Left/right brain integration/Strings

RenE J.V. Bertin bertin at NeurEtV.biol.ruu.nl
Tue Dec 24 06:15:48 EST 1996

[Apologies for a longish posting]

A side-track to the thread on right/left handedness:

Below are some excerpts from a recent discussion on ASTA-L, concerning the question
why string instruments are normally fingered with the left hand, and bowed/plucked
with the right hand. The general view is that lefties should be at an advantage, given
the fact that they use their best hand for fingering, but I'm not convinced this is the
most difficult task "at hand".

Anyone any thoughts on this?

	In fact, when I recruit, because I know so many left-handers, I say,
	"Good for you.  You have an advantage."  I point out that both hands have to
	work.  And as far finger motion goes, there is more finger motion in the left
	than in the right hand.  Frankly, I guess, I have always sincerely felt
	that left-handed people do have an advantage in plalying a stringed
	instrument, since my first teacher was the standard toward which I strived.
	David Alonzo
	Roswell, NM

	I'm not so sure I agree... The bowing arm needs the coordination and control
	of many more muscles than does the other, IMHO, and has to perform a
	much larger variety of movements!
	Is anything known on the learning curves (for the different aspects of
	mastering violin technique) for right vs. lefthanded persons?


	Has anyone
	ever given a satisfactory answer to the question why -- if the left hand has
	the most difficult job, and given the fact that most people are right-handed
	(it's not for nothing that the latin word for left is "sinister"...) -- (almost?)
	all stringed and plucked instruments are played  with the right and fingered
	with the left hand? And not just in our culture? While keyboard instruments
	traditionally are arranged such that the most  difficult part be played with
	the most dextrous hand?

	(to repeat myself from a post several weeks ago:)
	Several years ago I read a study that found that people have more freedom of
	movement with the fingers of their non-dominant hand, due to the slight
	increase of muscle tone in their dominant hand. If you wiggle your fingers
	loosely in each hand, you should notice that the hand with which you don't
	write has more 'floppiness" of the fingers than the other one. Another good
	example of this is separating your pinky and ring finger from your middle and
	index fingers-(the "Live Long and Prosper" greeting). For most people, this
	can be done much farther on their non-dominant hand.
	Richard Spittel


This one might be especially interesting from a neurological point of view:

	Hello , I am a left-handed violinist and also currently a PhD. candidate in
	cogntive and evolutionary psychology.  I have never felt any problem in playing
	the "regular" way, and have quite a few left-handed students who don't either.
	I've always looked around at my colleagues in professional orchestras and have
	the distinct impression that there are more left-handed string players than
	would be expected in the general population.
		But that's not why I'm writing; many of you have said the same
	thing.  I
	don't believe anyone has mentioned another theory, which has little to do with
	left- or right- handedness, for why the violin family is played on the left
	shoulder.  Have you heard of the "left-side cradling" phenomenon?  Many studies
	have been done that have shown that an extremely high percentage of people hold
	babies on the left side, regardless of whether they are left- or right-handed.
	(Try it and see- pick up a pillow and pretend, or watch people on the street.)
	The effect is strongest in women but also strong in men.  Great apes hold their
	babies on the left too, but monkeys do not.  Numerous theories have been
	proposed as to why this is:  so the baby can hear the heartbeat (shown to be
	ineffective); or so the mother has her right hand free (but mothers even hold
	the baby on the left using the right arm).  I heard a a talk by a psychologist
	who studies this phenomenon; he proposes that the real reason for left side
	cradling is that people monitor a baby's sounds (which are not yet language),
	and thereby his or her emotional state, with the left ear.  Why the left ear?
	The left ear inputs to the right side of the brain- and guess what? That's the
	side that is involved in monitoring non-verbal, non-language aspects of
	communication, and many aspects of music (though reading and writing music
	involves both sides).
		So perhaps holding string instruments on the left has nothing to do,
	historically, with manual "dexterity."  Perhaps it has to do with the wiring of
	the ears and the brain.  (90% of left-handers are still "wired" so that right
	vs.left brain functions are the same as those in righties.)  I don't think
	anyone has really studied this idea in terms of musical instruments; I
	just came
	up with the connection and am writing this off the cuff, so I may not have all
	my neurological details correct- but I think it is something we should
	Perhaps those of you who continue to want to consider us lefties to be slightly
	disadvantaged in playing the "right-handed way" will lay off!  All of us,
	or left- handed, play the "left-eared" way!
	Joanne Tanner 70243.2334 at compuserve.com

And the best season's wishes.. whether you're left, right, or middle-of-the-road ;-)

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