small hands

May 20, 2007 at 07:36 PM · hi,

I'm having trouble with my intonation when playing chords. My teacher tells me I should have the chord ready to be played after playing a single note that is part of the chord (Kreutzer-sonate). My fingers just can not do it without losing my intonation. When I look at his hands, they are much bigger and his fingers longer. I'ld like to know if there are more women who are having trouble playing streched chords, because of their smaller hands, or is it just me. I know when violins were played in earlier days they were a "man" instrument. I hope to find some clues on this site.

Thanks

Replies (41)

May 20, 2007 at 09:26 PM · Man, I hope you do, too. I can't help you with this one because I'm struggling with the same problem. My fourth finger will not hold up the the stretches, and it creates a lot of tension, both in the left hand and the right. It seems like the only thing that's helped me so far is to do a lot of chords. A lot of them, and then after a while, the easier ones are playable.

I'm guessing a lot has to do with a mental block, but I agree that the physical handicap is a real problem that must be dealt with.

May 20, 2007 at 10:18 PM · Yeah, this was always a problem for me too. I also had similar problems on the piano trying to play octaves or more with 3 or 4 note chords...just can't physically fit them all in! I never found a solution either on violin OR piano and have just tried to do the best I can and make it sound OK. I often end up rolling chords more than I'd like. Let's find someone who will design a piano with narrower keys...and a full-size violin with a shorter neck...?!

But seriously, what would be practical solutions?...Practicing Dounis, fingered octaves, tenths, pieces with lots of chords in them...some of the Paganini caprices (2 and 4 come to mind, I don't play them that well, so I'm no expert!)...last mv't of the Sinding suite...lots of examples in unaccompanied Bach...my guess is this will slowly get better with time and patience, like everything else...!

Maybe we need a 'finger-stretcher' or a 'hand-stretcher' to carry around in our pockets for those idle moments ;-)

May 20, 2007 at 11:26 PM · "Maybe we need a 'finger-stretcher' or a 'hand-stretcher' to carry around in our pockets for those idle moments ;-)"

Ai, ai, ai... Robert Schumann tried that and wrecked his hand permanently.

May 20, 2007 at 11:59 PM · Barbara:

This discussion, particularly your metion of a hand stretcher, brings to mind the horrifying story/myth of Robert Schuman's right hand. There are two actually. The first is that he attempted radical self-surgury to seperate his third and forth fingers. The other story is that he invtented a device that would hold up one of his fingers during practice. Regardless of which story, his right hand was rendered useless because of what he did. His piano career was ruined.

The lesson is dont try anything mechanical, PLEASE! Good intonation will come with close listening and attentive practice. Just keep trying, and check your intonation carefully and soon those difficult chords will come.

For someone who has small hands, Paganini will be VERY difficult, as paganini had Ehlers-Danlos and Marfan Syndromes. He wrote huge intervals and wildly insane chord structures. On the contrary, Sarasate will be much easier, as Sarasate was known to have small hands, and thusly composed so.

Ian

May 20, 2007 at 11:50 PM · Actually that bit about the medieval torture device was meant as a joke...(I agree, DON'T try this at home!)

...and yes, I remember reading that Paganini had a condition that made his fingers particularly long...he certainly made good use of that particular genetic quirk...

May 21, 2007 at 12:01 AM · hahah good i was just checking.. and it also seems that eugene beat me to the schuman thing haha.. for some reason when i posted my thing, his was not shown, even though his timestamp is nearly 30 mins before mine.. crazyyy..

May 21, 2007 at 04:34 AM · I have very small hands as well, though recently after thinking about it a lot, watching other players, and kind of messing around with how I play and positions etc., I have come to the conclusion (I don't know if this valid, but from my own experience and in-sight) I really don't think that having small hands is a complete hinderance.

After a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing with our fingers is the ratio of the fingers to each other. What I mean is, the difference in lengths between the top of the finger of the middle finger, for example, and the ring finger should be a similar, proportionate difference between the ring finger and the pinkie. Of course, there is no way to change this, but I think this is what causes the most difference in one violinst's playing compared to someone else's with small hands. Its an unfortunate fact, though, in my opinion, one we can work with nonetheless.

How this relates to the violin, in my opinion, is when you play, you must have the same relationship between your hand, hand frame and the violin in every position along the violin's fingerboard/neck--meaning you pretty much do whatever is necessary to maintain that same hand frame, within reasonable limits, of course.

I know this sounds a bit odd, and its actually really hard to explain without actually seeing both your hands and explaining it with a violin in hand...but its the best explanation I can think of.

So, I guess in response to your actual question, I would try to fiddle around (no pun intended) with your hand frame, different combinations of fingers and positions, until you find one that works, working VERY VERY slowly, and carefully, making sure not to be adding pressure, tension etc, and being very aware of pain and knowing when a hand position is dangerous (such as 10th's). Don't get frustrated! After a lot of really loose, careful, conscious practice of what you're doing, it will come! Have faith!

May 21, 2007 at 08:51 AM · Ali, I think you're right. I have the disadvantage of working with a bad history of buckling pinky problems. Only when I stop and reassess the best possible frame, and spread the stretches accordingly, do I find the ability to keep the fourth finger from buckling. It takes a lot of conscious effort, but it's possible.

May 21, 2007 at 11:49 AM · Fortunately, I have pretty big hands for the violin, and long arms - and some Bach chords are still tough! Three suggestions which may help:

1. Make sure that your violin is a comfortable size for you. There are some violins under 14" that are good, and still considered full size. Also, have a luthier check the distance from the fingerboard nut to the bridge. It may be right for your violin, but not for you. If you lessen the distance a bit, which must also involve a soundpost adjustment, it may make things more comfortable. Of course, your violin may end up sounding worse - or even better!

2. Aaron Rosand, with whom I briefly studied, does not have large hands, though they are beautifully proportioned. He emphasizes the importance of the elbow coming well under the violin, and the hand well over the fingerboard. This effectively gives more reach, without streching as much. The problem is - and here we go again - this tends to be harder to do if you use a big, attached shoulder rest. I go into more detail about this in my website, in my "writings" section in "Fundamentals of Holding the Violin" - http://rkviolin.com

3. Do practice, on a regular basis, scales in 3rds, 6ths, octaves - and if you can, fingered octaves and 10ths. With 10ths, begin with the upper note, and strech down for the lower note. But I would be very wary of those Dounis super streching excersises. They are extremee, and can be injurious.

May 21, 2007 at 12:59 PM · Raphael--

Apropos of all this I am finding that the stretches in Paganini 14 and even 2 are simply painful. Is it simply a matter of repetition until the hand becomes accustomed to the pain and the position required.

May 22, 2007 at 02:22 AM · Collapse your left wrist--that's right. Pancake style. The way we teach all young students to NEVER do. That will give your fingers more reach. Also, don't get your thumb all cramped up on the side in some Frankenstien posture--let it move! It works well to have your left thumb next to your second finger (Auer style thumb posture) for big chords--tenths are no problem that way. That's what I have to do in Pag caprice 1. Since you have small hands, I bet you'll also need to break another "rule" and reduce the space between your thumb and the neck (you know, squish the bunny rabbit hole--think Heifetz's high thumb). You might give your teacher a heart-attack but it works. No tension, in tune. And there you have it, advice from the village idiot. It does work. That's all I have to say about that.

May 21, 2007 at 03:34 PM · It's one of those things that comes with lots of practice. I had the same problems when I was starting to learn the Bach S&P, but it's not an issue anymore. I have really small hands too. It's more a matter of being able to stretch than the size of the hands. Just keep working at it. I find that also even people with larger hands have the same kinds of intonation problems in Bach or the passage you mentioned. It's awkward for anybody.

May 21, 2007 at 08:43 PM · ""It's awkward for anybody. ""

Awkward I don'tmind it's the PAIN!

May 21, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Perhaps a slightly smaller size violin will help. I believe they make 7/8th size violins.

May 21, 2007 at 11:11 PM · I found letting my thumb creep forward helps me with some reaches (still staying relaxed)...

I also find moving my elbow more under the violin allows me to reach some chords better. I saw a guitar player, Zoran Dukic, give a master class, and even though it's guitar, he talked about being able to move around the instrument and play tension free. It was really great and I think applies to this topic.

I do use a shoulder rest (Wolf)...so it's not impossible to do this with one.

I recently played the Nigun by Bloch. The chords were incredibly hard for me at first and I never thought I'd be able to play it...and although it's not perfect, I think I did an okay job with them in my recital.

If you're the type of person who tends to get injured if you push yourself physically, then you might want to just try it a little bit at a time and not allow yourself to get frustrated or upset.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned having the left hand pinky being longer than the right hand. One of my teachers had a freakishly longer left pinky than right. I've noticed my left one is a little longer, but not by much (his pinky was almost as long as his ring finger!). I always found that to be interesting.

May 21, 2007 at 11:26 PM · Kimberlee - you're one of my favorite posters. But collapse the wrist? I don't know about that one. I do agree with you about the thumb. I'd forgotten to mention that. Jay - I don't believe in the motto, "no pain, no gain". If there's pain, something is wrong. Don't force anything, and maybe leave off those sort of passages for a while. When you come back to them, as others said, keep at it - but gently. Forgive yourself if you play flat for a while. The next time try to play a little closer to pitch, etc.

Let us also admit that bsides practice, some people have a predisposition to do cerain techniques better or worse, with greater or less ease. For some, vibrato, or trills, or stacatto, etc. just comes with almost no practice. Others may never get certain things well, and when all is said and done, have to avoid performing certain things. But let's not give up too quickly!

May 22, 2007 at 06:05 AM · Greetings,

I would also suggest that collpsing the wrist is somewhat an action of last resort. The hand does have an optimally efficient position which is actually very slightly collapsed but this is only within the 12 to fifteen degree range.

Cheer,s

Buri

May 22, 2007 at 08:19 AM · hello,

I have wee hands, baby fingers some say... what i've frustrating is teachers more than anything. Players who've never small hands and fingers simply don't what to do about making them feel comfortable, and I've had to be really stubborn with some and say "... I'm not doing that..." relating to hand positioning and stuff.#

However since I left college two years ago, i've reassessed everything in my playing just to find what really works for me.

As far as stretching, your hand position should be based around your 3rd and 4th so that you stretch BACK your 1st etc, it's the only way to not injure yourself. cos when it hurts it's not a good sign.

but small hands have great advantages, I could play the beethoven concerto without relative intonation problems at th top fiddly bits, in fact everything that's got high fiddly bits we generally can better ( apart from fifth, they're always gonna suck!)

Like somone mentioned above, i've got a small violin, still a full size but small (not in sound though) that did change my life when i got it.

Marianne

May 22, 2007 at 01:01 PM · Raphael--I agree that""some people have a predisposition to do cerain techniques better or worse, with greater or less ease."" but after a while even the ability to play a long cantilena gets pretty old next to at least some pyrotechnics. After all Pavarotti was quite a fine singer long before he did Fille de Regiment with its 9 high C's but those C's put him on the map in 72--he had debuted at the Met in 68 in Boheme.--Different issues but same art form --music is music and sometimes you just need to play some kicky music. Long slow movements start to lose their appeal--lol.

May 22, 2007 at 01:07 PM · Jay - like I said, don't give up, just take it easy. BTW, for certain reasons I now understand Kimberlee's wrist idea better. ;-)

May 23, 2007 at 02:59 AM · Play fingered octaves on a 16" viola for a week. Seriously though - I must agree with Kimberly on collapsing the hand on the lower strings at least. I have very small hands (vertically challenged as well), and I can manage fingered octaves and a little bit more reach without pain on my 16". On my C and G strings, I will collapse my hand a bit (the neck is just too wide otherwise), but on the D and A string I will actually reach around more, much like you do when getting ready to shift into the nosebleed sections. There I can do a fingered 9th - barely.

May 24, 2007 at 12:39 AM · I just tried a different solution--I took off my KUN collapsable and substituted a sponge a la Oistrakh. I can reach around the instrument more easily--there is less to reach around--and suddenly I am playing much more in tune as well. The stretches in Pag 14 no longer hurt so much and best of all they're almost in tune.

May 24, 2007 at 03:30 AM · Bravo Jay! The less you have - especially if it's rigid - between you and the instrument, the less you have to reach around. This also ties in with the Rosand elbow-well-under, hand-well-over concept.

May 24, 2007 at 10:58 AM · Hi,

A personal observation to the original poster - look into your left hand thumb position. Placement of the thumb (as well as thumb counterpressure) are vital in playing well and having your hand centered for good intonation. Or, so it is with many of my students with hands both large and small.

Cheers!

May 24, 2007 at 09:22 PM · 1. More democracy! Stay in a higher position than the actual one and stretch down the first finger (and second if needed) instead of stretching up the fourth. Allways we try to put pressure on the poor... You don`t know, until trying, how much the first finger can stretch !!! even for the smallest hands it can extend down at least two tones.

2. More flexibility! You have to know just how to curve or not to curve the fingers. Sometimes you open from the bases of the fingers, sometimes just from the last joints. The last way is very usefull for small hands. But this imply :

3. More versatility! Touch the strings with different places of the pads of the fingers, according to what kind of opening you have - from the lower or upper joints. (I would say that playing the parts of the pads that are far from your nose is better for the stretches.)

May 25, 2007 at 05:43 PM · Fantastic Points, Sorin. Our left hands, wrists, shoulders, thumb, fingers, arms must be as flexible and versatile as we can possibly make them in order to meet demands with the least amount of effort and greatest efficiency.

June 6, 2007 at 02:23 PM · I think you have just to find out tricks to get the intonation.

1)You have to memorize the contact points of your hand on the violin

2) if you think your hands are too small you should lower the contact point of left thumb on the violin in order to increase the extension of the fingers.

3)you should use the rotation of the left elbow to increase the extension especially for particular chords like tenth and unisone

Just to find the tricks.....You should be more porgressist about these problems!!

June 6, 2007 at 05:06 PM · "Our left hands, wrists, shoulders, thumb, fingers, arms must be as flexible and versatile as we can possibly make them in order to meet demands with the least amount of effort and greatest efficiency. "

Kimberlee, you cut right to the heart of the matter, and this has been my greatest struggle. My problem is that I've got the build of someone who would look more at home on the front line playing football or swinging an axe in the woods, than playing violin. And, because of this flexibility is something I have to work on a lot. I am just not a very flexible person. It does make for some difficulties with the violin, and a lack of flexibility appears to lead to that most troublesome trend...tension, which then leads to another problem...injury.

My hands are not super-huge, but neither are they small, however my teacher's hands are positively miniscule (I swear my six year-old son has larger hands than she), but nonetheless my teacher manages quite well, quite well indeed.

Chris

June 6, 2007 at 06:47 PM · I am with Kimberlee on the collapsed wrist thing.... it allows a fanning out of the hand, first finger reaches further back and little finger further forward, ..a more elastic hand!! Kato Havas in 'Stage Fright' (...the chapter on 'Fear of being out of tune') is VERY interesting concerning left hand stuff. I actually had some brief lessons with the lady, and despite the bad press she seems to have had on this site she has some WONDERFUL insights. (I would encourage anyone with small hands and problems with double stops to read this book, with an open mind, so's not to throw out the babies with the bath water) I was skeptical at first but decided to try the 'giving hand' approach and have never looked back ... I had always had trouble with my hand stiffening up for Bach chords, it was such a revelation!

June 7, 2007 at 02:25 AM · Two things: I solved the collapsing fourth finger by lifting weights with the tips of my third and fourth fingers. Lifting hand weights with the fingers under the lip of the barbell works like a charm.

A good concert violinist friend has the death cast of Paganini's hand and the fingers are not any longer than a SLIGHTLY longer than average hand.

January 16, 2009 at 03:26 AM ·

I  can so totally relate. I am also working on Rachmininov and Kreutzer and have these itty-bitty eight-year-old's hands(while almost eighteen)...goodness do I wish I have big hands.

January 16, 2009 at 02:07 PM ·

Yes Kimberlee, I agree with you about the collapsing wrist.  I've been blessed with 3 long fingers... and a midget pinky haha.  When faced with such physical limitations one must do what they have to do in order to play virtuosic passages like thirds, fingered octaves, and large awkward chords.  Also my teacher frequently suggested I collapse my wrist for more flexibility in these passages and he was blessed with 4 four fingers of equal length!

January 16, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

Is it an AnneMarie's problem? lol

Yes, I often find it's a pitty for many of us that our smaller hands or fingers can not allow us to do what we hear in our heads. I'm an advocate of this wide vibrato nice and warm playing and ....  with a body made to play the total opposite: little narrow tense sound that I hate when I ear it in others and even some soloists.  For the chords, it is the same thing. I am lucky to have long fingers but when I stretch my hand to see how far it can stretch and that I imagine if I had longer fingers and a wider hand (the distance between 1st and 4th, the overall stretching would be so much bigger).  I wish you good luck and congratulations to be able to play the Kreutzer! I'm sure your great will too suceed these chords will allow you to find a way to do them.  Go see as many teachers or good violinists as you can and show them the problem and ask questions!

Good luck!

Anne-Marie

January 17, 2009 at 09:54 AM ·

 ooh, small hands, snap!

i used to think that having small hands was going to stop me from playing chords, 10ths, fingered octaves etc until my previous teacher showed me how small her hands are! 

all the advice i've been given centres on moving the elbow around and keeping the wrist in rather than sticking out which is what i used to do!

i hope you find yourself able to reach the chords eventually!

 

January 17, 2009 at 03:11 PM ·

Lots of great problem solving here. I very much agree with many of the solutions from  Kimberlee, Ali, Raphael...Jessie (thumb forward), Sorin....

All of these options should be explored and experimented with thoroughly. I would, however, like to talk about something that simply hasn't been mentioned yet.  

A smaller violin, yes! But.... a thinner, perhaps even shallower neck can make all of the difference in the world.  So many necks are simply WAY too thick, too big, etc. for violinists with smaller hands.  Thin the sucker down.  You see, as violinists, we are faced with this problem. Our 1st and 2nd fingers rarely have a problem because they are not only the longest and strongest fingers, but more importantly, they are the fingers CLOSEST to the fingerboard, to the strings (and parallel to the strings). Conversly, our 3rd and 4th fingers are not only the shortest, weakest fingers, but they are the fingers FURTHEST from the strings. Hmm... that's a problem. haha

You might find thinning that neck down helps considerably.  Interestingly enough, you (and this will probably be frowned down upon by luthiers, etc.) can even cut the 'crook' of the neck a bit-not too much, of course!- where the thumb goes in higher positions - for MUCH easier playing in higher positions. I had a friend, unfortunately she is no longer with us :-(  ......    an outstanding violinist with very small hands - who really flattened out that crook of the neck quite a bit.  Wow.... it was amazing how much more facility and comfort it provided.  And you know... she had it that way for years and it didn't seem to compromise the neck at all. It's amazing what a difference just a little bit makes.  And again, I've seen many many violins where the crook of the neck has simply way too much wood, so... ok.  Just some thoughts here. 

One more thing, for those perfect 5th haters....  you might consider working with a luthier to bring your strings closer together, either with the bridge or the fingerboard nut.  

So, just some more ideas to get you thinking.  There is always a way around these problems if you are determined to find a way.  Make sure you try everything you can physically - ie, the solutions provided by those mentioned earlier, but also look at the instrument itself.  There could be some hidden solutions there as well.  :-)

January 18, 2009 at 05:39 PM ·

One thing that helps is to think about that your hand should always open like a sunfeather by pulling the first finger back and not by stretching the forth finger. that  really opens up the hand and i have discovered that it works in chords as well, so when you are forming a chord, think about that your hand should open from pulling the first finger back so for example you first press down the third or forth finger in position and then pull your first finger back to open up and put the first finger in it's position. it's easier than to start with the first finger and try to stretch the other fingers, because that is painfull, the hand is not built to open that way! i hope this helps you (and me) to be able to get any chord in tune without pain... well atleast it's a start!

January 25, 2009 at 01:56 PM ·

I have hands that are slightly larger than average, I imagine.  (On the piano I can play almost all tenths, for example.)  But my little finger is not very long, and I am finding it hard to play well with it on the G string.  In particular, stretching for thirds like F-natural and D (first position, 3rd and 4th strings) is not easy. 

I am an adult beginner, so this suggestion is not really  a professional one.  But I would suggest that you try playing on a viola for a few minutes as a warm-up.  I find that when I go to the violin, it is (at least psychologically) easier to make the stretches.

 

 

January 25, 2009 at 05:19 PM ·

My Father was a concert organist and pianist. His hands were small and he was voted as having the hands least likely to succeed at Juilliard/Damrosch Institute. He did just fine.

Aaron Rosand became a good friend, he lived almost just down the street in Ct. Have to laugh, he said he compared me very favorably to Heifetz. Knowing Aaron I wasn't getting too excited by his analgy yet. He said you both have Arthritis in your shoulders. Well, at least we had something in common. LOL.

February 11, 2009 at 07:26 PM ·

My teacher taught me two stretches for the hand: between each pair of fingers on the left hand, use the other hands to push them apart. Make sure the the hand stays flat and doesn't go in any odd angles. Also make sure the left hand is relaxed when you do this, don't try to "help" with the left hand. And you don't have to stretch until it hurts, actually I read in a stretching book (Stretching by Bob Anderson and Jean Anderson)  that you should stretch until you feel tension (but not pain), hold 30 seconds, then stretch a little more - this lets the muscle relax into the stretch. Apparently when it hurts you get a "stretch reflex", causing the muscle to become tighter.

Stretch the fingers apart independently, but imagine that the palm is stretching more than the fingers.

Go SLOW with those stretches and only a little a day! I've improved my reach from the tip of the first finger to tip of pinky over the right hand by about half an inch but I've been doing them for over a year or something. But every little bit helps.

The other thing I would recommend is practicing Flesch scales in double stops, especially 3rds. I saw recently in an interview Ruggiero Ricci on this site saying the most essential exercise for the left hand are scales in 3rds. Again, take your time, do lots of stretches for the arms, take lots of breaks, breathe more deeply (for the oxygen in the muscles), and you should be okay.

For me the easiest 3rds for the hand are D and A major. Then C major, F major, and Bb are about equal, then you get to minor ones with the augmented second which are the hardest for me. So work your way up. If you are just starting, I would just do a couple pairs every day, for example, on G and D string, 1-3, 2-4 alternated between C#/E and D/F#. Practice shifting with 1 and 3, and 2 and 4, to 3rd position and back. A little bit every day to start building the muscles in the hand.

It also helped me to think of building the hand from the pinky. I got this idea from a masterclass with Yehonatan Berick. He had the student roll the fingers on the stand from the pinky to the first finger and vise versa, I think without moving the arm, and obviously if you try it the pinky to first finger is easier than first finger to pinky, because the pinky has a better connection to the forearm. So he recommended building double stops and chords from the pinky down, so to speak. 

:)
Hope it helps!
Margaret

 

 

February 11, 2009 at 08:03 PM ·

Just a thought: there are two current threads about Ida Haendel, and her hands aren't big at all. It may help to take a look at videos of her playing.

February 12, 2009 at 02:44 AM ·

Bart, yes from a men point of view Ida Haendel has really small hands but from a girls point of view I can really see on photos and close ups (it doesn't show from far away since the fingers of performers always look smaller from far away) that she is lucky to have long, quite wide for a women fingers and hands. I would say that many Japanese soloists of our days have much much narrower fingers and would run 50 km to have Mrs Haendel fingers! Mrs Haendel is able to produce such a warm and round vibrato like we do not often ear. I think she has a gift, mentally and physically and she deserves it very much of course! Really an amazing player!

Anne-Marie

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