We all know that gripping the neck or squeezing with the thumb is a big no-no because it causes unnecessary tension and makes playing even more difficult than it already is. This is a concept that’s simple…but NOT easy! Pretty much all violinists and violists struggle with some form of this at some point, and sometimes without even realizing it especially if it’s an ingrained habit. And for so many of us who mean well and do our best, this problem most often occurs when the music is emotionally intense and/or physically demanding.


Here are 5 ways to train your left hand to feel lighter. Spending even 3 minutes on these a day can help to improve your stamina, dexterity, shifting, and vibrato.

Continue reading “Tips to Prevent Gripping the Neck & Relax Left Hand”

When we learn how to shift and practice going from one position to another, our attention usually zeroes in on two things: intonation and mechanics of the left hand. Which finger is moving? At what speed? What is the thumb doing? What pressure should the finger have? What is the interval between the two notes? Singing the music…and of course, YOLO (going for it and hoping for the best).
Continue reading “The Role of the Shoulder in Shifting Positions”

Delayed shifts are performed either through finger extensions or contractions, after which the hand frame re-establishes in the new position. The forearm is still the main leader during changes of position and it defines when a shift has been officially completed. Pay attention to its role when playing a delayed shift. When does your forearm move in relation to the fingers and thumb?

Continue reading “The Magic of Delayed Shifts (Sneak Into a New Position)”


For the longest time, I’ve struggled to play double stops consistently in tune, and even more so with a decent sound. I always found playing octaves to be especially challenging – it’s a perfect interval and any deviation from matching pitches sticks out like a sore thumb…on in this case, a sore ear? After practicing octaves for years and years, they were just never consistent enough. I still struggle a little from time to time and need to practice octaves on a daily basis as part of my warmup routine to maintain a healthy hand frame and intonation.


Although my progress has been very slow, and often frustrating, all the repetitions really started to make their impact over a long-term time frame. Among all the great lessons I learned along the way about playing octaves better in tune and with a better tone, there are three that currently stand out for me, which I use as a guide for my most recent practice sessions. Continue reading “Octave Hacks”

violin and my left hand

A few weeks ago I had a deep conversation about reducing tension and extra finger pressure in the left hand, in which I got a fresh perspective and sensation on an already-familiar concept. The different “vocabulary” helped me experience a small, but very important breakthrough (which will hopefully stick).

Left hand tension is something that can easily show up under pressure, especially when it’s not given enough attention in practice. For several years I practiced Simon Fischer’s exercise on finding the minimum finger pressure (you can find this exercise in Basics and Warming Up). It’s a great exercise and I got pretty good at it. However, whenever I attempted to apply the concept in repertoire, especially during a run-through, I was never able to remember to use less finger pressure, especially in moments when it was crucial. After the conversation, I realized that while the Simon Fischer exercise is fantastic, on its own it’s been just that – an exercise. In order for me to become more consistent with feeling release in the left hand, I had to take my whole body into consideration.

Continue reading “A Kinesthetic Approach to Releasing the Left Hand”

I have a confession to make – I never really practiced anything by Ševčik growing up. Almost my entire playing career I stayed away from his etude books. The handful of instances I gave Ševčik a chance turned into really grueling, boring, and mind-numbing practice sessions. I felt (and sounded) like a zombie going through sequence after sequence of shifting. Before long, the Ševčik books were out of sight and out of mind for good.

It’s no wonder I had such a miserable time – most students practice Ševčik incorrectly and go on autopilot, which can stunt musical and technical growth. Only recently, after more than 2 decades of playing the violin I really began learning how to approach Ševčik in a strategic way.

Continue reading “How To Practice Ševčik Op. 8 Without Feeling Like a Zombie”

Do you ever feel like after years (or even decades) of practicing scales and arpeggios, your left hand is STILL playing April Fools jokes on you (except…more than once a year)? Yep, me too. By the way, if you can’t relate at all, we need to talk because I have LOTS of questions! Anyway, last year I made an important tweak in my warm-up routine. It became a real game changer for me in the sense that my left hand suddenly felt more consistent and effortless. Continue reading “5 Quick Left Hand Warmups”

violin left hand
The left hand frame is one of those fundamentals on the violin and viola that’s important to constantly maintain (and/or improve) over the course of our playing years. While I created this guide to primarily help players with smaller hands, most of the concepts here are still applicable for everyone. The primary goals are:
  • to create a reliable hand position, in which all fingers can drop on the string with comfort and consistencyand
  • to overcome challenges of the stretch in first (and half) position, where the half steps are furthest apart.

Continue reading “5 Tips for Left Hand Frame”



trampoline cat

People often ask me how to play off the string well. I hear questions like:

  • What should the hand be doing?
  • Do I need a special bow hold?
  • Should my fingers or wrist be doing some special motions?
  • What part of the arm does the motion for spiccato come from? 

Even with the added variable of height, playing off the string is less complicated than many of us make it out to be. I used to ask myself these same questions when learning this technique. Eventually this over-complicated things and I just ended up getting stuck.

Continue reading “The #1 Tip for Reliable Spiccato”

violin and my left hand

Vibrato, Tension, & Performance Anxiety


Vibrato is like a musical fingerprint; it’s one of the aspects that distinguishes the sound between one string player and another, and can be developed indefinitely for as long as we play. It’s also one of the most difficult left hand techniques, both from a technical and musical standpoint…at least from personal experience; definitely ranking it among the top 5 for difficulty, if not #1! For some, vibrato is something that miraculously comes naturally. But for me, it’s always been this huge roadblock in my progression, especially during my undergraduate years in college.

Continue reading “Vibrato, Tension, and Performance Anxiety”