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How To Make Your Wrist Work for You!

by Janet Farrar Royce

The Debate

Keeping the left wrist lowered and away from the neck of the violin has always been a great concern of classically trained violinists that leaves most fiddlers in befuddled amazement.

Violinists maintain that a well placed left-hand will result in better sound, intonation and agility and offers optimum strength and flexibility for obstacle-free and reliably accurate performing. To achieve this ideal posture the wrist must hang down straight away from the neck of the instrument and the hand and arm must create a smooth, continuous curved line. The ball of the thumb should rest against the finger board, with the tip pointing straight up; and the fingers should be arched above the finger board, with both finger joints bent.

Fiddlers contend that they have ample strength and flexibility to achieve all their playing goals without concentrating on a specific hand position. If a low wrist is the most advantageous playing position, they argue, shouldn't all players find this the most comfortable and natural way to hold the left arm?

The Biology

In order to understand why violinists think it is better to keep your wrist in a more straight than bent position, you need to understand the biology of the hand and the technical needs of the performer of art music.

There are no muscles in the fingers, only tendons that are connected to a muscle in the upper arm. The main job of the muscles is to provide the impetus of movement and strength to follow through. The tendons are the strings that the muscles pull to make, in this case, the fingers work.

Messages between the fingers and their controlling muscles must be sent and received in a path that travels through the wrist and elbow joints. We have joints primarily to lend flexibility to our movements. In order to get our muscle strength to our fingers, the joints must allow messages to transfer strength through them. To accomplish this, the joints must abandon their primary role of flexibility.
In short, you are not meant to be able to bend your wrist back (flexibility) and wiggle your fingers up and down (muscle strength) at the same time. Try pulling your hand back so that your wrist is bent, and wiggle your fingers vigorously. You feel an uncomfortable pull in your wrist.

When we continuously require our wrists and elbows to transmit the message of strength and contribute flexibility at the same time we are placing great stress on the tendons in the restricted area of the joints. Your body can exhibit almost super human ability to do whatever you command of it for brief periods of emergency, but continuing such activities must create problems.

The first signal of trouble is that the tendons simply stop transmitting the messages from the muscle to their intended area. That is when we lose control over our golf club or tennis racket swing, and we can't seem to make our fingers do our bidding on the piano, computer keyboard or violin finger board. If we persist in over taxing our tendons water builds up around them to protect them and keep them cool and the sheaths around them swell. In the limited area of our joints this becomes very painful and as the swelling continues into the limbs area, we develop what is known as tendonitis. If we continue to push the issue, the swelling of the sheaths stretches them beyond ever being able to completely shrink back to normal. The pain becomes continuous and sometimes the fingers and/or arms experience periods of paralysis. This condition is called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and you must now live with a sensitive condition for the rest of your life. Surgery to slit the sheaths is not always effective and can even exacerbate the situation.

If the music you play requires a lot of vibrato and shifting, particularly moving back down to the lower positions where you cannot hold the instrument with your hand while you shift, the dangers of a having a bent wrist while you play become immediate and important. For fiddlers who do not go into the upper positions or use vibrato as much as their classical counterparts, these concerns are not as pressing and may even take a back seat to being able to holding the fiddle against the chest so that they call a dance!

Many fiddlers just move their wrist slightly away from the neck when they want to shift, vibrate or play a passage of extended fast notes. But this takes thought, extra effort and time and even a player with adequate strength and flexibility available to play whatever they want, may find that increased strength and flexibility will allow them to achieve the same goals more easily and even allow them to discover greater heights of performing.

Finally, there is always some danger for all bowed string players of developing these crippling syndromes - and the more, the faster and the harder you play the greater your risk. These painful, debilitating and even chronic conditions are the most common ailment of string players whose instruments are positioned horizontally.

If you want to be sure to avoid any problems the easiest solution is to learn how to hold your wrist in neck-free position. end of part one

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 intrical part of the curriculum of mainstream string instrumental music.

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