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Using a Fractional Size Violin to Improve Posture and Technique

August 1, 2011 at 1:49 PM

My violin teacher has been pointing out to me that I use the pads of my fingers too much, rather than the tips of my fingers to depress the strings. If I constantly focus on that point, then I can remember to do it. But it just isn't a natural feel and is a difficult habit to develop.

I recently decided to try out a 7/8 size violin because I thought it would be easier to hit that difficult fourth finger, which I always miss playing in tune. My teacher said my hands were too big for a 7/8, with which I disagreed, and went ahead with my plan anyway. Good thing it was only on trial, as my hands WERE too big, but there was an unexpected benefit of using it for a few weeks.

The proportion of size difference between a 4/4 and 7/8 violin is really very small. When you think in terms of 1/2 inch, that seams big, but the overall proportions are very close. However, this tiny difference made it nearly impossible for me to play in tune using the same sloppy hand posture I had been using on my 4/4. The ONLY way to get the notes in tune was to lift my hand high and play with the very tippy tips of my fingers.

I found that my fingers were very cramped after a few weeks of this sort of effort and I went back to my 4/4 violin. Suddenly it felt as though I had been wearing shoes 2 sizes too small but never knew it until I put on shoes that fit. My violin felt so much more comfortable and I was actually able to hit that dreaded 4th finger.

What's more, is that my fingers maintained that lifted posture and I was using the tips of my fingers and playing in better tune on my 4/4 than I had before. It was an unexpected perk.

After a couple of months, I have tended to sway back to my old bad habit of using my finger pads, but am considering buying a cheap, used 7/8 for daily scales practice to keep training my fingers to go up on tip.

 

That's my tidbit for the day.


From Millie Bartlett
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 1:52 AM

I love this tip Julianne, thank you very much for sharing.  I also have the pinky blues most of the time and have found it difficult to get an exact position with it that works every time.  I think whatever works for someone might well work for another.  I should see if I can locate a 7/8 and give this a try.

Cheers Millie


From Jo Parker
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 5:23 AM

 this is so 'funny'!  I ended up buying a 7/8 nine months ago and keeping it, it has become my only violin! I have sold my 4/4 LOL  


From Gene Wie
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 7:45 AM

This is an interesting situation; I actually went the opposite direction as a teacher:

I had a student who came to me with this problem that she couldn't play the fourth finger in tune on the tips of her fingers, and was considering moving down to a 7/8 so she could reach it.

I had her stop playing on the tips of her fingers and to use the pads instead, and now she has no problem with the intervals. This also allowed her to back off on the force she was using to press the strings down, and rely more on the weight of the arm instead. That in turn allowed her to not have to push the strings down all the way to the fingerboard to stop the notes, and improved her speed overall.

 


From Julianne Heinen
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 1:41 PM

@ Gene,

 

That is interesting indeed. On a side note, I recently purchased a 40 year old Sherl Roth viola (16 inch) to experiment with. Because of it's enormous size compared to my violin, I have to play with my finger pads. I have found that I am playing in much better tune with the large viola and my stretched out finger pads than I ever played on my violin with either finger postition. It never would have occured to me that I could manage a 16 inch viola, but I am wondering if it isn't my natural instrument.

 

It really is interesting how little differences in hand posture and finger placement can make such a big difference. :)

 

Julianne


From Diane Allen
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 2:08 PM

What size bow are you using?

I love giving students perspective by having them practice with different sized bows. It's a fun exercise and it usually gives the student many opportunities for "aha" moments!


From Scott Cole
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 4:55 PM

 I'm skeptical of this approach (using one size violin to correct poor posture on another size). The problem really is not the instrument size, but the student's attention to posture. For many people, the 4th finger just has to be stretched and the arm-wrist system has to be gotten around to the right side of the instrument. Logistically, it's impractical. Should the students be required to purchase a 2nd instrument? Parents would love that idea... and if the teacher had one and loaned it out, does that mean the teacher would have to have several lying about?

So many students simply don't pay attention to posture, and it's the paying attention part that should be cultivated. If the student is simply too small for a 4/4, that's one thing, but if 4/4 is their size, then I think they should tailor their posture to that instrument.


From Julianne Heinen
Posted on August 3, 2011 at 5:42 PM

I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone require their student to buy another instrument. Not sure what part of my post could have given you that idea.

I'm simply sharing how this experience helped me by forcing me to pay that due attention to my hand posture. When you are learning the violin there is just so much to think about at one time. Hand posture can get lost in the effort to read the music, stay in tune, etc.

It's easy advice to just say, "Pay attention to your posture," but by playing on another instrument you get a different feel and perspective. Anyway, you can buy such cheap instruments these days that it wouldn't be a financial hardship. I'm not talking about using a high quality instrument for scales practice. You might want to let go of that skepticism and give it a shot for kicks.

 

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