Note: This practice can be used in combination with #23 - The Arm Swing Cure.

Is it time to send your thumb on vacation?

Where does your thumb want to go for vacation?

Where does your thumb want to go for vacation?

Often it is hard to determine why there is tension in the arms and shoulders.

Even after we have done arm swings, shoulder circles, or any number of other things designed to relax that area, some students still have tension in these areas.

There is a major culprit, and it is a hidden one: Your thumbs may be causing the problem.

Even if you are doing arm swings, if you clutch, press, or bend the thumb sharply while playing, you will undo what you accomplished trying to relax your shoulder and arm. The thumb affects the entire rest of the operation.

Asking students where their thumb wants to go for a vacation will not only unlock the rest of their arm, it will bring a smile and a sparkle of imagination, always helpful for expressive playing.

Baby wave

Baby Wave

We evolved with opposable thumbs. That means we want to squeeze. I see this instinct in every one of my students, and in my own playing.

To trick your brain out of this strong evolutionary tendency, all you have to do is wave! Like a baby, that is. Try it: without your thumb, wave with just your other fingers.

Using the baby wave, you can rewire even a young child not to squeeze.


Send your left thumb on vacation:

  1. Swing your left arm up to play position at the fingerboard (See Practice Tip #23 - The Arm Swing Cure)
  2. Relax your hand, and remove your thumb from its usual position. Gently float your thumb away from the violin neck.
  3. Tap the fingers onto the fingerboard, to get the feel for the muscles working without the opposing thumb. If you have tapes, aim for them.
  4. Play a simple piece such as Twinkle or Lightly Row, without your thumb.
  5. Take a break, rest your neck and shoulder, let your left arm drop to your side.
  6. Repeat until it becomes more comfortable.
  7. Gradually begin to rest the thumb back into position.

When practicing harder passages, become more aware of your thumb. Check in after each phrase, set of notes, or shifting sequence. Learn how to release the thumb as though you were taking it away from the action.

Two for one

The next practice tip will go into how this principle works with the bow hand, along with specific exercises. For now, notice what happens when you work on relaxing the left thumb: there is a cross-body sympathy that will cause your right thumb to relax as well. Two for one!

Remember, to make progress with eliminating tension in your arm and shoulder, send your thumb on vacation. Just like you would if you went to the beach, it will return rested and happier. Your hands and ears will thank you.