skip to Main Content

Be Clutchless at Carnegie Hall

With any luck, Ruggiero Ricci will never hear me play the violin. I am strictly Suzuki mom, maybe book 3 in my heyday. However,  I have had the benefit of watching the development of 2 family violinists, and learning second hand from them and the great teachers they have studied with, and applying Rolfing principles to that knowledge.

One of the big troubles in any instrumental playing is clutching up on the instrument.  If you hear some instrumentalist say that they have “overuse syndrome”, you can bet that they clutched their instrument long and hard.

The poor instruments, some of them from the 1600’s, are lost in the clutches of villainous clawing from “players” who are actually grasping themselves into “overuse”.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and through the course of following various teachers over the years I have seen a number of ingenious inventive lessons for the clutchers.

None, however, can beat this one I am going to tell that I got second hand from Ruggiero Ricci, who is still alive in Palm Springs CA.  My nephew, Will Haapaniemi,  went to Palm Springs from Los Angeles and gleaned this idea during his series of lessons with Professor Ricci, some years back.

The One Finger Scale:  you are going to play 5 note scales with only one finger, starting with the first finger. Start on the D string (BTW this works for any stringed instrument). Play with vibrato, starting with the first fingered note, in this case, either D# or E, and play every 2 notes slurred, up to the 5th note, and come back.  (You are using only the first finger.) Let’s say, starting on E on the D string,  with parentheses for where you slur: (E, F#), (G#,A), (B, A), (G#F#), E.

So you are slurring 2, and tempo should be about 60 mm, with the notes as eighth notes.  When you repeat the one finger scale with the other fingers, evaluate which finger has the best vibrato, and see if the other fingers will copy that finger.

Still on the D string, go to the next note up, it could be F or F#, you choose, and play a major scale from that note the same way (but with the second finger), 5 notes.  Go to the next note up , and play a major scale the same way (but with the 3rd finger), 5 notes up.  The last one, next one note up, 4th finger.

Now move to any other string, do all four strings, same thing, 5 note scales, all 5 notes with the index finger, then all 5 with the second, then all 5 notes with the 3rd, until the last: the 5 note scale with the pinky finger.  You will notice that this will give your knowledge of scales a nice little workout.  Ricci taught this with all 8 notes of the scale, and you can move to that as you get more proficient with the exercise.

This exercise should take 10 minutes tops, don’t be grinding in on it for  2 hours.  If feeling frisky, do minor scales some days. This is a great warm-up for the left hand.

I’m grateful to Ricci for this teaching for clutchless playing, and numbers of my clients who are string players have loved the way of getting the left hand to open up and look alive, leaving a “clutch” to be a clutch of chicken eggs, or a nice purse to take to Carnegie Hall.

You can see Ricci’s bio, discography, his new book (well worth the price) and some youtube clips and even email him for a lesson at

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Good post! One of the interesting things about Ricci’s playing (and teaching) was that he advocated using very little pressure at all times, so there was barely even any change of finger pressure between shifts and notes. I think this is one of the reasons he was able to do such ridiculous technical passages so easily, he never crushed his fiddle.

    It’s interesting you bring this up right now, too, because I’m currently revisiting a lot of the techniques he gave me specifically in relation to finger pressure and shifting.

  2. Hi, Will, thanks for the extra embellishment.
    Maybe we have ESP or something is in the air, but also a client called yesterday and told me he won a job….and thanked me for giving him the exercise a couple of weeks ago. So thanks!

    How do you think Ricci got his sound with such little pressure?

  3. I’m not exactly sure about that, but one of the things he told me was “Your left hand is a surveyor, it measures distances, and your right hand is a tennis player” *cue a paganini caprice*. I think he hovered very near the point of just barely making a sound all the time with his left while still serving it up with the right.

    With that said one of his comments in Shostakovich concerto cadenza, high up in the stratosphere, was “press like hell with both hands!”

    I guess there’s never a perfect answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top