Hello Mrs. Thumb!

In the last tip (Practice Tip #15 - The Mousehole) we talked about how the left wrist can “warp” the fingers out of tune.

Another way this "warping" effect can happen is that the thumb is in the wrong place entirely. If the the thumb is located incorrectly it is hard to get the fingers to land in the right place.

However, I found that telling students to fix their thumb, move their thumb, or that their thumb looks funny, etc., doesn’t seem to “stick” in their minds. They need a way to relate to their finger position with a visual aid. 

Meeting Mr. (Mrs.) Thumb

I like to have them go through a process of meeting Mr. or Mrs. Thumb. We take some time to draw a face on their left thumb, so it seems like a person.

This establishes a personal language that can be easily used again later when problems with the hand position arise. If the thumb is too far up the fingerboard, I say “Mr. Thumb has wandered off!” If they are grabbing or their thumb is turning white: “Mrs. Thumb can’t breathe!”

Mrs. Thumb also helps with reducing the inborn tendency to grab with an opposable digit. Students can easily grasp that their thumb should just be resting, not pushing, gripping, or squeezing.

SAY HELLO TO MR. (MRS.) THUMB

MrsThumbHat.jpg
  1. SMILEY FACE. Draw a smiley face on the tip of the student’s left thumb. Have some fun with this part. Say, "Can I draw on you? I like to draw on people. Let me see your thumb." Ask what color to use, and if Mr. Thumb needs to have long or short hair, etc. (I use a washable marker; some students become concerned about whether it will wash off.)
  2. THUMB’S HOME. Say "Mrs. Thumb has a special home, do you want to guess where she lives?" Or, "Mrs. Thumb’s home is the first tape, and she has a special pillow." Place a pad on the left side of the neck at the first tape (I use the one that comes with the Mark, Set, Go! tape set). She will rest her ear on the pad like it is a pillow.
  3. THUMB CAN'T BREATHE. This is where we get to dramatize a bit.  If Mr. Thumb turns into the pad, he can’t breathe! Kids will love to hear you imitate this: “MMmpf! Mr. Thumb can’t breathe!”
  4. THUMB DOESN’T WANT TO DROWN. If she sinks down below the fingerboard, she is going below the water: “Blblblb, I’m drowning!”
  5. THUMB HAS A BOW TIE. For both Mr. and Mrs. Thumb, I will add a bow tie right under the face, to give another reference point. It shows the child how far above the fingerboard the thumb needs to be.
  6. TURN THE THUMB. I often have to physically reach over and turn their thumb so that it faces them. Children are still forming the mental and physical pathways required for motor skills and sometimes cannot figure out how to make this motion.

You may wish to repeat this sequence  in subsequent practice sessions. Once the student has internalized it, you can simply ask “What about Mrs. Thumb?” Or say, “I can’t see Mr. Thumb, can you?” That is usually enough to prompt them to find the correct hand position.

Combine It With The Mousehole

You can combine this technique with the Mousehole. (Click here to Review Practice Tip #15 - The Mousehole.) These two tips in combination are very powerful and will fix a great many intonation and tension problems in the left hand. You can say, "Play Twinkle, and I need to see Mrs. Thumb, and I need to see the Mousehole!"

Preparing For Advanced Technique

In the next practice tip, we will also meet fingers “1”, “2”, and “3”, who live across the street from Mr. Thumb. When all the fingers work together to land at the right addresses we will ensure proper placement of notes and get set up for learning pieces.

Remember, A relaxed, properly placed thumb is important for intonation and finger agility. It also affects the bow hand. There is a reciprocal effect between the hands, when one is tight so is the other.  

This will become even more important later for shifting and vibrato. Use Mr. (Mrs.) Thumb to help your student realize how much they tend to grip the violin, and they’ll thank you later on.