Ask the Teacher
A student in Nebraska asks:
"My left hand gets so tight when I play fast or when I play double stops. Can you help?"
Dr. Kirsten Yon
Associate Professor of Violin
University of Houston
The first knuckle -
the â€œsilent bullyâ€ of the left hand
Often when we speed up difficult passagework, our left first base knuckle (the joint where the finger meets the palm) can tighten into the hand. The first base knuckle can accidentally turn into the â€œsilent bullyâ€ of your hand because it is the strongest finger in everyday use and it is the natural contact reference for the violin neck. When it tightens, it creates a web of tension that engages the thumb as a v-shaped clamp on the opposite side of the neck and leads the first and second base knuckles to lock together as if magnetized, constricting all movements of the fingers, hand, and wrist, pulling them away from the fingerboard and holding your hand hostage. It can be easy to miss, as the primary point of tension is hidden out of sight just under and to the side of the fingerboard. Releasing this point allows your freed hand to feel and play double stops and lightning-fast passage work with ease!
Here are a few tips:
- Practice fast passagework with â€œghost" notes, only using harmonic-weight in your fingertips. Notice where your tension enters and look for any tension patterns (particular fingers, combinations, etc.). Slowly add finger weight back until you reach the point of full-sounding notes.
- Let your first base knuckle joint enjoy a flexible connection to the neck, letting it â€œbreatheâ€ instead of cementing itself to the neck. Allow your hand's weight to shift across all the knuckles as needed instead of being locked into the first finger.
- â€œWhat goes down must come up!â€ We think so much about dropping our fingers into place but rarely give the same attention to their release. This tension creates a constant battle! Practice mindfully releasing your finger weight immediately after playing a note, letting it rest weightlessly on the string after its initial weighted articulation, to help your hand feel springy and loose. This works especially well for double stops, as it enables your hand to move to each new chord without leftover tension baggage from the last chord.