Stiff left hand

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Jennifer Yeung said: Jul 28, 2015
 1 posts

i have some students that are having difficulties with vibrating on high notes, and even on simple first position notes. I think the reason is coming from a stiff left hand which is not allowing them to vibrate or move their hands very quick. Also their bow hand is stiff too which isn’t allowing them to play any fast or doubled notes. Any suggestions to get a looser left hand or bow hand?

Sarah Strickland said: Jan 30, 2016
Sarah Strickland
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
22 posts

I have struggled with tension, and the tendinitis it can cause, for many years. It’s a life-long journey to learn how to play relaxed and balanced!

Some things I’ve learned for myself and for my students—

Make the soft hand the focus, not the music. In the Teaching Priorities Ed Kreitman lists in “Teaching from the Balance Point”, posture is the first.

Go back to an easy piece or a scale, and play slowly, pausing between each note and intentionally relaxing the hand. It can seem tedious, but a few minutes of this kind of practice every day, combined with attention to the same issue in review repertoire, can make a difference.

I have noticed that when student’s brains are working hard, their bodies tense up. Taking a few deep breaths and intentionally relaxing are helpful.

Also, taking time to warm up/stretch before even touching the instrument can help release tension.

Pierre Yves Gagnon said: Jan 31, 2016
Pierre Yves Gagnon
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Oakville, ON
17 posts

A relax violin hand starts with a balance violin hold. If the violin is not fully supported on the shoulder, the violin hand will instinctively want to grab it, leading to unwanted tension in the left hand.

Great care has to be taken in the violin hand posture. It is important to pay attention to how relax is the thumb is and how the fingers land on the string. The thumb should rest against the neck, and the fingers should make contact on the inside corner of the fingers. I refer to this position as ” thumb side “. If it lands on the other side, ” pinky side “, the violin hand will twist, causing the thumb to grab the neck.

A good violin hand posture should have three points of contact: the thumb, the base knuckle, and the finger tip. The thumb and the base knuckle rest against the neck, and at no points try to squeeze it. This is particularly important during shifts. Any tension between them will affect the precision of the shift.

In the case of the vibrato, a slight separation of the base knuckle is necessary to allow the hand to ” float ” Although the thumb remains relax, it exerts a small counter-pressure that helps the movement of the hand. When I introduce the vibrato, I ask the student to place the thumb mid-way between the body of the instrument and the scroll. With only the thumb making contact, the student is asked to wave his hand as if fanning himself. Once the motion understood, I ask the student to put one finger lightly on the string, and to slide it back-and-forth without any change in the motion. There are other steps, but working toward waving the hand and sliding the fingers effortlessly is fundamental to understand the motion of a vibrato.

The contact of the fingers on the string is often a cause of tension in the hand. The finger should drop on the string without pressing down on fingerboard. Use only as much pressure as necessary to stop the string, no more, no less. To understand this action, place the violin hand in 4th position, then put any finger on the string. Count each level of pressure you exert as you bow the string: 0—not touching, 1—just touching the string, 2- a little bit of pressure, 3—a little more pressure, 4—a little more pressure, 5- the finger touches the fingerboard. What you will discover is that you will only need a level 3 or 4 pressure to play the note well.

My last suggestion is to pay attention to the hand itself. I often notice that, when a student wants to stretch, he instinctively bends the wrist toward the scroll, giving him the illusion he is stretching. In fact, he is creating more tension in the hand by doing so. In a class with Ronda Cole, I learned about the true meaning of a relax hand. If you wave your hand, then it let fall back, the hand will adopt a natural backward position. Keeping that hand position, fan your finger as if you were playing the violin. You will feel the tendons stretching like elastics. Transfer this hand position to the violin and you will discover that you can stretch those difficult fingers, such as the 4th finger, with greater ease. This discovery has changed my playing completely. Stretching is a way of life for violists. In adopting this approach, I play more relax, and my speed, pitch accuracy and agility have greatly increased.

Pierre Y Gagnon

Friederike said: Feb 1, 2016
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
71 posts

Pierre, do you have a picture for the last part of your explanation? Thanks

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Anthony Salvo said: Feb 1, 2016
Anthony Salvo
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Nederland, CO
5 posts

Bravo, Pierre. Exactly how I teach. This level of detail is crucial for the young violinist!

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.—Buddha…

Pierre Yves Gagnon said: Feb 4, 2016
Pierre Yves Gagnon
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Oakville, ON
17 posts

Friederike, here are the pictures you have requested. It hope they will explain my points.

Twisted hand

Twisted hand. The fingers in this picture face the wrong way: notice the bent thumb and the twisted hand.

Image by Pierre Yves Gagnon

Wrist poking out

Wrist poking out. When the wrist is poking out, the fingers are pulled backward preventing them to reach the notes correctly. Although, in this picture, the wrist is exaggeratedly pulled back, it is a common problem as this action gives the students the illusion of stretching. If this problem is left unchecked however, it can become part of the way the student play, and could lead to injury because of the tension it creates.

Image by Pierre Yves Gagnon

Relax violin hand

Relax violin hand. In this picture, notice the slight bend in the left hand. When the hand is relaxed, it naturally hangs backward. This position releases the tendons, giving you a greater ease in your finger agility and your extensions.

Image by Pierre Yves Gagnon

Straight Wrist

Straight Wrist. This is the most commonly taught left hand position. If the hand is relaxed and the thumb is not squeezing the neck, it is a perfectly acceptable hand position. However, if you compare the first finger in this picture with the first finger in the relax position picture, you will notice that the former is much higher. This high position could strain the first finger when you try to pull it back to play F natural on E, for example. You can also notice that the fourth finger does not seem to reach the string as comfortably as in the relax hand position.

Image by Pierre Yves Gagnon

Pierre Y Gagnon

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