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Squeezing violin thumb and tension on neck and shoulder
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bunify
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November 17, 2019 - 3:35 pm
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My hand, neck and shoulder is usually sore when playing for a little while. I realised I need to squeeze my thumb against the neck of the violin to play vibrato. I don’t know how people play without using the thumb? I use a shoulder rest. 

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AndrewH
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It's more a matter of how you use your thumb. Your thumb needs to support the violin without squeezing. Although I don't know exactly how you're using your left hand, I suspect it may help to move your elbow to the right and pull your thumb more under the neck of the violin.

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cid
November 17, 2019 - 7:56 pm
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I think Fiddlerman has a video on vibrato, maybe watch that and pay attention to his thumb and arm position?

Viola Time! 

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Fiddlerman
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November 21, 2019 - 3:20 pm
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I do. Hope those are helpful. I probably should make some new ones.

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

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Gordon Shumway
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Everyone's hand is a different size and shape, so following videos sometimes has to be done thoughtfully, and it makes forum discussions problematic. One book says that your thumb is "by far" your longest digit (the thumb, just like any digit, has three bones, and doesn't stop until you get to your wrist). But I've just measured mine and it's the same length as my middle finger. The main thing is be comfortable, and the thumb should be so relaxed that you can tap it on the neck of the violin if you pause your playing. My teacher has a little felt duckling she uses on kids to get a small gap between the neck and the yoke between the thumb and the first finger.

The downward force from the weight of the neck should be supported on your thumb's middle bone (I think there may be an Itzhak Perlman video on that one), but it's tempting to support it lower down on the mons thingummy.

I find my thumb has to be quite a long way towards the bridge for my pinky to be able to reach what it has to reach, whereas Pierre, from memory, likes to have his thumb closer to the scroll (forgive me if I'm wrong). I position my hand by playing B on the A and E strings, positioning my thumb then doing a descending B major scale starting on the A string and verifying that my pinky can reach A# on the D string. Of course remembering to keep my left wrist straight interferes, and vice versa. I have a few pieces of music where I have written "thumb" in pencil underneath certain passages - this is because my thumb has a tendency to drift too far towards the scroll for what the music requires from my pinky.

Andrew

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bunify
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December 21, 2019 - 4:47 am
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Still finding it hard. How is it possible to play without the thumb as it seems like the thumb supports the violin? 

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cid
December 21, 2019 - 7:33 am
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bunify said
Still finding it hard. How is it possible to play without the thumb as it seems like the thumb supports the violin? 

  

@bunify  I am not sure the thumb supports your violin. I did not take a lot of lessons, but from those lessons and reading, I think the violin is supported by the chinrest and shoulder rest.  I was shown how you should be able to set the violin on your shoulder in place, with the chinrest and shoulder rest if you use one or both accessories. Release the left hand and cross it over to your right shoulder, and the violin stays in place because of the shoulder rest and chin rest. DO NOT DO THIS. THIS IS JUST WHAT I WAS TOLD AND HAVE SEEN. Since you are having issues, it is obviously possibly not correct, or your setup is not quite right and your violin will fall to the floor. I will not be responsible if that happens 😇 .

Also, the thumb is just there to cradle the neck. It is not grasping the neck. The neck does not go all the way down to the bottom of the thumb, either.

My thinking with the thumb is, that it is in the position it is in when holding the violin,  possibly for the following reasons:

1. It has to be somewhere because you cannot remove your left thumb when holding the violin, and that seems to be the natural place the thumb wants to be when holding the violin. It is like when you lie on one side and it would be nice to be able to unscrew that arm you are lying on so you are not squishing that arm, and then screw that arm back on when you are no long lying on that side and need it again. 

2. It helps give your fingers support when fingering the fingerboard. It helps to allow your fingers to give the strings whatever pressure they need to create your lovely notes and vibrato. Kind of an assist for your fingers, not for holding the violin.

3. Helps keep the violin from wibble wobbling or rocking at that end, but not like cementing it in a specific angle because I think you want some flexibility of movement of the violin. But is not the violin’s body’s support system.

You should be able to support your violin with the chinrest and shoulder rest and move that left hand up and down the violin neck with the thumb cradling, not holding the violin. If the space the neck is resting on is preventing the thumb from sliding up and down the neck, without physically releasing pressure of the thumb, you are probably grasping the neck with the thumb. I don’t think your thumb should have to release pressure in the neck when sliding up to upper registers. 

I watch professionals. Their violins are not cemented in place by a thumb grip. The violin is part of them. It is like the body has morphed to include the violin in the left arm/hand segment of the body. When playing the violin seems to gracefully “move” with the song and the emotion of the violinist. 

These are just the things that came to my mind as to the where and why and what the left thumb does when playing the violin.

Again, I am taking cello lessons now. I had a few violin lessons, which covered just a little of the hold, she was not too into details, and I have read lesson books, posts in this forum and watch videos and paying attention to the hold. I think “hold” is really not a good word because that area is not “holding” the violin, the chin and shoulder rests are. 

As @Gordon Shumway said, the videos are a guide. I am just watching what that thumb is actually doing and I don’t see it gripping. There is the occasional “grip” noticed when I am seeing a lot of vibrato or some sections with intense bowing and fingering. When I see that, I also see where the whole body (not just violin body, the violinist, too) is reacting to the music itself. It seems to not be being done to hold the violin, it seems to be more emotional and the violinist and violin becoming part of the whole feeling of the song. Being engrossed and one with the song. I watch things like that, but that does not mean my impression of the reasoning is correct, but that is my thought when I see the “holding” of the violin with the thumb appearance thing happening.

Maybe we should think of the thumb as a helper and not a holder. That is what it feels like to me when I am playing the violin or viola.

If I am completely wrong or a bit off, those who are more informed and experienced, please correct. No problem on part for pointing out my inaccuracies. 

Viola Time! 

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MoonShadows
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December 21, 2019 - 7:38 am
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Your thumb should not be supporting the weight of your fiddle. You fiddle should be supported between your collarbone and chin, either with or without your desired combination of chinrest and/or shoulder rest. This video, while comical,  illustrates that.

Jim

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BillyG
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December 21, 2019 - 9:49 am
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🙂 I love Jas'n Kleinberg's stuff - he comes up with a lot of good tune-tutorials and other hints and tips.

When I started, I struggled with various combinations of chin and shoulder rests.  I actually DID the "strut around the house" thing with fiddle hand-free (before I ever saw FiddleHed's video above).   That was easy - but I was never comfortable playing.   My current (has been for almost a year, although these things change I guess) approach is center-mount chin-rest, no shoulder-rest.  That however DOES mean (if I want to strut around the house with fiddle "hands-free") I REALLY need to clamp-down on the chin-rest.  But (for me) - that's nether "natural" nor "relaxed" - and in normal playing I DO have to bear some (small part) of the fiddle weight on my thumb - and I am well aware of that while playing.  Initially, when shifting up and - more specifically back down - I would pull the darned instrument away - but - that's easily sorted - from NO chin-downward-pressure during normal playing, just tighten up that chin-grip for the fraction of time to do the down-shift, and relax again.   There should be no physical tension, anywhere in your body while playing (there may well be "emotional tension" in front of a camera or audience - that's not what I'm referring to)

But, then again, that's just me, and we're all different.

I do believe there is no single "correct" answer that suits all.

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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MoonShadows
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I am constantly experimenting with different holding positions, changing my stock of chin rests, adjusting my should rest, etc. I am good for a while, but then I notice something else that doesn't feel right. Just the other day I switched out my present chin rest for another and re-adjusted my shoulder rest. It seemed better, but today, I am questioning it again! Although, each time, I think I am getting closer to what "works" for me. I don't have as much "death grip" as I first had. Now, it's usually a matter of arm/neck fatigue. Here's the latest: Tilting My Fiddle

Jim

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Gordon Shumway
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MoonShadows said
Your thumb should not be supporting the weight of your fiddle 

No, I wrote over-hastily, but the thumb should resist the downward pressure of your other LH fingers.

There is an exercise in Fischer where you play with no thumb contact, but it's an unpleasant way to learn to minimise thumb pressure.

Andrew

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MoonShadows
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Gordon Shumway said

MoonShadows said

Your thumb should not be supporting the weight of your fiddle 

No, I wrote over-hastily, but the thumb should resist the downward pressure of your other LH fingers. 

Of course, but that is different from supporting the weight of the fiddle, and as one develops a lighter touch with experience, something most beginners don't have, that downward pressure should (will) become minimal.

Jim

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AndrewH
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MoonShadows said
Your thumb should not be supporting the weight of your fiddle. You fiddle should be supported between your collarbone and chin, either with or without your desired combination of chinrest and/or shoulder rest. This video, while comical,  illustrates that.

  

 

While this is widely taught, I disagree entirely. In the long run it's a recipe for shoulder and neck injuries. The thumb should carry some of the weight -- but not much of it, and without squeezing. Except when shifting or playing with vibrato, you should be able to lift your head off the violin while playing. You should also be able to hold the violin between your jaw and collarbone, with your jaw resting lightly on the chinrest, just long enough to take weight off your thumb to shift. But do not rely on your head and neck to hold the violin all the time.

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AndrewH
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This is what Nathan Cole of the LA Philharmonic has to say:

https://www.natesviolin.com/ri.....-find-mvp/

Although I use a shoulder rest, I would say that the shoulder rest should not alter the way you hold the instrument. The shoulder rest should only fill space, and should not be relied on to carry all the weight.

 

This is what Gary Frisch, a maker of customized chinrests and also an experienced violin teacher and luthier, says about supporting the violin:

http://www.revisemysite.com/pd.....t1.doc.pdf

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MoonShadows
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AndrewH said

 

 

While this is widely taught, I disagree entirely. In the long run it's a recipe for shoulder and neck injuries. The thumb should carry some of the weight -- but not much of it, and without squeezing. Except when shifting or playing with vibrato, you should be able to lift your head off the violin while playing. You should also be able to hold the violin between your jaw and collarbone, with your jaw resting lightly on the chinrest, just long enough to take weight off your thumb to shift. But do not rely on your head and neck to hold the violin all the time.

  

If you have a good fit with your chin and shoulder rests, and keep proper posture and form, there should be no shoulder or neck injuries. In my limited experience watching beginners play is too many either don't find the proper chin and shoulder rests and/or they crook their neck or lift their shoulder to try and hold onto their fiddle, many much too tightly. This is where injuries come into play. A violin only usually weighs between 400 and 500 grams. With the good fit of chin and shoulder rests there should be no strain on the shoulder or neck at all if the proper posture and form are also kept. You also realize, that FiddleHed's video should not be taken seriously. He was just trying to illustrate a point in a comical way. blink

Jim

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MoonShadows
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AndrewH said
This is what Nathan Cole of the LA Philharmonic has to say:

https://www.natesviolin.com/ri.....-find-mvp/

Although I use a shoulder rest, I would say that the shoulder rest should not alter the way you hold the instrument. The shoulder rest should only fill space, and should not be relied on to carry all the weight.

 

This is what Gary Frisch, a maker of customized chinrests and also an experienced violin teacher and luthier, says about supporting the violin:

http://www.revisemysite.com/pd.....t1.doc.pdf

  

Interesting references there, Andrew. I have seen the video of Nathan Cole's before. It occurred to me while watching it again that some of the disagreement might be because of the different playing styles of a classic violinist vs an old time fiddler, the latter of which I tend to gravitate towards.

When someone learns to play baseball on a team for the first time, the coach will teach the "classic" way to hold and swing the bat with all the implications that are involved, but as batters develop within the game, they will all make adjustments that work for them, especially depending on what they are trying to accomplish, i.e. ground ball, fly ball, opposite field hit, home run, etc. I think that may be part of why we may see this differently.

Not sure if I explained that well, but you probably understand what I mean.

Jim

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bunify
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I can hold my violin with my shoulder rest. However, it’s not possible for me to not have the thumb there as it helps me press down on the strings and do vibrato. I can still shift tho but my thumb is always gripping to help me press the strings and all.  Is there any videos that shows how to play without the thumb? I never knew this is possible. 

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AndrewH
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I don't understand what you mean by "play without the thumb." That simply isn't done. The thumb should be loose enough that you can tap the neck of the violin with it. But it should never be absent.

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AndrewH
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MoonShadows said

If you have a good fit with your chin and shoulder rests, and keep proper posture and form, there should be no shoulder or neck injuries. In my limited experience watching beginners play is too many either don't find the proper chin and shoulder rests and/or they crook their neck or lift their shoulder to try and hold onto their fiddle, many much too tightly. This is where injuries come into play. A violin only usually weighs between 400 and 500 grams. With the good fit of chin and shoulder rests there should be no strain on the shoulder or neck at all if the proper posture and form are also kept. You also realize, that FiddleHed's video should not be taken seriously. He was just trying to illustrate a point in a comical way. blink

  

I didn't actually watch the video. I was in a coffee shop and using a phone, so couldn't watch anything with audio.

But the collarbone isn't wide enough to hold the entire weight of a violin -- the length of the instrument means something else (either the thumb or the shoulder) needs to carry weight, otherwise you are in fact relying on head pressure. That's where I'm referring to the thumb needing to carry some of the weight. Many classical players believe the head and shoulder need to support the violin in order to free up the left hand for shifting. Nathan Cole points out that it isn't true, and is in fact problematic because it leads to excessive strain. After 20 years of playing and multiple adjustments to my viola hold, and having paid so much attention to fit that I even use a custom-made chinrest, I tend to agree most with Gary Frisch's opinion that the hold needs to be dynamic and balanced between head, left hand, collarbone, shoulder rest (if used), and bow.

Also, I accidentally posted the wrong link from Gary Frisch, because it was from an entire page of linked documents. Sorry about that! The one I intended to post is:
https://www.revisemysite.com/p.....0Etude.pdf

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Gordon Shumway
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Even then, any support for the purpose of shifting would be very temporary.

Andrew

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