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Emily Grossman

Boot Camp

November 24, 2011 at 10:10 AM

Let me explain (and let this be a lesson to all you young folk out there who think it's no big deal to play with bad habits): Until college, I played with the second joint of my left pinky collapsed. Then, in college, my professor made me quit that habit, but by then, the tip joint had been abused for so long that it lacked the ability to flex gently like the other tips, and remains more or less frozen when I try to use vibrato. Moreover, the base knuckle acts rather double jointed and pops in and out of good form as I play. By sheer will power, I've forced that stupid fourth finger to be more reliable, at least in fast passages and simple phrases. However, it gets stuck on double stops and flails rather miserably for trills. Basically, my hand runs along like a car in need of a good alignment.

You'd be surprised at how long you can gimp along with a junky pinky. For instance, over the years, I've invented the most amazing fingerings. Entire pages of lyrical passages in my Brahms sonata contain not a single four. (Yampolsky would be proud.) Okay, perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much. I'm pretty embarrassed about it--and yet, slightly proud of the fact that I've managed to come as far as I have, despite my handicap. Maybe it runs in the family: my grandpa was completely missing the tip of his third finger, to the first joint, yet he could sing like a lark with his fiddle. Just goes to show, there's more than one way to play the violin.

Nevertheless, there's passable, and then there's efficient. I'm craving fluent double stops and trills, and you just can't manage that kind of skill without absolute mastery of the fourth finger. So this is why I've spent the last two days staring at the shape of my hand and sorting out its muscle structure, pondering training plans, imagining a minuscule gym, complete with bench presses and resistance training. I want a focused, precise, articulate pinky, and I will try anything at this point; I'm that desperate. (Either that, or I'm that bored.)

Pinky pull-ups. Maybe that'll do it...

From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 24, 2011 at 1:18 PM
Good luck. Be careful not to do anything that will put it permanently out of whack. I think the winter up there is getting to you.
From Bart Meijer
Posted on November 24, 2011 at 6:00 PM
Tom said it: take care.
From Patrick Lengkong
Posted on November 24, 2011 at 6:04 PM
HAHA Pinky pull-ups?
From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 24, 2011 at 7:40 PM
Hey, Ray Randall just mentioned barbell exercises over on the vibrato thread, so apparently, this is normal.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 24, 2011 at 11:31 PM
nope. nope. nope.
Jab the little finger repeatedly into a jar of chunky peanut butter. This technique is practiced at the shaolin temple I stayed at . Licking the butter off is the final stage as the tongue restores sensation in the offending digit.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 25, 2011 at 1:36 AM
I got a real good workout in today, cleaning the sides of my eggnog glass. Had to really stretch to get down to the bottom, but I made sure to keep good form.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 25, 2011 at 5:40 AM
Emily, pictures? Video of this pinkie in action? There just has to be an exercise for this; one that won't injure you. I just finished doing this new book of Simon Fischer's called "Warm up" and it is basically a 36-minute comprehensive warm up for both hands. Some of the left-hand warm ups might be relevant for you. Are you really unable to put the pinkie down properly without pain or problems? Where is your LH thumb? Is your elbow far enough to the right?
From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 25, 2011 at 6:21 AM
Don't worry, I'm pretty methodical. I'm pretty sure I know what I want from it, and I'm looking for a series of steps, starting our very simple and easy and progressing forward from there. There's only a couple of strength training things I'm doing. The rest involves forcing the pinky to maintain good form 100% of the time. The pinky needs to fire from the same direction and joint as the others, and right now it doesn't all the time (likes to sneak into the string or use different muscles, or change the hand structure, which is a major slow-down in fast passages). And the action needs to be rapid and light, to give proper enunciation. If I can't keep proper form, I do something simpler. Eventually, my goal is to hit some Kreutzer trills again.

Regarding vibrato, I'm currently doing a lot of loose, slow work with the motions, making it mimic the same motions the other fingers use. It's very light right now, hardly any pressure on the string.

Regarding Dounis, I'm only on exercise one, and this is to encourage finger independence and form. It's fun. I feel like a spider.

See, I know what I'm doing. Baby steps, baby steps...

I might post a video for you to laugh at. Maybe not.

PS Nothing I do causes pain. I want no more than light muscle fatigue at the end of the day, preferably not even that.

PPS This is mostly a mental game, but you know that, don't you? ;)

From Elizabeth Elliot
Posted on November 25, 2011 at 7:46 AM
The balance of your hand should be heavy on 4th finger, light on 1st. If you "lean" your fingers toward 4th, it becomes more reliable and stronger, it facilitates shifting "up", it facilitates vibrating back from the pitch, your fingers stay curved and flexible.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 25, 2011 at 1:19 PM
I already do that, but thanks. :)
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on November 28, 2011 at 12:54 AM
I can see this blog really struck a chord with lots of people. And I know there have been lots of discussion topics about it. I appreciate it that you wrote it because as a near beginner, I've been trying to get my own pinky behaving. My teacher says not to worry--it will come with time, but I AM worried. Now you've given me the goal of a smoothly flexing 2nd joint to work towards.

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