Monday, April 30, 2007

Small Left Hand Changes: Big Musical Differences

While preparing for my recital on Saturday I noticed that the only way I could get a free-sounding vibrato in the upper register (on the E-string) was if my thumb was a 16th of an inch more under the neck of the violin. Then I started wondering if my vibrato in lower positions could benefit from the same slight adjustment, and bam, it made a huge difference. I also noticed that my left thumb had been constantly changing position depending on where I was on the neck of the instrument, and that it would sometimes bend, creating a bunch of tension in the rest of my hand (I always correct my students when they do this, but somehow I had neglected to fix it in my own left hand), making the angle of my fingers on the fingerboard less than ideal.

I was able to correct some of this in the few days between my discovery and the concert, and now I have been practicing with a specific focus on keeping my left-hand thumb in the same relaxed position relative to the rest of my hand no matter where I am on the instrument.

I realized that it is exactly the same concept that I used to use in flute playing: the idea of a flute emboucher that works for every single note on the instrument without having to adjust the angle or the lips or create tension in the facial muscles. Having a flute emboucher that works in such a way requires a lot of development of other muscles in the body, particularly the supporting diaphragm muscles, the tongue, the facial muscles, and the muscles that keep the throat open.

Developing a left hand position on the violin that works like an ideal flute emboucher also requires development of supporting muscles, especially the muscles in the left arm that supports the fiddle. These muscles come into play with me in particular because I don't use a shoulder rest. This fraction of an inch difference in my left hand has changed everything in my playing, even the way my right hand operates. For some reason it seems to have to do less work because my left hand no longer (most of the time) has the useless and energy-consuming task of changing when I move across the strings. Only my bow needs to move from string to string, and it even seems to move more efficiently for some reason. I can now play three notes chords more easily, and shifting from one position to another is a more efficient motion, but one that I need to practice in this new and more efficient way in order for the shifts to be accurate.

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Thomas D said...

Curious. Why is the *left* hand like an embouchure? Surely the right hand is more like the embouchure, in that they both create the timbre (rather than the pitch). Also I don't see why one should want or need any aspect of technique to be constant from one note to another, unless it necessarily made for a better musical result.

All part of the modern violinist's assumption that vibrato creates the tone, I guess.

Elaine Fine said...

Actually the right hand is more like the air and the muscles that support the airstream. The embouchure on the flute does nothing to "make" the sound--that is the business of the air itself.

Tension in the embouchure can mess up everything that a flute player tries to do with the air, which is similar to the fact that tension in the left hand can mess up a perfectly good bow arm.

Anonymous said...

As a completely nonmusical person who stumbled upon your blog, I wanted to tell you this was fascinating!