Left Hand Technique

If you’re reading this, you’re probably at the stage of your violin journey where you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the intricate technique that is required to play your violin well and progress steadily. Some of my other articles have already addressed posture, bow hold, foot placement and violin position, so what more could there be? Surely the list of places you can go wrong is already long enough!

Enter the left hand! If you’re standing strong and holding your violin and bow correctly, you now want to begin placing your fingers on the fingerboard so as to create a variety of different notes. This is where it gets a lot more interesting, but also a lot more difficult. 

In the following article, I’m going to address left hand technique and give you some tips and tricks on how to ensure that your left hand and violin finger placement gets off to a good start.

Why Left Hand Technique Is

About a month ago I met with Liam, an eight year old boy who’d started learning violin as part of his school’s classroom music program. While I love the idea of introducing children to different instruments, the damage that can be done when beginners are not taught carefully and correctly can often be irreplaceable. Liam was so keen to play well, but his poor left hand technique was preventing him from achieving the correct violin finger placement. This, in turn was making it next to impossible for him to play the notes in tune. 

Trying to change something that you’ve been doing wrong for a period of time is far more difficult than learning correctly and carefully from the very beginning. Liam was ‘playing’ pieces like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Jingle Bells and even some choruses from his favourite pop bands, so in bringing him back to the very basics, I had my work cut out for me. 

Liam and I have been working hard to rectify his left hand technique, and although he’s progressing steadily, I can’t help but wish he’d been taught properly to begin with. Correct left hand and wrist technique leads to correct violin finger placement and is something you should pay special attention to as a developing violinist.

Are You Ready For Violin Finger Pacement?

Is Your Beginner Position Strong Enough?
Your head should be straight and your violin should fit comfortably on your shoulder
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Can You Place Your Hands By Your Side?
If your violin should stay up and to the side and you should not feel uncomfortable
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You Are Ready!
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Moving your left hand down the fingerboard

Whilst in beginner position, your left hand supports the violin. As you move your left hand down the fingerboard, it is important to note that this support will be significantly less and that your left hand rests gently on the neck of the violin. 

Your left hand is there to create the different fingered notes, not to hold the violin up and as such should remain completely loose and floppy. 

Practice moving your left hand from beginner position into violin finger placement position. Move up and down the fingerboard and ensure that at no time you grab the neck of the violin or tense up your hand or shoulders.

Again, doing this in front of a mirror is a wonderful idea as you’ll be able to see straight away when things go awry. 

Some Exercises To Help You Out:

The Mouse And The Cheese

Just like the rabbit who encourages you to hold your bow correctly, the mouse and his cheese will help you or your little violinist place their left hand and fingers correctly on the fingerboard. 

Take a look at the video of George moving his left hand down the fingerboard. 

Note that he has a nice space between his left hand and the neck of his violin. The mouse should be able to move in and out of his house through the mouse hole with ease.

George’s wrist is loose and relaxed, creating an approximate 45 degree angle between the neck of his violin and his hand. The mouse’s cheese can sit nicely inside his house without either being squashed or falling on the floor. 

 

Trains And Tunnels

Once your mouse is able to move through the ‘mousehole’ and access his ‘cheese’ effectively, you will want to make some tunnels and trains.

As shown in the video, try playing or plucking the open E string while you stand your fingers up on the A string. Your fingers make a ‘tunnel’ for the E string ‘train’ to travel through.

Do you hear the open E ringing clearly? If so, you are standing your fingers up beautifully. If not, you will need to work on your left finger placement more carefully. Practice this exercise daily until the E string train travels easily through your A string tunnel. You could also try it on different strings!

Congratulations!

Just like the rabbit who encourages us to hold our bow correctly, the mouse and his cheese encourages us to place our left hand and fingers correctly on the violin neck. 

It is so important that you focus carefully on your left hand and finger placement. Don’t be impatient to play difficult music until you are confident that our left and right hand technique can cope. 

I hope that you have found this post useful and remember, if you have any questions or comments about left hand technique or anything else violin, leave a comment in the comments section below and I will get back to you as soon as possible!

Best of luck with your left hand technique!

Marketa 😉

Founder of myviolinbff.com

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. I continued reading this article because my daughter started learning violin last year and is enjoying her classes.She is left hand dominant, so getting her positions correct was a little awkward at first. I am a musician(a pianist) and I am well aware of the techniques for piano playing. I didn’t realise that what seemed to be a small issue is very important to a beginner and just like piano, if you don’t get your placements right it is really an uphill task trying to change and there will be a limit to what level you will be able to master the instrument. Thank you

    1. Hi JJ and thanks for your reply,

      It’s really great that you are a pianist because although the techniques are certainly different, your knowledge of music and the learning and progression of music will be so helpful for your daughter’s progress. Being left hand dominant, your daughter will probably experience greater success with her left hand finger placement but it’s still something to really watch out with.

      Please do let me know if there are any other techniques you’d like me to cover in my upcoming articles 😉

  2. hi  I found this post very useful and informative .

    I will definitely learn from your video and tips you have provided using left hand technique.I agree that its a great idea to practice in front of a mirror. .It’s a common saying that ” Practice makes a man perfect “. I like your step by step instructions on how to move your left  hand down the fingerboard. I have learnt a lot from your post.

    Thanks for sharing this great article!

    1. Hi and thanks for reaching out,

      Definitely practice makes perfect so keep at it and do let me know if there’s anything specific you need help with 🙂

  3. I’m wondering about the other three octave keys. I learned G major in three octaves a while ago and my teacher is now wanting me to start on A major. It seems to be quite similar in terms of the shifting technique and what is required with the left hand. What do you think?

    1. Hi Andrea,

      There’s definitely a link between all the three octave scales and you’re right that there is not too much difference in the technique in G and A majors; of course they’re completely different keys but the shifts and what you’re actually doing is the same. You might like to check out my article on G major in three octaves here:
      https://myviolinbff.com/g-major-scale-in-3-octaves/

      Have a great day😉

  4. Oh, this is just awesome. With this post, I can see that I would be easily able to learn all that I need to know about placing my finger with the violin. I am not a lefthanded person so the left-hand technique might pose as a bit of a problem for me but I honestly wouldn’t want to give up so I would still give it a try. Thanks for the explanation.

    1. Hi again, Henderson and thanks for your reply,

      There are actually very few left handed violin players; most people left or right handed hold their violin with the left hand and the bow with the right hand. Actually I sometimes think that it would be more difficult for right handed people to learn the left hand technique because the left hand does so much intricate work!

      Keep following and I hope you gain a lot through myvoilinbff.com 😉

  5. Hello! Thank you for sharing an informative article. I love your post because you help me a lot. My wife asks me to find something about Violin recently. Importantly, she is left hand and I didn’t learn this before so I know nothing about that. If I need to search it online, it will waste me a ton of time to research and learn about that.

    Fortunately, I landed your post. You tell me the technique in a simple way. I can read and understand faster. I don’t need to spend more time to search it again.

    I believe my wife will love your post like me because it solves her problem. It can save me a lot of time to explain to her because she can learn by herself. I will bookmark your site and read it regularly. I hope you can keep sharing with us because what you write saves me.

    One question I want to ask. Do you know how long will my wife master the technique(she is new)?

    1. Hi and thanks for reaching out,

      I’m really glad you’ve found this post useful and that your wife can improve through what I’ve written. 

      It’s really difficult to tell how long it will take to master anything, particularly violin technique. Because your wife is an adult beginner, it will probably take her a little longer to master what a child can do more quickly. Adults are often more stiff in their muscles and not as easily ‘moulded’ into the technique required. 

      But don’t let this discourage her. Tell her to take her time and make sure everything is done properly; she will definitely see the rewards 😉

  6. My daughter has been learning the violin for a few years now, but it would be exciting to learn myself one day. It seems like a cool instrument, and I like the sound very much. I agree with you that the right technique is crucial for the quality of performance. What’s your opinion on how long it takes to move your hand from the basic position?

    1. Hi Ivan and how lovely to hear about your daughter! It would be really great for you to learn along with her and you can get that right here at myviolinbff.com

      In terms of how long anything takes with violin technique, it all depends on the individual student and the amount of practice they do. Some students develop a strong stance quite early so are able to move their hands down the fingerboard quite quickly. Others take far longer. Whatever the case, make sure you don’t rush into more difficult techniques before you’re ready! 

  7. I have always wanted to learn how to play violin or viola. However, my dad sent me into playing piano instead. Now I get to pick my hobby. Thank you so much for sharing tips about the left hand. Never know that it is very important. I love the mouse and the cheese or the trains and tunnels analogy, I will remember them for sure. Now, it is time for me to get my hands dirty 😉 

    1. Hi and thanks for sharing,

      It’s often the case that parents pick an instrument for their children that may or may not be the child’s choice. This being said, your piano background will definitely help you along your violin journey, so all is not lost 🙂

      Please do let me know how you go and if there are any specific techniques you need help with, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

  8. My kids are lovers of various instruments and they are all good at what all they are playing. I am just making this research on placing fingers on a violin for my daughter so she can improve with her playing. She is currently attending lessons, but I fee that she can definitely benefit from the videos and tips you have provided here 

    1. Hi Benson and thanks for your message,

      Please do take a look around at some of the other videos and articles; especially if your daughter is a beginner you will find a number of really great exercises and tips. 😉

  9. As with any skill, it is always best to find a good teacher and get trained properly from the beginning so that no bad habits are formed. It takes 10x the time to fix a bad habit than it does to teach someone from scratch.

    My daughter has started learning the violin recently and we’re finding it to be such an incredibly difficult instrument to play well. From what you’ve written, I feel that my daughter has brought her left hand down the fingerboard too early. We’ll be working on the exercises together and I might show her teacher this article. 

    Love the mouse and cheese analogy by the way, little kids certainly enjoy things like that to help motivate! 

    1. Hi Michael and thanks for your message,

      Its so important that your daughter has a strong basic position before her left hand moves down. I recently had a student come to me with really terrible pain from playing violin. It was all because she was crunching her neck and shoulders forward in order to hold her violin up. We’ve fixed that now and she’s moving forward in leaps and bounds. 

      Please do address the basic position before your daughter moves forward 

      All the best, 

      Marketa😉

  10. Hi,
    I’m really finding it difficult to keep my violin up to the side. There’s no way I could move my left hand away from my violin and keep it up under my chin, it would fall down. I don’t know what to do because I just can’t get it to stay in the right spot. Do you think it’s because I’m an older beginner? Should I just keep trying or should I move my hand down to the finger placement area already?

    1. Hi Rachael,
      Keeping your violin up to the side isn’t an easy thing to do but if you’re really struggling, it may be your shoulder rest that’s the issue. Perhaps go into a violin shop and try out a range of different shoulder rests to see if one is more supportive for you.

      You really want to make sure that you’re not using your left hand to hold the violin up before moving your fingers down the fingerboard, so if I were you, I’d wait. Being an older beginner does sometimes make things a little more difficult but this shouldn’t be one of those things.

      Best of luck with it!
      Marketa 😉

  11. Thank you so much for this awesome post!  First, I have to ask, are you or anyone you know left handed and play the Violin?  I am.  Do you think this would work for me?  I have a lot of trouble learning how to play the violin to be honest.  I want to learn because my little girl is learning, and I want to be able to help her.

    1. Hi Jessie and thanks for your thoughts!

      You can certainly get a left handed violin but I’ve never had a student need one. For me, as a right handed person, my left hand and fingers are doing just as much work as my bowing arm and hand. So I’d suggest trying a regular violin before a left handed one. 

      With regard to your difficulties in learning violin, this isn’t uncommon; especially for older beginners. It’s so great that you are learning to help your daughter but don’t be surprised if after a few years, she’s the one helping you! In any case, she will get so much from having her mum take such a keen interest in her violin journey!

      Best of luck with it all 

      Marketa😉

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