have such a great bow hold: “I have a bump on my thumb, my fingers are reaching for the dot, and my pinkie is curved and on top.”

Then, we repeat this with the chip game—explained below.

Next step: Child places the bow themselves. Have the child do “Stand Up, Bow Thumb.” Then place the bow in their violin hand, again like a tennis racket, and have them repeat the same steps.

The Chip Game
Absolutely invaluable—another Pat D’Ercole gem. I have 12 colored chips in a small wooden box, but you can substitute whatever you want. I divide the chips into each box half—one half of the box belongs to me and one half is theirs, so we each start with 6 chips. If the child is younger or I think they’re having a really tough time with something, I might only use 8 chips or 6 chips total. I make a clear instruction about 1-2 things I want them to do (I usually start with one thing, then after we’ve done the chip game for that thing, I might add one more teaching point to do in the same section with the one they’ve already successfully practiced). Every time the child does the teaching point correctly, they win one of my chips. Every time they miss the teaching point, I win one of theirs. The object, of course, is for the child to concentrate on that one teaching point and to win the game—to beat me, essentially, which they get a bang out of! I also have the child tell me, on every repetition, whether they think they’ve won or I’ve won, and why. Ideally, they can win each successive chip with fewer and fewer helps from me. If they start to have a really hard time, I stop the game or pause it so that we can work on the point some more (i.e., I never, ever win the game). After they beat me, the little ones get a sticker. This game doesn’t seem to get old, and works on teenagers too… even though they totally understand they’re just doing repetitions.

Another version of this game: I have two Matchbox cars. They get to pick which one to ‘be’, and I’m the other one. We race to a certain end point, usually delineated by a pencil laid down to be the finish line. Every time they get the teaching point right, their car moves ahead one car length. If they miss the teaching point, my car moves ahead. Again, the point is for them to beat me :)

Hey Nelly, you’re in the UK? I’m in Oxford—perhaps we should get together the next time I’m in London!

said: Sep 10, 2011
 145 posts

I’m trying to build up a small library of pieces using left and pizzicato. I got ‘bear creek hop’ which is totally brilliant and I’m also doing perpetual motion and étude with left hand pizz on open strings which is really fun especially étude. Does anyone know other pieces for this around early book 2 standard and also beginner pieces? Thank you! Nellie

Sue Hunt said: Nov 6, 2011
Sue HuntViola, Violin
372 posts

I can think of 3:

1 Don’t just stick to Perpetual Motion and Etude. Take any early book 1 song and pinkie pizz open strings.

2 Hot Cross Buns L H pizz ostinato AEA AEA

3 The tuning song: L H pizz on all the open strings 3 times and sing down the scale to the next open string.
Eek, Eek, Eek. Look at all the
Ants, Ants, Ants. Digging in the
Dirt, Dirt, Dirt. Going under-
Ground, Ground Ground.
Music in Practice

Cynthia Faisst said: Nov 10, 2011
Cynthia FaisstViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
122 posts

Great ideas.

I have also been starting my Twinklers by drawing a rainbow smile on their wrist with a smelly washable marker. They practice, starting with short segments by maintaining the smile curve on their wrist. When they add left hand they have to start every note or phrase with two smiles.

I think you are right about the thumbs. Some of these are inherited and some occur because parents neglect to give children enough activities in their environments that use their upper limbs and hands. Its sad that they are not walking home from school and banished from the kitchen because it has become such a dangerous place. Remind parents to make pizza from scratch once in a while and ask the kids to help stir or use the egg beater.
I used to have a list of all the activities that parents could make available to this push button generation. Things like threading beads and sewing cards with yarn to get those little thumbs grasping. Great quiet toys to keep in the studio for kids to do while mom is observing another lesson.

I am also experimenting with those soft rubber squishy balls and worms with the yo-yo loop, looped over the 1st or 2nd fingers of either the bow hand or the left hand under the neck of the violin. This might be handy for keeping very wobbly fingers steady by providing very light soft flexible air filled scaffolding to support the wrist until they can feel a sense of balance in their finger tips. It helps keep the thumb soft and flexible, perhaps by association.

This is also an effort to keep them from thinking that pulling the string down toward the finger board is about squeezing and more about hanging their wrist from the curly fingers, Just like the little ball that is hanging from their finger. Their goal is to stand fingers up so as much surface of the finger tip is making contact with the string.

Ms. Cynthia
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

said: Nov 10, 2011
 145 posts

Hi Ms Cynthia,
Thank you for this reply!
Im trying to imagine what a rainbow smile looks like on the wrist. Could you take a photo of it?!

Thank you :)

Suzanne said: Jan 3, 2013
Suzanne SchwindViolin
San Francisco, CA
3 posts

I enjoyed reading all of these different techniques…

What I noticed is that if I tell them that their left hand is a “pancake” hand, then they know what I don’t want… I show them what I do want (straight wrist).

Having that reminder word seems to remind them that they need to do something different. They instantly change their position.

I do double check how their shoulder rest is fitting and usually find that it was put on in the wrong position or slightly too high. I readjust and see if they can hold their instrument with no hands.

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