FAQ on fiddle playing techniques
by Ryan J Thomson
My violin bow keeps bouncing when I play:
1. Bows can be very different from each other, some tend to bounce more than others. Try
2. Try loosening the hair tension a bit, this usually helps.
3. Change the place on the bow which touches the strings when you get the bouncing
phenomena. (move towards either the frog or the tip a bit)
4. Practice bowing with your arm more relaxed.
Suggestions about holding violin and bow:
Dear fiddler, I can offer a few suggestions to try. I use a technique which is controversial
and not accepted by all teachers, that is, putting the thumb of the left hand under the
neck far enough so that no other part of the hand even touches the neck, including the
first finger or the palm. This works very well for me and many of my students. I have small
hands also, and this makes shifting and reaching the low strings much easier. My thumb
always stays under the neck, and nestles close enough to the scroll so I can feel where the
neck begins to curve.
The point where it begins to curve is my anchor, or point of reference so that my thumb
always know where to be. I keep my wrist absolutely straight, not twisted or bent, and
bring my elbow in toward the center of my body, which also helps reaching the lower
strings. If you keep your wrist straight, it shouldn't hurt. I wouldn't do anything with your
left hand which causes pinching, constriction or tightened muscles.
With your bowing hand, I would keep your thumb joint bent at all times, though, rather
than perfectly straight and locked, as some teachers teach. Again, this a controversial idea
but it works well for me. good luck, Ryan Thomson
December 6, 2001
Just read your comments about left hand postition....YAY! Finally an answer that makes
sense to me...I'm quite small and have struggled with my lousy 4th finger (and keeping the
other 3 down) forever. I've asked and asked for advice, but no one EVER suggested moving
my thumb.....WOW what a difference.!
Okay ....now...how do those of us with puny hands and fingers manage double stops more
precisely? (see, now I think you know everything)
I'm happy to have helped out. I have a friend with small hands that plays on a "7/8th" size
violin. It sounds the same as a full size violin with a shorter string length so its easier to
make long stretches for double stopped octaves and other techniques. Double stops do
take a lot of practice though, for anyone. Another tip: I have the string height above my
fingerboard set as absolutely low as possible at the nut so the strings are easy to press
down, and I can play faster with less energy expended. The fingerboard itself is scallopped
just the right amount. My e string is almost sitting on the fingerboard. My bridge is
standard height however, since you can't sacrifice at that end. My violin is set up very
precisely by a violin maker that I trust.
Tension/ tiredness, and pain in fingers after 45 minutes:
Everyone gets somewhat tired after extensive work on a new piece or scale. Try playing
only 20 minutes, take a 15 minute break, repeat. Try breaking up your playing to several
short periods a day. Relax your finger/arm/shoulder/back muscles completely between
I recently suffered a disability that made me have to relearn how to play violin all over
again left handed, after I had been playing right handed for many years. Like yourself, I had
to go through aches, pains, and numbness all over again. Fortunately, I had the knowledge
of stretching and relaxation techniques to help me along the second time.
Yehudi Menuhin wrote a great book on yoga, stretching, and relaxation techniques for
violinists, which gave me lots of good ideas which I used when I entered a very important
fiddle contest. Many of the top contestants took a shot of alcohol before their turn, in
order to be more relaxed. I did 15 minutes of yoga relaxation, including a "shoulder
stand." (I did quite well in the contest)
Some of my classical music associates use a prescription muscle relaxant that they take
before important performances. I'd prefer working on muscle relaxation techniques
instead. Good luck with your concerto!
I'm left handed, what are my playing options?
You are in luck, and can choose to play either left or right handed! Read this article. I also
suggest that you read my book:
Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed, which is a compendium of info on left handed
playing from the experiences of over 100 other lefty players. Also, for teaching yourself
fiddle go to this link - Left Handed Fiddling for Beginners.
This article written by Ryan J Thomson, 2004