Parallel Motion

This should have been one of the first posts, but there were so many other exciting things to talk about! In any case, I hope you’ll forgive me. Here we go:


Both arms should travel in the same direction when crossing strings. When the right arm goes to the upper strings, the left arm goes to the left. When the right arm goes to the lower strings, the left arm goes to the right. Easy peasy! My colleague Brian Griffin, who teaches strings at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, FL, showed me an even more elegant way of thinking about this:

  • When you’re on the bottom string, aim your left elbow at your left big toe.
  • On the top string, aim at your left ring toe.
  • The others correspond to the toes in the middle.
  • (Great silent practice idea alert!)

Here’s a video:


  • Intonation
    • If a learner doesn’t do this notes on the top string will be flat and notes on the lowest string sharp. Try this out: Put your fingers on the D and A string (G and D for viola) Without moving anything but the fingers reach down to the lower strings. You’ll see that the fingers have to lengthen to reach that string. If the 3rd finger was in the right place on the middle strings it will be a half step sharp on the lowest string. If you do the same thing in the opposite direction, you’ll see that the string become quite flat on the upper string (not quite a half step, but pretty close). The worst part is how it feels up there! Totally scrunched up! (More below)
    • Fingers need to move in a straight line across the fingerboard

  • Ease of playing
    • Fingers will always be at a comfortable length. I once had a fairly advanced learner who was playing Mendelssohn Concerto quite well, but he never moved his left elbow. He had his fingers scrunched up so tightly on the E string that his fingers were white. To this day I have no idea how he managed to get around the E string at all. Parallel Motion saved the day.
    • A great way to practice this is with the 4th finger dragging lightly over the strings (see video above). This helps to ensure that the learner is also playing with good hand position.

Something to consider:

  • I’ve seen teachers ask learners to torque their left arms to an extreme degree on the G string. It hurts! You don’t need to do that. The arm should be able to swing very freely when you’re on the two middle strings and retain a decent amount of flexibility on the outer strings. The elbow only needs to swing about the width of the fingerboard to cover all of the strings comfortably, so not much more than an inch or two.

I hope this is helpful. The blog’s going on vacation for a couple of weeks but we’ll be back with much more really soon. Until then, happy playing!

Next Time: The Unsung Beauty and Utility of the Two Octave Scale

Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)

Please contact me at if you’d like me to come and lead a workshop. I’m available for student workshops and teacher professional development sessions.