Ask the Teacher - Barbara Beechey


The viola pedagogue and orchestral musician discusses how to help students perfect playing in high positions

How do you help students to reach high positions on the viola?

Viola shapes aren’t standard: thicknesses vary; some have squarer shoulders; some are much narrower. For a student with small hands, shifting can be a big stretch, so in ninth position and higher I get them to bring the thumb out from the crook of the neck and round on top of the instrument, touching the side of the fingerboard. Some students like to bring their thumb up to cup the shoulder instead, to give them a landmark. Those with larger hands can rest their thumb on the viola’s shoulder, but only if their fingers are long enough to let them do that without bending their wrists unhelpfully. The left thumb should never lose contact with the instrument.

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