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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

FAQ on fiddle playing techniques

by Ryan J Thomson

My violin bow keeps bouncing when I play:


1. Bows can be very different from each other, some tend to bounce more than others. Try another bow. 


2. Try loosening the hair tension a bit, this usually helps. 


3. Change the place on the bow which touches the strings when you get the bouncing phenomena. (move towards either the frog or the tip a bit) 


4. Practice bowing with your arm more relaxed.


Suggestions about holding violin and bow:


Dear fiddler, I can offer a few suggestions to try. I use a technique which is controversial and not accepted by all teachers, that is, putting the thumb of the left hand under the neck far enough so that no other part of the hand even touches the neck, including the first finger or the palm. This works very well for me and many of my students. I have small hands also, and this makes shifting and reaching the low strings much easier. My thumb always stays under the neck, and nestles close enough to the scroll so I can feel where the neck begins to curve. 


The point where it begins to curve is my anchor, or point of reference so that my thumb always know where to be. I keep my wrist absolutely straight, not twisted or bent, and bring my elbow in toward the center of my body, which also helps reaching the lower strings. If you keep your wrist straight, it shouldn't hurt. I wouldn't do anything with your left hand which causes pinching, constriction or tightened muscles. 


With your bowing hand, I would keep your thumb joint bent at all times, though, rather than perfectly straight and locked, as some teachers teach. Again, this a controversial idea but it works well for me. good luck, Ryan Thomson 



December 6, 2001 

 B. wrote:

Just read your comments about left hand position....YAY! Finally an answer that makes sense to me...I'm quite small and have struggled with my lousy 4th finger (and keeping the other 3 down) forever. I've asked and asked for advice, but no one EVER suggested moving my thumb.....WOW what a difference.!


Okay do those of us with puny hands and fingers manage double stops more precisely? (see, now I think you know everything)



Dear B.,

I'm happy to have helped out. I have a friend with small hands that plays on a "7/8th" size violin. It sounds the same as a full size violin with a shorter string length so its easier to make long stretches for double stopped octaves and other techniques. Double stops do take a lot of practice though, for anyone. Another tip: I have the string height above my fingerboard set as absolutely low as possible at the nut so the strings are easy to press down, and I can play faster with less energy expended. The fingerboard itself is scalloped just the right amount. My e string is almost sitting on the fingerboard. My bridge is standard height however, since you can't sacrifice at that end. My violin is set up very precisely by a violin maker that I trust. 




Tension/ tiredness, and pain in fingers after 45 minutes:


Dear -

Everyone gets somewhat tired after extensive work on a new piece or scale. Try playing only 20 minutes, take a 15 minute break, repeat. Try breaking up your playing to several short periods a day. Relax your finger/arm/shoulder/back muscles completely between practice bouts.


I recently suffered a disability that made me have to relearn how to play violin all over again left handed, after I had been playing right handed for many years. Like yourself, I had to go through aches, pains, and numbness all over again. Fortunately, I had the knowledge of stretching and relaxation techniques to help me along the second time.


Yehudi Menuhin wrote a great book on yoga, stretching, and relaxation techniques for violinists, which gave me lots of good ideas which I used when I entered a very important fiddle contest. Many of the top contestants took a shot of alcohol before their turn, in order to be more relaxed. I did 15 minutes of yoga relaxation, including a "shoulder stand." (I did quite well in the contest)


Some of my classical music associates use a prescription muscle relaxant that they take before important performances. I'd prefer working on muscle relaxation techniques instead. Good luck with your concerto! 


I'm left handed, what are my playing options?


You are in luck, and can choose to play either left or right handed! Read this article. I also suggest that you read my book: 


Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed, which is a compendium of info on left handed playing from the experiences of over 100 other lefty players. Also, for teaching yourself fiddle go to this link - Left Handed Fiddling for Beginners.


This article written by Ryan J Thomson, 2004

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