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.

1) Simon Fischer‘s exercise to feel springiness of the string and find the minimum finger pressure

Start with fingers hovering above the strings. Drop a finger down with lots of energy, but immediately release to harmonic pressure. Then, gradually add finger weight until you hear a pure tone. Apply this to a scale or a line from an etude.

2) Dounis Exercise from Daily Dozen for lifting fingers with energy.

This is the opposite approach. Start with all fingers down on the string and find a comfortable weight distribution for all 4 fingers. This is the “default”/relaxed mode. Lift fingers with lots of energy and impulse, and allow them to land back down, slowly.


3) Tap your thumb

Tension comes from static positions; i.e. – lack of motion. When playing your repertoire, check for tension in the thumb between phrases by tapping it lightly on the neck or moving it up and down the neck. You might even discover a better placement for it, depending on what you’re playing. Staying in motion is the main remedy for excess tension release. Remember that the thumb is counterweight to the other fingers. If the fingers press down too hard on the fingerboard, the thumb will automatically want to match, and as a result, amplify the tension. Once we find the right amount of finger weight, the thumb has the opportunity to release.


4) Examine overall weight distribution

The 3rd finger is a great “anchor” finger when it comes to even weight distribution across the entire hand. A common mistake is to place the hand in such a way that caters more to the 1st and 2nd finger, in which the 3rd and 4th fingers become handicapped or at a disadvantage. To correct this, put down the 3rd finger alone and use the entire arm (from the shoulder) to swing around the instrument and find a comfortable placement. Then, find the placement of the 2nd finger, followed by the pinky, and finally reach back with the 1st. Find a relaxed wrist position. We don’t want a “pancake” wrist leaning up against the neck, but we also don’t want it to be rigid or sticking out. The elbow and the pinky side of the wrist need to be aligned. To see this visually, watch my video about left hand setup.


5) Check the larger muscles

This one is less obvious. Sometimes tension and pain in the small muscles/tendons/ligaments result from tension in a larger muscle group. When we move our fingers up and down, the forearm muscles are responsible. You can check this by touching your forearm while wiggling your fingers. Also, based on the nature of how we hold our instruments, tightness in the pectoral minor is a common culprit for indirectly affecting you to squeeze the neck. Holding the instrument in playing position, swing the left arm from the shoulder left and right. Also, glide up and down the finger board. If you have trouble doing this, unless there is a medical reason behind it, you might need to reconsider your setup.



For double-stops, pay attention to the pressure of the higher finger. Whichever finger is lower number must have less weight down. For example, when playing 3rds, your 3rd or 4th finger would be the “leader” and carry most of the responsibility for weight distribution. Try to get the 1st or 2nd finger to feel lighter than the leading finger.



When placing fingers down, aim with the inner corner of the finger pad toward the fingerboard on the left side of whichever string you are placing the finger on. This will push the string down with a little less effort than if you aim the finger directly perpendicular to the string. The finger will be at a slight angle, and also be more likely to create clearance with the string above. This is something to experiment with, and will also depend on what the music demands. It’s a useful tool to have when building (or rebuilding) fundamentals.

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