Calluses, Good Or Bad

August 12, 2009 at 03:27 AM ·

Are calluses on the left fingertips desirable for violinists or are they a sign that one is pressing too hard?

Replies (42)

August 12, 2009 at 05:39 AM ·

Sean,

calluses are needed to protect the fingertips against the strings, the E string in particular. In the interview with Hilary Hahn she told us that she brought a mandolin on holidays in order to keep her calluses up.

As regards too much pressure: I have been taught to look at the colour of the flesh beneath the nails. If it is white under the whole area of the nail that is a sign of too much pressure. One can feel it in the left hand as well.

Hope this helps,

Bart

August 12, 2009 at 05:53 AM ·

I agree,  callouses are a must for any violinist.  I also play mandolin and guitar, and often find it hard to play if my callouses aren't "up"!! Bring them on!! 

August 12, 2009 at 06:08 AM ·

 Greetings,

two violinist who didn`t have callouses- Heifetz and Menuhin.

I don`t have callouses although this does not connect me with the above in anyway. What I do have is a slight resistance or feeling of leatheryness under rather than on the surface of the pad. I have no trouble with lh pizz by the way. 

In spite of Ms Hanhs comment, let us not propagate fallacies that may cause someone to strive for an otiose goal.

Medical Dictionary definition :

Callouses

Callouses are a build up of dead skin and generally form on the heel, on the side of the big toe or on the ball of the foot. The areas can be bulbous, red and protruding or just dry and flaky.

Buri

August 12, 2009 at 08:35 AM ·

My teacher, who has played for more than 40 years, been concertmaster for good orchestras, and played hours each day, has never had callouses.

I zlways had callouses on index and middle finger, until I was forced to learn vibrato.  I have the leatheriness, but I have never had a callous since - except for that biref period when I had an obligato E string that fair ripped me to shreds.

August 12, 2009 at 09:51 AM ·

Greetings, Buri,

Here we have one of the dangers of the Internet. I'm quite sure that what you call leatheriness is the same stuff other people call callus.

Have you ever resumed playing after a longish period of abstinence, say half a year or more? If so, did it hurt? And if after a while it no longer hurts, what happened in the meantime?

To clarify the spelling differences I have looked up both "callus" and "callous" in Funk and Wagnall's dictionary of American English (1974).

callus (...) n. pl. .lus.es 1. Physiol. A thickened, hardened part of the skin: also called callosity. (...)

callous (...) adj 1. Thickened and hardened, as a callus. 2. Hardened in feelings; insensible.

Both Heifetz and Menuhin played with extraordinary gentleness. That may explain why they may have had no visible calluses, but I cannot quite believe they did not have your slight leatheriness. By the way: good for you, too!

Cheers,

Bart

August 12, 2009 at 02:11 PM ·

Like Buri, I cannot say that I have calluses, but more of a leathery pads.  I think some people may mistake this as calluses.  My brother, a guitar player, would have genuine calluses.

August 12, 2009 at 11:44 AM ·

My suspicion here is that we are discussing a matter of semantics.  Most musicians I know would call that toughened leatheriness a callus, as apposed to what the precise medical definition would call a call a callus.

Buri, you play with your feet?  Very talented man.  I can sort of work out how you hit the notes ... but I'll be gosh darned if I can figure out how you grip the bow!  Opines opposable toes.  Don't want to know where you tuck the chin rest ...

August 12, 2009 at 12:26 PM ·

 I read somewhere that it depends on individual body chemistry---some people are more prone to developing callouses than others. I definitely have them, and need them, although I have to file them down because if they develop too much, I can't feel the string underneath.

August 12, 2009 at 02:40 PM ·

Whatever you call it., I found that when I was practicing a lot more, mine would actually start affecting my sensitivity to the string so that i had a harder time responding to it precisely, especially my index finger.  Some of my fingers feel more like leatheriness and some feel like buildup, the index being especially the latter.  That one also can tend to feel bruised inside after I've played on it for a while, which I'm sure is an effect of playing at the worng angle or pressing too hard.  But I'm curious about the desensitivity; I would assume that's not normal or beneficial, but I don't know whether that too would be a technique issue at root or just the way my body works.  Anybody else with similar experience or thoughts?

August 12, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

Shailee, you make a very important point- one does not want to lose sensitivity to feeling the string and the vibrated impulses in the fingertips/finger pads, so  though there is friction between the string and your finger and the rubbing causes the fingerpads to develop a toughness that  might be thought of as calluses, it should not impede the sense of touch.

   I guess one can get a good idea of the degree to which one is "callused" in the left hand fingers  by comparing your right hand fingers with your left assuming  you haven't been playing too much Strauss Pizzicato Polka or Delibes Pizzicato polka lately.

 In fact, I notice that the index finger tip of my right hand is more leathery in feel than my left hand fingers because I believe there is more friction in pizzicato than in the striking of the fingers on the string in the left hand.

   Also, many players believe that when you play up in the highest positions, it is not necessary to put the full weight of the finger pressing down to the fingerboard.

    The other thing to consider is that if one supports the violin in the hand in addition to it resting on the collar bone, you will find it less necessary to squeeze or press hard. The extra support makes the violin lighter and if the support comes only from the chin rest/shoulder rest end you will feel as if pressure is being put at the end of a cantilever and you might squeeze in an effort to produce counterpressure to resist from below the pressure of the fingers striking the strings from above.

August 12, 2009 at 09:28 PM ·

 Greetings,

it probably is an issue of semantics to some extent but I think it is very importnat to avoidthe idea that violnist need some sort of area of hard ,  dead tissue on the fingertips to make a better sound which I have heard rather often.  The other point to be careful of is the idea of tougening up the fingertips ,  especially with left hand pizzicato whihc isextremely useful for all level of players but potentially very harmful.

I suppos eit is inevitable that in any skill thta involves striking the fingers against a surface of some kind then the body will adapt to protect the nerve endings with some kind of tougher material .  To what extent this actually deadens genuine sensitivity I have no idea but I am sure it needs ot be kept to an absolute minimum.    

Personally i think thereis quite a differnece between the amount and quality of impact on the fingertips depending on whether you use wound- gut/gut or synthetic.  To my mind the Vision strings (especially e ) for example might cause problems for people with less of a tendency to build up whatever the kind of proteciton is we are referring to.

There is another aspect of this which I think one can introduce to beginners,  especially adults, but with a litlte cauiton because the basic set up and stability needs to be in place:   the type of sound one wants is dependent in part on the placing of the fingertip on the string Galamian touches on this briefly when stating in his book that technical passages are played closer to the nail and melodic passages use more flesh.  Kloss describesin one of her articles how Heifetz was strcict in demanding his studnets find the best posisble placing for every note.   This is very high level studying but such attention to detial will affect -everything-.  There is no reason to suppose one would wnat callouses covering the somewhat wider expanse of fingertip refrred to here.

Like Ronald, I also have a rougher right hand fingertip. Indeed, I would encourage people to practice pizziczto on a daily basis for just a few seconds  with perhaps an easy etude.  It not only makes you a better pizz player which saves a lot of embarassment when you are suddenly exposed to a lot of pizz in an orchestra and find you can`t do it- yes,  everything needs to be practiced!   it also has the knock on effetc of improvng awarness of the planes of the bow stroke.

Cheers,

Buri

 

August 13, 2009 at 12:15 AM ·

Now  this is interesting........................

 

Galamian touches on this briefly when stating in his book that technical passages are played closer to the nail and melodic passages use more flesh.

 

I  Practised it couple of times after The Kaiser mention it but I keep forgetting about it.

I really do believe there is something in it.

Can we talk about it here or is it worthy of a new thread?

 

August 14, 2009 at 01:18 AM ·

It's almost like dancing on your tippy toes making it quit impossible to apply excessive pressure which would impede your speed. 

Ok, I'm going back to practise now.

August 14, 2009 at 04:08 AM ·

Thibaud and Enescu would sometimes place their fingers down completely flat on the strings in certain melodic passages so as to achieve the special effect that very soft flesh on the strings has. They both were always very concerned with matters of tone color. Just as different parts of the bow can achieve different affects, it is important to remember that the fingertips can and should be viewed as having different capabilities as well, to be used with discretion and good artistic judgement.

Incidentally, it might be interesting for everyone to look up what Carl Flesch has to say in Book One of his Art of Violin Playing on the subject of calluses and other skin issues of the fingertips - p. 18-19 (1939 edition); p. 7 (2000 edition).

August 14, 2009 at 04:41 AM ·

I don't have calluses on my fingers and I practice between 2-4 hours a day.

 

I do have a couple of Maria Callas CDs. Do they count?

August 14, 2009 at 06:02 AM ·

It depends on the physionomy and natural wetness of hands. My hands are very slim, cold, dry and sensitive skined so I get calluses and black lines on my finger THE MINUTE I touch my violin.

I notice on my teachers who have big, wet, warm and  hard skined hands than they are a lot less encline to do calluses. They have almost nothing on their fingertips.

But this is physics. The total pressure on something is the amount of pressure per surface unit.  When you wear high heels (sorry the poster is a guy!), you dig holes much faster in your nice hard wood floor than where you where flat runnings no?  It is the same with the size of fingertips... Little fingers make holes in the fingerboard much faster according to my maker!  (because of this physics principle I think).  So if the pressure by surface unit of finger is bigger mathematically on small fingers, then it's probably normal that these persons get more calluses??? The minimal total pressure required to press the string beeing the same for everyone since it will make harmonics if less. Only the surface unit can change (size of fingers) thus the pression per surface unit...  (Sorry if I try to integrate basic science to violin to try to explain what I think is logical)  It's only my hypothesis!

We should do a study to know the truth between physionomy and calluses...

I would have a tendency to think that the most lucky are those who have just ennough so that it doesn't hurt but not too much to have the end of fingers numed and not feel what you are doing on the string.

Anne-Marie

August 14, 2009 at 08:50 AM · Steven, I can assure that Yehudi did have the usual callouses that are found on the fingers of all violinists. He also appeared to have upturned nails as well!!! I spent many hours as his pupil and was aware of these anatomical changes.

August 14, 2009 at 10:28 AM ·

Greetings,

sorry, but with all due respect I don@t think you read this thread that carefully.  We did seem to come to some kind of agreement that there is a definite change in the fingertips but I don`t think we are talking about hard dead patches of skin which the term implies . That`s why reading what Flesch has to say is good advice.   I also noted in a later post that some such reaction is inevitable.

Anybody looking at my hands would not be able to see any obvious differenc ein the quality of fingertip compared to a regular hand.  You can feel the leathery resistance to a small extent.  It would be very hard ot agrue I have callouses. Aside from the overgeneralization -all- you are effectively excluding me from the sub genus violinist . Pretty rude actually.   And yes I have met Menuhin. I think he showed me his -violin- hands but it woudln`t surprise me if the great man actually had many different exchangeable ones .   Not an ordinary mortal.

Cheers,

Buri (If you must use Ste.... its with a ph)

August 14, 2009 at 02:31 PM ·

Ha ha lol Buri I was not trying to do a Ph believe me. I said it was basic principles and didn't claim to be right...  However, I said I saw violinists with harldy nothing visible on the fingertips and I don't think anyone said you must have them compulsory to be a violinist??? But I will re read...   With my limited experience, I still can say that from those I saw (and I saw in real some soloists hands), some finger types are more encline to make calluses than others. But again, this is just what I saw.  So what, I don't care at all when I hear someone play at the amount of calluses one have... 

A nice day to all,

Anne-Marie

 

 

August 14, 2009 at 03:20 PM ·

Please forgive the following limerick moment- I couldn't help myself:

This intriguing thread on the callus

I hope will not lead to malice

Some say they've got,

 Others say not

Next topic will be on the prune

 (wait that's not quite right, the word begins with a p, but rhymes with callus)

 

August 14, 2009 at 05:30 PM ·

 Oh, Ronald, that last line is very very funny! : )

I am grateful for what I call calluses, but they are invisible to the eye, except for the index finger which, I'm embarrassed to say, also has a little groove where it lands on the string. It looks like I've been branded. 

I hate the feeling that comes when you slack off for a few days and then try to make it up on the third day with an extra-long practice session. Ow!

August 14, 2009 at 11:57 PM ·

Therez, how true!

and I hate when I'm on vacation somewhere without my violin and my calluses start to come off. I have the impression that all my finger tip is going off. Not to mention that sometimes, the dead skin of the calluses is still caught on some live sensitive skin and your calluse is just half off. Very annoying and incomfortable... : )

Anne-Marie

August 15, 2009 at 01:18 AM ·

I *had* them too........when I played alot of mandolin and classical guitar.

The tips where flat and bolbous, especialy on the 1st and 2nd fingers. The skin flaked off right in the groove the string made. I kept it filed off bacause it was so annoying to catch on my clothing.  I think it is bacause I played those instruments less that my bolbous callus have disappeared, or was it because I began to pay more attention to the amount of pressure I was applying. Maybe it could have something to do with the set up of my fiddle ie; the hieght of the strings at the bridge and........ ( at the nut, which the luthier had lowered to a paper thin hieght ).

I copied those hieght settings to my other fiddles and sometimes when I play my students fiddle, "OOOOOOO............thats gonna hurt", then I immediately retrieve my tool kit and proceed to file down the offending protrusions.

I play the fiddle alot especialy since my injury is healing and now that I have a silent fiddle.

I do have callus but they can not be seen. There was a point made about striving for *obtuse goals* ( I think was the meaning ). I did believe that callus would improve violin playing but I soon discovered that they are very insensitive.Maybe one would require them depending on the amount of pressure used, the type of instrument played or the size of the hand or the skin type. 

   

August 15, 2009 at 04:07 PM ·

One almost has to have them on the neck and collar!  And they call the Marines Leather Necks! 

July 19, 2016 at 06:36 PM · Dear all,

Like others here,I have 'leathery' fingertips too, on my

left hand.Recently,however I have found a 'callous' on the

tip/side of my 4th-pinky finger.Im assuming its bacause Ive recently been working on fingered octaves (1-3..2-4)which of course take some stretching laterally of the left hand.Im using as little pressure as possible on the notes,as instructed,but have still got this little callous.The only negative thing about it is I have to make more effort to feel the string with that finger.Anyone else have the same thing?

July 19, 2016 at 07:57 PM · I don't seem to have calluses from playing the violin, but I seem to get grooves (especially on my index finger pad near the tip) that go away in a few minutes sometimes.

July 19, 2016 at 08:27 PM · Ella, if you stop playing for a few weeks and then start again, do the grooves hurt for a few days? If so then you are likely building up invisible callouses.

July 19, 2016 at 10:30 PM · I've never gotten calluses, even during those 5-hour-a-day stretches during conservatory, and for a while I felt bad about it!

July 19, 2016 at 11:03 PM · I recall having pride in the lines in my fingertips and my developing calluses when I was a young pup, but over the years these just became regions of thicker, insensitive skin and I realized I would have to abandon by career goal of becoming a master safe cracker.

July 20, 2016 at 12:06 AM · I'll just add that if you don't have issues with touch screen and you are a violin player, you have to teach me!

July 20, 2016 at 07:52 AM · I also have calluses but I don't think it's a good thing at all. We're supposed to apply only enough pressure to stop the string and on the violin that should not be enough to cause calluses. But I guess we're still a work in progress.

July 20, 2016 at 01:59 PM · You still get a bit of leathering of the fingertips due to the windings subtly abrading the fingers, I think.

I also find that the trend of very thin E strings causes a lot more fingertip wear.

July 20, 2016 at 04:03 PM ·

I play the violin, guitar and mandolin and I don't have calluses(they may be thin), or thick calluses on my fingertips, or a callus at the base of the index finger.

Thick calluses(base of index finger or fingertips) and a neck hickey are symptoms of poor technique.

July 20, 2016 at 04:23 PM · I do have calluses at the base of all my fingers on both hands (except the thumb and index) but that's from intensive monkey-bar work when I was younger.

July 20, 2016 at 08:23 PM · I have a leathery first finger on my left hand, and the second and third fingers also have a leathery spot/ small callus/ what you will.

It seems to depend on whether I'm playing my cheap 'sessions' fiddle a lot, which is strung with dominants. When I play my 'best fiddle', strung with pirastro tonicas, I don't develop hard skin.

Periodically I get my husband to whittle the pad down so that I can feel what I'm doing once again.

July 20, 2016 at 11:42 PM · Calluses don't necessarily have anything to do with technique; I've seen great players with and without. It reminds me of how some folks' fingers always get stained black from the fingerboard, and others' don't.

July 20, 2016 at 11:50 PM · Does the black staining have something to do with the fingerboard paint?

July 21, 2016 at 08:34 PM · Charles, the neck hickey is a sign of bad technique? Where did you hear this? I heard that it was just sensitive skin, some professionals have very severe neck hickeys... Did I hear wrong?

July 21, 2016 at 09:22 PM · If you are not pressing, you are not pressing. There are better ways of knowing this, and calluses should not be deemed definite "proof" of bad technique.

In any case, they don't hurt LH Pizz.

July 21, 2016 at 09:27 PM · "Charles Cook: Thick calluses(base of index finger or fingertips) and a neck hickey are symptoms of poor technique."

100% unfounded and incorrect. Some have calluses, some have neck hickies, some have both and some have neither. Backing up your theory, which is all it is and the lot of us can show you 100s of Violinists who have one or the other or both and have near flawless techniques. It all depends on the person. Now, if your fingers have permanent indentation, then yes, it may be technique related, or could simply be the strings are heavy gauge or the Violin needs to be looked at. But saying these are symptoms of poor techniques is silly.

July 22, 2016 at 01:11 PM · It can only be bad use.

July 22, 2016 at 05:24 PM · I've developed calluses from playing guitar and mandolin. Switching to violin is like going on vacation, the pressures are so light. I don't play a lot of guitar or mandolin these days, so when I do the calluses have softened and it hurts to build them up again. (Plus, my guitar and mandolin calluses are in slightly different spots so I have to rebuild each set.)

I don't have a neck hickey, but my viola teacher does - and she plays (very well, I might add) in a major orchestra.

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