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Slick fingers? Unable to grip my violin and bow


itrebmirag

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So, I’m a semi-pro violinist playing for around 20 years and have made a discovery. My fingers are dry and have a slick feeling to them. For years, I’ve been licking them to add that bit of moisture and grip. I’ve taken a short break from playing and restarted this habit and find it gross and unproductive. My colleagues, and well, everyone tends to have more supple and “moist” fingertips and naturally have a little more grip. Like, I’m not sure how to explain it, but if a normal person and I rubbed a dusty area, more dust would surely collect on their fingers.

The skin on my finger tips are a bit thicker, but not calloused. Exfoliation and moisturizer makes them even more slippery, my fingers in particular do not absorb moisture well. I don’t have health problems and dealt with this since childhood.

Has anyone else experienced something like this? Any solutions?

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1 hour ago, Rue said:

Note to self: 

Disinfect any used bows before trying out...

:rolleyes:

Exactly!

By the way to the OP you are not holding your bow with proper bow position. If you form a circle between nicely curved tip your thumb and the first joint (line) of your bow middle finger then situate the bow stick inside the formed circle you will be able to maintain very secure yet relaxed bow grip. The bow could never slip out unless you "open" the circle...

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5 hours ago, violinsRus said:

Absolutely! I always lick my fingers, mostly bow hand, thumb and pinky. No big deal, works well, I can hardly play unless I do. I've never looked for any other solutions :⁠-⁠)

Interesting! I’m not alone on this. I never lick my thumb though haha.

1 hour ago, germain said:

Exactly!

By the way to the OP you are not holding your bow with proper bow position. If you form a circle between nicely curved tip your thumb and the first joint (line) of your bow middle finger then situate the bow stick inside the formed circle you will be able to maintain very secure yet relaxed bow grip. The bow could never slip out unless you "open" the circle... 

I’ve learn so many ways to hold my bow from teachers throughout the years. The biggest issue is that my fingers literally slip because I have no grip. The one I like the most is having an incomplete circle, where my thumb rests in the corner of the leather and my middle finger is somewhere on the body of the frog. I did learn the circle method before, but it made my fingers feel locked up. I’m kind of learning at this point that the moisture is an issue, but thank you for your suggestion!

3 hours ago, Rue said:

Note to self: 

Disinfect any used bows before trying out...

:rolleyes:

I would just wash my hands after :)

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To OP:  Try these.  It works for guitarists. https://virtuerecords.com/product/guitar-hands-lotion-3-fl-oz/ and https://www.jtreelife.com/products/musicians-salve? (Note: cheaper on Amazon with potentially free shipping). Also try the advice and products suggested here: https://www.pgmusic.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=55503  or here: https://www.classicalguitardelcamp.com/viewtopic.php?t=124209.     

At another site, years ago, many recommended lanolin, but my dermatologist shys away from it, as it could cause allergies.

This may be helpful - re action, pressure, etc.: https://guitargearfinder.com/guides/finger-pain/

@Rue - I agree with you: never thought sanitizer was necessary.  Ewwww.

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6 hours ago, germain said:

Exactly!

By the way to the OP you are not holding your bow with proper bow position. If you form a circle between nicely curved tip your thumb and the first joint (line) of your bow middle finger then situate the bow stick inside the formed circle you will be able to maintain very secure yet relaxed bow grip. The bow could never slip out unless you "open" the circle...

I understand your suggestion.

But this may not answer the original question. Unless one has experienced this problem, it can be very frustrating. Of course, I am inaccurate, but do not want people to notice. They can say whatever they want about me, the person, but the playing needs to be deliverable. And this not playing for three years has made it difficult.

Having worked with different materials, the hands were cleaned with or inadvertently exposed to cleaners that wipe out any usual bio- material off the fingertips. For some with thicker or coarser skin, it takes longer for the hand oils to make it to the tips. When I was younger, thicker and harder skin never was an issue. But periodically over the decade, there were times that the edges along the nails or the pads would harden depending on the hand work. 

Aside from not washing my hands an hour before playing, I also have a hand massage and stretching ritual before warming up with the instrument. Everything is super gentle and check for possible stress. With enough nervousness the hands develop a "usual" feel. On extremely rainy day performances, one might have to embrace the moisture but wash without soap. I also have an older bow that does not have a protective sleeve on the stick and it holds ok. Softer hold and fingers a bit more over the stick helps.

If there is a personal luthier that suggests a drop of this or that, use it and blame them if something goes awry. I do put a dot in the center of the palm, rub both hands ( as one would ) and then gently rub tips into those palms to soften or elasticize the skin. 

Is this not a luxury? My godfather ran his hand through a belt sander at work and complained on occasion about playing. He would warn be about safety then make fun of my playing. 

I never understood how little kids fiddled with mittens out in the cold. Tip well this season.

The left hand poses issues also.

No creams unless my hands were demolished laboring in dirt or something that removed layers of skin or ( some ) solvents, very cleaned, and not touching instruments for a day. I can barely play twinkle after being beat.

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I have the same problem, it’s not a matter of improper grip.  In the winter time my skin gets very dry and I find that the bow will slip.  In warm weather this isn’t a problem because there’s just enough natural perspiration to provide a bit of tackiness. 
 

I’ve also found just a quick dab of my fingers to my tongue is sufficient, no different than doing the same if flipping through pages of a book or magazine.  My vibrato also suffers in cold weather because my fingers will slip rather than rock owing to diminished tackiness from dry skin.

Moisturizing can help but I make very sure my hands are dry before picking up the bow or violin.

My fingers dry out to the point of the skin cracking and bleeding in very cold weather, it’s not a technique issue.

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I have had this issue too - especially when I was in surgical practice, washing my hands constantly through the day with harsh disinfectants. Nowadays it seems, my hands continue to be dry for no particular reason. I found that a little Neutrogena hand cream (I have no proprietary interest) before playing, worked in well, helps a lot. It gives my left hand fingers enough contact to vibrate, rather than slide, and the left thumb is a little better anchored on the neck. Without it, things are just too slippery on the dry skin. My right hand isn't affected by this as much, but handcream on my left is part of my routine. If you try this, sparing application is best, and work it in before playing.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This is interesting and I had to read the thread several times.  Here are my thoughts:

1. By mentioning "callouses', I am assuming you are seeking advice regarding the left hand and not necessarily the bow hand; however, my opinion doesn't change my question- why do you need to "grip" the violin/bow?

2. My biggest problem in both hands, and something I practice daily with weekly lessons, is lightening my "grip" everywhere on the violin/bow.  You would be surprised by the minimal amount of effort necessary to produce a good sound.  For instance, watch Nathan Milstein and Augustin Hadelich.  First watch their left hands.  The minimal amount of pressure, grip, and effort is so obvious.  In fact, sometimes when Augustin Hadelich plays, it doesn't look like his left hand really ever maintains contact with the neck of the violin.  My teacher always tells me, "LESS EFFORTING!"

3. Use physics.  Use gravity.  the fingers on the left hand will go down regardless of effort and grip.  As long as they go down, the slightest amount of pressure will be enough to keep them stationary.  I cannot imagine a scenario where there is so little friction between fingers and the finger board where one cannot accomplish this. If your fingers are sliding around like an beginning ice skater who cannot maintain standing up, then there may be another problem.

4. Is your violin level?  Too often, and I preach this so much with my own children and students, the violin is simply not level.  Too many people play with the violin angled down.  Why?  If your violin is at any angle that exceeds 5 to 10 degrees from the plane of the ground, you are creating too many planes for the fingers and bow to have to oppose/balance/work with.  For instance, if your violin is angled low, then not only are you working against the vertical and natural gravitational direction on the horizontal plane, you are creating a diagonal plane from which you are also opposing/balancing/working with.  Simply put, stand up.  It takes very little effort to stay standing.  Now lean forward about 5 degrees.  A little more difficult right?  Now stand 7 degrees forward.  A lot more difficult right?  

By taking out the mental aspect of "my hands are too dry and slick," and adding the opposite thoughts that this may be an advantage, I think you may find a way to advance your technique.

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Thanks violinnewb for the thoughtful reply.  From my perspective it's the bowing hand that often feels the need for  moistening, and it's the thumb and pinky only.  Since it's thumb and pinky, it's not a matter of 'gripping' the bow so much as it's just feeling secure contact.  

I used to grip the bow, and when I did so I never recall feeling the need for moistening.  but since I've a much lighter touch on the bow now, and more aware of the nuances of finger/thumb movement, I just don't feel like I've got the tactile contact unless I moisten a bit occasionally.  Sure, I can play with the dry feeling in the bow hand, but it just feels like I'm in danger of slipping.  that's just me....

Left hand is not often a problem.

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10 minutes ago, violinsRus said:

Thanks violinnewb for the thoughtful reply.  From my perspective it's the bowing hand that often feels the need for  moistening, and it's the thumb and pinky only.  Since it's thumb and pinky, it's not a matter of 'gripping' the bow so much as it's just feeling secure contact.  

I used to grip the bow, and when I did so I never recall feeling the need for moistening.  but since I've a much lighter touch on the bow now, and more aware of the nuances of finger/thumb movement, I just don't feel like I've got the tactile contact unless I moisten a bit occasionally.  Sure, I can play with the dry feeling in the bow hand, but it just feels like I'm in danger of slipping.  that's just me....

Left hand is not often a problem.

Soooo....my teacher recently changed my bow grip from Franco-Belgium to the Russian (Auer) bow hold.  I don;'t know if I like it yet but notice some advantages.  

The biggest advantage I find is that I am not "gripping" the bow any longer.  My pinky is relatively free.  Now, I find that I am using gravity and physics more so than the muscles of my fingers.  It is much less "grippy" and much more loose.  At first, it made me feel uneasy because it felt like my bow was going to slip out of my hands.  But once I trusted the system, it turned out that I am doing a lot less "efforting" and I suspect that for slick fingers, this may be helpful.

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wow, see this video that describes the Russian bow hold this guy uses, at 1:45 he says he doesn't need the complicated finger and wrist movements, just the weight of his hand/arm and a straight pinky.  If this is what the Russian hold means, (I don't know if this fellow is representing the technique accurately) I'm not going there... I would lose all the bowing nuances I've worked for in the last few years, which are all about finger and wrist flexibility!

 

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49 minutes ago, violinnewb said:

This is interesting and I had to read the thread several times.  Here are my thoughts:

1. By mentioning "callouses', I am assuming you are seeking advice regarding the left hand and not necessarily the bow hand; however, my opinion doesn't change my question- why do you need to "grip" the violin/bow?

2. My biggest problem in both hands, and something I practice daily with weekly lessons, is lightening my "grip" everywhere on the violin/bow.  You would be surprised by the minimal amount of effort necessary to produce a good sound.  For instance, watch Nathan Milstein and Augustin Hadelich.  First watch their left hands.  The minimal amount of pressure, grip, and effort is so obvious.  In fact, sometimes when Augustin Hadelich plays, it doesn't look like his left hand really ever maintains contact with the neck of the violin.  My teacher always tells me, "LESS EFFORTING!"

3. Use physics.  Use gravity.  the fingers on the left hand will go down regardless of effort and grip.  As long as they go down, the slightest amount of pressure will be enough to keep them stationary.  I cannot imagine a scenario where there is so little friction between fingers and the finger board where one cannot accomplish this. If your fingers are sliding around like an beginning ice skater who cannot maintain standing up, then there may be another problem.

4. Is your violin level?  Too often, and I preach this so much with my own children and students, the violin is simply not level.  Too many people play with the violin angled down.  Why?  If your violin is at any angle that exceeds 5 to 10 degrees from the plane of the ground, you are creating too many planes for the fingers and bow to have to oppose/balance/work with.  For instance, if your violin is angled low, then not only are you working against the vertical and natural gravitational direction on the horizontal plane, you are creating a diagonal plane from which you are also opposing/balancing/working with.  Simply put, stand up.  It takes very little effort to stay standing.  Now lean forward about 5 degrees.  A little more difficult right?  Now stand 7 degrees forward.  A lot more difficult right?  

By taking out the mental aspect of "my hands are too dry and slick," and adding the opposite thoughts that this may be an advantage, I think you may find a way to advance your technique.

I think you underestimate the reality of dry skin in the winter time.  You’re correct about physics, though.  But I think it may be easy to overlook the coefficient of friction deltas between dry skin and not dry skin.

One scientific abstract I found online a few moments ago noted that the coefficient of friction increased by a factor of THIRTEEN as the skin became increasingly wet / hydrated.

 

This is not a technique issue.

 

 

 

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6 minutes ago, violinsRus said:

wow, see this video that describes the Russian bow hold this guy uses, at 1:45 he says he doesn't need the complicated finger and wrist movements, just the weight of his hand/arm and a straight pinky.  If this is what the Russian hold means, (I don't know if this fellow is representing the technique accurately) I'm not going there... I would lose all the bowing nuances I've worked for in the last few years, which are all about finger and wrist flexibility!

 

Yep. I thought the same thing when I changed recently.  With my original bow hold, I can manipulate the bow with my fingers and do all sorts of things.  BUT...with the Auer Bow Hold, I noticed that I can let my bow do alot of the work and my fingers just absorb the movements and guide instead of actually driving.  AGain, I am not sure if I like the new bow hold at all, but I can definitely see the advantages.

I only bring this up again and again because it relates to the OP slick finger problem and this bow hold actually benefits from slick fingers.

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Just now, outofnames said:

I think you underestimate the reality of dry skin in the winter time.  You’re correct about physics, though.  And what I’m saying is you’re not appreciating the coefficient of friction deltas between dry skin and not dry skin.

One scientific abstract I found online a few moments ago noted that the coefficient of friction increased by a factor of THIRTEEN as the skin became increasingly wet / hydrated.

 

This is not a technical flaw issue.

I have always had dry skin and slick finger tips.  Hence my teachers always telling me to do less and trust physics.  And I also live in a very dry climate.  Again, I cannot imagine a situation where your fingers have such little friction that they cannot maintain the minimal pressure necessary to produce quality tone.  

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