Fourth finger anatomical limitations
It varies from population to population but about 10-20% of people don’t have the tendons/muscles to independently flex their fourth finger at the PIP joint. Studies have confirmed that the incidence drops markedly amongst violinists with advanced skills, implying that if you don’t have the independent movement required, then you will not progress to advanced playing techniques.
See this article for more information about a test that shows the independence of the joint.
I’d like to know if people have developed specific strategies to compensate for the limitations on their playing enforced by a missing muscle head or flexor digitalis superficialis for their fourth finger.
I’ve always struggled with fourth finger trills, and other techniques involving my fourth finger. Although I’d describe my level as advanced intermediate, I’m always having to find fingerings that allow me to avoid difficult fourth finger situations.
As exercises can’t grow a new tendon or muscle head, what have other people done to compensate and keep their playing on an improvement trend?
You mean like this article?
I found this video with a much more comprehensible explanation than the article in the OP. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TZLAzfyc_0
This is good news, now I can become an elite violinist!
Well, my ring finger bends, a little, in both hands, when bending the pinky, but I can lift it and partially straighten it when the pinky is down (much more in the left hand thanks to the viola!).
Looking through archived discussions here, it's not hard to find comments from people who are concerned about their fourth finger technique, and why it is that they can't stop the PIP joint collapsing. If you can pass the test then that's great, but I have struggled with this issue for 50 years playing solo, jazz, folk, and orchestral repertoire, only recently learning that my fourth finger simply can't be bent at that joint in certain situations.
Thanks for that video link! I agree that the independent function, while obviously ideal, wouldn't stop your progress. Feeling a strength and lift from the back of the hand starting at the palm joints (I like to think of the hand like a willow tree) has helped me a lot. And if the pinky cannot operate independently of the other fingers, then let the other fingers be involved. Let them rest and move as the pinky needs to instead of wrenching the pinky down by itself. But I always struggle with pinky any way I try to use it
For more years as a cellist/violinist than I'd care to remember an important part of my warm-up has been fast trills on all fingers in a variety of positions including, possibly unusually, the 1st finger on an open string (can be useful in Baroque). And before all that the keyboard finger exercises my piano teacher made me do as a small child :(
I have non-independence in my right hand and and almost independence in my left. I cannot seem to stop a very small participation of my ring finger when I crinkle my 4th finger. It is tiny - barely perceptible, but exists.
Although I realize they published a scientific paper about this, I'm still not so sure about this. When I took up violin playing again seven years ago, there was no way I could do what the Australian lady in the video linked by Mary Ellen demonstrates. My 3rd and 4th fingers were hopelessly dependent. But I was passionate about improving on the violin and motivated and determined to conquer my limitation. I did all the typical pinky exercises, as I was already 42 years old at the time, this was really tough practicing. Anyway, after a few months the finger dependence was already largely resolved. Nowadays I can readily do what the Australian lady demonstrates and I can do technical things on the violin that seemed ridiculous to me seven years ago, like trilling double-stopped octaves. So I just want to say, practice can do wonders. I am not an anatomist but tendons and muscles are not homogeneous bands of rubber, they consist of individual cells, they are connected by nerves, your brain can do a lot to change and train their capabilities?
Some players seem to be unnaturally well-endowed in this department;
My 50 years of solid work, tertiary level conservatorium training, 15-20 hours of practice every week, and professional performance for 15 years says that effort and training doesn't grow new tendons or muscles, as I still can't pass the test. It doesn't mean I'm unaccomplished. My question isn't about whether this can be fixed with practice. I asked that if people have this issue, what strategies have they used to compensate? For example, my fingering choices are influenced by a realisation that I need to avoid 4th finger trills when possible, as they simply aren't as good as other combinations, being uneven and relatively unreliable.
As I often write, Fourth Finger Rules!
Did the test. I guess I can't become advanced.
It’s no reason to be discouraged. You can still play, improve, and enjoy the journey.
I seem to have independent function on both hands. I can't play very well :)...yet.
I don't have this independent motion, and it's sort of nice to know that it's biological and not my fault. :-)
The article didn't indicate whether or not one can exercise the pinky and eventually gain independence.
Right Jason. The Atlantic study does not distinguish between cause and effect. Is it because of hours of practice that most violinists achieve independence or the other way around? While I'm not going to argue with a surgeon on what can and can't be done anatomically, what the study should have done with any foresight is to test how much -right- hand 4th finger independence these same players had. I have a feeling that right hand 4th finger independence would be less prevalent. This is assuming left and right hand are mirrored which can be a big jump in assumption since most people have only one hand dominance. Still I liked what one of the commenters said: it's like saying 100% of weight lifters can bench press their weight whereas only a few % of the general population can. So don't even try?
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.