Left Hand Strength


Sarah Popovich said: Nov 13, 2017
 1 posts

My son (4 years old) is having a difficult time engaging his fingers to push down on the string. I think its a two fold issue; 1) not enough muscle strength 2) not understanding which way to push. We’ve tried working with a squishy ball. Any other fun ideas to build his fine motor muscles?


Kurt Meisenbach said: Nov 14, 2017
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

Here are a couple of ideas that I have found helpful with my students. They’re not necessarily a lot of fun, but they are effective:

  1. Ask your son to lift his fingers very fast as they leave the fingerboard. He doesn’t have to lift them very high—he just has to lift them quickly. Not only does this improve finger speed (especially on trills that will come later), it strengthens the fingers for the downward motion that is your area of immediate focus. Do this a minute or two each day. It requires a lot of concentration, so don’t overdo it.

Use your imagination to make it fun. I tell my students that his finger is a worm who is nervous to leave because the fingerboard is very hot where he is walking and he is barefoot.

  1. Ask him to play the passage(s) with the left hand only—no bow. Ask him to hit the string hard enough with the left fingers so that he can hear each note when the finger strikes the fingerboard. Again, this takes a lot of concentration, so don’t overdo it. His fingers will tire quickly when he first does this exercise, so start with less than a minute of work and increase the time gradually to a minute or two each day.

In both cases, be patient and don’t expect immediate results. It may be several weeks before you see a difference, but progress will come.

The next idea that follows is probably premature. I have written a series of piano exercises for violinists and violists that develop finger speed, strength and independence. They require access to a keyboard (any keyboard will do as long as you can hear the note when you play it and the keys have enough resistance so that the fingers have to do a small amount of work). If you want to try these for a 4 year old, I would do just the first measure of the first few exercises and practice the left hand only.

if you are interested, I will be glad to send you a copy to print out at home.

If you do try these approaches, please let me know in the future what results you had.

Best wishes,

Kurt Meisenbach

Tanya said: Nov 14, 2017
Tanya CareyTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Glen Ellyn, IL
47 posts

Violin or cello? It is the connection of the arm muscles that makes the fingers work
Try pulling on a hanger with the finger s positioned as they would be on the instrument. Cellists get their power from the back. I speak about balancing the arm on the string like standing on my feet.

Merietta Oviatt said: Nov 14, 2017
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
107 posts

A really fun one is mini-marshmallows! Put them on the string and let him squish it down. For every one he flattens, he gets to eat one! My students with weaker left fingers love this one & ask to do it in practice! (And when does that ever happen??)

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
[javascript protected email address]

Inkeri said: Nov 14, 2017
Urb Neptuno - Surco Lima, Peru
4 posts

Think of weight instead of pushing! (Tanya Carey’s Idea!)

Barbara Rylander said: Nov 14, 2017
Barbara RylanderViolin, Viola
Saline, MI
29 posts

Before looking into all of the above, I would recommend taking a good look at the violin itself.

Are you renting or have purchased from a reputable dealer? How high off the fingerboard are the strings? They are meant to be very precisely measured in terms of height.

This has to do with the height of the bridge as well. I can’t remember having this problem in any major way with 4 year old students, so it makes me think of the violin itself as being an issue.

Penelope Wayne-Shapiro said: Nov 15, 2017
Penelope Wayne-Shapiro
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello, Viola
Wayland, MA
7 posts

Another fun exercise (which I got from an OT) is to line up mini M&Ms on the edge of a table—one for each finger. Push them away, then pull them back—five times each. Then eat them. :) Good to do with both hands, not just the left, as improved fine motor skills are always a good thing!

Penny Wayne-Shapiro, Director
Wayland School of Music
508 358 7835

Terri Parsons said: Nov 15, 2017
 Cello, Flute
15 posts

I know this is probably rudimentary as his teacher has probably addressed this, but if its violin be sure he is not trying to hold the violin with his arm and hand instead of with his shoulder, chin and cheek. For cello be sure he is bringing string TO the fingerboard using his back muscles. Have him hold the bow in the middle with both hands and try to pull the bow apart (in two parts). This will give him the feeling of what muscles we use in cello playing. But lets face it…he IS 4!

Terri Parsons
Cello/Flute Teacher
La T Da Music

Nikki Routman Ebisu said: Feb 21, 2018
Nikki Routman Ebisu
Suzuki Association Member
Honolulu, HI
5 posts

At age 4, I personally wouldn’t do the finger strengthening exercises on the violin just yet. I would focus on fine motor skills (you can google it or look at pinterest for ideas). Once these are mastered, then take it to the violin and the child won’t be as frustrated. Just my two cents.

  • popping bubble-wrap with thumb and single finger at a time
  • squeezing play dough or putty
  • picking up/pinching a grain of rice or any small object (to develop coordination too), or using toy tweezers
  • tapping fingers, and squeezing fingers

Dr. Nikki Routman Ebisu
*Director & Owner, Hawaii Suzuki Music Academy
Owner, Aloha Tuners

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