D. C. Dounis and Natural Left Hand Technique

Discussions on D.C. Dounis, Part 1.a,  by Rozanna Weinberger

There is evidently very little written about how Dounis understood technique or insights into his genius aside from the content of his etude books. My own impression on his contribution to string technique is through his impact on the playing of William Primrose and Karen Tuttles elaboration on those principals through her own understanding of technical mastery on the viola.

Its interesting that D.C. Dounis broke down efficient left hand technique into 3 key parts: vibrato, shifting and finger articulation. *  This in itself is not unique.  However he recognized that probably the greatest challenge in left hand technique is not so much putting down an individual note, but in the ease or difficulty in moving from note to note. A barometer of ones left hand technique can be gaged in playing vibrato from one note to the next, in shifting from note to note and in articulating each finger evenly, which necessitates a balanced and equally weighted feeling in each finger  in any part of the finger board.


D.C. Dounis

In the following excerpt Dounis talks about the hand being in ‘good working order’. Karen Tuttle might have rephrased that as ‘balance’ in the left hand.

In order for one to have a correctly produced vibrato on any string with any finger, or any combination of fingers, or in any position, the hand must be in good working order. Many players have good vibratos on single notes. The moment, though, they play thirds or tenths, or in the very high positions, their vibrato becomes tense, affecting the suppleness of the entire left hand.”*

It is so true that when the hand is not balanced or in ‘good working order’ there is an awkwardness in playing vibrato from note to note, with excessive tension resulting. Another characteristic of discomfort going from note to note applies to the feeling when playing double or triple stops and the hand being excessively strained and stretched. Tension in the thumb is a result as is a wrist that will tend to poke out in the opposite direction of the instrument.

it really does come down to fractional sized adjustments that happen between every single note, which are made and these adjustments require the fingers, wrist and hand essentially release and rebalance for every single note and part of the finger board.  While complex sounding, once mastered ones playing feels effortless.

How to discover the flow?  Perhaps the best any teacher can  do is offer clues on what ought to be happening in the left hand. The WRIST is probably one of the best barometers and can be the basis for much focus.

  1. Bring left hand up and touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the 1st finger, then the thumb to the middle finger, the third finger then finally the thumb to the pinky.
  2. Observe the wrist and what naturally occurs when finger is released from a note.  There is a symbiotic response in the wrist. Chances are the wrist ‘released’ between each finger.
  3. The release of the wrist would be characterized by bending inward.

Taking this simple observation to the next level is done by applying it to playing the instrument. The challenge then becomes observing what tends to happen based on the habitual patterns that have been ‘practiced in’ but also, just as importantly, the possibilities that exist when one can finally notice the excess tension one tends to hold in the wrist rather than release. But once this release is achieved, the hand will feel as if its molding itself around the finger board.

Below is a simple movement study that can be done on all strings. The key is to allow wrist to release ‘in’ between notes rather than bent outward away from the instrument. Such a posture is counterintuitive to the most streamlined use of ones hands, wrist & arm.Screenshot 2016-04-13 19.54.41

  • Courtesy Byron Duckwell. Based on transcripts of interview with D. C. Dounis while in NYC.  According to sources, this was believed to be the only interview in which he spoke about his understanding of technique aside from his technique books. Interviewed by Samuel Applebaum.
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