V.com weekend vote: What is your hand size or shape?

October 13, 2017, 10:40 AM · A few days ago I saw a lecture by a violist -- a very petite woman -- who said very decisively that she preferred to play a viola that was 17 inches or larger.

That's a big viola! Someone in the audience observed that this seemed unwieldy, even for a large person, but the violist responded that her hands are actually pretty large.

The size and shape of our hands does make a difference in how we experience the various difficulties in playing the violin, and yet people of all sizes and shapes make it work.

hands

If Itzhak Perlman can play the violin with such precision with his large, thick fingers, so can the rest of us! But that doesn't mean there aren't challenges. I've known a number of players that have a pinkie that is substantially shorter than the other fingers, and they cope by using alternative fingerings and, on occasion, substituting some notes.

Having long fingers would seem like a great advantage, but it can also require a technique that is different from the way most teachers set things up: for example, a higher-looking thumb in the left hand. Being double-jointed has its own set of challenges - it just might not be possible to shape the hand in the way that most teachers and textbooks advise.

Do you have any issues with your hands? How have you or your teachers coped with them? And when it comes to teachers, what are strategies for students who have these issues?

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Replies

October 13, 2017 at 06:02 PM · My teacher said that I don't really have a broad hand but that my fingers are long.

I can double stop H5 on the A string and E4 on D string.

October 13, 2017 at 06:17 PM · My index finger is too tapered to double-stop anywhere on the neck.

October 13, 2017 at 07:48 PM · A narrow fingertip can be a real problem for playing fifths, especially!

October 13, 2017 at 08:12 PM · Average hand here -- actually size M, medium, which is at the lower end of the scale: S-M-L-XL.

I can play 10ths in 1st position, although I've never tried to stretch farther than this. Haven't yet tried a viola. From what I've read, the ladies often take well to viola, even though they generally have smaller hands than guys have.

October 13, 2017 at 09:11 PM · My hands are pretty small— not Donald Trump small — but small. My narrow fingers make playing 5ths difficult, especially in 3rd position and above. Does anyone have any tricks for this?

October 13, 2017 at 09:20 PM · In the end I didn't vote because I have a large hand (XL+ in gloves) with long, but fat fingers. When combined with the fact that I don't know what I'm doing and badly need lessons (which will happen when I have an income again) it means my intonation is horrid. Oh and I struggle playing double stops because of my fingers often touching more than one string.

Neil

October 13, 2017 at 09:39 PM · I have a 16 inch viola which is rather large for my hand and I do get tired and sore from playing sometimes but I love the sound.

October 13, 2017 at 11:05 PM · I didn't vote because my hand shape doesn't really fall into any of the mentioned categories. I have narrow hands with long, slender fingers. As a result, my fingers can become uncoordinated during certain double stop passages, especially when pinky falls behind. My teacher advises me to bring my hand taller, open up my hand and have my fingers move more vertically and have them closer to the fingerboard.

October 13, 2017 at 11:18 PM · My fingers are giant to the point, I have to position my hand almost a half position back just to get a correct pitch or I really have to get those fingers perfectly placed. I have learned to deal with it fine.

My double jointed-ness has been a pain because in my left hand, my fourth finger locks at the top joint making a vibrato impossible and on my right hand, my pinky locks again, causing my bow hold to become super distorted. Working it all out to this day.

October 13, 2017 at 11:38 PM · I've got regular hand, fingers are long enough with meaty tips. I'm not sure if this valid. My pinky meets the 1st knuckle of my ring finger, which I believe to be normal. I have no excuse :-)

I was told the idea violin hand is nearly equal lengths of all four fingers between index and pinky.

October 13, 2017 at 11:49 PM · I am both double jointed and have very small hands.

October 14, 2017 at 12:16 AM · I note that after 33 votes the average hand is 52%, so I would expect as the voting numbers increase that at least one type of "average" will approach 50% if the distribution is reasonably bell-shaped.

I have a square hand, defined as width equal to length from base of fingers to wrist, a shape that I've been told is ideal for the piano and stringed instruments such as the violin, cello and guitar. My finger lengths are similar to what Yixi has described, the length of the longest finger being equal to the length from finger base to wrist.

My left finger tips are what you'd expect from a life-long cellist (now ex-), but the right finger tips aren't too dissimilar, probably because of my piano playing in my youth.

Hand stretch (separation of fingers) is noticeably better on my left hand than my right - again a relic of my cello-playing past, but basically hand stretch is not so much a function of finger length as of hand width.

Ruggiero Ricci, in an interview with Samuel Applebaum in Book 5 of "The Way They Play", says this about the advice on fingering he gives to his students:

"... not to practice individual scales with only one fingering ... it doesn't matter which finger is used so long as the sound and intonation are good ... the fourth finger is generally a poor finger for beauty of sound ... I don't believe in set fingerings and strongly disagree with those teachers who lend the student their personal sheet music and tell them to copy the fingering, which is ridiculous [because] every one has different sized and shaped hands and fingers ... the student must be trained to use his own head in choosing fingerings as in every other department of playing."

In another part of the interview Ricci says that when he plays at the top of the G-string, he exercises care in this extremely difficult area by not using too much fingering, and so avoids 1-2, 1-2 and instead uses 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, etc.

October 14, 2017 at 12:37 AM · I really don't know what size my hand is so I guess it is average. But, a number of years ago I was working with a student on her pinky and her mother said, "well, it is easy for you since you have a long pinky." I went, "I do?" I spend the next week looking at all of my student's hands to see how long their pinky's were. Most of them barely came up to the crease on the finger next to pinky. My pinky comes up a good 1/4" past the crease.

I don't quite remember how the next works but in a sewing class once the teacher went around the room looking at two other fingers and comparing how long they were to each other. I think it was 3rd to 1st. Something about if your 3rd is longer than your first (?) then there was more testosterone in utero. My 3rd is longer than my first.

Hand is definitely retangular and not square.

October 14, 2017 at 01:35 AM · Small hands. Started out with violin and now learning to play 15 1/2” viola. Fingers seem to be able to reach the notes on viola but my neck gets awfully sore I think because of the heaviness of the instrument AND I’m 61 y/o

October 14, 2017 at 07:36 AM · I have a double-jointed left thumb, but the real issue is that my wrist turns less than most people's, so I suspect that the notes of the Beethoven and Mendelssohn represent my technical limit. My hand size is such that I cannot quite manage tenths below the third position.

I heard Sandor Vegh say that Pablo Casals had very small hands, so he kept his left hand fairly close together and did a lot by shifting.

The late Winifred Copperwheat was petite, but played a Richardson. She supported the viola Dounis fashion, i.e. with a straight quasi-horizontal thumb. Her hands may have been small, as she considered the Walton to be the most difficult viola concerto of all.

October 14, 2017 at 06:11 PM · My teacher told me that I have 'Perlman fingers'.

October 15, 2017 at 12:30 AM · My son plays, I teach him, and when he was born, I looked at his hands to see the shape. His thumbs are exactly like my husband thumbs, which I really did not want to happen, and to me they look like upside down boots! His distal phalanges on both thumbs are very bent out, and I thought ok, he'll play for a little, an then we will switch to guitar where he wont need a bow. It's more or less ok with the left hand, but for the right it's very hard for him to make it round. The rest of the fingers are relatively short and a it stubby, but he is still a small kid for his age.

October 15, 2017 at 02:16 PM · I have long and wide fingers except for my 4th finger, which is short. I have trouble with hand tension. Not sure if this is related, but my 4th finger always comes too far off of the fingerboard when I lift it, and I have difficulty holding it in place above the string even when concentrating on it.

October 15, 2017 at 03:18 PM · How is "unusually short pinkie" is defined? I propose the following.

Make a fist. Using a pen, put a dot on the center of your pinkie and ringo base knuckles, which will be visible and defined on your fist. Now, lay your hand flat on the table and measure from the dot to the end of your finger using a ruler and report the value in millimeters, for both fingers. 75 mm and 95 mm for me. You could also measure the breadth of the hand by putting dots on all four base knuckles in your fist and measuring the distance between the outer two. 59 mm for me.

Not sure how to deal with the thumb.

October 15, 2017 at 11:05 PM · Short pinkies, short thumbs and short ligaments. Makes playing in high positions difficult as thumb won't stretch in the right way and wrist only rotates so far. It's no wonder I always hated 3 octave scales in the harder grades. My hand shape definitely stopped me from progressing to a professional level.

Pinkie also slows me down in fast passages as it tends to flatten, and is too short to have rounded on the lower strings. I have had a joint subluxation in my pinkie, and intermittent wrist strain from playing very high notes.

October 16, 2017 at 05:56 PM · statistics of hand measurements. Sorry in German but easy to figure out.

http://www.tuev-media.info/leseprob/lp_91244.pdf

Page 12 and 13/14

95% of the female population (probably German population, between 18 and 65) have longer and wider hands than I have. :-( . My fingers are a bit longer than my overall hand length suggests.

No big viola for me.

October 16, 2017 at 07:19 PM · Eva, those charts are fantastic. Now we can all know where we stack up.

I always thought I had dainty fingers, and now I know--I'm basically at the 40-60% for women in almost every measurement except for finger width, which is more like 25%. And yet, I can play just fine, although tenths are near my limit (12ths are out). I do have some trouble getting double stops in very high positions, but it's possible to learn to mash one's fingers down a little differently.

What this tells me, combined with my own experience, is that almost every man and almost every woman have hands adequate to playing the violin. You may need to work on finger strength more at first to compensate for short fingers, but once you get the strength you can play anything.

However, I wonder if hand size should be taken into account for children when you move them up to a larger instrument--if hands are on the smaller side then one might want to let them grow a little more into the next size before switching than arm length alone would indicate. Probably waiting until more than the 5% grown woman size at least, although waiting even longer could have some benefit instead of constantly straining while playing a larger instrument.

October 18, 2017 at 07:18 PM · My left hand is a bane. Very, very little flesh on the tip of the 1st finger, which means having to crook it backwards to somehow get something on the string. And a short pinkie. Plus, being a late beginner, reduced flexibility. If I'd find anybody able to show me the way out of eternal crampdom, my gratitude would crawl after that person right to the end of the world.

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