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Left Hand: How Do You Keep From Tensing?
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FortyNothing
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February 22, 2019 - 6:27 am
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I have short, stocky, fat fingers and have problems with tensing up and squeezing the neck of the violin sometimes when i play which makes the fleshy part of my thumb hurt.

I also can't seem to make enough space for vibrato (not that I should even be attempting vibrato at this point)

My fingers just don't have enough space to work with and I struggle even with playing normally on the G string.

Any way to combat this short of a finger transplant?

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Mark
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February 22, 2019 - 6:40 am
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Fortynothing,

might try when you hold the violin to hold it so the very last joint (the 4th joint where your knuckle is) of you index finger is at the top edge of the finger board to give you some extra reach.

Mark

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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Gordon Shumway
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February 22, 2019 - 6:47 am
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Is your left elbow far enough to the right? Yesterday I was told that the string you are on is governed by your elbow, not your fingers. We did an exercise where we moved the elbow to locate the four fingers over each string in turn and then tap them hard on the string.

You need to stay aware of what your left thumb is doing and keep it low down and loose so you can always remove it from, and tap it against, the neck of the violin.

Andrew

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bocaholly
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February 22, 2019 - 7:10 am
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FortyNothing said
....
My fingers just don't have enough space to work with and I struggle even with playing normally on the G string.

Any way to combat this short of a finger transplant?  

Welcome to the "I want longer, more supple fingers" club, FortyNothing 🙂

I just went back and looked at the thread where you posted your first video after having only played one week. FortyNothing's 1st video - 1 week in. The overwhelming reaction is that you had gotten off to an excellent start.

AndrewH even picked up on the left-hand-tension issue you're asking about here and said that it's normal, for starters, and it will dissipate. I had that problem, big time, too and still need to keep it in check when I'm challenged by a new piece. Hence, my way of working on releasing left hand tension is to revert to something simple where I can relax and focus on that left hand. Slow scales will do. You can then speed them up, progressively, but stop when you get to the speed where your hand is tensing up again. Over time, you'll be able to handle more speed or complex finger combos before tension sets in. 

On the short fingers and your difficulty reaching the G-string, see what happens if you rotate your left elbow to the right (tucked further under the violin.) Check in with your left shoulder that it remains relaxed, down and back while you do this.

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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
February 22, 2019 - 7:21 am
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As Gordon mentioned, bringing your elbow as much to the right without hurting yourself is key...

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Jim Dunleavy
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February 22, 2019 - 8:56 am
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The exercise Gordon mentioned is shown in this video at 8:00.

This is one of a series of videos; they're releasing a new one each Tuesday and they're very good (as well as free!).

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bocaholly
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February 22, 2019 - 10:21 am
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Fantastic video, Jim, thanks. It's so on target for what I need to be working on... "relax, relax, relax..." She's pretty funny when she stops the action and teases herself for overusing that word... then promises to keep using it very often! 

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Jim Dunleavy
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February 22, 2019 - 11:08 am
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I'm following the whole series - they're all well-presented, interesting and useful.

Plus you don't often get youtube instruction videos where the presenter is demonstrating on a strad! lol

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Gordon Shumway
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February 22, 2019 - 1:16 pm
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Nicky is head of a group called ESTA - the European String Teachers' Association (roughly). My teacher works for them, so she knows Nicky.

Andrew

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Bella86
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February 22, 2019 - 1:20 pm
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I have tension problems too in my hand, but I have long slender witches fingers. 😛  But even I have to move my elbow quite far in to the right to get my fingers above the G string. I still have to be mindful about where my elbow is quite often, so like the others said, watch your elbow.
I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing to do, but the days I feel my thumb squeezing to the point that fleshy part you mention start to hurt, I play but then leave the fingers down on the string and release my thumb off the neck and stretch it out to the side a few times before I continue. 
I had seen your first video a while ago, just looked at it again. If this is how you still play, it look like the neck of the violin is too deep into your hand. But it might be an illusion due to your short fingers..

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MoonShadows
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February 22, 2019 - 1:59 pm
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I, too, am a member of "The short, stocky, fat fingers club", or as @bocaholly called it, "The I want longer, more supple fingers club". All great tips, and that exercise by Nicky Benedetti is very helpful. Thank you. I learn so much on this forum.

Jim

Fiddling for Older Folks - Adventures in Learning to Play the Fiddle as an Adult

The Friends of the Sons of Liberty - Three Inspiring Young Men playing Early American Fiddle Music 

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Jim Dunleavy
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February 22, 2019 - 2:49 pm
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MoonShadows said
I, too, am a member of "The short, stocky, fat fingers club", or as @bocaholly called it, "The I want longer, more supple fingers club". All great tips, and that exercise by Nicky Benedetti is very helpful. Thank you. I learn so much on this forum.  

Have a look at Itzhak Perlman's fingers. You'll feel a whole lot better. 😉

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Jim Dunleavy
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February 22, 2019 - 2:51 pm
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Gordon Shumway said
Nicky is head of a group called ESTA - the European String Teachers' Association (roughly). My teacher works for them, so she knows Nicky.  

I know she does a lot of work with young people - it seems to be a vocation she has, despite her gruelling concert schedule. Judging by her videos, she's a great teacher.

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MoonShadows
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February 22, 2019 - 3:03 pm
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Jim Dunleavy said

Have a look at Itzhak Perlman's fingers. You'll feel a whole lot better. 😉  

Ah, I did. There is hope! 🙂

Quote for Itzhak Perlman: “My hands are rather big for a violinist so my big, fat fingers have to struggle the further I move up the instrument.” 

Jim

Fiddling for Older Folks - Adventures in Learning to Play the Fiddle as an Adult

The Friends of the Sons of Liberty - Three Inspiring Young Men playing Early American Fiddle Music 

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AndrewH
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February 22, 2019 - 7:02 pm
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As has already been mentioned in this thread, it may help to try tapping the neck with your thumb. I don't advocate holding the entire weight of the instrument with your head for an extended period of time (that's how you get shoulder and neck injuries), but you should be able to tap the neck of the violin with your left thumb, and it doesn't take your thumb away long enough to hurt.

The reason this is difficult for beginners is that the human thumb evolved to grasp things. We need to train away from the instinctive way we use our thumbs.

If you have short fingers, it may also help to put your thumb in a different place. Violinists are often taught to keep their thumb opposite their first finger. Consider sliding the thumb up the fingerboard a little so that it is opposite the second finger instead. You'll be able to reach farther without tension. (That's a very common viola trick. Note that I mainly play viola, and I've never met another adult with shorter fingers than mine. I have friends almost a foot shorter than me who have larger hands!) If anything, short fingers require an even more relaxed left hand hold because the left thumb needs to be more mobile.

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Fiddlerman
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February 23, 2019 - 5:14 pm
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AndrewH said .........The reason this is difficult for beginners is that the human thumb evolved to grasp things. We need to train away from the instinctive way we use our thumbs.......

This is true. We monkeys need to grip things. exactly

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Mark
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February 23, 2019 - 7:27 pm
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Jim, 

Thank you for linking that video of (with Nicky - back to basics), those are some good videos  that she has produced on playing the violin.

 

Mark

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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pchoppin
Utah
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March 3, 2019 - 2:04 am
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Here is what I do to release tension.  This is for any part of me during play but specifically for left hand, this is what I do.  

First, as you play be aware of your left hand hold at all times.  When you notice you are tensing up, immediately stop and drop your hand to your side.  Then for a few minutes breathe slowly and relax.  Shake out your left hand so that it is relaxed.  Then when you feel the tension is gone return your left hand to the violin and begin again.  Slowly and relaxed, play until you feel your hand tensing again.  Then repeat the exercise.  Try this with your scales because they are simple and you can focus on your left hand.  You will get better and better and soon it will become a natural relaxed hold.  

Also, as far as vibrato, you must correct this tense grip before you can begin vibrato.  Everything about vibrato is relaxed and smooth.  So work on your hold first.  

You'll get it.  It just takes time and patience like everything we do with these instruments.  

Hope that helps 

- Pete -

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MoonShadows
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March 3, 2019 - 3:37 am
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@FortyNothing The answer may not lie so much at that side of your violin as it might lie at the other side. How comfortable are you holding your violin using just your chinrest and should rest? Does it feel secure, "light", like it won't fall? Could you make a sandwich while holding it with just the chinrest and shoulder rest? 

I have fat fingers, too. And, I have a short, fat neck. Sound familiar? The first couple of weeks, I was having a heck of a problem with my left hand "locking" onto the neck and getting tensed up. I knew (somewhere in my head) that I was using it to compensate for the chinrest/shoulder rest combination that wasn't quite right. I tried many positions for my shoulder rest, but it still felt like I was trying to hold a pork roast against my neck/under my chin. It was when I changed my chinrest to a flatter, thinner one that all of a sudden my shoulder rest felt much better, too. I could easily hold my violin securely and confidently without even touching it with my left hand (so, I made a sandwich! blink). 

I noticed an immediate relaxation of my left hand when holding my violin. Yes, I still have the "newbie grip", which I work on, but the grip and the discomfort are nothing like they were before, just be changing my chin rest.

Jim

Fiddling for Older Folks - Adventures in Learning to Play the Fiddle as an Adult

The Friends of the Sons of Liberty - Three Inspiring Young Men playing Early American Fiddle Music 

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MoonShadows
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March 3, 2019 - 3:46 am
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@FortyNothing I just went back and looked at your "Progress - Week 1" video. You definitely have a short and stocky neck like me. In fact, in the video, it looks like you are barely on your chinrest and more towards the center of your violin. That is what I was doing until I changed my chinrest. I think, for me, it was a unconscious way of compensating for the higher chinrest. The chinrest I switched to was a Conrad Gotz ZK256. https://www.amazon.com/gp/prod.....#038;psc=1

61UOpm4TnhL._SX466_.jpgImage Enlarger

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Jim

Fiddling for Older Folks - Adventures in Learning to Play the Fiddle as an Adult

The Friends of the Sons of Liberty - Three Inspiring Young Men playing Early American Fiddle Music 

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