Reduce tension in left hand?

Shannon Farley said: Nov 28, 2012
Shannon FarleyViola, Violin
Madison, WI
11 posts

I have some beginning violin students that seem to store a lot of tension in their left hand. Does anyone have any tips on ways to reduce the urge to squeeze the neck so tightly?

Michelle McManus Welch said: Nov 29, 2012
 Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

The tension is in the thumb, so have them tap the neck with their thumb 4 times. Have them ‘whisper touch’ the neck and also squeeze tightly; show/have them feel the difference. Have them stop and tap the thumb before they start any piece, or stop and do this again any time you see/they feel themselves starting to squeeze. Most importantly, make sure that they are supporting the violin between the shoulder with a good shoulder pad/sponge set up, and the jaw/head. Play games where you go from “look ma no hands” supporting the violin to placing the hand on the fingerboard so the pressure doesn’t move to the hand to support. I hope this helps!

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Nora Friedman said: Nov 30, 2012
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
36 posts

I am so glad you brought this up, and how funny because I have been thinking about this particular teaching point a lot lately.

Ed Kreitman does a great game where you play the twinkles with fingers, but on every open string you shake your teacher or parent’s hand. The only pitfall with this is you have to be sure to explain to the student that you won’t be playing the twinkles “in time” so they can set their hand up carefully.

I think the tension in the thumb comes from a physical misunderstanding of how hard you need to hold down the string for it to make a great sound. I do a lot of finger tapping with very specific directions: the string can’t move at all, the head of the finger aims for the string, the finger lifts very quickly. I also lately have been experimenting with “trampolining”, which is where you bounce the fingers one at a time on the string never losing contact with the string. this has been really successful. I learned from Ed Sprunger to talk about the floors of the string. Just barely touching the string is like the 5th floor (in the tiniest apartment building ever). We play twinkles and perpetual motion with all the fingers on the 5th floor and laugh at how terrible it sounds. then we try it on the 4th floor. By the 3rd floor, the sounds produced are already quite pleasant. I can’t tell you how excited this makes even young children. What a relief to know you don’t need to squeeze to make a great sound!

Then there’s another issue: How tightly to hold the violin with your head is a matter of debate, to be sure, but I have found in my own playing that the more I really make my head heavy, and yes, tip it ever so slightly to the left and back, the more my left hand can completely relax, and aim from the base knuckle. I wrestle with this in my own playing and therefore in my own teaching. It seems there is always a balance between the freedom and comfort of one part of my body and the freedom and comfort of another. The head and the left hand share the load of the violin. Lately I am loving the feeling of the head taking on the lions share of the work. My little thumb thanks my head all the time. So that’s where I have been headed with my students. Who knows how I’ll be feeling a year. Oh, progress…:-)

Hope these thoughts help!

Sue Hunt said: Dec 4, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

There are two other things you can do only once they have a useful violin hold:

-1 Ask your students to put their violin fingers round their own necks. They will quickly realise that it doesn’t feel good when they squeeze. Explain that the violin doesn’t like having its neck squeezed either.

-2 Make violin holds on their forearms and get them to do the same on yours. They will feel your fingers and you will be able to diagnose if they are squeezing.

When they have “got it,” transfer to violin and do soft finger games between each practice assignment.

Paula Bird said: Dec 4, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts

Also, check the tension in the bow hand. Sometimes left-hand tension is a result of the tension be being created on the other side of the body. Tight left hands can be a result of tight right hands, and vice versa. One can usually find tension in the activation of the “inside” muscles, so it helps to check those points where muscles face each other, such as between the thumb and the index finger (LH) or thumb and other fingers (RH). The knuckles will give it away.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Jennifer Visick said: Dec 5, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1072 posts

I just posted the following, and then realized that this topic was double posted…. some of these are repetitions of what’s already been said, but here goes….

  1. make sure that setup is properly fitting the student’s shoulders, collarbone, & height from collarbone to jaw. Different chinrest styles sometimes help. Different shoulder rest styles (experiment) can help too.

I tend to teach in a way that favors over the tailpiece chinrests and highly customizeable shoulder rests (e.g. BonMusica….) But some students don’t need a shoulder rest at all!

  1. teach relaxed shoulders & back & neck muscles, balanced posture, unlocked knees, make sure the spine is not overarched in any one direction, etc.

  2. teach a relaxed right hand (most people relax the other hand when the opposite hand is taught to relax)

  3. teach harmonics, and then have the student play everything with the “touch” that is like playing harmonics (sounds terrible, but tends to loosen the hand)

  4. nag

  5. enlist parent, and any other teachers the student has, to nag about this issue

  6. demonstrate that a solid, “non-harmonic” sound can be obtained without pushing the string all the way down to the fingerboard (on many instruments). Sliding thin paper under the strings up and down the fingerboard under the fingers while playing can get this point across.

  7. have the student feel the vibrations of the string travelling up the left hand fingers. Can’t feel it? That’s squeezing the string down too tightly!

  8. play without the left thumb

  9. play a scale, (or twinkle, or something easy with long notes), alternating between lifting the head (look up) while playing a note and then back to normal head position while taking the left thumb off the instrument while playing the next note

  10. Did I mention nagging?

  11. get the parent to read Susan Kempter’s Teaching the Violin with the Body in Mind, or something similar

  12. find a good Alexander Technique teacher and make your student take some lessons

  13. get a masterclass teacher to harp on the same subject (did I mention nagging?)

  14. refuse to let the student play anything until the left hand is soft.

  15. how old is the student? explain the dangers of hand, wrist, & arm injuries that can occur with too much tension. Or explain it to the parent, if the child is too young, so that the parent will see the importance of this and nag at home.

  16. make the student feel your soft and then overtense left hand and ask them to “teach” you a soft hand!

Julio Cesar Anselmo Possette said: Dec 5, 2012
 10 posts

esta é minha primeira leitura e postagem nos fóruns Suzuki, achei exelentes todas vossas postagens. Vou aplicá-las!
Para o aluno reconhecer o peso a aplicar no pescoço do instrumento, costumo utilizar uma massinha de modelar. Deixo ela mais ou menos no formato e posiciono na mão do aluno para ele verificar se esta deformando a massinha ou se esta apenas encaixando-a, isto tem ajudado a construir esta habilidade.

Abraço a todos

this is my first posting in the forums reading and Suzuki, I exelentes all your posts. I’ll apply them!
To recognize the student to apply the weight on the neck of the instrument, I usually use a modeling clay. I leave it more or less in the shape and position of the pupil in the hand to see if it this deforming the clay or if this just snapping it, it has helped to build this skill.

Regards to all

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