The ideal violin left-hand setup

Now that the Violympic Games are over, I’ve been itching to get back to my YouTube roots. So here’s a new video for the fall, even though the thermometer is supposed to hit 111 degrees Fahrenheit in Pasadena tomorrow!

I’ve been wanting to cover the simple topic of left-hand setup for quite a while, and as I put together this video, I remembered why I had waited so long: it’s not so simple after all!

Actually, what you’re after is pretty simple in the end: delivering the four fingers onto the four strings with freedom and structure.

But a lot of things can go wrong, a lot of little body parts out of place. So consider this your guide as well as a step-by-step for getting your left hand set up perfectly on the violin:

As a bonus, this is the first time I tried out my multi-camera setup out here. I hope to make even better use of the various angles moving forward!

23 thoughts on “The ideal violin left-hand setup”

  1. Nice explanation. I think for most of us, the fourth finger is the bane of violin playing. The setup steps you describe makes that fairly obvious so I think if one can set that up well with freedom and decreased tension , the rest will fall into place.
    You don’t mention the fifth finger which I think is also crucial to form. I personally have been playing around with the thumb at the 1.5 to almost 2nd position and have found freedom and less tension especially when reaching for extended finger notes (think Locatelli!). It’s a work in progress. Getting rid of 48 years of bad habits is a challenge. You and Carl Johnston are the best teachers I’ve ever had. Thanks so much for your dedication and insight.

  2. This may work. I had about 5 years of lessons as an adult, and it mostly fell apart after the 1st seemingly really good year, because something happened with the left hand. I never really solved it. One thing I know I did was for my LH to gradually rotate so much that the hand was almost parallel to the fingerboard – yep, the pinky was close. 😉 Any solutions I found tended to have formulas or picture models attached to them and did not work for me. You’ve come at it from a totally different angle. It all makes sense to me.

  3. Thanks, Nate. Beautifully done. Explanation is clear and well demonstrated.

    Multiple camera angles are a big plus. (I’m doing a lot of video self-recording and playback these days, often focusing just on the left hand, using views impossible to get in a mirror. Sometimes I replay it in slow-motion. Or putting the camera above me–great for checking bow angle.)

    I love your professional production. The virtual backgrounds are a great way of unconsciously reinforcing the main point. I see all too many instructional music videos with distracting views of the teacher’s living room, or even bedroom. If I see personal objects or books in the background, I start wondering what they are. I just watched somebody’s instructional video shot in their home. Very good presentation, but I kept noticing those kid’s toys in the background, and wondering what his kids were like.

  4. I see a lot of Simon Fischer’s methodology in your presentation!! It took me years to find the right chin rest and shoulder rest to give me the correct hand positions that you were discussing! It doesn’t happen all at once, but with practice. Looking forward to more videos. Thank you, this was good.

  5. Hey Nate,
    Your email arrived the other night as I was reading Galamian on… the left hand. I watched your video, thanks. I use a folded towel for a while now, no shoulder rest, the hands are more relaxed and it is easier to vibrato. I still am progressing and have a long ways to go.

  6. forgot to write a sentence after thanks: Your video reinforces the need for hand frame, which was also discussed in the pre Violympics and I have been working on since. thanks, Ken

    ps I am not sure what you mean by website so I put in

  7. Excellent review of setup, Nathan. Thank you!! One question: when you rotate the forearm so that the base joint of the 4th finger is closer to the neck, isn’t that motion supination rather than pronation? Thank you again for a wonderful teaching video. I will be reviewing this again.

  8. Excellent presentation, many thanks.

    The late Kato Havas suggested moving the left thumb forwards (a little towards the bridge direction) to move the fulcrum (balance point of the left hand) in order to have more strength (more ease) in the fourth finger placement. It works for me; but then we are all different.

    PS what chin rest are you using ?

  9. Thank you for the video! I’m starting to play without shoulder rest. Do you know Menuhin’s videos about hand position (without chin rest)? He says the neck should only be touched by the thumb and the pad of the finger touching the string. What do you think about it? Are you planning any videos about the movements of the thumb when shifting without shoulder rest?
    Also wanted to ask about the model of your chin rest. I have been trying different models but haven’t found something yet that suits me completely.
    Thank you again for all your material!!

    1. Hi Paul, I find that pretty limiting as it requires the thumb to live mostly underneath the neck. There are times I’ll do that, particularly when I want a wide, free vibrato. But more often than not, the side of my index finger is touching. I’m still thinking about videos like you describe! I’d like to treat the subject just right. Here is a link to the page at Quinn Violins where I bought my chinrest. I use the “extra flat” model!

      1. Hi,

        Thanks for your article!

        Quinn Violins isn’t selling this chin rest any longer. I was wondering if you had any more information about it, so I can look for one elsewhere.

        1. Unfortunately it was just a generic name, with no markings on it to identify a brand. It may interest you to know that I’ve recently switched to something higher, although it was custom made for me by a luthier in Germany. Contact Claire Stefani if you want a custom fitting of your own!

          1. Oh, thank you!

            Unfortunately, I have a pretty short neck, so I’m looking for the lowest chin rest I can find.

  10. Thank you, Nate. Most other tutorials I’ve watched leave out something or other, which has frustrated me often. You covered everything, including how changes to one aspect affects the others. Very helpful!

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