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The Left Hand: A New Perspective

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July 21, 2009 at 8:09 PM blog by Catie Rinderknecht at

The bear paw. I know, it sounds incredibly cheesy. But, it's something that makes sense. I mean, David Russell actually used this metaphor in a lesson I had with him in summer '07. It works, why else would he mention it?

A bear's paw is vaguely hand-shaped, but it has no fingers. When a bear scoops up honey (or whatever), it uses its whole paw as a unit.

The left hand can be thought of in much the same way. When doing so, the fingers do not individually search for notes. Rather, the hand locates the position and the fingers merely need to fall into place.

Another thing that goes along with this. 4th position (or any position) will never change on your particular instrument. It stays in the same place; it's a constant. The hand and fingers are the variables. Once you learn what your hand is like in any given position, it's a small matter to find it again because muscle memory has been built. Combine this with the bear paw idea and suddenly (well, with a bit of work), the opening of the Mendelssohn violin concerto doesn't seem nearly as terrifying for intonation.

Now, you're probably thinking. Uh, Catie, sometimes your fingers must reach out of the standard interval and yada yada yada. True, they must. But, if you learn what the finger must do in relation to the position of the hand, that won't change either.

Hopefully this makes the concept a bit more clear. However, I try to describe this in words, I feel it misses something without the visual. I encourage you to spend some quality time with your instruments and think of this idea. If you have played, or are playing Mendelssohn, I especially encourage you to try it using that piece.