Squeezing the fiddle neck with my left hand thumb
How do I stop it? How do I release the tension there? That part of my hand aches a lot after playing for a while, and I feel like I’m not reaching my full potential
How do I stop it? How do I release the tension there? That part of my hand aches a lot after playing for a while, and I feel like I’m not reaching my full potential
Perhaps you don’t have enough support around the chin and/or shoulder, so your hand is under pressure from trying to hold up the fiddle as well as play. Ideally you should be able to hold up the fiddle with just your chin, leaving your hand free to manoeuvre as much as possible to play (though I can’t do this completely, but my rest does it for the most part). This might need a shoulder rest and some experimentation of moving a combination of the shoulder rest’s attachment to the fiddle, the position of the fiddle from left to right, and the tilt of the fiddle to find what is most comfortable. If that makes any sense..?
You need to use your chin more, it will be impossible to do vibrato if you are squeezing with your hand too much. I don’t play with a shoulder rest, but what Anna said should work.
Yes, shoulder rest. (Vibrato - why?). (Sorry, just trying to stir things up around here).
Also: do not play extended medleys for now. Play one or two tunes two or three times through - then stop. Give the hand a shake; massage left hand/thumb with right hand; go back at ‘er. Stop as soon as you feel thumb getting tense. Rinse and repeat.
I’m for intentionally relaxing your hand, and then practicing with a soft hand. Tell your hand to finger a certain spot as lightly as possible.
Take any tune, single bows, slowly and clearly, and you’ll be able to tell the points where your left hand tends to tighten. Then fix those.
Not to be cute - I do it all the time. Day after a session, for instance, I’ll recall some tunes where I felt tight. I’ll go over them, slowly, until the left hand is soft.
The fiddle should REST between the joint closest to the thumb nail (inside edge of the joint) and the base of the right pointing finger (first joint - furthest from the finger nail). It really does rest between these two joints. Squeezing is to be avoided. If there is any "pressure" it is slight upward and inward pressure at the inside of the joint of the thumb closest to the finger nail.) This will keep the Thumb down in proper position and prevent letting the neck fall to low between the thumb and pointing finger and subsequent application of fatigue-inducing pressure.
Initially, to keep the above locations in proper position it may help rubbing the points of contact on the fingers with rosin until slightly sticky. This aids in keeping the thumb and pointing finger in proper position and prevents the neck from "falling" down into the space between the thumb and finger. Strive for that slight inward and upward pressure on at the inside of the thumb joint closest to the thumb nail. In a few hours it will begin to feel natural.
Its all about efficiency and lack of muscle tension in the left hand.
Somehow the idea of the fiddle actually "resting" between thumb and base of index seems unnatural. For the left hand to be perfectly unfettered in its action it must be completely unburdened by even the slightest part of the fiddle’s weight.
Assembling the right "montage" (chin and shoulder-rest, if necessary) as a function of each individual’s morphology appears to me as a more instinctively ergonomic approach to these ends. It seems to work for me (no fiddle-related physical distress in years of intensive playing), so as usual,
I’d never heard of applying rosin directly to one’s hands though. Can’t imagine how you’d move from position to position on the fingerboard :-/
One of the things that causes the thumb to tense up is if you are fingering the strings too hard. First check that your fiddle nut is set correctly - slip a business card or other bit of thin card under the strings and push it up to the nut, it should just fit snugly. If the gap is obviously too big then the nut needs adjusting, it will be making the fiddle much harder to play than it needs to be. Now experiment a bit - see just how lightly you can finger the strings and still play a clean note, then concentrate on only fingering the strings that lightly as you practice.
Fanning - No one said put rosin all over your hands. Go back and read. Almost all ITM is in first position so you’re not sliding up and down the neck. You want a more or less fixed position on the neck - resting - not squeezing - between the points noted in the post above. I believe the question was about left hand tension. While shoulder rest and chin rest also have problems, the question was about left hand tension.
Tom, my words were "applying rosin directly to one’s hands", not "all over your hands".
Most of ITM is indeed in first position, however I for one will not limit myself to playing in that one position if it means depriving myself of such wonderful tunes as The Contradiction, The Moving Cloud or any other that happens to not be in first position. Not to mention there’s some great tunes outside Irish music that I like to mess around with on occasion.
So the question is about tension in the left hand. Very well then. The primary reason for that tension usually comes from a player’s incapacity to feel confident holding the fiddle with no more than the weight of his head (no squeezing required), thus resulting in the player supporting the instrument with the left hand rather than using that appendage to it to it’s full potential. At the risk of sounding like some classical-trained outsider, I’d venture that aiming for the most ergonomically efficient posture might yield some good results.
Of course I agree with you that relaxation is primordial, so taking away the left hand’s need to support the fiddle helps (at least me) to attain that end. That’s all I’m sayin’
As a very amateur fiddle player, reading this discussion makes me wonder; percentage-wise, how much support should come from the shoulder/head/neck and how much if any from the left hand? And beyond that "should", is this what most competent fiddle players maintain in reality? There’s so much variety of opinion, it seems. Is there any one tenet that everyone agrees on (I’m guessing the importance of being relaxed might be the one..). Thanks.
Far be it from yours truly to claim to have any "truth" in the matter, but experience certainly offers firstly the certainty that playing causes me no pain nor tension. Secondly, by supporting the fiddle *entirely* with the head and shoulder, through the careful creation of a shoulder-and-chin-rest montage, one can reduce to nil any hindrance to the left hand.
I submit that the fiddle should be completely supported by the head and shoulder so the left arm and neck of the fiddle become a sort of slide-rule whose role is to select notes, not support the instrument. So in my humble opinion, that’s 100% to 0%
The amount of support you give with your hand varies. Certainly you should have a setup that allows you to support the fiddle entirely with your head and shoulder, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you do it the whole time. There are times when your fingers need to dance and the weight needs to be off your hand, but at other times it’s not critical and you can quite happily take some of the weight on your hand, stretch your neck, look about the room, swear at the guitarist or even sing. The important thing is just that you are comfortable and relaxed with the instrument, and able to take the weight off your hand instantly when you need to. Supporting the neck doesn’t in itself create tension in the hand, the tension comes from gripping the neck, and that usually comes either from nervousness or fingering the strings too hard.
(In my experience, being able to swear at the guitarist while you play is far more important than being able to slide effortlessly up to 5th position.)
I was ‘classically trained’ and so was told that the violin/fiddle should be 100% supported by the head/chin/shoulder. That should allow for maximum agility of the left hand, so the player can do vibrato, 2nd/3rd etc. position… and so on.
But I was never that great at classical technique, so I doubt I ever achieved more than about 70% support (probably something I should work on) - I was never good at vibrato, and thankfully trad doesn’t need it (haha!).
So basically I’m saying that I guess 100% head/chin/shoulder support is ideal, but so long as the player is comfortable and can move the left hand as much as they need, I don’t think anyone else can tell them what’s right or wrong.
Hope you’re not too befuddled by these comments @jebbediahspringfield…!
Most classical violinists are now taught using a shoulder rest, as that is the simplest route to freeing up the left hand. It is not necessarily the only or optimal approach though. I started off with a shoulder rest like everyone else, tried a few different ones, and under the guidance of Mairi Campbell eventually dropped it altogether. I can’t imagine playing with one now.
It is physically impossible to play without thumb counterpressure except by dint of tension applied through the neck, jaw and shoulders. However, that counterpressure should always be the minimum sufficient.
Try playing the open major scale on each string; play slow notes and lift and move the thumb slightly forwards or backwards (a) as the fingers lift or fall (b) while the note plays.
Also have a look at your finger pressure; if your fingers are overdoing it your thumb must overdo it to compensate.
In fact it is relaxation of the neck shoulder and jaw that enable a properly fitted shoulder and chin rest to function. If there is tension, go get fitted up for a new set up.
I have a very fine recording of the Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin played by baroque violinist Sigiswald Kuijken who, I have read, plays not only without a shoulder rest but without a chinrest either, i.e. not using his chin to hold the fiddle in any way.
And I have met an orchestral violinist - and I gather there are many like him - who had to have an operation to fuse vertebrae in his neck, presumably because of the pressure on vertebral discs caused by playing in the prescribed manner.
I played for years without a shoulder rest, had to give up playing after developing focal dystonia in my bowing arm, and have recently found that I can play a little more successfully (though still impaired) with a shoulder rest.
So anything is possible. Whatever you do, pay attention to your posture and try to avoid any kind of tension anywhere. Many classical string players have found the Alexander technique invaluable.
"(In my experience, being able to swear at the guitarist while you play is far more important than being able to slide effortlessly up to 5th position.)"
Amen to that.
Baroque players are continually toing and froing about this. Many have resorted to using the old ruffs and collars of the times to cope with it. Using a shoulder rest back then would have been very strange as there would likely be no room. Others use scarves and other unorthodox methods to enable them to play more securely.
One thing to mention is that the shifts expected in modern violin playing are not historically necessary and the same applies for many folk players. Often you’re better off just heading up nice and early staying there for a bit and shuffling down in a few steps when convenient. Down is more difficult without a chin rest as the fiddle will tend to pull away from you, but done in steps shifting down is not dramatic and there’s noting to stop you resting your chin there for the short while you change down. Then return the head to a relaxed position again.
Personally I’m a bit wary of the idea/dogma that you shouldn’t be supporting any weight with the left hand. If you only have a v-slot formed by the side of the thumb and the bone at the lower index knuckle joint there’s hardly any friction when moving up.
Thanks everyone. After reading and investigating it is most definitely a problem with how much support my shoulder/chin is lending ie not enough. I often have to grip the fiddle to prevent it from slipping, especially when I cross 2 different strings with the same finger position.
It’s probably irrational but I’m not too keen on using a shoulder rest. The first two lessons I had were from a classical musician who tried to drill all that into me, and she insisted I buy and use a shoulder rest. I knew that they were not necessary at all, and that most fiddlers back in Ireland don’t use them (was living in France at the time), and it kind of discouraged from trying them too much, because I didn’t want to develop a "dependency" on it so to speak .
I’m nearly certain that it’s simply an issue related to the chin rest. The problem is I can’t find anything to put into the little screwy holes… No pen seems to fit and I cant find any suitably sized screws… Any ideas!? Quite eager to get this fixed. Have been trying rolls for months now, and can almost get them, but for the tension and gripping!
A paperclip will do for chin rest holes in an emergency, but be careful because sometime they go all the way through and you can scratch the fiddle if you don’t notice.
Talking about shoulder rests…. I use one because I have bony shoulders and more than a minute without one becomes agonising, but I also find that not using one affects the tone of the fiddle, deadening it. Do other people not find this, or is it just me?
As for using a shoulder rest or not, I think it’s very much an individual choice. You need comfort and security (as in a stable hold so that you can shift position, especially downward).
Theoretically, it should fill the gap between chin and collarbone.
I think the test for a shoulder rest (or not) is trying something like a Wolf Forte Primo, which can bend to shape, and is adjustable left and right, and fore and aft. If you set it up so that when it’s on the fiddle, you can neatly ‘slot it in’ between collarbone shoulder and chin without changing your posture, then I reckon you’ve got it pretty much right.
Obviously, if you have a very short neck, then a rest probably isn’t for you. Some people don’t use a rest, but instead just a small sponge covered with non-slip matting, optionally fastened with an elastic band.
A while back The Strad magazine did fiddle resonance tests using a variety of shoulder rests. The Wolf models came out tops for having the least dampening effect on vibrations.
The Wolf’s surface has a pretty good grip on fabric too. I use the Wolf Forte Primo.
As for the difference in tone, I personally find it a little brighter when using the rest than without one. Some players find the opposite - it’s brighter, louder and clearer without a rest. It’s got a lot to do with how much pressure you put on it with your chin (and some get into the bad habit of ‘clamping’) - but of course, without a rest the instrument is physically closer to you, so it probably will sound different for that reason alone.
Of course there have been quite a few shoulder rest innovations since the Wolf first came out. Some swear by them, others swear at them.
One thing is certain - once you have settled on something that works for you, and satisfies all of the conditions above - stick with it. Some people spend many hours (and often a lot of cash) in finding the setup that works for them.
If anyone tries to tell you need a shoulder rest, or is trying to wean you off one, just ignore them :)
One last thing - some players / teachers have the misguided view that the violin needs to be able to rotate - it doesn’t!
I once bought a set of (cheap) tiny screwdrivers - the kind you (but not I) would use for working on electronic doo-dads, I suppose. Among them was one with a point rather than a blade - it’s what I use for un/screwing the chin rest, pick-up, etc. If you’re flying, remember to put it in your checked luggage; if it’s in your carry-on fiddle case, the security people will take it away and maybe stab someone with it. Maybe even you.
Fiddle sits in between your chin and shoulder. Find a string specialist shop with lots of choices of chin rests and shoulder rests. If you have a long neck, modifications may need to be done on both or either. There is available a multiple adjustable chin rest on ebay. I suppose a good fitting chin rest is the first point of call, then the shoulder rest to complete the job. Willy Wolfs are particularly usefull as you can bend them and add adjustments if necessary. Find a luthier that will make one for you. Gripping the neck is not on. Not to mention what else is going on in your neck and shoulders. In the old days, ladies made little pillows for the fiddle to sit neatly on. Whatever happened to that skill. Cut a thick sponge and pin it to your shirt. Play on air pillow, there are many options out there. Comfort is the key. Good luck.
I am just beginning to recover from thumb pain, clicking joints in the thumb etc. After playing for a year I had reached the point where I could not continue without doing long term damage I think. The first shoulder rest I tried felt horrid and uncomfortable to I didn’t stick with that.
Then I tried another sort of shoulder rest and the weight miraculously came off my left hand. With the addition of a central chin rest I can now do the ‘look no hands’ position, turning pages and rosining the bow without having to put the fiddle down, and my neck is in a less bent position which has to be good. My thumb is starting to come back to life and I can move my fingers much faster.
There is still some way to go because I still press my fingers down too hard when I am concentrating and struggling a bit with the intonation, but the improvement has been dramatic and people have commented that I’m starting to look comfortable now. I will use some of the above suggestions for lightening finger pressure, thank you.
JebediahS., I suggest you persist, in a very relaxed manner, in finding a shoulder rest for starters so you can relax a bit more. They are not all the same, very different in fact, because we are not all the same shape.
Good luck and comfortable fiddling!
I didn’t see anyone else mention this, though Jim’s post kind of pointed it out, but another reason to use some sort of shoulder rest is that it limits the slipperiness between the back of your fiddle and your shirt. Even if your neck is short enough (or your fiddle thick enough) to merit not using a typical shoulder rest, something that keeps the fiddle from sliding around on your shoulder is a good idea. I’ve seen people use thin cloth towels, though I’m not sure how that’s much of an improvement over laying the fiddle directly on your shoulder.
Anyway, more food for thought. There ought to be some very thin shoulder rest options out there if the height difference is part of your concern.