Different Hand Sizes and Violin Playing

October 17, 2017, 11:41 AM · At the end of the discussion of this blog post by Laurie:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/201710/22457/

Eva Savelsberg posted a very interesting document showing different hand size measurements for 5%, 50%, and 95% of men and women:

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

As she said, it's in German, but it's relatively easy to figure out. The hand measurements are on pages 12-14.

I found this to be very interesting because I'd never seen such detailed measurements of so many different aspects of hand size. I thought it would be worthwhile to continue this discussion here since hand size does come up so often when discussing technical challenges on the violin.

Here's what I had to say in the other thread:

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 due to fingers at about the 25% of women, but it's possible to learn to mash one's fingers down a little differently when high up doing double stops to compensate.

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 (say 25%) instead of constantly straining while playing a larger instrument.

Replies (5)

Edited: October 17, 2017, 11:54 AM · These are great points. Almost anyone can learn to play the violin well with dedication and interest. Every hand size/shape poses challenges.
October 17, 2017, 12:57 PM · Little kids spend most of their time in low positions so the size of the violin is chosen to keep the left arm having the right shape and position, e.g., not extending the elbow too much to reach the stops.
Edited: October 18, 2017, 1:46 PM · Small hands (e.g. mine on viola..) have to reach back often withe first finger. Contact with the string is then to the side of the nail, and tone and vibrato are compromised.

Watch the dainty hands of Midori or Kyung Wha Chung on U-toob. Ms Chung actually injured her index finger, then intensive cortisone treatment enabled her to continue playing, but also eventually caused the finger to collapse and she had to stop performing for, I believe, ten whole years..

I am the same age, but have never practiced as much as Ms Chung! I have nonetheless aquired a viola with a shorter string-length.
Also, the combination of an extended arm and a stretched pinky produces excruciating inflamation in the elbow, as in tennis elbow. I call it Viola Elbow.

Let's take care of our children: they too may wish to play well into retirement one day!

October 18, 2017, 2:41 PM · Adrian, I had/am having some issues with my left elbow (tense vibrato up high on the G string). I have been using this Theraband Flexbar exercise to strengthen(?) the tendon and it has actually helped my pain go away. I was pretty skeptical, but it may be worth a shot, and the barrier to entry is pretty low.

How-to video

Of course, the real long-term solution for me is being disciplined about not using a tense vibrato, but this has been important for what has been pretty scary.

October 18, 2017, 3:31 PM · Yikes: I have to reach back with my first finger a non-trivial amount just to play the violin in first position, so it sounds like the viola is out for me as a serious venture.

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