William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Exploring the Left Hand Wrist Set-Up

Learn how to position your left hand wrist correctly on your violin

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick explains how to setup your left hand and wrist in the correct position.

Released on January 3, 2018

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So you see, I've been asked this question about the left-hand wrist, the setup of the left-hand wrist by David from Boston, who suggested I do a video on the subject and this is that video. Well, thinking about it, it brought back quite a few vivid memories from my years of teaching in France. You see I've been teaching in Paris for a couple of months, and well, actually I must tell you it was quite the awakening as my French was not quite as good as I hoped it would be. Fact wasn't very good at all. I was constantly translating in my mind from English to French.

That said, one of my beliefs, one of the things I felt really strongly about was the position of the left-hand wrist. For me, this position looked like this. Let me get a little closer. So as you can see, this is what I was trying to teach them, not this. And so I started teaching this to my French students, but it wasn't sticking, didn't stick at all. I started to get very frustrated. I started to even question whether or not what I was trying to teach them was right.

Here let me show you in a little more detail what I was trying to do. You see some violinists play like this, with the back of the forearm being flat. What I was trying to get them to do was this. You see the front of the forearm is straight, not broken as if it were back but straight up. This, however, does lend itself then to the back of the hand being bent. But my French students were once again rebelling as they had when I told them that we didn't need to press or squeeze the string. Remember press, squeeze.

I started really to doubt myself, asking myself if I had made it up, if what I felt was true or just simply a figment of my imagination. So with this query came a mild depression, sort of put a dent into my armor. So I came home one night wanting very, very much to talk with my wife. This French lawyer wanted to talk to her about what I was experiencing, but this particular evening my wife was watching a TV show about Rubinstein. He was performing a Chopin concerto with the Israeli Philharmonic, and I felt I really couldn't interrupt despite this burning need to talk to her.

It really was a beautiful performance and I certainly understood why she was looking at it, but it was at this point that the camera moved from Rubinstein and started panning the violins. Started showing the violinists. I suddenly almost jumped out of my chair as what I saw was that all the violinists' wrists were like this and not like that. They all had a left-hand form as I was explaining and tried to get my French students to do.

Okay, so why would I care so much about this? What difference does it make? Well, first off I must say that the arbiter of which way is right is really which way that works, which way that works to get the sound, the expression that you are trying to get. So as in all things, let's not get squished into a box or a corner trying to figure out trying to say which way is right. Let's just explore ways to do things which again help us to get closer to what we are trying to express.

Now that said, when one does it this way... Here let me get closer again. When one does it this way, it changes the angle of the finger. You see this way versus this way, the angle of the finger to the string changes. So doing it this way as well promotes moving the vibrato towards the scroll. Do you see that? So I do personally believe that this is the direction the hand should take, this way, this way. Now, as for the other way it does get more pressure into the string. But I stick by my rule of no pressure or squeezing. So this would truly be an exception to the rule.

Another advantage of the wrist this way is that it promotes taking the fingers off the string in groups. Rather than singularly like this. It even has an impact on shifting. And, of course, you notice what happened to the wrist bent even further backwards to prepare the fingers thrusting forward. Remember going the other way, coming this way.

Well, as you can tell by now doing this works extremely well with a wrist vibrato, at least what one calls a wrist vibrato. In fact, one could surmise that it's all connected, this vibrato with putting the fingers down, picking 'em up, shifting, connected. You know what might be helpful is to check out my videos on rotations and vibrato. Might be a good idea, might help in the understanding process.

So that's it for my discussion on the wrist, the left-hand wrist. I do hope it's been helpful in giving yet another perspective, as we try to express with the violin.

Have a great day.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on February 28, 2018 @10:52 am PST
I posted an earlier comment, but I forgot to add something that I'm convinced is also important: that is, when the left hand wrist is bent slightly backward as you advocate, that also changes how the left thumb is placed and functions...it allows the left thumb to sit alongside and even above the fingerboard and to give counter pressure when needed against the side of the neck/fingerboard...I've noticed that if my left arm and wrist are held straight, my thumb wants to almost go under the fingerboard/neck...but when arched backwards a bit, the neck can sit in the V or U formed by the thumb and first finger, with the thumb sitting up alongside the neck instead of under it. Don't know if I'm explaining myself clearly here. But I have noticed that many of our famous virtuosos use their wrists and thumbs in this manner. Perhaps you could in the future comment on the position and use of the left thumb in coordination with the arching back of the left wrist. It is a different way of playing the violin and takes a lot of effort and practice in getting used to it, if one has made a long habit of having the left wrist and hand aligned in a straight manner. Not an easy transition...believe one has to "persist" in practising in this new way until it becomes a habit, replacing the old habit.
Cheryl * VSM MEMBER * on January 10, 2018 @12:29 pm PST
I love your pragmatic approach to violin! Helps me so much when I encounter "the other side" which insists too much on making everyone exactly alike. I tell my young students to have their wrist in same position as if they are walking--not extremely out nor in, just as natural as can be.
William - host, on January 14, 2018 @11:19 pm PST
Thank You!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on January 5, 2018 @10:54 pm PST
What you advocate makes a lot of sense, particularly as it pertains to performing vibrato, since a proper vibrato is a slight "flattening" of the notes or pitches...It would appear that with what you are advocating, the angles of the finger tips on the string would facilitate this flattening of the notes, as you say "promotes moving the vibrato towards the scroll"...whereas arching the wrist in the opposite direction would not, and in my view might even cause a sharpening of the notes (which would put them out of tune).
William - host, on January 9, 2018 @11:09 am PST
Glad that it makes sense to you!
Jarl * VSM MEMBER * on January 4, 2018 @12:21 pm PST
Thank you for this enlightening video it is an issue I have been struggling with, and now I have a better way to resolve it.
William - host, on January 9, 2018 @11:09 am PST
Pleased it was helpful to you!
Shirley Gibson * VSM MEMBER * on January 3, 2018 @11:01 am PST
Yes! Yes! Thank you so much, Prof. Fitzpatrick! I believe that when I first took viola lessons so long ago I was taught the wrist OUT position, and now after returning to lessons I have tried hard to follow my teacher's admonitions NOT to do that. Your detailed instructions show specifically WHERE the wrist should be straight and I no longer have to be afraid that I am bending my wrist TOO much.. Sometimes ideas explained slightly differently can lead to a huge "AH-HA moment." Thank you once again for your inspiring videos!
William - host, on January 9, 2018 @11:09 am PST
You are welcome!
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