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.”
[Back]

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.

Common Misconceptions About the Frog

By Rozanna Weinberger

Playing at the frog is probably one of the biggest challenges for the beginner. When asked to play whole bows, beginners tend to use only a part of the bow, which might best be characterized as the middle third of the bow, not too close to the frog or the tip. Mastering the tip and the frog require fine tuned execution.  This is perhaps because most of us don’t have cause to cultivate balance in the fingers in practical daily use. It is in the refined skill of the bow stroke that the player strives to acquire, where the hand adjusts to the weight and feel of the stick from frog to middle to tip, that the hand learns to adjust to subtle changes. Indeed there are a handful (pun intended) of players deemed ‘natural’ who’s talent is such that they intuitively understand the difference between stiffly grabbing on for dear life and the more flexible approach of balance in the hand.

A basic understanding of this concept can be observed with this simple action. Take a pencil in the right hand.  Note how the fingers drape over the pencil as the thumb naturally creates the counter to the fingers. With the left hand, gently push and pull the pencil, observing how the fingers react. It may be noted that the fingers react to what the push & pull of the pencil. The fingers are reacting to  the pencil rather than initiating movement. In much the same way, the hairs of a paint brush passively responding to the movement of the artist moving the brush.  The hairs of the brush react.  It is the same with the artist who plays a bow.  The fingers become the bristles of the artists brush. 

Students tend to favor the middle of the bow and if asked to play a whole bow generally tend to avoid going all the way to the frog because it feels so awkward. The problem is to play all the way to the frog on an up bow its essential the student develop a flexibility in the right hand that must be cultivated through balance and awareness.A smooth bow change at the frog is the hallmark of a player with finesse which is why it can take years to really master if not addressed from the start of ones technical work.

Many players get around this problem with a bow technique that favors primarily using the index finger as the point where pressure is applied. (See photo below.) This ultimately creates a false sense of security.  While it may be a partial solution, unless the player can fully explore and make use of the pinky and transfer of balance and weight in the fingers, there will always be a certain amount of awkwardness at the frog due to the limitations of using the index finger as the primary point where pressure is applied. The vertical pressure of the index finger can also crush the tone of instrument and cause player to have scratchy sound. But mastering the frog will also eventually lead to comfort playing chords with ease, which otherwise present a major challenge for players.

There are a number of things that need to be working together at the same time to play at the frog and staying on top of all these factors can be a bit overwhelming for the beginner. For the pinky to absorb the weight of the arm as one approaches the frog, the thumb needs to be working in tandem.

The thumb must also be in just the perfect place so it has sufficient flexibility to bend as the player approaches the frog. This is generally considered to include 2 primary points of contact with the bow. They include the fatty pad that is approximately a quarter inch below the nail as well as the inner side of the thumb adjacent to the nail.  The primary points of contact on the bow include the curved corner underneath the stick and the under side of the bow to the right of the leather wrapping.  See figure.Screenshot 2016-01-13 23.18.07

In addition, the joints of the thumb must not be locked or hyper extended.

Then comes the wrist. This joint also reacts like a shock absorber to the weight coming from the back and dropping of shoulder/arm. curl as one comes close. If the wrist does not sufficiently ‘react’ to this weight, it will be impossible for the fingers to do so. Reacting to this weight rather than collapsing the wrist altogether takes time to master.

Screenshot 2016-01-13 22.25.05

Note the index finger is separate from other fingers, and is primary point where pressure is applied when there is not sufficient balance in hand.

Try curling and straightening the fingers of the right hand.  Notice how the thumb tends to either remain slightly bent or bends along with the fingerers. Next try curling the fingers but make the thumb straight or even hyper extended.  Note the tension this causes in the hand as well as how movement becomes much more restricted. It may be surprising to note that most beginners tend to approach the frog with a straight or even hyperextended thumb. Becoming sensitized to this tendency is the first step to changing it. Noting the easy curling and straightening of the fingers without a bow in the hand, can provide a reference point to what is possible with a bow!

While there may be no magic solution or easy way around the challenge of developing the bow hand, learning to reference what comes most naturally to the body can also be a clue as to what needs to happen when playing. If the player can begin to differentiate between stiffness and flexibility, they are on  the right track!