The Violinist’s Left Hand

violin left handPlacing fingers precisely for correct note pitches is a foundation skill of playing the violin. It’s much harder for string players than other instrumentalists to play in tune. There are no keys or frets on a violin, although a well-known maker of student violins tried (and failed – with notched fingerboards!) Forming the notes is a wonderful and exacting part of string playing, enabling us to play with more melodic freedom and expression than fixed note instruments, but it comes at a cost. We must work long and hard learning how to pitch notes accurately.

Fingerboard tapes to the rescue!

Tapes on the fingerboard show beginners where to place the fingers. They are a great head start. Eventually they wear off or are removed. We fit our young beginners’ violins with narrow pinstripe tapes. They must be placed by a teacher or expert player. I fit them so that the leading edge is in tune.

Regardless of how accurately the tapes are placed, the ear is the final judge of pitch. More detailed instruction about playing in tune is in the intonation PDF on the resources page.

Teaching Left hand Position in 5 steps:

  1. Start with basic violin posture. Extend the left hand out, placing the pad of the thumb at the first tape. Keep a straight thumb. The tip should be about level with the top of the fingerboard.
  2. First finger touches near the nut, before the second joint – the one closest to the palm.
  3. Keep the wrist straight, with the arm directly underneath the fingerboard.
  4. Place fingers one, two, three and four at the fingerboard tapes on the A string at the edge of the tapes – B (1st finger), C# (2nd), D (3rd) and E (4th) – on the pads, so that the tip joint is angled, not vertical. (Why? It will help with vibrato later on.)
  5. Keep a relaxed space between the thumb and first finger under the fingerboard – be careful not to squeeze!

Now simply hold this position and relax. Listen to the music. Make a habit to carefully place the fingers in position each time before starting to play. This establishes correct left hand posture and keeps the finger in close proximity to the fingerboard. Taking time to get it right in the beginning avoids corrective work later.

Learn from famous violinists.

Look at the posture of these violinists – the relaxed arms and hands, straight wrists and violins on shoulders.

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn’s balanced violin posture. Arms relaxed, left arm under the violin, straight wrist, bowhold curved and soft.

Maxim Vengerov

Maxim Vengerov

 

 

 

 

Maxim Vengerov demonstrates virtuoso posture. Left arm under the violin, straight wrist, perfect bowhold.

 

 Tasmin Little’s violin hold and relaxed left arm and hand – typical of the great players.

Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinchas Zukerman shows us the ideal left hand and wrist.

Pinchas Zukerman

Pinchas Zukerman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other great examples: Janine Jansen, Gil Shaham and Joshua Bell.

Janine Jansen

Janine Jansen

Gil Shaham

Gil Shaham

 

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK that’s the intro to left hand. I hope you find the post useful. And I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Cheers, John.

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