Are these stretches difficult for you?

January 10, 2015 at 09:03 PM · I have very small hands. Do your fingers feel stretched out when you play the 12-3-4 finger pattern, or when you play high 4s?

Replies (20)

January 10, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Hi,

there may be two issues here.

First, if you have small hand the positioing of the hand may need to be altered slightly. IE the neck slides deepr into the v of the thumb.

It`s also possible your hand is actually positioned too close to the scroll end of the violin.

This is connected to the second point which is that the fingers stretch back from the fourth and third. You do not stretch forward from the 1st and second. So situate your fourth finger in a curved and comfortable postion on e or a or whatever. adjsut your hand to that finger. learn the feelingof that setting/position and then keep that feeling while starting on a foirst finger or second. It is a slight sens eyou are reaching back with the first and second.

The smallest hands I ever saw were on a marvelous player form Singapore called Karen Tan.

Her left hand thumb had to point directly back at the scroll while being somewhat under the neck.

But boy could/can she play.



January 10, 2015 at 11:01 PM · These are not stretches and they shouldn't feel like stretches. If these seem like stretches, there's something wrong with the position of your left hand. (My hands are also small. You cannot place your hand the way that someone with big hands does, but you can absolutely find -- and must absolutely find -- an approach that lets you do this kind of block fingering, because if you can't, you're headed for much bigger problems.)

This deserves the close scrutiny of your teacher.

January 11, 2015 at 02:58 AM · I would advise the opposite of holding the neck deeper in the v of the thumb and side-of-first-finger (SOFF.) For those of us with less than ideal hand proportions and/or size, we need to adjust under the finger tips, so to speak. Specifically the contact of the SOFF and thumb must adjust to give us the ideal posture for the finger tips. Also, we need to be much more aware of the level of each string, using the steering mechanism (elbow-forearm-hand unit which can swing left or right by rotating the upper arm, carrying the fingers over each string.)

1) In general try a SOFF contact closer to the second-knuckle-from-the-tip of the first finger, and further from the 1st base knuckle, i.e. lower the hand relative to the fingerboard. This will pivot the hand, making it lean more away from you. If your wrist caves in too much (extends beyond 180 degrees) you'll need to pull your elbow closer to your body and flex at the elbow to straighten the wrist. This posture is not the most relaxed your hand can be, since it causes your first finger to be more curled in general than before, but the range of motion you gain for the other fingers is worth the tradeoff.

2) If the above posture is not enough, try an even lower hand. If this pattern is temporary, allow the wrist to cave in; if it is prolonged adjust your SOFF for a generally lower posture.

3) Use your steering mechanism to take your fingers to the D-string. N.B. SOFF contact may need to move almost on top of the fingerboard, almost on the E-string. The thumb slides under as the SOFF slides over and vice-versa.

When you don't need to block your fingers, you can go back to your previous posture(s). The general rule: make your whole arm (hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shouldersocket, shoulder blade/clavicle,) even torso and violin position, adjust to the needs of the fingertips. As Dounis said, play with your fingertips.

January 11, 2015 at 03:02 AM · Greetings,

>I would advise the opposite of holding the neck deeper in the v of the thumb and side-of-first-finger (SOFF.)

You are quite right of course. I was visualizing it too early in the morning and misworded what I wanted to describe. thanks for the clarification



January 11, 2015 at 03:35 AM · I thought as much, Buri ;)


Annie, you might also want to revisit your basic hand posture. If it's too supinated, so that the base knuckles are close to parallel to the string, and the fingers are uniformly curled, the fingers will spread sideways and make it difficult to 'grab' finger patterns, as you're experiencing. Except for extreme situations and very high positions, the base knuckles should be at an angle to the string, with the pinky least curled (very slightly for some,) ring finger more curled and 2nd and 1st most curled. With this proper posture, the pinky feels weak and uncoordinated at first but with time and work it gets stronger. Many beginners find this posture strange and less natural than the parallel knuckles posture (even if the latter is more twisted and tense,) and so as they advance they find it difficult to form certain patterns and move quickly because the fingers must spread sideways and the hand is held rigidly.

The muscles we need to develop for placing fingers are the intrinsic muscles of the hand, the lumbricals, which flex the base knuckles, and the interossae, muscles responsible for fine motor control of the fingers, not the extrinsic muscles of the hand, which are in the forearm, and already strong enough to hold our body weight while hanging. In fact for higher technique we need to learn to inhibit the extrinsic muscles, which can easily overpower the intrinsic muscles and prevent us from strengthening the 'springs' which throw the fingers at the base knuckles. The lumbricals and interossae are for placing fingers on the strings. For lifting fingers we need to strengthen extensors, which are in back of the forearm.

To form finger patterns, the fingers curl/flex (square shape) and straighten/extend (triangle shape.) For low 2, 2 curls so that the pad of the 2nd finger overlaps onto the nail of 1st finger. For high 3, the 3rd finger straightens so that it's nail 'underlaps' (if that's a word) the pad of the 4th finger. Close fingers over/underlap, they do not touch side to side. Far fingers are curled and straightened, not spread sideways.

Hope it helps.

January 11, 2015 at 05:11 AM · Thanks for the responses so far!

So based on what you all are saying, is it accurate for me to conclude that my having problems with the above three stretches (in terms of maintaining blocked fingering) would indeed pose a problem for advanced repertoire? I ask because my teacher and I have tried many of your above suggestions and have seen little improvement. My hands really are small to a truly unusual degree :(

January 11, 2015 at 05:47 AM · The problems with block fingering are symptomatic, I think, of larger issues which will indeed hamper you.

How long are your fingers, measured from the base to fingertip?

January 11, 2015 at 05:50 AM · Hmm, I have never measured them, but I'm already petite (5'2, Asian) and they are small even for my height. I wave my hands around a lot while talking, and I've had several people stop me and comment on how small they are, ha.

January 11, 2015 at 06:41 AM · You might need to move your SOFF contact closer to the first-joint-closest-to-the-tip when blocking. When I play viola I have at least 2 different frames for various contexts, 2 different first positions.

You might also look into your setup. Is your chin close to, or on the tail piece? This setup is useful for balancing the fiddle, but it also supinates the forearm quite a bit more than having the chin closer to the left side of the left lower bout. Also check the tilt angle of your fiddle. Is it fairly flat or is the right side lower than the left? A flat fiddle will force you to push the elbow to the right, making it impossible to use it when you need more rotation. I've tilted my fiddle quite a bit more than I used to and it has made a big difference, making it much more comfortable for my left side, allowing more reach for the fingers with less strain at my shoulder. Of course all of this takes a lot of experimenting and there isn't much in the way of stock chin rests and shoulder rests (if you use one) which help. In particular most chin rests are quite flat which forces the fiddle flat. You could look into the Kreddle which tilts side to side. I've not tried it, but others on this forum like it a lot. To test for optimal tilt, hold the fiddle at its tailpiece end to your neck and tilt it until you're comfortable. I've got my setup so that when I play 1st finger on the G-string in 1st position, my elbow is neutral, pointing straight down and to the side of my ribs, not in front. To reach my pinky on G, my elbow rotates to the right a bit. Any change in the setup of the fiddle will affect the angles and levels for your bow arm too.

If your current setup isn't allowing you to reach blocked patterns, it has to change, or you could look for a smaller fiddle. But as you advance and play longer and more complex music, keeping the status quo is not worth the wear and tear on your body. Get comfortable ASAP.


Edit: (having read your edit) as Lydia said the patterns you describe should not be stretches. Having said that, if you can play in tune by lifting fingers you don't need, there's nothing wrong with lifting them. Higher technique requires independence of fingers, which is pretty much lifting any finger which gets in the way. The 'keep your fingers down' rule is useful for measuring distances between fingers, but not necessary for performance, except of course, for double stops and chords. There's still a lot of advanced rep you can play. But if it's a setup issue, the sooner you deal with it the better. A good way to test your setup is to start exploring the full range of motion required for playing. Try playing octave shifts on each finger on the G string and assess your comfort. Try some of the tweaks in setup and see if comfort improves.

January 11, 2015 at 04:44 PM · Many great comments already.

Last, but not the least, it is sometimes worth considering a smaller "mensure" (shorter vibrating string length) and/or smaller violin. The challenge with this is that there are not too many good sounding small violins (7/8th) around, but that should not stop you from looking. Another option is to customize the neck width (or circumvention) for you. This if you intend to keep this violin for a long time.

In viola world, many professional players gave up on huge violas, after enough of them had injured themselves.

In violin world, this is not yet the case and majority of us stay with "one size fits all" approach.

You need to feel comfortable while playing, by either revisiting your posture / technique and/or choosing a more ergonomic instrument.

January 11, 2015 at 06:28 PM · I am indeed moving to a smaller viola, at 66yo, with Viola Elbow..

With fairly short fingers, I have similar problems on the viola to many of my young female students on their full-sized violins.

My observations:

- The fourth finger rules! It must be curved enough to allow occasional extensions, and a decent vibrato.

- The second finger; I keep the nail very short to allow the fingertip to curl under, providing a pivoting support for the third and fourth fingers to reach (not stretch!) for their notes.

- The first finger is usually bunched up in a square shape, and must lean backwards to play near the nut (B-flat etc.) using the side of the fingertip.

- I do a lot of mini-shifts, e.g.half-position for B-flat, or second position for the C-natural to D-sharp stretch.

- The prepared hand-shape can be abandoned for an expressive note, and then quickly resumed for a subsequent fast passage.

- Tilt: I have set up the chinrest (and the Unmentionable Shoulder Rest) to have a 45° tilt so I can vibrate on the C-string with my very short pinky.

Hope this helps (you or others)..

PS the older 7/8 violins ("violon de dame") I have heard had a well balanced, clear tone, but they are hard to come by.

January 12, 2015 at 12:34 PM · Small Full Size Czech Violin for Sale

January 12, 2015 at 02:46 PM · Drat! Beat me to it!

January 12, 2015 at 11:02 PM · THANKS everyone for your responses. This forum is such a helpful and friendly place! I will definitely incorporate the above setup suggestions and will maybe think about getting a smaller violin.

Does everyone here think that having problems with those stretches I mentioned (after about 1.5 years of playing) is unusual? That is -- do you think it might be something that I will "grow out of" eventually, once my hands get stretchier due to practice/experiences? Or are these stretches super easy for everyone else, including beginners? Because if these are really easy stretches, I'm wondering whether my difficulty with them might indicate significant problems down the road in terms of continuing to play a full-size instrument...

January 12, 2015 at 11:08 PM · well?they really aren't stretches so my guess is you may need a seventh 8th size instrument in the end.

But don't give up. Vey few people have perfec hands.....

Bes of luck Buri

January 12, 2015 at 11:56 PM · You received expert advice from teachers above. The fingerings you refer to are not really stretches, 1-23-4, 12-3-4, 1-2-34 are basic finger patterns.

You mention the size of hand what about your arm? Put the violin in the playing position on the arm (45 degrees diagonal to the body as in playing position) stretched flat. Is the scroll behind the wrist wrinkle, opposite the base of the thumb or in the middle of the palm? The scroll should not be much behind wrist wrinkle on the flat arm and if you bend your arm a little you should reach into peg box with 3rd finger comfortably. Another experiment is to play 4 on A string, nicely rounded, in 1st position, check with E string or tuner (such as Intonia set to Pythagorean tuning and Tuning so that you have visual recording for check later) to be absolutely precise, then move it aside off the string (but do not slide down or up) and play B (English notation; H German notation) with 1, 2 and 3 are in the air. Check intonation. Is it on the spot or high? (Intonia is extremely useful, you immediately see and can check later as well). You can measure how many milimmeters/parts of inch are missing and calculate comfortable mensur for yourself. You might check 7/8 or even 3/4 violin. It is important to find the instrument that is viable and comfortable for you.

January 13, 2015 at 09:14 AM · hi Annie, I also had problems with the 12-3-4 finger pattern in first position, until I realized that it is OK to adapt hand, wrist, elbow. at first I kept them in a too rigid position. many commenters above gave you the advice to adapt your hand, wrist and elbow positions, also changing minute details as on which part of the fingertips you land on the string, can make a huge difference. so you are not alone!

January 13, 2015 at 10:13 PM · With regard to instrument size, my experience with several players is that 7/8 is not small enough to help much. Instead, I was once commissioned to make a "full size-sounding" 3/4. The 7/8 string length is about 12 mm shorter than 4/4 while 3/4 is about 25 mm shorter and makes a noticeable difference. The design I happened upon was very successful, in spite of my own doubts. A lot of searching may find a 3/4 that you like but the odds are not good. I think that most good makers could do what I did, but finding one who will try is a challenge.

February 8, 2015 at 07:15 PM · Annie, I feel your pain!

I also have trouble with 12-3-4 in first position. What seems to cause the problem in my case is the 2nd finger. The range of my 3rd (and thus 4th) finger seem to be very limited by the 2nd finger. I can do a big stretch between my 1st and 4th finger, but as soon as the 2nd goes down (next to 1st) all bets are off!

I can usually manage 12-3 at least (though struggle if the 3 is on another string, for instance B, C, A). I sometimes have to rock forward on my 2nd finger a bit to get it.

So I really have no idea how people say it is not a stretch; I'd love to see a video of someone doing it! There's videos of people doing scales on YouTube but they always seem to lift a finger when doing 12-3-4..

If I had my tape measure handy I would measure my fingers. My 2nd is a fair bit longer than my 3rd so that doesn't help. I don't think my hands are particularly small.

I might post a video or photo too of me trying to do it in case anyone has any pointers. I can manager it if I force my fingers but it feels and looks really unnatural, and my arm ends up under the violin a fair bit even for the A string.

It does feel like it is holding me back a bit, very frustrating :-(

February 8, 2015 at 09:25 PM · Greetings,

it's not a stretch because the word is typcially, I don't know about officially, used for when the first or fourth finger has to reach outside it's normal octave frame to play a note. The distinction is important because the way we use language to talk about things can often contribute to or even be the source of the problem.

In this cas ethe problem is usuia

ly the position of the hand too near the scroll and balancing it on the lower two fingers the key to the

eft hand is to make surea the fourth finger is in a relaxed and curve position. The hand is then set up in relation to that. There is a slight sens eof mstretching back , but not a stretch, for the lower fingers in some cases. This is how the hand functions . It does not reach forward from the first finger.

Other problems may be gripping with the thumb and tension in the base of the first finger.



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