Left Hand Thumb and Wrist Position for Playing the Fiddle

By Michael John Sanchez

When you play the fiddle, it’s important to understand left-thumb position and the position of your wrist. Proper thumb and wrist position sets you up to put your fingers in the proper spots and avoids restricting you down the road, especially when you learn how to do vibrato and shifting.

Having a relaxed right hand is very important to avoid bow tension. Being relaxed with your left hand is also important.

Figuring out where to place your thumb

Establishing good fundamentals to be able to find the correct notes on the fiddle starts with the thumb. For many activities, placing your fingers close to where they should be is enough. For example, you can still write on a piece of paper correctly whether your thumb is a little bit higher or lower. This isn’t the case when playing the fiddle. Your fingers need to be in exactly the right spots.

There’s a lot more leniency in how you can hold the bow compared to how and where you should place your fingers. Try to be as precise as you can by following everything very closely.

Follow these steps to know exactly where your thumb should go on the fiddle:

  1. Hold your instrument under your chin properly with no hands.

  2. Place your thumb at the neck, about an inch above the nut.

    The nut is the slightly elevated ridge at the very end of the fingerboard, where the string actually touches the fingerboard.

  3. Point your thumb upward.

  4. Place the top of your thumb about even with the height of the fingerboard.

    There are different schools of thought on the height of the thumb on the fingerboard. The biggest thing is being consistent with whatever height you choose from the beginning, as this leads to better note finding and other techniques. In any case, your thumb should never grip the neck; the neck should simply rest on your thumb.

  5. Place a sticker in this spot so that you know where it is in the future.

    Small rounded stickers work well. You can find finger-placement stickers made just for this purpose online or at your local violin shop.

Keeping your wrist straight

As you can see, the wrist should be perfectly straight. This is how you should always keep your wrist because you can’t accomplish many fiddle techniques with a collapsed wrist. This is very important!

If you have a problem keeping your wrist straight, you’re probably relying too much on the left hand/arm to hold up the fiddle. Keeping your wrist straight begins with holding the fiddle properly with your chin and shoulder.

[Credit: By Rashell Smith]
Credit: By Rashell Smith

It’s important to hold the fiddle without relying on your left hand. You should hold the fiddle 85 percent with your chin and shoulder and 15 percent with your left hand keeping the fiddle level (known as the 85-15 rule). This may not feel comfortable initially, but you’ll get used to it. Try the following to see exactly how much help you need from your left hand:

  1. Set up your shoulder rest and hold the fiddle with no hands.

  2. Place your thumb in the right spot.

  3. Lightly pinch the other side of the fiddle neck with the inside of your left hand.

    Your index finger should touch the side of the fiddle at the knuckle adjoining the palm, and your fingers should be curved up and over the fingerboard.

  4. Twist your left hand so that the right side of your hand is 1 inch from your neck.

    Don’t force this movement with your arm, as it should just entail movement of your hand.

  5. Slide your hand up and down the fingerboard.

    Are you able to do this without your neck constricting or tightening up? If not, don’t grab the neck so tightly.

If you found yourself having to loosen up to be able to move fluidly, this is the adjustment you’ll need to make each time you play the fiddle. Eventually, you’ll need to move your hand up and down to do other techniques. This is a good test to show you how important it is to hold the fiddle loosely with your left hand.