How To Make Your Wrist Work for You!

Part Two

by Janet Farrar Royce

The Secret: It's Not How You Hold Your Wrist, It's How You Balance Your Instrument!

If you are not securely balancing your instrument, then you will naturally bring the wrist up to support it. If you feel secure in the positioning of your instrument, then you will most often develop a relatively optimal left-hand wrist naturally.

The real issue may be a simple term that belies a very important concept: it is that we think of holding the violin (grasping it between your shoulder and your chin).

In the first place, most people's necks are longer than the violin is deep, so holding the fiddle will most often make the shoulder must rise up to meet the chin, causing muscle tension. Or, the chin may be lowered down onto the instrument with enough force to secure the instrument in place. Either situation greatly reduces flexibility, inhibits a rapport between the player and their instrument and simply doesn't work.

You can compensate for these problems by attaching all kinds of contraptions to the bottom of your instruments and this solution may reduce the physical strain, but the instrument is now held in a rigid position that results in a barrier between the player and his instrument. The real issue has not been addressed.

The real solution to these technical problems lies in the word, "substitution". It is a case of semantics, but it is an important conceptual difference. Don't think of holding your violin at all. Think of balancing it!

Balancing Your Instrument

I ask the reader to try this: hold your violin by placing the ball of your right-hand thumb on the back of your instrument (directly underneath the chin rest) and the tips of your four fingers on the chin rest. You can feel the strain in your wrist and lower arm and your hand may even wobble.

Now hold out your right hand, palm facing up, to make a flat shelf of your four fingers and lay the lower back of the instrument on top of it. Catch the chin rest with the tip of your thumb and your violin will balance there with much less stress!

Transfer this principle to "holding" your instrument. Think of the space between your shoulder and your collarbone as a shelf to lay the violin on. Now turn your (whole) head to the left, as if you were trying to look over your shoulder, and lower your entire head until your chin just touches the chin rest. Catch the chin rest with your chin and your instrument will stand out, seemingly on its own! Because most of us do not have perfect posture or physiques, you might want to lean back just a little, so that your instrument is more parallel with the floor.

Your instrument should feel weightless and at first you may feel like you are going to drop it. That's because you aren't holding it in place! Your instrument should bounce lightly when you talk and you should be able to be readily slide the instrument forward over your chest or back onto your shoulder.

To get used to this new sensation you might try practicing putting your fiddle in playing position several times while you keep your left hip against a bed or couch. Soon you will find what a joy the great freedom and total lack of tension that this way of keeping your instrument in place will bring to you.

You might want to secure a small, soft sponge to the back of your instrument with an elastic band, for the comfort of your collarbone and to fill in the gaps in your physique.

Placement of the Left Hand

The left hand is now free from having to help support the instrument and is ready to be situated for optimal facility and endurance.

No matter where you place your first finger on the finger board, it is really the imaginary line that can be drawn between the ball of your thumb and the base joint of the index finger that establishes the location of your hand on the finger board. Your index (first) finger may be higher (#) or lower (b) than that line, but that should not change the rest of the hand position.

Therefore, the placement of the base joint of your index finger is of great importance in arranging the entire left hand. For fiddling, this joint is best placed aligned with the nut of the finger board.

The position of your thumb and its relationship to the base joint of the index finger completes the hand arrangement in what can be an advantageous or disadvantageous playing position. The thumb may be located with more variety, in response to the formation of each person's hand. The best beginning position, however, is with the thumb pointed directly up. The ball of the thumb should rest against the side of the finger board, exactly where the regular first finger position is (the notes A, E, B and F# on the violin). If the thumb is going to deviate from this position; I advocate placing it higher on the finger board (between the first and second finger), not lower (between the first finger and the nut of the finger board). This position makes the hand "smaller" on the finger board, where allowing the thumb to lean back creates a greater stretch to reach each note.

Now you don't have to consider placing the wrist at all! Just allow the rest of the hand to hang loosely below the neck of the instrument! You might even think of the hand and arm as dead weight, although be careful about giving the image of weight to any part of the set-up. The wrist and arm will naturally lay straight! If the wrist arches up a little and you are comfortable, that should be okay, too. If you encourage the elbow forward then you should be left with a "textbook-perfect" left hand position that will facilitate all aspects of your playing.

Will you ever find yourself collapsing your wrist? Of course you will! Sometimes you're just tired and slouching forward. It could be that your instrument is too large or heavy or that you need to reposition your sponge. But if the problem persists, begin by reviewing your balance - and the wrist usually falls into it's most natural placement.

With this new understanding of the biology of playing, this tension-free and more natural approach to placing and positioning your instrument, you should find a marked improvement in your playing ease and facility!

Conservatory trained and with more than a 30 year professional career of classical music under her bow, Janet Farrar-Royce has spent the last four years studying and performing American fiddle music. Fiddling has has become a passion that she shares in musical arrangements, articles and national workshops, where she encourages the inclusion of fiddling as an integral part of the curriculum of mainstream string instrumental music.

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