*Really* short 4th finger

February 3, 2007 at 03:00 AM · On this website we often have people talking about short 4th fingers, but everything is relative, so in case you're interested in "how short" when I'm talking about my 4th finger, here's a link to a picture.

I mean, seriously, relative to the other fingers (esp. the third which may even be a bit longer than 'average'), it looks like it's been partially amputated!

Piano was my major instrument from 2nd grade on. I started violin (and viola, which I don't know how I managed) just before college (music ed major) and played for a few years. Eventually, due in great part to pain and physical problems that I *now* realize stemmed from 2 things; first my short 4th finger and then an incorrect chin rest/shoulder rest combination, I eventually gave up.

Fast forward about 16 years, to 2 years ago...I started to play again. At a certain level, the same old physical difficulties arose. I was able to find a *somewhat* more comfortable setup but eventually 4th finger woes caused me to give up.

Now, recently, I've started yet again (I don't learn LOL). I'm determined to go very slowly and make sure I'm *comfortable and *relaxed. Thanks to the advice found on this website I finally got a good shoulder rest (the comfort/comford cradle) and chin rest combination that makes the violin feel secure and comfortable. My posture, even without the instrument, is much better. The difference is nothing short of miraculous. I hope I can find similar solutions to the 4th finger problem

4th finger is still a problem. As it is *disproportionately* short (which is very different from having a small hand), I cannot follow the 'normal' advice of setting up the 4th finger and making the others fit, as that makes my entire hand twisted, cramped, uncomfortable, tense and really painful.

I've begun to realize that all those years with piano, to 'reach' with the pinky while my other fingers remained curved, I flattened it out and curved only at the tip. I continued to do this with the violin. I may even be a bit double jointed on that finger as it 'pops' when I curve it under tension (if that makes sense)

Honestly, physically, with my pinkie curved (like I now know it's 'supposed' to be), the maximum I can reach is 1/2 step above the 3rd finger. I do have my elbow well under the instrument and even give it a bit of "oomph" to move over even further when I have to use my 4th finger. It's just not enough and pushing it even more is painful (and I'm sure would cause joint and tendon problems in other areas). The extra 'nudge' of the elbow over, and flattening my 4th finger with the end joint bent, *just* allows me to play a step above 3rd finger in tune (just).

It's not uncomfortable to play with my 4th finger that way as I have apparently been playing piano and violin that way my whole life.

Comments? Suggestions? ("play open strings" or "give it up"?? LOL)

I'm almost afraid to admit that, as a grad student (in another discipline) I haven't found a teacher this time (I know what you're all going to say because it's exactly what I'd tell someone else) because I feel I can't guarantee that I'll have adequate practice time each week, and I can't afford to pay for lessons that I'm not practicing for. For now, I hope to just be able to work out the physical problems, get comfortable and do some basic stuff until such time as I can find and afford a teacher who is experienced with problems of this type.

Thanks, Liz

Replies (37)

February 3, 2007 at 04:11 AM · Liz,

And I thought I had it bad having small hands! Anyway, I know it's technically best to keep the fourth finger curved and all, but I have yet to get that to work. Even out of first position when I've experimented with curving it, lifting it is a bit painful (maybe because of being double jointed?). It's not ideal, but if you can play in tune, have some dexterity and the possibility of doing vibrato on the fourth finger with it flattened out, then just do it. Plenty of us do!

-Laura

February 3, 2007 at 04:11 AM · I definitely know your pain! My pinky is the same relative length- in fact, my pinky is less than half way past my knuckle. I'm also just barely over 5 feet tall and I have an unusually small hand for my body size! All the same, I have found ways that work.

Comfort and ease are the two most important things. I actually cannot physically curve my pinky on the violin. It's not possible at all for me to do it- if I get my hand into a position where it's possible, I'm so contourted that I can't play anything at all. I do keep my pinky very loose so that my knuckles don't tighten. There are several people I know that have the same problem and they usually have fairly straight pinkies. It makes pinky vibrato more difficult- I can't do finger vibrato as easily with that finger, although wrist and arm make this alright.

I would just experiment to see what is comfortable and makes you able to perform well. I wish I had a magic fix-all, but it just depends on what feels good to you. It might be uncomfortable for a while, but experimenting is probably the best way to learn how to play with an unfortunately short pinky.

February 3, 2007 at 04:25 AM · I held my hand up to the picture and was amazed to find out that we have the same extreme short 4th finger!!! What I have been taught to do is 2 things. 1st - if it makes sense musically, shift to 2nd or 3rd position (or use open strings). Failing that, do NOT keep your first finger down. Instead, lift it and then rock upwards using your third finger as the pivot point to place your 4th down - kind of like doing getting ready to do an an exaggerated vibrato or a semi-shift. Your second finger should lift off the string slightly as well.

Since learning this trick, I sometimes even overshoot a bit sometimes.

February 3, 2007 at 06:35 AM · If I was looking for a violin teacher, I might seek out one with small hands, everything else being equal. It seems to me the hardest part of the rep is hard basically because of stretches. That teacher would have mastered ways around that obstacle.

February 3, 2007 at 06:48 AM · Milstein's pinkie is staight too -- just double checked the DVD.

February 3, 2007 at 08:11 AM · I noticed that on youtube also.

February 3, 2007 at 10:47 AM · It's a strange combination of straight and relaxed (like Milstein) that passes the exam. I don't necessarily think that the pinkie must be curved all of the time. There are places where it seems to matter less. What does matter, however, is that the pinkie does not lock down in a cramped style, and therefore inhibiting relaxed movements involved in vibrato, intonation sensitivity, and velocity. I think that general practice in lightness of finger dropping helps significantly in erroneous pinkie locking issues.

One benefit of playing with a flatter pinkie is that you can utilize the fleshier part of the pad, which has the potential for a stouter sound and vibrato.

Good luck on developing a pleasant vibrato with it, though. I'm still working on that one.

Emily (of the short pinkie clan)

February 3, 2007 at 12:38 PM · Liz, I believe my pinkie is shorter than yours, not relative to the third finger, but in actual length; which means that all my fingers are shorter. I have struggled with it since beginning two years ago. I tried playing a 7/8 instrument, and that does help to some extent, especially in reaching up on the same string as my first finger is on, but not so much in reaching across to the G string from the E string.

My teacher doesn't cut me much slack on hand size, saying that there are plenty of great violinists with fingers even shorter than mine. His prescription is regular exercises in making sure that my left hand is relaxed and that I am expanding from the base of my fingers (it feels like I am trying to expand my reach be widening the palm of my hand); to keep the violin more forward (to the right from the shoulder) than the way I sometimes position it; and to move the left elbow to the right as necessary--to get a decent reach to the G string I am sure I have to move my elbow farther to the right than the average person. Also, if the reach requires the pinkie to be flat, that's OK. Also, it may help to let the neck of the violin rest essentially in bottom of the gap between your thumb and first finger instead of leaving a space as is customary.

This all helps, but it will never equal having the nice long fingers it seems that everyone I see in an orchestra seems to have. (Funny how, since I started playing the violin, the first thing I notice about everyone I meed is the length of their fingers!) The really great players could probably excel regardless of finger size. And, conversely, if my fingers were long, I would probably find some other excuse for my playing.) I am trying to "accept" this shortcoming and not let it occupy space in my mind that needs to be focused on technique.

If you have not tried a 7/8 violin, you might want to do so--overall it seems to cure some of the woes, and a quality instrument has almost the same volume and projection as a 4/4.

Hope this is encouraging, if not helpful. Maybe we need to start a blog for those of us who are "Pinkie challenged!"

Claude Ramer

February 3, 2007 at 01:06 PM · Hi,

Liz, I understand your problem. One of my students has that problem. You can work and use your fourth finger within limitations and design fingerings to suit your hand. There is flexibility there and your teacher should know. I use different bowings and fingerings with most students even with the same piece as long as they are intelligent and musical (certainly different from mine).

I have for example a very long (unusually long) and strong fourth finger which I use all the time even for large shifts and slides (Heifetz did also). However, many players, especially Ysa├┐e, had a short fourth finger and worked fingerings around it.

That said, working on Schradieck, Sevcik - specific exercises - focusing on the fourth finger may help you.

If it is any encouragement, I know a fine violinist right now in college, who is doing well and gets around well in spite of that. She just uses fingerings that concentrate on her three strong fingers.

Cheers!

February 3, 2007 at 04:51 PM · My fourth finger is about the same size relative to the third finger. No advice, but I sympathize!

February 3, 2007 at 07:13 PM · Thanks everyone! Actually, after posting last night, (before reading what anyone had suggested) and decided to stop worrying about the "shape" of the 4th finger and just keep it and my hand relaxed and comfortable. Like everyone has said so far, if the 4th is straight but not tight and tense, it can reach, it's just hitting the string with the fleshy part, not the tip (which I was trying to do before and causing myself problems).

(edited to add: any tricks to work around hitting the upper strings when I'm playing with the 4th on lower strings?)

Looking at the palm side, it actually looks like, where base of the other four fingers are pretty even with each other, the 4th sets much deeper into the palm...the first joint of my 4th finger is actually beside the base of my 3rd. If it wasn't for that, my 4th finger would be considered average or even long.

There's a picture (I actually drew lines on my fingers with a pen, my husband thinks I'm nuts), but my hand was a little scrunched around so it doesn't show exactly accurately...but you see what I mean:

http://i74.photobucket.com/albums/i280/RugerGal/Short4thFingerPalmSide.jpg

It's kind of hard to see but the tip of my 4th finger is 2mm shorter than the crease of the knuckle of my 3rd finger.

Anyway, it seems that if I quit stressing and fretting, I can reach, if not exactly hitting the string with the ideal part of the finger.

This site is great. If it wasn't for the information I've gotten here I wouldn't have been able to solve so many physical challenges. Thanks!

February 3, 2007 at 07:37 PM · I've got the 4th finger problem, too. And a crucial aspect of that, as was mentioned very briefly, is the slight curvature of the finger. Therefore, the 4th finger not only comes down flatter in shape, but also flatter in tune because it curves inward. In addition, my index finger also curves inward slightly. So, if I hold my hand up and fingers straight and together, my 1st and 4th fingers curve in towards each other, in addition to my 4th finger being short. So my first finger comes down sharp, and my 4th finger comes down flat.

Although I'm an amateur and not advanced enough to play the tough stuff, I've learned to play in tune and decently for my level. None of my teachers every mentioned the shape of my left hand, and I guess I've intuitively compensated for it.

That may not help anyone with this problem, but I think it shows that no two left hands are alike, and that we each have to find a way to play that fits our individual physiology.

Sandy

February 3, 2007 at 08:01 PM · My left 4th finger has always felt "funky," even before I started violin.

I suspect in large part this is because all thru grade school, high school and college I played the French Horn. It even paid for me to go to college the first time around - not because I was that good but because the concert/pep band was the only music scholarship the school had (so we would play at football and basketball games).

Because of the way the instrument is held and angled (and because I was probably doing it wrong as a kid - our band director was a vocalist not an instrumentalist) the weight of the horn pretty much "hung" on my pinky sideways...putting quite a bit of pressure on the 'inside' side of the joint on the pinky's

first joint.

Looking back, my pinky often felt sore after band rehearsal, but it never occurred to me that it shouldn't. Of course, nothing can be done about this now but it does help to be aware of the things that affect your physical structure.

February 3, 2007 at 10:40 PM · I don't have small hands, but my pinkie is also set "deep" into the palm. I use a chinrest that straddles the tailpiece, so I don't have to constantly push my elbow into my torso.

You could also try placing the left thumb closer to the second finger, which will balance the hand more to the pinkie.

February 3, 2007 at 10:49 PM · I think that it's possible that practicing regularly can, to some degree, change the structure of your hand. Because I started lessons as a little kid, my pinky grew so that the natural gap between pinky and third finger (when the hand is totally relaxed) is a bit bigger than usual or at least bigger than on my right hand. There's actually a tiny bit more space between the knuckles of the pinky and third finger than on my right hand too. However, I find that the size of the gap is actually bigger when I'm doing a lot of practicing vs. when I have less practice time or when I am on holiday (meaning no practice). This makes me wonder if it's possible as an adult to reshape the hand slightly through consistent practice.

February 4, 2007 at 05:30 PM · Good advice here, re selective fingerings, thinking about hand span, releasing the index and "tipping" towards the pinky. I didn't see anybody mention working on how far your wrist will rotate. You could try doing some turning and stretching - looking at your left hand in playing position without your violin, you turn the pinky edge of your hand towards the left from wrist and elbow. Just till it feels like its pulling. You can also try playing with your left thumb opposite G#'s spot on the fingerboard, that is thumb closer to scroll than conventional hand shape. Gets third finger and pinky both closer to and higher up on the fingerboard. You might end up with more of the side than the pad of your thumb in contact to avoid tension at the thumb's base. Sue

February 4, 2007 at 11:44 PM · Greetings,

mentione dit before, but the smallesyt hand, pinkie I ever saw had the thumb right under the neck pointing directly at the scroll. Great player.

Cheers,

Buri

February 11, 2008 at 04:59 AM · My hand is a lot like the one in the first picture, except my index finger is nearly as short as my pinky.

My pinky is also very weak; vibrato hurts.

So I end up using my 3rd finger a lot, especially when I'm reaching really high notes on E string. It seems counter-intuitive but it works better.

I think you just have to try to be clever with your positions and shifts. Part of being "good" at anything is knowing when to break the rules.

February 12, 2008 at 12:42 AM · Greetings,

Rei using the 3rd finger high up is more commonsense than counetrintuitive;)! Its actually longer than the fourth onc ethe hand egts in tha position....

As you say, one simply adapts and breaks rules, sugegsting that the rules are more gudeline sthan anythign else. One things I would recommend is extra practice of scales in thirds. Not in the usual manner but begin with establishing the confort of the fourth finger than setting the other finger saccording to thta. This approahc will gradulally open the base knuckles. Also work on fingered octaves after your hands are nicely warmed up. There is no reason to view this as a serious limitation.

Cheers

Buri

PS Where are you from?

February 12, 2008 at 01:22 AM · Ha, you're just like me, looooong fingers and a short pinky. You're right it's quite different to have a disporportionate hand rather than a small hand. I've seen Hilary Hahn play and she cooooooonstantly uses her fourth finger for ringing notes in the billionth position. Makes me so jealous.

February 12, 2008 at 01:39 AM · There was a violinist named Fredell Lack whose left pinky was "shortened" by a dog when she was very small (before she began violin). I remember reading about it in her interview in one of those Samuel Applebaum "The Way They Play" books, and I think there was a photo of her hand as well. Not sure where or how you'd find the article, but it might be worth looking up (or looking her up, if she's still around).

February 13, 2008 at 03:19 PM · I have the opposite problem - while my pinky is strong - I have no index finger. Lost it about 15 years ago. I can testify that while a short (or missing) finger is annoying, it can be overcome. You can't always follow conventional rules for fingering or shifting, but after you discover what works for you, make these your rules, and stick with them. Lots of determination and hard work can and will pay off. Good luck and keep playing :-)

February 13, 2008 at 05:19 PM · That's very inspiring Richard!

February 14, 2008 at 03:33 AM · Stephen, didn't know -- I thought I was speshal :)

I'm from Japan, living in Vancouver Canada.

February 14, 2008 at 03:44 AM · Greetings,

Mochiron saiko spesharu. Or is that psycho special?;)

Where in Japan are you from may I ask?

Cheers,

Buri

February 14, 2008 at 08:43 AM · Saitama, just north of Tokyo.

What about you?

February 14, 2008 at 10:45 PM · Greetings,

Gifu City.

Cheers,

Buri

February 15, 2008 at 12:30 AM · Ahh, hence Buri.

Cool.

February 15, 2008 at 09:50 AM · Hi Liz,

I've looked at the photo of your hand, and it's exactly the same shape as mine!

For me, I find the biggest problem is not reaching for the 4th finger, because I can apply the rocking motion that Mendy mentioned, but it's just that the 3rd finger gets in the way, being comparatively too long. This is even worse in the higher positions. Because the 3rd finger has to curve a lot to compensate for the 4th, I find I often have to play on the tip of the 3rd finger, which is quite painful after a while and doesn't feel very secure.

Anyhow, I don't know if I can offer you any advice, just thought I'd share this with you!

February 15, 2008 at 01:16 PM · Neil, I have the same problem. I always look at people's hands regardless of whether they are violinists or not. What a great attribute to have fingers that are all similar in length!

I've always worked around it and I work as a professional violinist so I know it can be done. But I wonder if there has ever been a study done on famous violinists to measure their hands. I hear pianists comparing their hands all the time, why not violinists? I guess people who are that good wouldn't want to credit any of their success to good hand proportions.

February 16, 2008 at 03:16 AM · Liz, you might want to check out a book called "Violin Playing: A Physiological Approach" by Isaak Vigdorchik. You can get it on Amazon or something. I also have the same issue as you, and that book changed a lot about the way I play (now, the 4th finger is not a problem--I can even get a pretty juicy vibrato!) Often we mistake a lower knuckle in the pinky department for a short pinky, and this I can see is the case (if you measure your pinky from knuckle to tip, and compare it with the measurements of your other fingers, you'lls ee what I mean). If that's the case, your task would be to find the ideal ANGLE at which to hold the violin to your body--there's all sorts of tendons and stuff in your arm that affect pinky proximity to the neck....I'm rambling.. That book will be a huge help though.

March 5, 2008 at 03:08 PM · Wow Liz, it looks a lot like mine. I never really looked at it until last summer, and when I did, many things suddenly made sense for the first time. Sympathies; I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with it. I do some gentle stretching exercises (playing augmented arpeggios on one string, for instance) whenever I practice. I also use a center chinrest, if that makes any difference.

When I was a freshman in college, my roommate -- also a violinist -- showed us all a picture in one of her textbooks of a person born with a sixth finger. We were so jealous, dorks that we are. :)

March 5, 2008 at 03:50 PM · Actually, it rather looks like your ring finger is significantly longer than usual which then creates the impression that your pinky is shorter than usual. It seems however that relative to the 1st and 2nd fingers, the length or your pinky is average.

I am not sure how you would compensate for a 3rd finger that is "too long", but as far as compensating for a shorter than usual pinky goes, you should be able to do that by moving your elbow further to the right.

March 5, 2008 at 04:13 PM · I would not advise moving your elbow to the left, this will cause a whole lot of problems. Also, while I respect that everyone has a method/approach/validity, I strongly discourage taking advice from beginners.

The point is not how long it is, it's how well in proportion it is with your other fingers. My friend has a pinky that is almost the same length as his ring finger - he's much better than I am sadly, as I am still trying to find a way to reach a major third with my pinky. It's more in the wrist I believe that in the elbow.

June 30, 2008 at 09:37 PM · ms.lack's finger wasn't bitten before she began violin, it was in the midst of her career. she spent a year learning to play with a shortened fourth finger.

just wanted to keep it straight, i have lots of respect for ms.lack and really look up to her/idolize her. she's a wonderful person and musician.

June 30, 2008 at 10:18 PM · have you considered cello?

June 30, 2008 at 10:30 PM · Greetings,

a really short finger is where it only reaches the midlde joint. ;)

Cheers,

Buri

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