Seriously short pinky?

March 31, 2011 at 04:02 PM ·

Does anyone else suffer from a really short pinky? My 2nd finger is 2 3/4", 3rd is 2 1/2" and my pinky is just about 2". What did you have to do differently (if anything) to be able to play well? I also have thick fingers, so that isn't helping either.

Replies (28)

March 31, 2011 at 05:28 PM ·

I can definitely relate to your problem.  Mine's not only about 2" long, but it has a "kink" in it at the first joint, which sort of curves it toward my ring finger.  Intervals that most violinists can simply stretch for, I have to make a real "leap of faith" and hope for the best.  The results are inconsistent.  I haven't been at this very long, though, so I'm hoping my accuracy improves with time.  I'll be very interested in reading the responses you get.

March 31, 2011 at 07:57 PM ·

Another dinky pinky sufferer here. I dunno, at my novice level it hasn't been a major issue yet. I try not to do vibrato on the 4th, but that's easier said than done.

Have you noticed that when moving to the highest registers, it's sometimes easier to reach with the 3rd finger instead of the pinky?

I guess there are ways of coping. For comparison, look at someone with sausage fingers, like Perlman. You would think that tight intervals would pose a problem, but he manages pretty well. ;)

March 31, 2011 at 08:03 PM ·

Hi Tammy, my fingers are the same length as yours, and I play a full-sized violin. I'm 48 years old and started playing 4-1/2 years ago. It was a struggle in the beginning and I wondered if I should get a smaller instrument... but the longer I play, the easier it gets to make the stretch. Don't worry, it will get better!

March 31, 2011 at 09:41 PM ·

I can relate to Marsha.  I also have a short pinky that curves into the ring finger.  I have managed to get by but I think it is a significant disadvantage not just for reaching notes but for applying 4th finger vibrato.  

April 1, 2011 at 12:58 AM ·

My pinky is 2 inches exactly and it curves.  However, I do have a wide hand which is helpful. My wrist in slightly to provide the reach I need.   

April 1, 2011 at 04:17 PM ·

I have a short pinky, and the other fingers aren't so long either, nor is my hand very wide.  I have been playing for about 6 years.  As I've learned to shift, I've found solutions to the 1, 4 and 1, extended 4 stretches through shifting to a less difficult stretch.  My teacher has been very supportive and helpful and finding ways around those too long stretches.  And all this on a 3/4 violin!

Good luck,
Ann

April 1, 2011 at 04:39 PM ·

 I was going to say: ok you can find a way to get around the vibrato and shifting problems, but what about when you do double stops in thirds??? especially in first position??? those surely you can't do them properly on a full size instrument with such short fingers???

also can I just ask: where are you people measuring your fingers from? sorry if it's a silly question! from your base knuckle at the back of your hand or from the inside of your hand where there is the end of your palm and the beginning of your fingers (ie not a knuckle joint but the fleshy padded bit at base of fingers on the inside of hand).

April 1, 2011 at 05:18 PM ·

Etudes that use the 4th finger a lot are good for building strength.  Everyone has to do this.  Stretches to reach a half step and a whole step higher than normal are probably tough, but keep at it.  With practice, your hand will strengthen and stretch to do it .  One of my teachers had small hands and it was no problem for her.  She had mastered a stretch technique to keep the 4th finger straight and bend only at the joint with the hand.  When doing this the part of hand below the 4th finger can roll a bit towards the violin neck and help reach a 'stretch note'.  It takes some strength building to do this, but it works fine.

April 1, 2011 at 05:58 PM ·

"where are you people measuring your fingers from?"

In my view it has got to be measured from the knuckle, for that is where the finger is hinged and the movement starts. If it is measured from the skin between the fingers that can be variable and is not necessarily related to the length measured from the knuckle. On my left hand, the length of my pinky is 3.4" measured from the knuckle; measured from the web of skin between the base of the pinky and the third finger it is 2.3". I now have no difficulty in reaching a C-nat or C# from the first position on the E-string (or even the D on a good day with the wind behind me!), and it's not so long ago when I wouldn't have been able to get past the B.

April 1, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

 Trevor, you and I have the same measurements for the 'pinky' then :)

I know I can reach a C on E string in 1st position, never tried a Csharp or D but will try tonight in my practice and will let you know (I have a 7/8 violin though and it's not windy tonight LOL LOL)

April 1, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

Hi Jo, I measured my fingers from the point where my palm ends and the finger begins. Measuring that way, my pinky is 2-1/8" long. But if I include the knuckle, the measurement is a full inch longer.

April 1, 2011 at 08:56 PM ·

 just play anything without the thumb and see the shape your hand takes

April 1, 2011 at 09:10 PM ·

 Thank you Glenda, can you tell me: can you play thirds totally in tune in first position on a full size violin? my fingers are longer than yours and although I can when I do it slowly and with 'sweat' and huge pain I can't if I play a long piece which needs to be played fast  or if the thirds are packed one after the other or are sustained longer than half a second!!! and I don't think this is supposed to be something which will get better with time, I have been stretching my fingers for years, how many years do I have to stretch them? maybe it's for decades, when I've only been doing it for 4?  I now play on a 7/8 and it has solved my 'issues'

Trevor, no I can't reach a Csharp, not even on a 7/8 violin LOL

ps maybe finger length is not the only 'issue' here but also joint flexibility/tendon flexibility stretchiness/wideness of hand and space in between fingers etc (also have joints/tendons been stretched in EARLY childhood/early teens whilst bones are still developing/growing I think it may have a part to play too?)

April 2, 2011 at 12:31 AM ·

Jo, width of hand. I think a useful measurement for comparison purposes would be to make a lightly clenched left fist and measure the distance across from the knuckle of  the first finger to the knuckle of the pinky (center to center). Mine measures at 2.7".

Another measurement for the spread of the fingers could be to place the hand flat on a table, spread the fingers as far apart as is comfortable (don't force anything), and then measure the straight line distance between the tips of the pinky and the first finger.  Mine measures at 6", but, interestingly, for my right hand it is 5.5" (in mitigation, I started learning the cello in my early teens, so that has probably got something to do with it).  

April 2, 2011 at 07:11 AM ·

 Thanks Trevor, that is REALLY interesting, we have exactly the same hand/fingers measurements you and I!!!

even the hand measurement for me is the same as yours!

BUT I am not sure about the 'finger span' measurement, do you mean to open your fingers up to the point just before you feel any skin or tendon pulling? if I do that I get 6 and a half inches!!!

but I did play the double bass for a year between the ages of 40 and 41 maybe it's that? LOL so how come I had to downsize to a 7/8 violin??? doh!

April 2, 2011 at 11:55 AM ·

 i think the measure should have both a physiological component as well as a functional component.

i think so far the discussion is more on the physiological measurement.  

to explore the functional aspect will probably help to tell jo and trevor apart:

1. G string first position:  keeping first finger on the string, reach up with 2nd, 3rd, 4th fingers as high up as possible while still able to make a decent sound.  record the intervals.

2. G string 5th position:  repeat as above

3. E string first position: repeat as above

4. E string 5th position: repeat as above.

---------------

besides interdigital distance (physiological), there is also an issue with forearm muscle/tendon flexibility. (with high G, shoulder is also very much involved)  if the latter is tight, when reaching up to the 5th position, even when the hand and fingers are not changed, the functional length of the entire forearm/hand unit may be shortened, making fingering difficult and strenuous.

similarly, when jo mentioned playing bass vs violin, again, the anatomical positions of the arm/forearm/hand between playing the 2 instruments are very different.  bass is more natural; violin more like a contortionist:)

April 2, 2011 at 04:06 PM ·

 Al Ku, do I do the exercise you proposed on my 7/8 violin or on a 4/4? I have a 4/4 lying around in the house....

I'll tell you what, I'll do it on both and come back to 'publish the results' here a little later.

I'll do what you 'prescribed' on G and E string 1st and 5th position.

 

OK HERE ARE THE RESULTS ON BOTH 7/8 AND 4/4 VIOLIN, I have execute the exercise so that I really tried my best (ie stretched as far as I could) BUT made sure I could produce a full/good quality resonant tone for a full length of my bow, if I stretched past a C for example but did not make it to Csharp then I 'scored it' as a C (I rounded up to the lower semi-tone):

on 4/4 violin:

on G string keeping my 1st finger STOPPED firmly on A 1st position (and checking after each note played with the other finger that I have NOT moved up slightly with my first finger whilst  stretching), with my 2nd finger I could reach a D, with my 3rd finger a Dsharp, with my 4th an E.

on E string keeping 1st firmly on Fsharp, my 2nd could reach B, 3rd could reach C and 4th could reach Csharp.  I have to add: my second and 3rd finger would be UP AND OFF THE FINGERBOARD when doing my 4th finger and my second finger would also be OFF the fingerboard when doing my 3rd, there is NO WAY I'd play the violin like this when doing technique or pieces so how relevant is this to how we play I don't know to be honest!!!! my teacher would 'thump me' (not really but you know what I mean) if he saw me with flying fingers like that LOL LOL  If I kept my fingers in their place on fingerboard there is NO WAY that my fourth would reach Csharp but I do know it does get to C with my third finger on A as I did on kayser study n1!!

in 5th position, on G string, keeping first finger firmly on E: 2nd finger would reach F, 3rd Gsharp, 4th A, then on E string with 1st finger on C, my 2nd would reach B, 3rd C, 4th Csharp.

 

ON 7/8 VIOLIN:

1st position on G string 1st finger on A:  2nd finger reach D, 3rd Dsharp, 4th E (same as on 4/4 violin!!!) on E string with 1st finger on Fsharp 2nd would reach B (same as 4/4) 3rd reach Csharp (a semitone higher than 4/4), 4th would reach D (semitone higher than 4/4).

in 5th position on G string 1st finger on E, 2nd would reach C (a semitone higher than 4/4), 3rd would reach D (a tone higher than 4/4), 4th would reach Dsharp (a tone higher than 4/4), on E string 1st finger on C, 2nd would reach Fsharp (a semitone higher than 4/4), 3rd would reach A (a semitone higher than 4/4), 4th would reach A (same as 3rd and same as 4/4!!!)

I think I can reach a lot more in higher positions on 7/8 on G string as the body may be narrower and also I can get my hand nice and high in relation to violin, on E string I don't get my hand high and in the same 'relationship' to the body of the violin, also the E string is quite close to the hand and the fingers get 'cramped' and this can limit how far they can stretch comfortably....

April 2, 2011 at 11:27 PM ·

 if i may interject, the problem here is not the length of fingers but hand position. almost everyone even people with short hands can play the four 'a's on the fiddle. obviously if you start at the bottom a on the g string and try to stretch up you will die trying. the trick is the start with the high a on the e string and work your way down. do with out the thumb and see how the hand falls into place. 

jo for thirds try doing it without the thumb. you may notice that your wrist bends inward and your elbow moves towards the left (depending on which string you are using)

April 3, 2011 at 12:56 AM ·

My pinky is right around 2" and I play a 16-in viola without too many issues.  Granted going from a low 2nd (f-nat) to 4th (e-nat) is a stretch, but manageable.  The trick is to bring your elbow around to the right and widen the joints in the left hand at the base.  When I play violin, I tend to play sharp with this wider hand position and can easily reach a full step above the normal 4th finger (from 1st) position without shifting.

Another option is to use 3rd finger extensions - e.g. 'crawling' up to 2nd position.  The third finger is stronger and has a greater reach than the 4th.

April 3, 2011 at 02:16 AM ·

Speaking of hand position, I was sitting there doodling one day, holding the violin like a guitar, when I noticed the fingerings were relatively easy. I put it into playing position, and the fingerings were more difficult. I noticed the position of the hand changed drastically. So I tried holding it like a guitar, placing my fingers, then lifting it into position, trying not to shift the hand at all. What I found was that the position of my hand, arm, and the violin itself was far different than what I was used to. I could actually reach certain notes, intonation improved (likely the result of less tension). The trade off was that I could no longer use the shoulder rest, the chin rest was completely wrong, etc. So I needed to make some setup changes to fit. But what others say about hand position making a big difference is true, at least in my limited experience.

Sorry, I bet my silly novice "eureka" moments probably elicit "duh" responses from most of you! :p)

April 3, 2011 at 02:26 PM ·

@ Ausar: how can I do my thirds without my thumb if I don't use a shoulder rest? I would drop my violin...... I need my thumb to keep my violin up......

April 3, 2011 at 02:59 PM ·

 i dont use a shoulder rest and do thirds with out thumb just fine :)

well... when you hold the violin in playing position you should be able to look straight down the fingerboard towards the scroll. the scroll and fingerboard should be in line with you nose somewhat... that may help

April 3, 2011 at 08:04 PM ·

Ausar, I do hold the violin EXACTLY as you say, with my nose pointing to the scroll looking down the fingerboard, the 'Heifetz way', but I STILL need my thumb to hold it up otherwise it will go DOWN and onto the floor I can assure you!  maybe you have nice square shoulders and when you let go of the violin it still stays parallel to the floor??? well, mine doesn't, it will gravitate down 30 degrees by which time if I don't grab it with my hand (including thumb) it will slip and end up on the floor 'guaranteed'. The only time I can 'keep it up' with no hands is when I play in high positions (higher than 6th/7th) and then I will swing the violin further to the left to let it balance on my RAISED shoulder so that I can take my thumb off from under the neck of the violin, so are you telling me that's what I am supposed to do if I am playing thirds? If so that is a bit 'dangerous' as some pieces are FULL of thirds and potentially I'd be playing for minutes with a raised/stiff/tensed shoulder and I don't know if I'd like that and if it would be a healthy way to play......don't know........

April 3, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

 jo... haha no i think you have misunderstood....obviously withought your thumb the violin will go about 30-40* dowward thats okay (look at milstein)... but playing without the thumb is jsut for practice purposes so you understand what shape your hand takes naturally. 

forget about thirds try and play a few notes without your thumb and feel how your hands fit itself perfectly to what you are playing. you should make the thumb fit the hand, not make the hand fit the thumb... if that makes any sense

April 3, 2011 at 08:40 PM ·

 iff you have to put some cushion under your violin to help just for this purpose. play thirsts in first position without the thumb. You should notice that you left elbow moves to the left when playing on higher strings such as a and e and that you wrist comes a bit close to the violin. Thirds are of the hard setting of the hand

April 3, 2011 at 09:23 PM ·

 LOL ok Ausar, now you are making 'sense', taking thumb off 'for practice' purposes and helping by placing a cushion in between the shoulder and the violin during this practice to see what my hand does without the thumb 'interfering' LOL ok, I get you now, thought you wanted me to 'play' without the thumb helping to hold my violin LOL LOL

ok, tomorrow I will do this exercise to 'experiment'.  

Now I am scared to find out I am actually ok with a 4/4 violin as 6 months ago I only just invested in this beautiful $6500 7/8 violin and 'got rid' of the $1300 4/4 violin LOL LOL, what will I do if I have to go back to a 4/4? guess I'll have to trade in the $6500 7/8 for $32500 4/4 LOL LOL LOL LOL (get it? the new 7/8 is five times more expensive therefore the new 4/4 will have to be five times more expensive than this 7/8 LOL)

April 7, 2011 at 11:59 PM ·

 did your thirds work out

April 10, 2011 at 05:44 PM ·

Stretching exercises are great, and should be done, but you can also use your left arm to help. Swing under a little more when using your pinky to give it extra support - you will find your pitch and tone are improved because your 4th finger will retain the beautiful form and precise placement you have culitivated in your other fingers intstead of flattening out when you reach for extensions.

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