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Left thumb
Something I think a lot about ..
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (12 votes) 
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Katie L
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December 5, 2022 - 10:39 am
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Thought this was interesting 

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ELCBK
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https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ee/5a/f0/ee5af0ac3599d76f792741d188528bbc.jpg

@Katie L -

Thanks for this video! 

It reinforces my thoughts on this - especially important for playing 5-string instruments... sure wish I had larger hands!

I've been struggling balancing my Viola on my thumb.  I really need to do it, because I can't get my fingers up over the C string like I want to.  I know my playing would sound much better if I could! 

The rest of my hand & arm don't want to co-operate!  I don't know if maybe 16" might be too big for me to play comfortably, but I'm determined to make it work.  I should probably play everything on the C & G strings for lengthy period, like several months - and vibrato on every note! 🤣 

...seriously, I haven't played enough on the lower Viola strings & it was very apparent to me recording the Wexford Carol - I really struggled because of it!

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Katie L
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December 5, 2022 - 5:52 pm
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No problem Emily . How much more does a viola weigh compared to a violin ? You must have to support even more with your thumb?

I’ve always thought I’ve supported too much but I completely understand what he is saying. There must be some counter pressure when you press the fingers down. I thought he explained it well I love the dhorter videos.

Katie 

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ELCBK
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December 5, 2022 - 7:00 pm
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@Katie L -

It may sound weird, but my Viola actually 'feels' lighter than my Violin! 

They might be the same, even though the Viola is bigger - haven't weighed them.  Seems hard to believe that the electronic stuff, to play my Violin electrically, can make that much difference in weight!  I know people who play electric violin don't usually want a lot of body resonance because of potential feedback from amps - makes me wonder if they made the body heavier on purpose (?)   

https://img1.goodfon.com/wallpaper/nbig/3/5c/music-violin-symphony.jpg

Pretty sure my trouble playing on the lower strings probably isn't so much my Viola being longer, but more by me being over-weight, or the fact I'm stuck practicing in bed, broke my left wrist years back & also had surgery on it.  I keep trying, but I have NOT been able to bend my wrist or twist my arm around like in this photo! 

 

Think I've also started into a bad habit of resting the neck of my Viola on my index finger knuckle when I got rid of the shoulder rest, which makes it even more important to focus using my thumb better - or it's too easy to accidentally touch my E string with the side of my finger! 

...one step forward, two steps back. 🙄 

- Emily

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AndrewH
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December 5, 2022 - 10:51 pm
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Strange as it may seem, it's very much possible that the electronics do make your violin heavier than your viola.

Keep in mind that neither instrument is very heavy. Most of the weight you feel while playing comes from the bow, not the instrument itself. My viola, with chinrest but without shoulder rest, weighs about 560 grams. That's a few grams less than a 20 ounce soft drink bottle.

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ELCBK
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December 6, 2022 - 1:12 pm
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https://i.pinimg.com/736x/a8/cf/8a/a8cf8afd60b0ec5f5f2448945108ba36--christmas-carol-christmas-trees.jpg

@AndrewH -

One of the biggest problems I'm having with moving my thumb over far enough under the neck - to where it really allows my hand up & over the fingerboard as much as I'd like, between no shoulder rest & how slick the Carbon Composite material is, my thumb just keeps slipping! 

I'm definitely to the point of experimenting... again! (lol)

I still want to be able to shift freely - the Carbon Composite neck is GREAT for that, but after dealing with this the past year I'm ready to try sticking a more tactile material on the neck in 1st position, e.g., a thin, self-adhesive piece of felt or double-sided tape & a piece of flannel - adhesive tape certainly won't hurt the neck! 

But, NOW you really piqued my curiosity!  Even though I'm not so sure it has anything to do with my thumb... 

Think I'm sorry I checked!

My Violin, Mortimer - 1lb, 11oz (767 grams)! 

My Viola, Edgar - 1lb 14oz (849 grams)! 

I had figured ignorance was bliss in this instance, when I decided on Carbon Composite - your Viola sounds like heaven! 

- Emily

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AndrewH
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December 6, 2022 - 10:51 pm
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Where on your thumb is the neck resting right now? A wood violin or viola neck is also smooth so that the hand slides easily when shifting.

That said, I have no experience with carbon composite instruments like what you have. The only non-wood instruments I've ever seen are Luis & Clark carbon fiber instruments (over the years I've seen one violin and two cellos in orchestras I played in), and when I had the chance to try the violin for a few minutes it didn't feel different from a typical violin. But the Luis & Clark violin appears to be about 450 grams, right in the middle of the  typical weight range for wood violins. For reference: most full size violins are between 400 and 500 grams, most 16" violas are between 550 and 700 grams.

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ELCBK
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December 7, 2022 - 1:47 am
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https://i.pinimg.com/736x/e0/d8/e2/e0d8e2360c2c26d02f0da38bf07042b5--lars-vintage-christmas.jpg

@AndrewH -

I want to keep my thumb at least directly underneath the neck & not beside it, but it always slips to the side, the 'normal' position for most people I've seen (I know we've had discussions about this - you suggested not so close to the nut, I believe).  But even that puts the neck resting on my index finger knuckle on the right and then my index finger touches that side of the neck - and I can't twist my arm/wrist to get away without my thumb moving more underneath, toward the E string, but keeps slipping back. 

I'm NOT a patient person - so I can only fool around with this so long, I give up & try again the next day, but this has been going on way too long - like throughout the year!  Luckily I've been busy learning other stuff, but I'm frustrated - I can't get the freedom for a good vibrato (except for one note before my thumb slips) and too many times I can't let all my strings ring out if I'm touching some of them. 

The little bit of moisture in my skin still helps me keep good contact when I touch finished wood surfaces - I checked, because I was afraid my skin was just too dry, but I can't slide anywhere near as much as with the Carbon Composite material used on my Glasser. 

I realize it's ridiculous for me to try to explain - I'll see if I can't get Kevin to help take a few photos & short video sometime this week. 

I would really appreciate your thoughts after I post something for you to look at.   

- Emily

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Gordon Shumway
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December 7, 2022 - 12:02 pm
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In theory the correct position for the thumb is beside the neck, but with some space underneath. My teacher has a little toy fluffy duck and she uses its head to measure the space between thumb and neck with her youngest students.

Which fingers it should be opposite is variable. I find my thumb has to be opposite my middle finger for best hand shape and pinky reach, but it depends on your hands.

But if you remember those Yehudi Menuhin videos, Emily, his thumb is more under than beside the neck. This may be helpful if you play music where you shift up and down a lot, as it saves the effort of timing the thumbs' movements, as there are fewer of them.

Andrew

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ELCBK
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December 7, 2022 - 1:55 pm
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@Gordon Shumway -

Thank you. 

Yes, I do remember and it makes a huge difference for me - IF I can keep my thumb under the neck. (lol) 

It doesn't seem to matter which finger my thumb is across from - if I can see it on the side of the neck anywhere, then I have trouble.  Of course, I'm basically trying to change a very core habit I started learning with - and, I also have to re-figure finger placement for intonation when I change the orientation of my hand... nothing is easy.

Talking about this has made me face the probability I just haven't stuck with it enough - especially when I can get more excited about other things to do with whatever music I'm learning at the time, e.g., new rhythm, phrasing or note combinations.  

I can see now where extra weight, and any instability from not using a shoulder rest, certainly doesn't help me.  I might put a shoulder rest back on for a bit - I'll try it tonight.   

Kevin even suggested I try a 'finger cot' - I can't do latex & silicone might be too awkward... what the heck, if I can make sure it's only covering part of my thumb pad, then I'm up for anything to get give me a temporary boost so I can get rid of this old habit.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/4b/75/33/4b75334cc0c932cf07fa64b6069d88db.jpg

 

Anyway, I have to make this a priority, no matter what, because it is really starting to impact my enthusiasm for playing.  I knew the more I learned, the more I'd want to change, but this doesn't make me feel any better. 🙄

...worst case scenario, I suppose I could just learn to play the fiddle like some do in Morocco. (lol)

- Emily

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Gordon Shumway
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December 7, 2022 - 2:25 pm
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Depending on the notes I am playing, sometimes I find it very awkward having my thumb under the neck. I suspect that it's best to move the thumb more than we do, up and down, side to side. That would also give the benefit of preventing the thumb from acting like a vice, if it has to be nimble.

Andrew

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ELCBK
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December 7, 2022 - 4:06 pm
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@Gordon Shumway -

Gordon Shumway said
Depending on the notes I am playing, sometimes I find it very awkward having my thumb under the neck. I suspect that it's best to move the thumb more than we do, up and down, side to side. That would also give the benefit of preventing the thumb from acting like a vice, if it has to be nimble.

  

YES, I completely agree and it IS very awkward to try to keep my thumb under, but I believe just about anything will feel more natural if I do it enough and it doesn't cause pain.

Maybe I should be more clear that moving my thumb around more, like you say, is exactly what I'm trying to do.  I don't want to 'hold' the neck with my hand, or keep my thumb in only one spot. 

https://www.jing.fm/clipimg/full/8-84528_vintage-christmas-lights-clipart-holiday-clipart-borders-transparent.png

Counterbalancing my fingers with my thumb probably wouldn't be such an issue if my thumb didn't keep slipping - in fact, I'm not really sure how much is my thumb, and how much is my Viola slipping off my thumb.  🤔... maybe more reason for going back to a shoulder rest, but either way, it's supposed to be about balance & this all raises my blood pressure because I know I have good reflexes!  Still seems I'm incessantly fumbling to regain a position, like I'm recovering from a fall while Ice Skating!  It's just a bunch of extra, disruptive movement for me. 

...come to think of it, my arm mobility sucks.  I can't swing either one of my elbows in front of me even remotely close to like what I've seen others do. 

Argh! 🤯  Some things I just can't fix.  

- Emily

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AndrewH
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December 8, 2022 - 2:12 am
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ELCBK said
 

But even that puts the neck resting on my index finger knuckle on the right and then my index finger touches that side of the neck

  

I'm having a really hard time visualizing the part where it's "resting on [your] index finger knuckle"... it does make me wonder where your whole hand and wrist are. Photos/video would definitely help.

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ELCBK
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https://i.pinimg.com/736x/1c/cf/90/1ccf901744e28fbac534509fe6abd90d.jpg

@AndrewH -

Sorry, it got to be too late tonight to ask Kevin to help me take a video, maybe tomorrow.

I did make a little headway, reluctantly rereturned to using my shoulder rest tonight - huge difference in sound!  My Viola must have too much contact with my body when I don't use a rest.  Wow, now the video I submitted for Wexford Carol sounds REALLY bad to me... sorry, Pierre! 🙄

My thumb isn't slipping as bad, it's much better - guess I really did have too much weight in my hand.  BUT, I still cannot get my hand away from touching the side of the neck - really feel I need to rotate my hand & it's not budging!

I looked at my shoulder rest closer, because it still feels too high for me (I just want a little stability).  It is the lowest I could find - Resonans Viola Shoulder Rest - Fiddlershop.  I see there is space a new hole can be drilled on each leg near the pivot.  Kevin will be able to remove the rivet, cut off close to where the old rivet hole was & put in new rivet w/washer - so I loose somewhere between 3/8", maybe as much as a 1/2" in height, without the rest touching the back of my Viola!  This 'small' change could make a make a huge difference in how it feels to play.

I'll see what can be done tomorrow (today! 😵) about my shoulder rest & hopefully get some video, up close, of my left hand & arm. 

You started this thread at the perfect time for me, @Katie L  - Thanks again! 🤗

- Emily

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Gordon Shumway
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December 9, 2022 - 2:41 am
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I just ordered a Wolf Forte Secondo shoulder rest (I saw one at orchestra last week and it looked very comfortable. If it isn't, I'll never buy another shoulder rest as long as I live - the Bon Musica was hideous), so I'll wait and see if anything changes before responding again!

Andrew

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ELCBK
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December 13, 2022 - 3:18 pm
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I haven't dared to tear Kevin away from his Holiday list of jobs & errands to help me with a video about my thumb or to modify my shoulder rest, yet - he's been pretty tired by evening, so I'm not pushing my luck right now. (lol) 

I did find a photo that looks how my hand wants to be positioned, naturally - you can see where part of the 1st finger looks like it is touching the E string while the tip is placed on the A string - this is what I DON'T want to do. 

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41k+LTQkFyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

https://www.reddesertviolin.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/left-hand-exercises.jpg

 

I was aiming to be able to move over similar to this photo, but my thumb slips with the weight of the neck like this (and then I have to resist grabbing).  There is just no way, even with my elbow under the violin more, to get my hand/wrist in this position, with my thumb/1st finger still open like this photo - without my thumb slipping.

 

In the meantime, I have made some progress with this, so I do have some good news!

Last night I tried some different placement & angles of the shoulder rest & found I could move my thumb, back & forth from a standard left thumb position, over to under the A/E string side of the neck (a little further toward the E string side compared to the above photo and more parallel along the neck) - and have it stable, without slipping!  It means my thumb/1st finger are closer together as I move it over to that side, though - only the thumb pad touches the neck. 

This is still uncomfortable, like starting anything new on the Viola, but it pushes my hand away from the neck enough to free up all my fingers for the E, A & D strings - still have to work on the G & C strings, though. 

...so I'm trying not to have doubts about ever clearing my hand of the neck for the C string, and have a little faith it will work out.  I think, hope anyway, it won't take too long to re-orient my intonation! 

https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Ytlt9uoC3ps/ULY_2j_rRJI/AAAAAAAAAY4/h5Z3gTP2aRQ/s1600/Poinsettia-christmas-vintage-clipart3.jpg

 

Well, my break is over - so, back to Christmas stuff!

- Emily

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AndrewH
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That second photo could be problematic. The hand looks really low, and the neck looks like it might be resting on the tip or pad of the thumb. It doesn't look like something that you should try to emulate. (I see the image is from Red Desert Violin, but that's clearly not Lora's hand and might be a stock photo. It's not related to the blog post it appears in.)

Even when your thumb is under the neck, it should be making contact around the same part of your thumb: close to the inner edge, just above the top knuckle.

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ELCBK
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https://i.pinimg.com/236x/c5/2c/3b/c52c3b9554ef7b635e6e34e1147088b7.jpg

 

@AndrewH -

Good thing I can't do anything like that photo, then. 😄

I'll keep what you say in mind while I fool around with this more. 

...depending how much more my old bones & joints can take.

Thank you! 

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Jim Dunleavy
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I fully agree with Andrew - that second photo looks completely wrong and I've never seen any competent violinist using a hand position anything like it.

To me, the first photo looks about right.

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Gordon Shumway
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I agree. Thumb under is pretty uncomfortable, but I have a tendency to rest the neck in the palm of my hand still, which isn't good. I suspect that one should be 100% confident about one's chin and shoulder rest combo before one can be sure of one's judgement of the other stuff.

Jim Dunleavy said
I fully agree with Andrew - that second photo looks completely wrong and I've never seen any competent violinist using a hand position anything like it. 

Well, it's not really very far from what Yehudi Menuhin recommended, but his chin and shoulder requirements were specific to him, and he is not known for having had the best technical training. Geniuses can be odd - Diego Maradonna may have been a great footballer, but you wouldn't necessarily have wanted to learn much from him.

Andrew

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