Natural Left Hand Technique and Common Misconceptions

dancing violin player

When playing becomes second nature

by Rozanna Weinberger

One of the biggest challenges for advancing players is a comfortable left hand technique, including the ability to go from note to note without excessive strain as well as sound finger action & vibrato. There have been many great teachers of string playing, but two come to mind as pioneers shedding light on a more natural use of our bodies, intrinsic to functionality of the skeletal system and muscles. Karen Tuttle and DC Dounis introduced valuable technical understanding utilizing balance, weight and emphasis on minimum effort. In particular the ease or difficulty with which the player went from one note to the next is at the heart of a truly balanced technique.

With respect to left hand technique, DC Dounis stressed developing vertical and horizontal motion. Dounis emphasized an effective finger action could be achieved with fingers nicely curved in relation to finger board whereas the horizontal motion encompasses shifting and even vibrato.

The whole mechanism of shifting consists of knowing how to connect the positions. To master this technicality, the violinist should always remember that each finger must have as a guide another finger, and that the preceding finger is the most natural guide for every finger.

With a systematic set of etudes designed to help the fingers become acquainted with patterns and distances on the fingerboard, the player can cultivates a balanced feeling in the hand by allowing weight to transfer from one note to the next.  And yes, while Dounis suggests that effective shifting can be accomplished by going from one finger to the next while keeping the preceding finger down, perhaps the most crucial point is that when the player does finally lift the proceeding note to make the split second leap to the next finger, the hand/fingers must also transfer weight and balance to that next finger. In that split second of transfer of weight the hand/fingers are able to release & rebalance for the next note. Every note of the fingerboard requires a slightly different orientation of the hand so the weight can be transferred into the finger.

Many players make the mistake of thinking that maintaining a shifting finger means the hand should be oriented from the 1st finger. When this happens,  players will have a tense squeezing sensation in the thumb and 1st finger, forcing every left hand action to be oriented by the squeezing between the thumb and first finger.  Nothing could be further from the truth if play wants to play with efficiency and ease.

Screenshot 2016-05-16 23.06.16

While horizontal and vertical motion is absolutely essential to left hand technique, Karen Tuttle seemed to take this principal a step further, emphasizing the ‘release’  or ‘momentum’ needed to go from one note to the next’. Referring to the ‘release’ that happens in the wrist preceding any shift, it might be compared to the bending in the knees before one jumps from one point to the next. Momentum is needed to propel us forward and back. A simple release in the wrist is key to facilitating this momentum just as the knees give a jumper momentum.  Imagine for a moment trying to jump from point A to point B without first bending the knees.  Playing a musical instrument isn’t so different from this principal.Unknown

Thumb placement is a common issue for players. There are as many theories about the placement as there are players. But its important to understand that with a balanced feeling in the left hand, the thumb is counterbalancing the fingers.  It is actually a good idea to first discover what the fingers and hand needs to do so the fingers are in a curved shape in relation to the fingerboard. Once this is established THEN the thumb can naturally adjust. to go wherever it feels most natural in relation to the fingers.

‘The object of this work is to indicate a method of solving all of the problems  of higher technique in both hands with the least possible expenditure of time and energy.The whole mechanism in shifting lies in knowing how to connect the positions.’ 

Many players think that playing well mainly involves training the arms and fingers.  But how many think of it as done primarily with the brain and memory?

The true technical training of the violinist is not merely a training of the arm and fingers but, principally, a training of the brain and memory. The fingers and the arm should obey perfectly the intention of the play in order to be able to perform any movement with complete mastery…

The Artists Technique of Violin Playing, DC Dounis

Machine like accuracy can be a virtue!  In many ways the body is a machine and the ideal string technique ought to feel like a well running machine.  That is the underpinning of any great performance combined with a powerful musical voice. As Dounis points out, there are relationships between fingers.  But this is because the brain must assess those ‘measurements’- those distances between notes so it can become automatic or mechanized through repetition. That is the point of etudes dealing with shifting and familiarity with the fingerboard. It is a tactile experience that informs the brain and vice versa.

baseball-player-hit-ball

Batting average is so important to professional baseball players!

Batting Average & Machine Like Accuracy

The difference between machine like exactness  and perfection that a human being can achieve is important to understand.  A machine is hard wired to be exact whereas human beings are not. However we can learn, through trial & error to develop consistency, sufficient to have a very reliable technique and overtime, what might appear like machine like accuracy. A great musicians relies on accuracy and consistency much like a great athlete relies on these qualities.

JaschaHeifetzPlaying

When playing becomes second nature

Most string players believe that practicing a passage over and over again will lead to mastery of a passage.  This is partly true… The HOW is important. Yes REPETITION  is vital, but AWARENESS is key. Do we JUDGE each repetition as good or bad, right or wrong, or do we allow ourselves to cultivate pure, nonjudgemental awareness so the brain can process each repetition and fine tune our movements kinesthetically, on such a subtle level, it defies our willful efforts to control the outcome of a technical passage.

Put a different way, consider how an infant eventually learns to walk.  Through trial & error, a silent learning process is going on with each fall and every wobble as the young child learns to navigate their ability to walk.  But imagine if learning how to walk the same way we teach students to play the violin! First move the foot, then the knee, the the hip, or is it the hip that initiates the walking movement?  Such analysis is not uncommon in acquiring violin technique but it becomes clear why such an approach can be less than optimal if one were learning to walk.  Letting it happen and letting go are often thrown out as goals when trying not to get in the way of oneself by overthinking a technical passage. But when you consider the many movements we do on a daily basis with machine like exactness, such as walking, running and numerous other functionalities we take for granted, it is evident that humans can move with machine like accuracy as well if we can trust the brain to do its job.

Most Common Misconceptions About Bow Technique & Sound Production

by Rozanna Weinberger

For many string players, there is very little about playing a violin, viola or cello that feels natural without plenty of practicing. While no one can avoid plenty of practice to master a piece of music to the point where it is ready for performance, no doubt, discovering the easiest way to perform technically will ensure the player can perform with the least amount of stress.

One of the main points to consider in the bow arm is that where there is an action, there will be a reaction.For example if arm weight is exerted to produce a sound, the hand, wrist & fingers are capable of reacting, just as the instrument will react by producing a sound. And thanks to gravity, if the player initiates movement in the bow arm in a circular fashion, there can be a corresponding sense of weight falling into the string, with the wrist, hand and fingers functioning as shock absorbers to this weight.

Karen Tuttle often spoke about a ‘spun sound’ that has great resonance, with reference to an ideal that could be attained by cultivating a bow arm technique that relies on balance and arm weight rather than excessive force through pressing and over exertion. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that when sound is produced by exerting excessive pressure on the string vertically there is the chance of crushing the sound. And when the sound is produced by relying too much on the hand and fingers rather than the weight of the arm, there will be too much tension in the hand, ultimately limiting ones technical agility.  When this pressure is exerted as a result of the arm weight being dropped into the string as a by product of gravity doing its thing, far less exertion is required.

Screenshot 2016-05-06 13.09.27

Large circular movements of the arm helps student feel the weight of the arm going into the instrument, thanks to the laws of gravity!

Making a simple circular motion with the bow arm helps the playing get a sense of the momentum created by a circular feel when approaching the string to play.  While bringing up the arm to start the circle takes effort, once the maximum height of the circle is reached, there is a ‘falling feeling’ in the arm as the circle is completed.  This ‘falling feeling’ is not unlike the sensation one feels when arm weight is used to produce sound vs. force. 

The bow hand plays an important role in pulling out the sound vs. pressing it. The challenge is to have a feeling of balance in the bow hand which can never happen if the fingers are relied upon to produce the vertical pressure needed to produce the sound. Many many beginners make this mistake. In reference to D.C.  Dounis Principals Of Violin Playing, Valborg Leland stresses the importance of the  right hand as being crucial in producing a spun sound. In a previous blog, reference was made to what Leland calls the ‘natural inclined position’ of the hand. (With arm outstretched in front of body with fingers outstretch, drop the hand as though limp.) This shows the player the natural inclined position in the right hand which needs to be maintained from frog to tip to ensure wrist can have optimal relationship between the arm and hand movements.

Screenshot 2016-05-06 21.51.07

Close up of William Primrose wrist at the tip of the bow. Notice how the wrist is slightly above the hand & fingers.

It is essential that this natural inclined position be maintained as the player plays at different parts of the bow. Whether playing towards the frog or the point, this openness in the right hand (which has been compared to the feeling one has when holding a small orange in the palm of ones hand) is the same open feeling inside the hand that is necessary for a balanced bow hand.

This natural inclined position also functions like a ‘shock absorber’ for the weight of the arm.

Screenshot 2016-05-07 00.54.03

Example of wrist that is bent too much. Once the wrist has too much bend, the natural line of the bow arm is lost, forcing the fingers to work too hard to produce the sound. Hyper pronation of wrist further makes it impossible for wrist to function as shock absorber for arm weight.

 

If the wrist is bent too much, this will stop the weight from reaching the string. Conversely if the wrist is positioned too low in relation to the hand, again the weight will not reach the string but will instead be manifest in the arm alone, unable to be transferred into the string. Many string players make the mistake of allowing the wrist to bend too much.

The elbow produces momentum and the wrist reacts.

  1. Place bow on string at the mid point. Make sure the wrist has the natural curve discussed earlier and allow fingers to relax on the bow as weight is transferred into string.
  2. Begin an up bow towards the frog while maintaining a natural curve in the wrist for the entirely of the bow stroke.
  3. The key to achieving this is by initiating movement with elbow. It is the elbow that drives the weight of the arm and the elbow that ‘moves’ the wrist.  
  4. By allowing the wrist to be a ‘passive component’ of the overall bow stroke, it is possibly to maintain the ‘natural bend’ in the wrist so it can maintain the relationship to the bow, necessary for it to function like a shock absorber for the arm weight into the instrument.
  5. Repeat this same study from the tip of the bow.
  6. Again, it is the elbow that propels the forearm, wrist and hand. 

 

 

 

The Most Common Misconceptions About Right Hand Finger Action

by Rozanna Weinberger

Right hand finger action is a cause for bewilderment by many students. The myth is that the fingers must be trained to move back and forth,  to curl and straighten, to effect a proper bow hold.  While in principal its true these movements need to occur,  the movements are the effect of a chain of events in the bow arm and not the cause of those movements in such bow strokes as spiccato and of course detache & legato.

Screenshot 2016-04-23 02.17.08

Paint bristles react they do not initiate paint brush

To achieve this, Valborg Leland, who was a disciple of pioneering teacher D.C. Dounis explains one must find the *’naturally inclined position’ with respect to the fingers and wrist of the right hand. Once this is achieve the player can develop a feeling of ease in the right hand as fingers can begin to react to the arm weight. The opposite of this effortless feeling is to consciously initiate the finger action of the right hand.  One must conceive the fingers like the bristles of an artists  brush.  The fingers of the right hand are not just shock absorbers for the arm weight, they also react to the movements initiated by the arm, forearm and back when producing a sound.

  1. To find the naturally inclined position Leland suggests to begin by extending the arm in front of self with fingers outstretched.
  2. Allow the hand and fingers to drop as though limp.
  3. Bring the tip of the thumb and middle finger together like playing with a bow. The position created is the ‘natural inclination’ of the fingers and hand when bowing.
  4. The task in maintaining a proper finger technique hinges on maintaining this naturally inclined position. (Some players tend to have the wrist overly pronated because of a lack of balance in the hand, but returning to this very basic motion study well help orient the student to the most natural approach.) 

    Applying this understanding of maintaining the ‘naturally inclined position’ in the right hand can now be applied to actual detache practice.

  5.  Begin by placing the bow on the string at the middle of the bow. Relax the fingers and bow to its ‘naturally inclined’ position.
  6. Using the elbow like a hinge, begin playing by extending the forearm  towards the tip of the bow. The challenge is to not drop the wrist but to maintain this ‘naturally inclined’ position so that even when playing towards the tip of the bow, this relationship of the fingers is one of dangling passively from the hand & wrist.

Many players are inclined to bend the wrist downward too much when playing towards the tip of the bow. The biggest problem with this is that the fingers of the bow hand lose the ability to act like shock absorbers to the weight going into the string. The outcome is that the sound is no longer produced by arm weight into the string  but instead must be produced by pressing into the string with the hand and fingers. The result of such an approach will surely lead to excess tension, a pressed sound lacking resonance and too much effort in producing a sound in general. This extra work may not be obvious in the short term but is certainly felt when playing for an extended period of time.

  • From ‘The Dounis Principals of Violin Playing: Their Meaning and Practical Application’ by Aalborg Leland

Wrist vs Arm Vibrato: Which is better?

Rozannaby Rozanna Weinberger

Throughout my studies it was typical that various teachers would espouse preferences in vibrato,between arm or wrist. D.C. Dounis has an interesting perspective where he goes so far as to say one is inferior to the other. Continuing from the material covered from the interview between Samuel Applebaum and Dounis, this entry will examine more points made regarding optimal vibrato.

*I asked Dr. Dounis if he preferred a wrist vibrato, and his reply was, “Only with the wrist, never with the arm. The forearm moves, but the impulse is at the fingertips, which activates the wrist. The arm follows sympathetically.” 

Ordinarily I wouldn’t go so far as to weigh in on one type of vibrato is better than another however, from a functionality standpoint, I totally agree with Dounis.

The joints are a key aspect to understand why wrist vibrato is preferred and considered a more natural and less strained approach. Yes the arm should move, but the wrist has the ability to react. It can react to the momentum of the forearm and it can react to oscillations of the fingers.  It should not be trained to remain stiff without utilizing the more subtle back and forth movements that are possible.

Screenshot 2015-09-23 23.12.58

These lovely bones.

  1. Start by bringing up the left arm to play  without the instrument.  Allow the forearm to move back  and forth. Notice how the hand reacts, bending forwards and backwards from the wrist in reaction to the arm. This movement can be exaggerated to extend the arm back down to the side then up to playing position.  Regardless, the wrist and hand can respond to the forearm.
  2. Repeat the above but this time make a point of not moving the hand and not allowing it to react. Notice how the wrist and hand become more stiff as tension is required to maintain this position in the hand, wrist and arm. Why would anyone want to play with this kind of feeling in the left hand, when playing in front of people is challenging enough without doing things the hard way. Go back to step 1 and allow the hand and wrist to react to the forearm. Notice the difference.
  3. This time move the wrist back and forth but without the forearm movement. Notice the amount of effort required to ‘move’ the wrist back and forth rather than allowing it to react to a chain reaction of movements in the arm.

(Be sure to relax the arm down to your side between these actions. The point of the movements above are to observe kinesthetically the different sensations during their execution.  If the muscles become overly tired, its more difficult to notice subtle differences – instead the muscles will become overly tense to compensate for fatigue.)

The following is a simple study frequently taught by teachers when introducing vibrato. Sliding the finger back and forth by 1/2 step is shown as a way of feeling the backwards movement of the vibrato. But the key component in developing a more natural and effortless approach is learning to allow the hand to ‘fall back’ with a feeling of release, in much the same way that the back and forth movement of the hand is a reaction to the movement in the arm, as in the above motion study.

Screenshot 2016-04-16 14.17.52

 

While the above study is done slowly, one should aim to cultivate quick oscillations in the fingers. It is important to note Dounis emphasis on movement being initiated by impulse in fingers. This process will become easier because the wrist is able to react to these quick oscillations of the fingers.

In the following section Dounis talks about a simple study to develop sense of balance transferred from finger to finger of the left hand. *“The hand should feel it is poised or balanced on the playing finger.  The transfer of this feelingIn the following section Dounis talks about a simple study to develop sense of balance transferred from finger to finger of the left hand. or balance from one finger to another constitutes the basis for a correctly produced vibrato. This results in a feeling of lightness and freedom in the left hand at all times. 

“Allow me to offer the following suggestions,” he said. “Vibrate on one string with the first and second fingers, both remaining down, on long notes. Then place the second and third fingers down on the string, vibrating with both of them together. Then vibrate with the third and fourth fingers together. Then play various skips, skipping from the first and second fingers to the third and fourth. 

“It is understood from the foregoing,” he added, “that it is an exercise to acquire the ability to be able to transfer the balance of the hand from one finger to another.”

  • Courtesy Byron Duckwell. Based on transcripts of interview with D. C. Dounis while in NYC.  According to sources, this is the only interview in which he spoke about his understanding of technique and proper functionality in string technique. Believed to have been given with Samuel Applebaum for a book.

D. C. Dounis and Natural Left Hand Technique

Discussions on D.C. Dounis, Part 1.a,  by Rozanna Weinberger

There is evidently very little written about how Dounis understood technique or insights into his genius aside from the content of his etude books. My own impression on his contribution to string technique is through his impact on the playing of William Primrose and Karen Tuttles elaboration on those principals through her own understanding of technical mastery on the viola.

Its interesting that D.C. Dounis broke down efficient left hand technique into 3 key parts: vibrato, shifting and finger articulation. *  This in itself is not unique.  However he recognized that probably the greatest challenge in left hand technique is not so much putting down an individual note, but in the ease or difficulty in moving from note to note. A barometer of ones left hand technique can be gaged in playing vibrato from one note to the next, in shifting from note to note and in articulating each finger evenly, which necessitates a balanced and equally weighted feeling in each finger  in any part of the finger board.

dounis

D.C. Dounis

In the following excerpt Dounis talks about the hand being in ‘good working order’. Karen Tuttle might have rephrased that as ‘balance’ in the left hand.

In order for one to have a correctly produced vibrato on any string with any finger, or any combination of fingers, or in any position, the hand must be in good working order. Many players have good vibratos on single notes. The moment, though, they play thirds or tenths, or in the very high positions, their vibrato becomes tense, affecting the suppleness of the entire left hand.”*

It is so true that when the hand is not balanced or in ‘good working order’ there is an awkwardness in playing vibrato from note to note, with excessive tension resulting. Another characteristic of discomfort going from note to note applies to the feeling when playing double or triple stops and the hand being excessively strained and stretched. Tension in the thumb is a result as is a wrist that will tend to poke out in the opposite direction of the instrument.

it really does come down to fractional sized adjustments that happen between every single note, which are made and these adjustments require the fingers, wrist and hand essentially release and rebalance for every single note and part of the finger board.  While complex sounding, once mastered ones playing feels effortless.

How to discover the flow?  Perhaps the best any teacher can  do is offer clues on what ought to be happening in the left hand. The WRIST is probably one of the best barometers and can be the basis for much focus.

  1. Bring left hand up and touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the 1st finger, then the thumb to the middle finger, the third finger then finally the thumb to the pinky.
  2. Observe the wrist and what naturally occurs when finger is released from a note.  There is a symbiotic response in the wrist. Chances are the wrist ‘released’ between each finger.
  3. The release of the wrist would be characterized by bending inward.

Taking this simple observation to the next level is done by applying it to playing the instrument. The challenge then becomes observing what tends to happen based on the habitual patterns that have been ‘practiced in’ but also, just as importantly, the possibilities that exist when one can finally notice the excess tension one tends to hold in the wrist rather than release. But once this release is achieved, the hand will feel as if its molding itself around the finger board.

Below is a simple movement study that can be done on all strings. The key is to allow wrist to release ‘in’ between notes rather than bent outward away from the instrument. Such a posture is counterintuitive to the most streamlined use of ones hands, wrist & arm.Screenshot 2016-04-13 19.54.41

  • Courtesy Byron Duckwell. Based on transcripts of interview with D. C. Dounis while in NYC.  According to sources, this was believed to be the only interview in which he spoke about his understanding of technique aside from his technique books. Interviewed by Samuel Applebaum.

Violin company inspires music creativity in kids

Login | March 11, 2016

Violin company inspires music creativity in kids

SHERRY KARABIN
Legal News Reporter

Published: March 10, 2016

Akron native Rozanna Lee Weinberger said she grew up dreaming of one day being accepted to The Juilliard School.

She started playing piano at 4, viola at 9 and was composing music in first and second grade.

“I entered several different citywide contests for composers because of the encouragement of my music teacher Mrs. Hess at Schumacher Elementary School,” said Weinberger. “I won first prize for several years consecutively.

“I come from a musical family. My mother was an opera singer and my three older brothers each played an instrument. Growing up we would have family concerts.”

Weinberger’s childhood friend Mary Nurches Ciesa said visiting her home was like going to a music studio.

“Her entire upstairs was filled with musical instruments, music stands and sheet music,” said Ciesa, a nurse practitioner who lives in Bath Township.

“Rozanna was a very talented young girl,” said Elizabeth Guran, senior lecturer in the Department of Disaster Science & Emergency Services at The University of Akron. “We grew up two blocks from one another and I always envisioned her going on to accomplish great things.”

Today Weinberger lives in New York City and co-owns Rozanna’s Violins. Her journey to entrepreneurship is only part of the story.

While attending Firestone High School, Weinberger performed in the Akron Youth Symphony Orchestra and took lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

She received her bachelor’s degree in music performance from the prestigious Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

“After Peabody I went to the University of Western Ontario to work on my master’s degree and was one of the first Americans to perform at the Canadian Opera Company.”

Weinberger completed her master’s degree at Juilliard, going on to have concertos written for her. She also performed on the runway during Fashion Week in New York City, on Broadway, in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and at many other events.

In 2010, she started Rozanna’s Violins to help “nurture children’s creativity and imagination.” The high-quality colorful violins feature unique designs created by artists from all over the world.

Weinberger said it made sense that while children might not understand the value of a wood violin they would be “inspired to play on instruments that resonate with their creative imaginations.”

She said the idea for the company first occurred to her after reading an article in The New York Times about Juilliard graduates who were unable to find work.

“It led me to believe that students needed to be taught at a young age to be more creative and to think ‘outside the box,’” said Weinberger. “I wanted to find a way to engage them not only in the sound of the music but through visuals.

“So many students coming out of the conservatories today have a cut-and-dry approach,” she said. “They want to play in an orchestra or maybe teach, but they can’t think much beyond that. By cultivating their creativity early on, my hope is that they will come up with more unique ways to use their training.

“This is especially important in today’s climate since many traditional classical music opportunities are waning while opportunities to perform all kinds of music genres continue to open up for players.”

Although her instrument was always the viola, Weinberger said she could also play violin.

However she said, “I could not build a company based on the viola.”

Weinberger said a few years before she considered starting her business she had been sketching decals and designs for violins. But it was not until she met her partner Craig Berger that the pieces fit together.

Berger provided the initial cash infusion to get the idea off the ground, taking on a managerial and strategic role.

“I met Rozanna in New York and I felt her passion for this project,” said Berger. “Her goal is to encourage and motivate students to practice and learn music. There’s a lot of competition out there with people making music on the computer. We’re traditionalists.

“I’ve assisted with operations and marketing but Rozanna is really the lead. The company is her life.”

Today Rozanna’s Violins can be found on zulily.com and in major stores like Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend and Sam Ash.

“We were very lucky in the beginning because zulily.com had a huge marketing presence,” she said. “We had a limited budget, but being able to attract a large company gave us a huge marketing presence.”

“Unlike some products, a lot of people don’t want to buy an instrument off a website without having the chance to touch it and play it,” said Berger. “That’s why it’s so important to get our instruments into the stores.”

In 2015, the company moved most of its operations to St. Louis Music in Missouri, one of the largest distributors of musical instruments and accessories in North America. “The violins are made in China but completed in St. Louis,” Weinberger said. “We are fortunate that a company with this prestige sees the value in what we’re doing and is helping us to consolidate our operations in one place, which was very much needed.”

She said the company has “more than doubled in sales with each year since 2010.” The Blue Lighting Violin is one of the most popular. There is also one containing snowflakes that comes with sheet music from the movie “Frozen.” Customers can also buy a wide variety of designer decals that are sold separately.

Violin prices range from $299 to $399.

While the company has a website, Facebook page and blog, Weinberger said going to trade shows is one of the best ways to attract new distributors.

Each year, she attends the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in Anaheim, California as well as the Texas Music Educators Association convention and the American String Teachers Association conference.

“Getting face time with distributors makes a world of difference,” said Weinberger. “NAMM is an important trade show for us. This year I did a deal with a distributor who wants me to design a violin to go with the sheet music to ‘Star Wars.’

“Not only is that an exciting opportunity, this violin along with the snowflake violin sold with the music to ‘Frozen,’ represent industry firsts in terms of what has been done with the violin.”

In the near future, Rozanna’s Violins plans to offer designer violas and cellos.

Ciesa said she is very proud of Weinberger “for starting her own company. She is so inspired by the power of music that she wants to inspire children to pick up a violin that may look and feel intriguing.”

She said Weinberger has not forgotten her Akron roots. “I wrote a children’s book called, ‘Dina Prima the Ballerina’ and it was performed by the Wayne Center Ballet last April.

“I asked Rozanna to record a piece of violin music that sounded like a glimmer of hope,” said Ciesa. “Rozanna produced a beautiful piece of music that was used in the production to transition from one scene to the next.

“Rozanna knows about having a glimmer of hope to make her dreams come true. She broke her neck at school,” said Ciesa. “For a viola/violin player, this was a tragedy. Yet, she overcame that problem and became a phenomenal musician and now business owner.”

Weinberger said Akron played an important role in cultivating her talent.

“I was fortunate enough to go to a school where music was considered important,” said Weinberger. “Unfortunately you don’t see that much anymore. I still remember the elation of playing in the Akron Youth Symphony Orchestra and my grade school teacher Mrs. Hess who saw my unusual talents and helped to foster them.”
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Most Common Misconceptions About Left Hand Technique: The Wrist

by Rozanna Weinberger

I remember when first study Feldenkrais they thew out fancy words like distal and proximal.  Wikipedia has a fairly clearcut definition and I’ll use it here to make a point.

The terms proximal (from Latin proximus, meaning “nearest”) and distal (from Latin distare, meaning “to stand away from”) are used to describe parts of a feature that are close to or distant from the main mass of the body.[9] Thus the upper arm in humans is proximal and the hand is distal.

To try to analyze whether technique should be focused on distal or proximal movements is a little like trying to answer the question:  Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Because while it’s true that movements of the arm and back effect the lower arm, wrist and fingers in much the same way shock absorbers handle the weight of a car or the bristles of a brush react to the movements of the artist, it is also true there are times the body must make ‘micro movements’.  These micro movements are accomplished with the distal parts of our bodies. And while its still true these movements rely on the support of the back and arm, the most obvious activity may seem to be occurring in the hand and fingers.

In bow arm technique, string crossings are a clear example of distal and proximal movements. At a slow tempo, a player will very likely change the level of the bow arm using the elbow to adjust to the string heights. However at super fast speeds, in cases like a moto perpetuo or any nos. of examples of having to cross strings quite rapidly, there is simply no time to adjust the elbow height for every string crossing but must instead be accomplished by the adjustments of the hands & fingers relative to the strings.

Screenshot 2016-01-16 19.54.19

Lovely relaxed wrist allowing hand and fingers to ‘fall back’ in relation to wrist.

Recently a video has become popular because it is an X-ray of a string player’s left hand. With all due respect for whoever did this demonstration, I believe it best demonstrates the error that is most typical of players when it comes to understanding how to move most efficiently with the left hand.

There is a very practical reason for considering the distal and proximal relationships in violin and viola technique. Simply put, the distal movements can be likened to the broad strokes while the proximal, those movements and technique that can be done more efficiently with micro movements.

 

x-ray-violin

Initiating movement in the fingers & hand vs. the wrist for quick passages and learning to move efficiently.

Much like the example above of crossing strings with the elbow vs. the hand & fingers, there are times in left hand technique when the upper arm & elbow are doing most of the moving such as shifting and sweeping movements in slower tempos but other times when it must be left to the hand, fingers and wrist to maneuver quickly and easily. The wrist, for example, comes around the violin so the relationship of the fingers to the string can be correct on the G and D strings. While the fingers are doing their share of reaching the lower strings, if the wrist & hand are not in the proper relation to the fingers, ones left hand will feel strained.

But there are also important instances when the fingers must do the micro movements but it is also contingent on the wrist being sufficiently flexible, making full use of ones range of motion.  Most players are taught the hand and fingers can pivot forward for vibrato and reaching the 3rd and 4th fingers.  But what about the potential for the hand & fingers to relax back, relative to the wrist.

What is the definition of a virtuoso? While virtuosity encompasses many qualities, with respect to a players technique, it is perhaps best expressed as the ability to do difficult things easily.

Look carefully at the hand movements in the video.  Notice how it is the wrist that is initiating the movement from the 4th finger to the 1st finger. In a very fast passage this can cause excessive strain. The reason is simple.  The fingers and the relaxed falling of the hand in relation to the wrist, is ultimately the most EFFICIENT way to reach back. Sure, many players opt to lead with the wrist, but in the final analysis, can we actually say its the most efficient movement, relative to the body’s functional potential.

SIMPLE MOTION STUDY FOR THE WRIST & FINGERS 1. Begin this simple motion study by relaxing the left arm to the side.2. Bend the elbow, bringing up the hand so fingers are facing towards oneself. 3. Allow the forearm to drop down then come back up again from the ‘hinge’ of the elbow. Notice when doing so there is a chain reaction where the hand falls backwards from the wrist while exerting very little effort to do so.

Screenshot 2016-01-16 19.56.09

A typical example of inefficient movement can be seen in this photo. Notice how the wrist is bending the right of the image while the pinky is reaching in the opposite direction to the left.