William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

What are Rotations?

How to master the not-well-known violin technique called rotations

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick explains the concept of "rotations" on the violin, and how it can help a great deal with vibrato, shifts, and more.

Released on May 7, 2014

Share this page!
Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
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

Welcome to Virtualsheetmusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am professor of violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, which is located on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I am as well, director of MusiShare, which is located in Irvine, California. I thought we might have a discussion about something which is very, very dear to me and how I teach, which is called rotations. Now, at a masterclass at the University of California Irvine, I heard someone look at a pianist and ask the following question. "Which is faster, to do this, or to do this?" And the pianist answered, "This is faster."

And the person who was giving the class looked at the pianist and said, "Why is it then that you pla.y this way?" That caused quite a stir in my mind, as I asked myself, "Wow, do I play this way or this way?" And all of a sudden, I realized that I played this way. Now I went to New York and as soon as I could, I walked and knocked on the door of my teacher, Ms. Delay. And I said, "Ms. Delay, I have something to show you. I just figured out that I don't play this way. I play this way."

And she looked at me and smiled and she said, "It's true, Billy. We do play this way. But not everybody can understand that." Now I took that to mean I shouldn't teach it, which I didn't for about 25 years. But that's how I played. When I played, I played this way. All right, shall we examine that gesture just a little bit? What we're talking about is playing from the elbow a rotation, which goes that way. Now I know you're all going to say, "But professor, that's impossible. How can you possibly play the violin like this? You've got the neck, it won't allow you to play like that." But you see, I'm not crazy stupid. Of course, you can't play like that. But what will happen is because of the neck, what was once this, will become this.

Let's try something. If you were to take your hand, and you're doing this. Now, hold your thumb. What happens to your hand? It goes that way. What does that remind you of? Of course, your vibrato. It reminds you of your vibrato. You see holding it, it's just like with the neck. And that means that you're rotating on your elbow, but it mutates into that gesture. So obviously, this can work with your vibrato, here, here.

What else can it do? Shifts. You see, if I'm throwing my fingers this way, I'm going like that. Here we go. That gesture, going this way and this way, my rotation is turning my hand and making me go higher. That becomes my shift. What else could we do? Obviously, a trill.

Ah, but that's that vibrato trill. Well, slow it down.

And you see I all of a sudden have a huge range of possibility of trills. What else could happen? Well, because I am throwing from my elbow my fingers, I don't have to press, I don't have to squeeze with my left hand. How's that possible? Well, if I'm throwing it, my hands are free, my wrist is free. I use the acceleration or the speed that my finger is now coming to the string with gravity or weight, to make it so that the string goes down just far enough.

Here. Let's look at that from a closer distance. So here we go. My hand is back. I'm going to the string. That is my rotation. It looks just like that. Except my finger, my thumb, is stopped. So this is what we call, or at least I call, rotations. If you have any questions or any comments, please leave them for me below on the page. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Barry Conrad on May 4, 2017 @10:18 pm PST
very good, thats exactly what i do to, but now i can visualize it as well as playing it, to cool, thanks for posting, i really enjoy your videos.
victordovitalia * VSM MEMBER * on July 9, 2014 @11:56 am PST
Nina Scolnik on June 26, 2014 @4:15 pm PST
William, Your adaptation of the principle of rotation, commonly associated with piano technique, tallies perfectly with my work with pianists. Just as on the piano, the rotational movements improve freedom, ease, accuracy, speed, sound (vibrato, in the case of the violin), the ability to leap and cover distances( shifts on the violin), and many other things.
While an understanding of this principle and its application are subtle and even at times invisible, rotation is an undeniable component of healthy, natural, and musical playing. I applaud you and your work and its potential to revolutionize violin pedagogy. Let's hope that you will continue sharing your knowledge by this means and that teachers who struggle to teach students to play with freedom and ease will find some answers here.
Nina Scolnik, University of CA, Irvine, Associate Chair for Performance, piano professor and recognized expert in musicians' injuries
William on June 30, 2014 @12:48 pm PST
Thank you! I cannot tell how much your support means to me!
Francis E. Elliott * VSM MEMBER * on June 22, 2014 @4:52 pm PST
Will A great concept. I am assuming that the rotation is only once. In the event of a run the knuckles of the left hand must be parellel to to fingerboard. The question I have is that the rotation keeps the hand relaxed. In a fast passage of any length in even a section of a piece of music. How do you keep the left hand relaxed? Francis Elliott
William on June 24, 2014 @11:27 am PST
Hi Frances! I am so pleased that you have watched this! With regard to your question, the movement from the elbow will allow the fingers to both pull away and come to the string in a relaxed manner... Oh this is difficult to explain this way so I will do a video dedicated to this question. Thanks again Frances and let's talk soon!!!
Francis E. Elliott * VSM MEMBER * on June 24, 2014 @7:10 pm PST
Will How great to hear from you. I am working on this rotation away from the violin. I am amazed how it reveals how tight my hand is, and it helps relaxes it with a few rotation exercises I have devised to relax my hand before practicing. Wow this is exciting. Next year I am starting my 60th year of teaching, and learning something new of this magnitude is exciting and at the same time humbling of how little one knows and can still learn.
Gwen * VSM MEMBER * on June 1, 2014 @7:39 pm PST
Thank you so much. Does this also help with intonation?
It seems to me that it does.
William on June 2, 2014 @9:42 am PST
It allows your wrist and fingers to be loose and so makes it possible to adjust quickly, so I believe the answer to your question would be yes!
David McNeill on May 29, 2014 @1:34 pm PST
Hi Professor William,

Thanks for sharing this. I have never heard of this before but it makes perfect sense and probably is what I have been doing too!

I feel there is a similarity with the bow arm tremolo where one teaches the "salt and pepper" recommended by the late Paul Rolland.
I have a wonderful student at the moment who has a sense of flourish in her playing but a slow "one speed" vibrato, so will try this rotation strategy and see what happens.
Cheers from down under.
David McNeill
Bill * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2014 @5:21 am PST
Dear Professor William,
I am, at age 78, not much of a player any more, but watching you play reminds me of a sort of a controversy when I was back in high school days about vibrato technique. There were two schools of thought. Some thought that what I call a “wristy” vibrato was better and others preferred an “elbowy” style.
Examples were the great MIscha Elman and his smooth wristy style and Jascha Heifetz who had a more peripatetic (my analysis) elbowy vibrato. My teacher insisted on a wrist motion with little movement of the whole arm. A teacher in a nearby town taught vibrato mostly using the whole arm, i.e., using elbow movement exclusively. When I watched those students play it looked pretty hard to control to me, though they certainly played well.
I notice that your vibrato is wristy which seems to go along with your explanation of rotations.
What are your thoughts about this?
(As you might guess, I think the elbow style usually makes the vibrato more rapid and that to me is somewhat harsh.)
William Condon
William on May 28, 2014 @11:58 am PST
Hi and yes I have a "wristy" vibrato. This said I agree with Mr. Galamian and believe that there is a need for all kinds of vibrato to be able to express the myriad of emotions that one must as a concert violinist. So wrist, arm, finger, are in my opinion all needed. I do however believe that from the wrist (generated from the elbow) is the best place to start! Thanks for your comment!
Ms. Cynthia on May 12, 2014 @10:27 pm PST
Dear Professor William:
So glad to discover we are on the same page about this. After letting students struggle a little with sliding down the straight line of the strings on a tissue I have been asking them to let their thumb swivel to a diagonal angle so the pinky can arch around to the fingerboard.. The thumb has to rock and roll and adjust like your favorite utility chair with wheels.

So many thumb lengths and joint flexibilities. I'm still having a debate about where the neck makes contact with the thumb. Finding that balancing point for each hand is so personal. On top of that the hands are growing from age 3 to 18.
Great choice for discussion.
William on May 28, 2014 @12:01 pm PST
Hi! I really love this "The thumb has to rock and roll and adjust like your favorite utility chair with wheels." ! What can I say - Rock on!!!
Irene on May 7, 2014 @11:02 pm PST
Thank you for this "aha!" moment! In looking at my students, I am concerned when I see the squeezing bent left thumb. I set up the student with a shoulder pad/sponge that fits them (if they need one), so don't think it's insecurity about having to hold the fiddle up; but am astounded at how tight the left hand is. I will first practice :0) and then teach the rotations concept this week and see how that changes things. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us!
William on May 8, 2014 @11:18 am PST
Hi! Thanks and let me know how it goes!!!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on May 7, 2014 @3:14 pm PST
Hello Sir: What you say makes a lot of sense. One can see this rotation even on a short run upwards from an open string and then ascending notes hit with the 4 fingers in succession. If one does "not" allow rotation, the forearm muscles get tight...something that detracts from one's facility...And of course on a descending run, the rotation occurs in the opposite direction. Thanks for pointing this out. Never thought about it before...suppose I just did it naturally without thinking about it.
William on May 8, 2014 @9:55 am PST
Thanks for watching!
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.
Norton Shopping Guarantee Seal