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Pinky Exercises (for left and right hands)

Technique and Practicing: What exercises do you do to strengthen your pinkies?

From Christianna Stavroudis
Posted June 12, 2004 at 05:14 AM

One facet of violin playing that has always troubled me is the weakness of my pinky fingers on both hands. My right pinky has the tendency to collapse and lock after several measures (and consequently inhibits many of the things I'd like to do with the bow) and my left pinky cannot press down the strings without collapsing at the middle knuckle. Recently, I have paid more attention to this problem and would really like to conquer it by the fall. I was wondering, did (does) anyone have this problem? What exercises do you do to strengthen your pinkies? Thank you for your comments!

Note: To my knowledge, I am not double-jointed in any of my fingers. I believe this problem arose when I first started playing: I have always been able to bend the upper knuckle of my fingers. I think I "took advantage" of this fact when I first learned to play and have taught myself to vibrate and hold the bow with the middle knuckle of my pinkies collapsed.

From Adam Smith
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 05:29 AM
The strength in one's pinky's is vital to effective violin playing. The left hand pinky's stability can only be achieved with the correct structure of the left hand...i.e wrist straight, fingers having good solid contact with the fingerboard (the 'meat' of the fingers meeting the fingerboard), a support with the thumb of the violin, a awareness of the elbow used as a "pivot", moving from left to right slightly at string changes. Once one has acquired all this, you can begin to feel much more stable in all the fingers, and generally the pinky stops collapsing. This structure I believe eliminates unneccessary tension/pressure of the fingers on the fingerboard and allows much more flexibility. I experienced a change like this a while ago, whereby my 3rd and 4th left hand fingers collapsed with the slightest amount of pressure, it was all these changes that I described that led to a much more stable left arm and hand and thus a stronger pinky.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 12:31 PM
you might fins it helps to keep the 3rd finger of the right hand further over the frog so that it covers the mothe rof pearl eye or even more. the forces the litlte finger to stay bent. The basic strengthening exercises can be found in gerle"s Art of Bowing book. Also Fischer"s Basics right at the beginnning.
Strengthern the left hand with mordents or rapid turns. You might practice scales using only third and fourth finger with a turn on each note. I am dubious about long and repetative studies ionvolving the fourth finger since it pushes the concept of brute strength too much. Ricci always advises the nervous trill method (short trills ) rather than long andlaborious trilling as advocated by Sevcik and a few others,
From Sue Donim
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 01:18 PM
Sevcik op.1 pt.1 is mind-numbingly boring but brilliant for pinky power.
From Christianna Stavroudis
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 01:35 PM
Buri, I'm afraid I cannot visualize the third and fourth finger turns for the scales. Are they much like the Flesch fingerings (1-2, 1-2, etc.) only for the third and fourth fingers?

Thank you everyone for your helpful responses.

From tristan torriani
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 03:05 PM
I would rather question that your pinky is weak and that it needs strengthening at all, maybe it collapses and stiffens because the base joints are misplaced. IMO, a normal, healthy hand does not need strengthening to play the violin, provided muscular tonus is maintained by regular practise. If your pinky is short, you may want to check out the thread "Short 4th finger" in the archives.
From Christianna Stavroudis
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 03:57 PM
Tristan, thank you for your post; it was a real eye-opener. I never realized that I have short pinkies! (Mine also only reach the mid-point between the middle knuckle and the upper knuckle.) The "short 4th finger" thread looks very comprehensive, thank you again.
From Tim McNally
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 05:04 PM
Tristan, you say: "If your pinky is short, you may want to check out the thread "Short 4th finger" in the archives."

How/where do you access the archives? Often I look things up on Google (within Violinist.com) but the URL that comes up doesn't work, and I end up only back at the general list of topics. I don't know how to 'get inside' these links.
Thanks, Tim

From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 05:14 PM
Schradiek strengthens all the fingers, as does Kreutzer number 8 (i think it's number 8... or maybe it's nine, the one with all the 16th nots, in Bb Major).
From tristan torriani
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 05:46 PM
Tim, very important question. You have to retrieve the CACHED page on Google. It's a link that appears somewhat under the result, to the right.
Laurie explained to me that www.violinist.com cannot carry all of the archive threads because of bandwidth limitations. My suggestion is that a short page w/ such tips would be helpful for those who want to use the site's resources.
From Sue Donim
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 06:40 PM
Tristan, thanks for this info - I've had trouble too.

Re. pinkies, several of my students have had 'collapsing' problems. However, if you make sure you stop the string using the absolute fingertip, not the pad, the problem should solve itself.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 12, 2004 at 09:17 PM
take a scale that is fingered 33333333333333. One string or whatever. On ever note then add a mordent 343 change 343 change 343 change.
Or just play scales using 3 and 4 only.
Be careful of 4th finger only scales. They can distort the placing of the hand so it is advisable to keep the first fingerdown -lightly - on another string,
From Christianna Stavroudis
Posted on June 14, 2004 at 02:22 AM
I cannot thank everyone enough for your helpful responses. This has been a problem that has troubled me for sometime and I already I am seeing my pinkies strengthen using your advice.
From John Cadd
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 10:17 AM
Christianna do you know where the small finger muscles are in your forearm? The top of the forearm one that raises the finger is right back near the elbow on the outside.( Not the best seat in the house.) Have you tried using elastic bands to give them a workout? The gripping muscles will always be stronger than the lifting open muscles. Much like a crocodile. Looking at the question again I have taken a wrong turn. The closing forces are giving you most trouble. You must have a bad hand posture combined with attempts to use too much force on the finger. Don`t aim to use a lot of pressure on the string.You could exercise with shaped cork taped to the left finger to make the finger behave. If you were Chinese we could send your finger for re-education.
If you want to change your right hand see how a Russian player used to hold his bow. Igor Bezrodny playing the Chaconne plays all the chords at the start without his small finger touching the stick. He was in the David Oistrakh level of players. The Violin Mastery e book has a comment from a famous player ( Edmund Severn ) who does not want one particular style of bow holding forced on anyone. He said it was too personal and variable.
The loud chords do not need small finger bow pressure as that finger balances the bow to reduce pressure when near the frog. At the frog most of the bow weight is levering downwards on the far end of the G string side. At the tip there is little or no bow weight leverage. You can examine what bow weight leverage does with a set of scales.Hold the bow lightly and rest the hair on the scale at different distances from the frog . Is the bow changing weight by itself? No. The leverage points are changing. The small finger should not be pressing hard against the stick all the time. That`s important. The small finger is used to reduce or modify bow pressure on the string.
From Joey Corpus
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 11:16 AM
It takes time to develop strength in the fingers. Practicing 1-4 octaves and 3rds might be helpful if you do them properly. Do you have a teacher to talk to about your pinky issues?
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