Developing the Left Hand Frame

June 14th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 04: Virtuosity | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Position and Alignment

Keep your hand directly above your forearm; do not twist or cock the wrist. Imagine a line runs through your second finger, across the back of your hand and into your forearm; make that line straight.

Relax the heel of your hand to bring the third and fourth fingers closer to the neck. Your fingernails should face you as much as possible; try not to torque the forearm, as this will introduce tension into the forearm..

Find the ideal arch shape (the “C”) for your fingers. The first joint should be below the second. The faster the passage, the more you play on the tips.

For all fast passages and when training the frame, balance your hand on the third and fourth fingers – NOT the first and second! Start by placing the fourth finger on the string; place the others behind it. You should be able to keep all four fingers on the string in the various finger patterns.

 

Finger Patterns

Most frequently used:

Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step

Whole, Half, Whole

Half, Whole, Whole

Whole, Whole, Whole

Half, Augmented Second, Half

Practice chromatically and diatonically. Group fingers in the air.


Action

Move from the base knuckle. Visualize each finger moving as if on a little railroad track. Move backward to a specific point in space.

For clear finger work in slurred passages, practice with high lifts and drops. Then when playing, keep the fingers hovering close to the string as you ascend; have each finger in place before lifting the previous one as you descend. Anticipate string crossings by forming double or multiple stops in advance.

Each finger must be able to lift and drop without affecting other fingers. The hand and wrist must be quiet and still, not tense, but in neutral. No wobbling!

The faster we play, the lighter the fingers should feel. The action is quick but not heavy.

 

Independence of Fingers

Doublestop exercises are ideal for training the frame. Some examples are Sevcik Opus 1 Part 4, Kourgeouf, and Dounis.

Left hand pizzicato exercises are ideal for training the muscles of the finger in lifting and dropping.

The Movable Elbow: Left Arm Alignment

June 14th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Connecting to the Shoulder Blade:

Put your left arm up in playing position. Reach back with your elbow, stretching out from the armpit. Can you feel the connection of your elbow into your shoulder blade? Now scoop around and forward as you shift to a high note. Notice how the space under your arm is maintained. What is the track of your thumb? Can you feel how you are initiating the movement from the back?

Keeping Openness:

As you shift, do not crunch your upper arm into your side and do not squeeze your bicep; instead try to find open spaces. Even as you shift up try to come around an invisible balloon in your elbow, so that it doesn’t squeeze shut. Imagine that your entire arm is making a giant “C” shape.

Finding the Balance in High Positions:

When you are in high positions, try to find the “C” shape; if your fingers are elongated they will be weak and unable to press the string down with its additional tension nearer the bridge, so make sure that your elbow has come around the violin as much as is necessary to allow the hand and fingers to find a good balance. An arch shape will be stronger than a flattened one. Check your base knuckles – they should be relaxed and springy, never hard. (Exercises: Tapping to the Left of the Fingerboard, Pancake Hand)

Moving for Chords:

Keeping your wrist directly above your forearm, place your fourth finger on each string in turn. In order to keep the alignment, the elbow must move as you change strings. Experiment with the best position of the elbow and notice how when you have the proper alignment it is much easier to vibrate and feel the finger relax into the string.
This elbow support has enormous consequences when playing multiple stops. In solo Bach, correct placement of the elbow will give the advantage to the finger (voice) you wish to bring out. Even the pressure of the fingers should not be equal; you should be able to feel to melody finger more deeply.

  1. Opening up the hand – invite, encourage, do not insist!
    1. Play all stretching and widening exercises pp at first, to release and melt the webbing between the fingers.
    2. Keyes sliding: hold one finger, slide other fingers up one at a time, do not allow held finger to buckle or move. Keep wrist in relaxed but straight line.
    3. Kourgouf sliding: place all four fingers on string, slide each finger up one half-step, beginning with fourth finger; do not allow hand, wrist or other fingers to move; then slide back down beginning with first finger.
    4. Dounis Daily Dozen #3 – sliding.
    5. Stretching: 3 fingers in third position on E string, first finger on A string, slide first finger back to first position, do not allow other fingers to move or buckle.  Continue with successive fingers.
    6. Dounis stretching: Artist’s Technique of Violin Playing, pp. 24-29.  1-2 minutes maximum, no finger pressure whatsoeverBe very careful of this one!
    7. Simon Fischer Basics: “Widening at the Base Joints”
    8. Simon Fischer Basics: “Minimum Finger Pressure”
    9. Simon Fischer Basics: Thumb Spa, Thumb Counterpressure
    10. Dounis Daily Dozen # 2 – holding and releasing.
  2. Framing the hand – all the world is a quadruplestop!
    1. The fourth finger is king, and the hand is balanced and energized between third and fourth fingers, while releasing and reaxing in thumb, index and second fingers.
    2. The wrist is relaxed but straight.
    3. The hand is melted and released to bring the third and fourth fingers closer to the neck/fingerboard.
    4. Think finger patterns at all times – on string and in the air.
    5. Keyes finger patterns on one string – chromatic and diatonic.
    6. Galamian one-position scales. Hold fourth finger down continuously.
    7. Doublestop for string crossings.
    8. Sevcik Opus 1 Part IV # 2 – holding and releasing.
    9. Kourguof – holding and releasing.
    10. Schradieck “The School of Violin Techniques” Vol. 1 pp. 2-4 – air patterning and releasing.
    11. Kreutzer #9 – air patterning and releasing.  Use second finger to fourth as much as possible.
    12. Sitt 50 Daily Finger Exercises.

 

 

Calm Shoulders

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Avoid the drawstring effect

Many violinists crunch their shoulders up and their heads down into the violin. This shortens the muscles of each arm and greatly affects sound and left hand facility. It also isolates the arm from the shoulderblade, which is the first bone of the arm.

To avoid this, try the following exercises:

Stand and play with your head against a doorframe. You may feel you have to press backwards with your head in order to maintain contact. Now step away and feel the same backwards, upright position.

In a straight chair, sit with your back against the back of the chair as you play. Maintain contact.

With a partner, take turns holding each other’s heads back. (This is really easy if you have a ponytail!)

Draw an upbow, allowing your head to travel in the same direction as the bow. Draw a downbow, and move your head slightly to the back of the chinrest, in the opposite direction from the bow. Can you feel the slight tug of the string?

Loosening the Head on the Violin

Settle your head into the chinrest gently, balancing the violin with the relaxed weight of your head.

Incorporate Karen Tuttle’s breathing exercises into your bowing: each time you breathe out, allow the head to settle towards the back of the chinrest gently.

As an exercise, play downbows holding the violin with your left hand as you move your head around; play upbows with your head gently relaxing into the chinrest as you take your left thumb off the neck of the violin. Are there moments in your music where you could do one or the other, to release muscles?

Interesting Dilemma

Holding still helps your nervous system sort out the fine movements of your hands and arms, because the variables are fewer; but moving releases muscles and combats rigidity. Moving also is often more exciting for the audience. Think of a modern day performer such as Joshua Bell and compare him to videos of Heifetz and Oistrach.  My own experience is that it is generally best to move lyrically during singing lines and slower music, with swaying being preferable to the crunch, to keep the shoulderblades as stable as possible; but it is almost always best to have calm shoulders, a stable violin, and a centered balance which allows your weight to drop through both your feet during fast passages and string crossings. It is also usually true that a stable violin produces a stronger tone.

Try fast passages with your violin scroll on a stand, on a ledge, or against a towel on the wall. You will find that shifts and string crossings are much easier when you do not have a moving target!

Left Hand Relaxation: Why Footies Matter

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Moving from the Shoulderblade:

The left arm works more easily when movement initiates from the back and shoulderblade, rather than from the small muscles between the shoulder and hand.

EXERCISE: Take the left elbow back behind and away from the body; scoop under the violin and forward.     Keep the inside of the arm soft.  Initiate the motion from the back and shoulderblade.

EXERCISE: Swing up and tap the body of the violin to the left of the G string with all four fingers.

EXERCISE: Remember to stabilize the shoulderblade, keeping it near the spine, so that the left arm does not collapse into the side of the body, but instead maintains a lovely relaxed open space. Notice how the inside of the armpit feels soft.

EXERCISE: Hug a tree while keeping the shoulderblades back. Notice how maintaining your shoulderblades’ positions in relation to the spine helps the arms feel lighter and more relaxed.

 

Alignment:

At all times we should strive for the easiest, most natural positions when playing the violin. When muscles stream into each other, the electric nerve signals can pass through unimpeded. Avoid breaking the lines of the wrist and arm; keep roundness, curvature, and openness wherever possible.

EXERCISE: Compare playing with the wrist forward and collapsed, backwards, or neutral and straight.

EXERCISE: Pair up and hang each other’s arms, first in the air and then on the violin. Really relax and let  your arm become dead weight. Does it matter if your finger is arched or flat?

Relaxing the hand to get into position:

We need to be able to get the heel of the hand close to the neck of the violin, so that our 3rd and 4th fingers do not overreach, flatten, or strain. In order to hold the all-important octave frame in comfort, our hand must soften and relax.

EXERCISE: Using the right hand to hold the violin perpendicular to the floor, bring it around into position under your chin, allowing the left hand to follow passively. Do the same thing with a pencil, curving your     left fingers and pushing down while your right hand  turns the pencil into violin position.

EXERCISE: Massage the webbing between the fingers. Visualize the tissues opening and melting.

EXERCISE: Start with the hand perpendicular to fingerboard and the palm facing you. Use your right hand to melt the left knuckles in, ironing them gently into the neck of the violin.  Hold the position and notice how relaxed your arm feels. Repeat several times. Now get into that same position only by turning the     arm. Notice the tension in the forearm. Do the fingers move as freely?

With all stretching exercises, your goal is to allow the hand to open – never force, and never overpress. Think of your hand as relaxing apart, with the 1st and 2nd fingers melting back towards the pegs and the 3rd and 4th energetically reaching forward.  I call this “split hand.”

EXERCISE: Dounis Stretchback from 4th Position – place 3 fingers on the E string; gently slide the 1st finger    as far back as is comfortable on the A string. Repeat, leave in place, and then place 2nd finger on A string. Continue with all fingers. Do NOT allow other fingers to move. Do NOT overpress

EXERCISE: Simon Fischer contrary motion; also slide up and down a half step with each finger. Keep your fingernails facing you.

Keeping the fingernails facing you (this is called pronation) will result in easier manipulation of the spaces between your fingers, improving your intonation and solidifying your finger patterns.

EXERCISE: Simon Fischer Fingertip Placement

EXERCISE: Simon Fischer Thumb Spa – relaxing the thumb. Also try resting scroll gently on a stand.

 

The Footie:

Loosen the 1st joint to broaden the point of contact to aid in the transfer of the weight from the arm.  Do NOT flatten the finger; the 2nd joint should remain higher than the 1st. This is especially important in high positions and while shifting!

Fourth Finger (Left Hand)

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Exercises for Strengthening (do just a little each day!)

  • Kreutzer #9 using 2-4 instead of 1-3, every time. Lift and drop cleanly and quickly for maximum articulation. Build speed slowly.
  • Simon Fischer Basics pp. 126-127. You’ll be amazed how quickly your finger gains strength and therefore speed.
  • Sevick Opus 1 Part 4: Numbers 19 and 20. Left-hand pizzicato, with as much 4th finger use as possible.

Exercises for Loosening (be gentle and light!)

  • Practice entire concerto ONLY vibrating on 4th finger. Vibrating makes you connect the finger back into the elbow; thus you are encouraging ONLY the 4th finger to feel its balance and connection.
  • Dounis Artist’s Technique: shifting exercise on pp. 37-40 – the pattern using 123 (4-1-4) – 1234; 423 (1-4-1) -4321.

Do this exercise ppp in both hands at first, so that your shift into  the 4th finger lands softly, lovingly and easily.

  • All the Simon Fischer Basics vibrato exercises are good; pp. 213-226. Especially note Numbers 275, 277, 279, 285, 286, 289, 293, and 299.
  • Place all fingers on string and lightly slide the 4th finger up, keeping the lower fingers still. If you need to help the finger move at first, use the right hand to train it. The more it can separate up from the 3rd finger, the more open the webbing between the fingers will become.

To Do:

  • Keep heel of hand (the fleshy part underneath the fourth finger, on the left side of the palm and hand) as soft as possible, especially while putting pressure on 4th finger.
  • Experiment with where you put the pad of the finger – on my hand, placing the 4th finger with as much flesh lying on the string as possible (ergo, a flat pad and fingertip) automatically softens the heel of my hand; playing on the point, with a strong square shape, hardens it. (You can feel your left hand with your right hand to find out.)
  • Feel the 4th finger going up and over a large soft space (I think cloud) as you put it down for a lyric note. You can shift from each finger in each low position into the 4th finger. Loosen everything and keep the inside of the hand relaxed as you land.
  • Try playing on your right arm with the 4th finger; vibrate, feel the softness of the contact, and feel the connection from the 4th finger all the way up into the elbow.
  • Lift the 1st and 2nd fingers and see if the hand opens up to vibrate more freely.
  • Eventually, see if you can feel the 4th finger all the way back into your freely sliding left shoulder blade!