Fat Finger Struggles

May 20, 2009 at 01:24 AM ·

Replies (31)

May 20, 2009 at 01:30 AM ·


one thing to consider is finding a god luthier who knows how to space the strings a little wider.  the guy I who does my stuff in Japan alwsy asks his customers if they want close,  medium or apart when he sets up the violin.



May 20, 2009 at 01:42 AM ·

Hello Buri, thanks for the input. I didn't know violins could be set up with different string spacings.

Just to clarify, I don't have problems with double stops or my fingers hitting others strings, it's mostly playing half steps with the 3rd and 4th fingers.



May 20, 2009 at 02:51 AM ·

One thing you might like to look at carefully is the angle at which your fingers are coming down on to the string from.  Often in third position the 3rd and 4th fingers tend to come down at too low an angle and can be a problem for semitone spacing.  The angle of the fingers is changeable depending on the sound that you need for a certain passage of music but getting the correct finger placement is a common enough problem in elementary students.  This is something that you should go over with your teacher.  Good luck!  You could always try viola!!

May 20, 2009 at 04:31 AM ·


You nailed it: you have to simply learn how to move your fingers out of the way. We all have to. I have medium fingers and have to move them out of the way in higher positions--you just have to do it lower down than most. There are also ways of hitting the very edge of the finger as well when playing a semitone. In the end, it won't be your finger size, but rather either your control over them that matters.


May 20, 2009 at 05:46 AM ·


I think there isa story abotu Auer in which one of his stduents explained she was not playing in tune because she had fat fingers.  Auer responded that Wieniawski palyed flawlessly with fatfingers and that she wa sjust a fat head.  (I may have imagine dht elast bit...



May 20, 2009 at 07:44 AM ·

EDIT: Oops didn't read through your post about Perlman. So you have thicker fingers than Perlman, perhaps you need a custom made fiddle?

May 20, 2009 at 01:01 PM ·

Can we exchange??? I will post you mine in express post with no return option! I have "japanese" type hands if I can call them like this although I'm not japanese at all! :)  I have always been "very kindfully" slightly jealous of those who have big fingers and can play two strings at the same time in double stops + doing the most beautiful well rounded vibratos in the world IMHO...  This sound is my DREAM sound!  I never have to move my fingers to place the others even in very high positions but doing the "two strings for one finger stuff" and my dream wide and fleshy vibratos (especially in the high G and E) is almost "technically" impossible (yes it is possible because some small finger extraordinairy soloists do it but I believe it takes much strategy to compensate :) not to mention that toothpicks have a tendency become "ice" tempeture very easily!!! 

Well, I guess the two extremes are tough! 

In the meantime, you can always comfort yourself by looking to David Oistrakh's video on youtube! Such a sound and a very famous player!  His hands are at least as big as Perlman when you see from close.   And yes on some videos, he moves his fingers around to place the next one...    

Good luck and don't forget my finger exchange offer!!!


May 20, 2009 at 02:39 PM ·

Benjamin-- Here's something to consider for down the road, If you have truly thick fingers, you might want to consider a bigger violin with a longer string length. Recently, I happened to see a British violin made around 1900 that was built on a large pattern with a proportionally longer string length, and it sounded wonderful. You might also consider a modern mezzo violin. There's more information at:


Most violinists have to learn how to move fingers aside to make room for other fingers, but to the extent possible I think playing should be a comfortable as possible. If your teacher ever gets you into fourth and higher positions, you will definitely appreciate the extra room.

May 20, 2009 at 02:56 PM ·

Benjamin- You live in Colorado Springs? My parents live in Monument!

You may want to keep in mind switching to viola if violin isn't going to work!  It's a nobel instrument also!

May 20, 2009 at 03:05 PM ·

Thank you all for your kind words. You are very encouraging.


Buri, you are all too correct; a fat head is far more of an impediment to playing than fat fingers. =)


Anne-Marie, ha, yeah the two extremes are tough, but I wouldn't want to trade. I can be out in 10 degree F weather and not wear gloves. My hands are almost always warm, except when I get nervous.


Robert, those links are very interesting. Thanks for sharing them.


I think perhaps I need to really focus on the mobility of the 3rd and 4th fingers. When they're jammed up so tight just the friction against each other slows me down. Maybe I should grease them before practice? =O



May 20, 2009 at 03:55 PM ·

 Hey Royce, I missed your post while composing my last one.


Yep, I'm in Colorado Springs. We (my family and I) moved here from northern Michigan close to a year ago. We are really enjoying it now that the homesickness is subsiding a bit.


There seems to be an active musical community here, something that I never encountered back in MI. I certainly would not have found such a good teacher back there.


I am thinking about a viola. I love the sound, but I'd miss that E string. I've never actually played a viola, so maybe a trip to some music stores are in order.


I've been to Monument a few times. A beautiful area.



May 20, 2009 at 04:27 PM ·

Yes, don't trade them for nothing in the world!  If I were you, I would keep them preciously!!!  Once you will learn how to move them, you will be a king of vibratos and double stops:)  Wow, no gloves at 10 F!   This is such an asset for a violinist. I often put gloves indoors before playing!!! 

Good luck!


May 20, 2009 at 05:18 PM ·

I don't want to discourage you, but we have several violinists that switched to viola and love it! 

Keep your ears & eyes open for a musical summer in your area! Neat festivals in the past.  There's a town on the way to Pikes Peak that's mostly shops...and a real penny archade with antique pinball machines and games!  FUN!  There is a shop there that makes Mandolins, dolsimers, and I think guitatrs.  Stop by...it's a hoot!

May see you there!



May 20, 2009 at 08:20 PM ·

Thanks for the encouragement Anne-Marie. Why is it so ingrained in human nature to never be happy with what we have?

Royce, I know the town you mentioned, Manitou Springs! I've actually spent a lot of time there in the past few months working on some townhouses (I'm a carpenter by trade) just behind the Super 8 motel right before all those shops. I've never once thought to go looking through that area for music stores. I've even seen the dulcimer store, but I guess it never registered.

It would be great to see you around town.



May 20, 2009 at 08:42 PM ·


I would second the comment made by Robert Spear about getting an instrument with a longer string length.  I just upgraded to a new instrument.  One of the things I did not like about my old violin was that it was oversized.  I had to stretch a little more to reach the notes.  It is a Heberlein, Maggini copy and like many Maggini's it is larger than most "standard" violins.  But an instrument like that might be really helpful to you. 

I generally disagree with the comments that you need to learn to shuffle your fingers to hit the half steps.  Yes, we all have to do it in the higher positions.  For me, that means 7th position and higher.  But when playing classical music, a lot of playing is done in 1st or 3rd position.  If you have to shuffle in 3rd position, that is a pretty big impediment to learning an already difficult instrument.


May 20, 2009 at 08:49 PM ·

I'm with Smiley!  I believe my teacher has what Smiley mentioned and they are bigger than the standard violin!  I played his and wish I had one!  Like Oistrahk I also have meaty fingers. I'm getting by but if Smiley's violin is what My Teacher has (my teacher is now in Texas) it would do you good!!!


May 20, 2009 at 10:52 PM ·


>But when playing classical music, a lot of playing is done in 1st or 3rd position.  If you have to shuffle in 3rd position, that is a pretty big impediment to learning an already difficult instrument.

Good point Smiley.  If we start doing this kind of movement down here then all sorts of bad habits cna start creeping in.   Absolute efifciency and minial movement is paramount.  I recommend you go on youtube and take a look at Erick Freidman playign someting likewCaprice Viennois or Schon Rosmarin. That is one of the most efificnet left hands ever.  Also bloody huge.




May 21, 2009 at 12:20 AM ·

Look to Mr Perlman for inspiration :)

He looks like he could kill with his hands.

You just have to learn how to replace and move your fingers as necessary to hit the right intonation. It'll be uncomfortable in the beggining but give it time and you won't even realise your doing it.

Even if your thicker :P

[edit] hahah after reading it all im in a flux.

May 21, 2009 at 12:59 AM ·

Hi there--the length of the strings should do the tricks.

Also, you can try to use the tip of your finger, rather than the fleshy/thick part of it.

There are ways to overcome this problem, techniques wise, for you have been playing this instruments for years in different styles, so you know how temperamental it is sometimes.

Don't give up, for your on the right track, you have a teacher to guide you through it, and also WE are here to cheers you too.

Best of luck!


May 21, 2009 at 07:56 PM ·

We ham-handed violinists have learned to wiggle our hands like "a bowl full of jello" so that the correct finger is always on the move to the right place at the right time. It took lots of PRACTICE to get there.

Part of the effect of the wiggling hand is to change the part of the finger that touches the string so that it will get to the right place in tune since it can't fit into the "right place" with a static hand or static fingers. There is a relationship between this kind of motion and vibrato, so I suspect one cannot get it working on fast passages before one has learned to vibrato.


May 21, 2009 at 08:12 PM ·

>I have always been "very kindfully" slightly jealous of those who have big fingers and can play two strings at the same time in double stops


It is a fairly simple matter to change the nut on the violin and space the strings closer together.  A competent luthier can do it in under 10 minutes.  There is quite a bit of literature that calls for 5ths (e.g., stopping two strings with one finger) so it is almost essential to be able to do it; otherwise, you really limit your repertoire.  You should go to your local luthier and experiment.

May 26, 2009 at 03:41 AM ·

 I want to give a heartfelt thanks to each of you who responded. The encouragement has been amazing.

I've been working hard on the finger shifting, and it's been getting better, at least at slow speeds. I'll keep plugging away at it. As Professor Sassmannshaus says in his videos, "Three minutes a day of dedicated practice for two years will allow anyone to develope a nice (insert technique)." =)

Thanks again, Ben

May 26, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

Hi Ben,

I enjoyed reading your post and the replies. I also have big fingers (also known as fingers that have been sawed off, then hammered down). It sounds like I've followed the same path to fiddling as you - self taught in the 1970's - took my first lesson 3 years ago, first from celtic and later bluegrass fiddlers. Finally, decided to suspend my fiddling and really learn the instrument. Started classical lessons last October. My teacher gave me a long list of books to get and every week I have a heavy load of assignments to practice. Right now I'm working on the Vivaldi Concerto in am 1st mvmt (Suzuki Bk 4), Kreutzer Studies #2, Scales (of course), Mazas duets, etc…. It's so different from bluegrass, irish, and other folk fiddling, but I'm having a blast. 
In 3rd position, my 3rd and 4th finger have to give way to each other. In higher positions, all my fingers have to accomodate each other when playing pitches that are ½ step apart.  It is getting so I don't think about the fingers giving way any more, they just do it on their own.  
By the way, have you ever visited fiddlehangout.com? Good community of fiddlers there. A few of the oldtime players are a bit jaded about the arrogance of some classical players (and a couple even seem to spurn classical techniques), but most people on the forum are eclectic with their tastes and generous with their ideas and suggestions (just like here at violinist.com).
All the best,

May 26, 2009 at 05:24 PM ·

<deleted duplicate post>

June 9, 2009 at 09:51 AM ·

Anne-Marie has drawn your attention to David Oistrakh's fingers.I met him several times when I was in my teens and was amazed at the thickness of his fingers - fat and pudgy would describe them accurately!

We all learn to adapt to our particular anatomy and physiology and with practise you will soon find that you can manage even the highest notes with facility. Stay with the violin, practise diligently and you will soon acquire the ability to use your fingers to best advantage.


Persevere and good luck!

June 9, 2009 at 09:45 PM ·

Wow couldn't resist to tell you that you were very lucky to see Oistrakh!  Oistrakh is 80 years older than me so I never saw him alive :(  What concerts did you see?  (If the poster don't mind a short off topic talk :) 

By the way, I had the same impression when talking to Perlman  (I will never forget that day:).  I though he was an alien (in the good sense!) with such hands.  I could hardly put mine around when we shook hands lol



June 10, 2009 at 01:45 AM ·

Here's a violin player with the same problem. How do I know? He says so. He also shows

in the fingerings how he gets around it.



June 27, 2009 at 09:34 AM ·


I was very lucky to be around when my teacher was involved in Oistrakh's appearences in the West during the 60s. The highlight  for me when Yehudi played the Beethoven conducted by Oistrakh and Oistrakh played the Brahms conducted by Yehudi. An outstanding concert which was my idea of heaven when I was in my youth!!

I subsequently heard OIstrakh play on his other visits to England. He was a charming and very simple man. I was hoping to study with him in Moscow but circumstances prevailed against this happening. But I am very pleased to have heard and met one of the outstanding fiddlers of the 20th century.

June 27, 2009 at 12:23 PM ·

Alexander, I envy you.... Oistrack is my preferred violinist too.... I would like to be in that live concert with Richter on the piano, with Brahms and Franck sonatas, I've heard this recording many many times.


June 27, 2009 at 03:47 PM ·

I'm not sure if you could get in to have a lesson or not, but Oswald Lehnert is still in Boulder (which isn't that far from the Springs), and I remember that his fingers are large--perhaps he could show you a few things and make some suggestions.

December 20, 2015 at 03:31 PM · I've always felt so scrunched up on the violin fingerboard but thought it was something I had to live with. My hands/fingers aren't fat, just really long (my mom always said I had hands made for piano and basketball), and the lower first positions were difficult for me. Recently though I purchased a 5-string violin just to try it out; this one came with a wider board (but similar string spacing to standard).

So much more comfortable than my standard 4-string! I was shocked by how a few millimeters made all the difference in the world.

I'm certainly not suggesting you switch over to five strings, but I see no reason you need to deal with the spacing as you have it now. A good luthier can replace the nut and/or file it (if you have room to go down) to widen the strings on the fingerboard.

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