Perfect 5ths

Rodney Friend

British violinist Rodney Friend has spent many years formulating his method for achieving a relaxed left-hand position. Here, he shares his voyage of discovery with Charlotte Smith

Rodney Friend is a man on a mission. The former concertmaster of the London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and BBC Symphony orchestras has been sharing his knowledge of violin technique for many years – particularly in his past and current professorial roles at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, London. But it is only in the past decade that he has crystallised his ideas about violin hold into a teachable theory, based on practising in 5ths. It’s a technique he wants to share with as many violinists as possible.

The key is a natural and relaxed left-hand position. ‘Most great players find that relaxed hold when they are children. Oistrakh, Heifetz, Szeryng and all the celebrated prodigies intuitively found that position, and their teachers were smart enough not to interfere when they saw something working,’ says Friend. The main barrier to a supple left hand and fast, tension-free fingers, he continues, is a wrist that is pronated outwards. The wrist should instead be relaxed and bent slightly inwards in order to facilitate a resonant sound and free vibrato, with full finger pads on the string.

‘I remember when I was young that everyone in the publicity photographs was pictured with their wrists sticking out, but in concert the wrist was so much softer. So it was all about aesthetics. The only real problem we have in maintaining a relaxed hand position is the shape of the violin and getting around the ribs when we are moving into the higher positions. But the arm should move in a straight line until you encounter the ribs.’

So where does practising in 5ths fit into Friend’s theory of violin hold? It’s a technique that in many ways has taken a lifetime of high-quality performance and observation to evolve. ‘In 1988 I was on a competition panel in Japan with Ruggiero Ricci, who had a phenomenal technique,’ he explains. ‘I had never before seen such…’ 

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