Pinkie finger muscle training?

July 5, 2016 at 07:02 AM · There are some of the notes which require the pinkie finger to press on the string, but I realize that my pinkie finger doesn't have enough strength to press the string completely for a better sound.

Any exercise to strengthen the muscles around pinkie finger?

Replies (38)

July 5, 2016 at 07:29 AM · It has nothing to do with the strength of the 4th finger on the left hand, but the hand position.

You need a good teacher to sort this out. (Even if I haven't played for 6 months my left hand has no problems including the fourth finger - except for a little soreness on the finger tips for a few days).

July 5, 2016 at 07:46 AM · Shradieck 1 & 2 as well as Sevcik opus 1 part 1 will strengthen all the fingers on the left hand.

Additionally there is an excellent strengthening exercise in Whistler's 'Preparing for Kreutzer' book 1 page 6. It is attributed to Eichberg from 'Method for Violin'

July 5, 2016 at 09:37 AM · @ k d

How long have you been playing the violin and what experience and level have you achieved?

To the OP (Reanne) - the fourth finger is the weakest finger and we often avoid using it at certain moments, when a better finger may be employed. On the other hand giving the 4th as much practice as possible is also a good idea, so I would use it where it works. If you are in the early stages of learning the violin (and are we not all in this situation even after decades of playing?) - then don't worry too much as things will improve, if the hand position is correct.

You could try just going from 3rd finger to 4th and back (a bit like a slow trill) which might train it to push the string down enough. On the other hand, your violin may be set up badly where the strings are too far from the fingerboard. This makes playing well nigh impossible, and a bridge adjustment and other adjustments may be necessary. (Post a video or photo close up of your left hand on the fingerboard from the thumb side and we might be able to give better advice).

July 5, 2016 at 09:52 AM · 'If the hand position is correct' : when you look at great violinists they all seem to have their own interpretation of where the left hand thumb goes on the neck. Can somebody elaborate on what the correct left hand position should be ?

I too have problems with the little finger. It will not stay up and tends to drag across the strings when string crossing on descending scales. I have tried all manner of exercises but nothing will make the little finger stay up until needed.

July 5, 2016 at 10:01 AM · Regarding hand position, it takes a while for the body to be capable of correct hand position. This is especially true as an adult learner. The strength and flexibility as well as the 'unnatural' body position/contortions need to be aquired gradually.

@Peter, I am an amateur in my 30s. Playing about 14 months, and very briefly as a child. I am practising 5-6 hours most days and currently working through Kreutzer and Mazas and Bach A minor. In my previous response I wasn't contradicting you, you may be right about hand position; I was merely providing the information that OP requested.

July 5, 2016 at 10:22 AM · 'If the hand position is correct' : when you look at great violinists they all seem to have their own interpretation of where the left hand thumb goes on the neck. Can somebody elaborate on what the correct left hand position should be ?

I too have problems with the little finger. It will not stay up and tends to drag across the strings when string crossing on descending scales. I have tried all manner of exercises but nothing will make the little finger stay up until needed.

Hi Brian - it is not possible to say what the hand position should be as this varies from player to player, and that is why the great players all use slightly different approaches. Hands vary from person to person as well as body dimensions such as arms, neck and other things.

Violin playing does not conform to absolutes in the way electronics or science does. This makes it 100% art rather than science. If there was one pattern or answer then there would be 5 billion violinists out there all doing equally well, and it would be hard to pick a winner.

No one can possibly sort out your problems without a one to one session(s) and even then there is no guarantee. You may have a defective fourth finger, but it could also be something simple, or in the mind. The great players get there with (1) talent (2) experimentation and good teaching and (3) hard work.

It's a very tough game, and even for those who do it for enjoyment, pleasure and fulfilment find it frustrating at times. Sorry I can't give you more advice, but in the end it comes down to your own experimentation and perseverance, and we are often banging our heads against a brick wall.

The other thing is to think laterally and sometimes answers come.

July 5, 2016 at 10:31 AM · @Peter, I am an amateur in my 30s. Playing about 14 months, and very briefly as a child. I am practising 5-6 hours most days and currently working through Kreutzer and Mazas and Bach A minor. In my previous response I wasn't contradicting you, you may be right about hand position; I was merely providing the information that OP requested.

I'm not worried if you contradict me anyway - but giving studies and exercises to someone who may not be very advanced and also not knowing what the precise problem may be is a little dangerous, even if your intentions were entirely honourable and given in good faith. I do get a little worried by some advice that is handed out freely on the site, as I know other professional teachers and players on the forum are also concerned.

We all try and be as helpful as possible. Sometimes I wait a while to see if someone with great teaching and playing experience (eg someone like Bruce, Gene and many others) have some advice before I say anything. None of us have all the answers although many have an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge to provide. But often it is not possible to give any meaningful advice without physically seeing the problem.

You also worry me a little in that you say you are doing 5-6 hours practice a day. This was more than Perlman ever did (or so he says) and I wonder exactly what you do? It can be that a huge amount of damage is being done to your playing with bad or the wrong sort of practice . Milstein once said that the students just practice and practice and never think about what they are doing. Practice does not make perfect, but thinking about what you are achieving and judging improvement may mean you make big advances with only 2 hours or less per day ...

Also the "unnatural' body position/contortions need to be aquired" is wrong. There should be no unnatural contortions and body positions. The violin has to be played without such strains and contortions.

July 5, 2016 at 11:16 AM · "but giving studies and exercises to someone who may not be very advanced and also not knowing what the precise problem may be is a little dangerous"

I disagree. If someone comes on and specifically asks for exercises, I don't see the problem in recommending some (i deliberately suggested exercises that are completely benign and harmless and suitable for all levels)

In my opinion it's almost a little disrespectful to assume that an OP needs to be protected from their own ignorance. Sure offer additional advice as well, nothing wrong with that if you think it might be helpful. But I would certainly find it frustrating if I asked a question and people refused to address the topic because they thought they knew better about what I needed. That's what teachers are for.

"has to be played without such strains and contortions"

I agree but this state has to be aquired. An adult who picks up the violin for the first time will not be able to have a good posture and hand/arm/wrist position, especially over duration. It takes a long time and considerable effort to condition the body to the requirements of advanced playing (eg moving up positions, G string most notably).

Regarding the practise hours, I have addressed this in a previous post but basically I'm doing 2.5 hours studies, 1 hour scales, 30 mins double stops/chords, 1-2 hours repertoire, and a 10-15min routine at the end of each session which focuses on strength & flexibility. It's all mindful and disciplined and broken into 3 separate sessions.

July 5, 2016 at 11:23 AM · Very interesting, Peter. Fwiw. KD and I are on nearly identical paths, violin-wise. I don't practice quite as much as he does but I occasionally have 5-7 hour practices. Mostly I do between 2-3 hours.

I think that the advice given about amount of practice (2 hrs or so of focused practice) is right on and that is how I try to practice.

However, as a beginner knowing I have sevcik bowing exercises, flech scales, wholfahrt etudes, 13 pop pieces for upcoming concert, solos for young violinists, by the time you finish that 2 hours, you have quite a bit that still needs work.

Now, I usually rotate things so I dont focus on the same thing the same way two days in a row but it seems to me that new learners will require much more practice time than experienced practicioners of the violin who can maybe quickly roll through their scales and etudes and bow work and maybe do light polishing if needed then move right into repertoire.

I agree that if practice becomes unfocused it is time to stop but if we are still focused and going strong I feel like it is all to the good.

Jessy

July 5, 2016 at 11:36 AM · Agreed, Jessy. 2 hours just wouldn't cut the mustard. Too much to get through. I have the time at the moment so why use it to advance as fast as possible. If I had been playing since 4 years old then I could perhaps trim it down a bit. But the magnitude of this instrument is so vast that it's a near lifetime pursuit at the best of times; starting at 30's requires a lot of catching up if one intends to reach an elite level.

July 5, 2016 at 11:39 AM · Jessy

Yes, I know how easy it is to get a whole list of pieces and studies, concertos etc to work on. I have several sonatas, at least one concerto and many short pieces on the go which just played from end to end would take 3 hours or so.

It sounds like you have got your practice sessions under control.

When I say I have a long list of pieces and music generally, I do not necessarily play them all every day, and when I do it's usually just the bits I need to look at - often the technically demanding bits. I also spend time working on sound and the important things like not using the chin rest, and making everything totally free.

Unfortunately though (and unlike you) there are people dishing out advice who should not be. Not only advice about playing, but about instruments and bows, leading to the comments Carlo made on another thread, where someone who knew nothing about the subject was giving advice and opinions. And of course, Carlo was absolutely right in taking this individual to task over such comments.

In my opinion it's almost a little disrespectful to assume that an OP needs to be protected from their own ignorance. Sure offer additional advice as well, nothing wrong with that if you think it might be helpful. But I would certainly find it frustrating if I asked a question and people refused to address the topic because they thought they knew better about what I needed. That's what teachers are for.

So you (k d) are a teacher? And do you claim to be a professional player as well, with four years playing experience?

Maybe it is time for the professional players and teachers to stop giving advice full stop!?! (And let the beginners take over ...)

July 5, 2016 at 11:54 AM · No I'm not a teacher, nor a professional, and not 4 years playing, 14 months. What I'm suggesting is that a rational individual can consult a teacher for tuition. But if they want advice about a specific question or topic (eg finger strengthening) then I will show them respect by addressing the question, since that is what I would expect and hope for in that situation. I agree that there is a responsibility in handing out advice; but users of this forum will be aware that it is a public forum and anyone can post regardless of level or qualification. As with everything/where else on the Internet, information and advice should be accepted with a healthy dose of incredulity.

July 5, 2016 at 12:05 PM · This discussion is becoming unproductive. KD suggested Schradieck No. 1, and for "strengthening" the fourth finger probably that's a decent study. The thing is that without a qualified teacher guiding you how to make best use of a serious study like that, you can "practice in" the wrong things or even hurt yourself, as it's a long and demanding study. Believe me, halfway through the first page you are going to be feeling some fatigue if you have never done such before. Schradieck No. 1 only *looks* like beginner material.

Perhaps, therefore, one way that "amateur" and "experienced" advice might work more harmoniously would be if the professional player could explain how best to make use of a study like Schradieck No. 1, what one should be gaining from it, etc. Or the "experienced pro" might explain why they think Schradieck No. 1 is a bad suggestion and suggest something else, bearing in mind that there are some coming onto this site for advice who do not have teachers, either because there isn't one where they live or because they can't afford the fees. Peter did make some suggestions but if I were a beginner without a teacher, I'm not sure whether I'd be able to translate that advice into a practice plan. This is an open site, and the negativity toward "amateurs" may be justified at times but doesn't give newbies the warm fuzzies.

And if there are folks who do have teachers but are looking on here for a second opinion, then they should say so from the outset.

I'm not a teacher but my interpretation of Peter's advice is that you have to find hand position that allows the fourth finger to "drop" with the least effort possible, rather than reaching straining to force it down onto the string. You learn this when you learn to touch-type, and the same principles of ergonomics apply to the violin, although putting them into action is quite individual and generally a lot harder.

July 5, 2016 at 12:17 PM · Good points, Paul.

I would not make any suggestions about studies or anything else without seeing and hearing the violinist first.

As you say - it looks like beginner material, but playing it too much at a certain level may do more harm than good. My own view would be to only play a few selected bars - but then you have to have an aim and know what the study is supposed to be helping.

Those that can't afford lessons or get to a teacher have my sympathy, but even professional advice on the forum might be the wrong advice, without seeing the problem first hand. Certainly people giving advice without appropriate experience are not always doing anyone a favour.

I like your description of letting the fourth finger drop rather than forcing it down, and your mention of touch typing.

July 5, 2016 at 02:34 PM · Be exremely cautious about over working the pinky, it can lead to Viola Elbow (as in Tennis Elbow) from a combination of arm extension plus pinky effort. it took me weeks away from the instrument to recover.

July 5, 2016 at 03:40 PM · I would gently just lift the pinky up and down a few times on each string on the fingerboard four times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. If you feel tension immediately let your fingers fall gently to your side and resume the next day/afternoon. you can do this on all other of the fingers if you wish

July 5, 2016 at 03:43 PM · I had no idea that viola players had elbows - certainly not sharp ones! They usually behave in a very nice gentle way. (Unlike a lot of violin players ...) (wink)

July 5, 2016 at 03:49 PM · Not all people have good 4th finger independence and strength -- their lack of pinkie use contributes to it being much weaker than the other fingers. So there really is benefit in doing exercises for strengthening it.

It's just critical not to do exercises that *strain* it. You need to find a hand position that's natural for you that properly supports the whole hand, including the 4th finger, and this is best accomplished with the assistance of a good teacher. Balancing the hand more "forward", with the thumb more across from the 2nd finger rather than the 1st, is particularly helpful.

The first two pages of Schradieck op. 1 book 1 are indeed helpful for developing left-hand facility. Think of it less as strength than speed, though. You're simply letting the finger drop quickly, and then snapping it up quickly. Play the exercise slowly, but with fast motions.

July 5, 2016 at 04:41 PM · In the section on chromatic scales in Simon Fischer's book "Scales" there are a few pinky warmup/stretching exercises too. When I get home I'll find the page number and put it here by editing my comment. These exercises are fairly short. The problem with Schradieck No. 1 is that it's long and the first page has three or four pinky-burners in a row. I was taught that mild fatigue is okay, but pain is never okay. The problem with "playing through" fatigue is that people play until it hurts, and then they stop. That's way way way too far.

July 5, 2016 at 05:00 PM · People keep using the term 'strengthen' but considering how little pressure is involved when stopping a string, perhaps we really mean making the little finger more independent ?

July 5, 2016 at 07:09 PM · YES - Brian really has a really good point here.

With a properly set up violin the 4th fingers should not need to be strengthened.

And as Paul says, one should not beat the fourth finger into submission.

However, I think it is time for me to bow out and take a break from all of this, and get my sanity back.

July 5, 2016 at 07:31 PM · Pinky is a red herring.

This is all about finger independence and has little or nothing to do with actual "strength" of the finger.

Yes, it is the smallest and the shortest member of your finger family....and yes, even the masters avoid trills with 4th finger, when they can. But,

If pinky is not working properly, it may be the sign that other fingers, thumb included, are not placed or working properly.

It may also be that your 3rd finger, or other fingers left on string are too tense or rigid.

July 5, 2016 at 09:56 PM · The violin does not demand zero stamina. I think Rocky's got a good point about tension elsewhere in the hand. Always good to watch out for that.

If my pinky were a herring, though, I'd have had it long ago on a cracker with mustard and thinly sliced onions.

July 5, 2016 at 10:22 PM ·

"I realize that my pinkie finger doesn't have enough strength to press the string completely for a better sound."

Poor intonation doesn't sound right, no matter how hard you press. Actually, a light touch is needed for good intonation: tension creates poor intonation.

4th fingers need extra practice for good intonation.

July 6, 2016 at 06:06 AM · It's worth noting that what feels to experienced players as "no effort" will not feel that way to someone who hasn't developed the musculature, however fine it is, along with the accompanying endurance.

I've dropped playing for nearly a decade, twice now, and each return reminds me how much muscle-building there needs to be. The fatigue is surprising, even when you are sure that you are doing it correctly.

July 6, 2016 at 07:55 AM · I agree.

I have two contrasted approaches, depending on the character and physique of the student (and the weather, etc.):

- "pumping" the fingers in slow practice, then relaxing just enough to allow speed with precision;

- soft, dreamy slow practice, then adding tonus (not tension) for clarity when speeding up.

The second may well suite Reanne at present.

July 6, 2016 at 11:33 AM · 'If the hand position is correct' : when you look at great violinists they all seem to have their own interpretation of where the left hand thumb goes on the neck. Can somebody elaborate on what the correct left hand position should be ?

To Brian Kelly: I agree with Peter. The left hand thumb position is dependent on a few things. First, the length of the thumb itself. Two, the length of the thumb from its first joint to the base of the first. The base of the first finger is where the violin neck should rest and determines the height of the hand to the violin. The thumb comes up on the opposite side and depending on the ratios described above will look different. Many of the great violinists with good hand positions all have the common point of the violin on the base of the first finger which is the most important.

Because of the ratios described above, you see something different. Someone with a short thumb and long distance from the root of the thumb to the base of the first finger will seemingly have a lower thumb position while someone with a long thumb and shorter distance from the base of the first finger to the root of the thumb will appear to have a higher thumb.

Some people do other funky things that don't follow this and it works, but most often leads to problems down the road.

The most correct approach to finding a natural position for ones hand is with the elbow pointing down (no rotation to the right), set the neck of the base of the first finger and allow the thumb to come up to its natural height and where it works opposite. Whatever that is, it is the natural and correct placement for one's hand.

To the OP: I agree with Peter that most problems of the fourth finger are often caused by hand position. The answer to Brian should help you find that position for your hand. The other thing with the fourth finger is how it is raised and dropped. The movement should be an up-and-down from the first base knuckle and the movement vertical. Many people who run into problems with the fourth finger either sling the finger or curve them out and in rather than up and down vertically from the base knuckle. Some people have also a naturally stronger muscle for the fourth finger than others, but it doesn't make a difference. One thing that I agree with from Carl Flesch is that people exaggerate the idea of a curved fourth finger. That is not so necessary. The most important is the up-and-down vertical movement from the base knuckle. The following video of Nathan Milstein playing the Novacek Moto Perpetuo shows really well this kind of movement in the left hand:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiwmCCwwfVQ

Hope this helps...

Cheers!

July 6, 2016 at 05:24 PM · Even on the viola, I like sufficient "curl" in the pinky to get a clear tone from the fingertip on its thicker strings, and to allow for extensions.

July 6, 2016 at 06:24 PM · Adrian,

I think that it is a balance. The finger shouldn't be stiff, but otherwise detrimental movements and positions shouldn't be done to achieve an artificially curved pinky. Natural (like Milstein here) is best for most people, in my very humble opinion.

Cheers!

July 6, 2016 at 06:45 PM · I checked the video: Milstein is using what I mean by a "curved" pinky!

And your opinions are far too modest!

July 7, 2016 at 01:30 PM · Curved!!?? It looked pretty straight to me. But like H - no one looks or plays like that now? (Sadly).

July 12, 2016 at 09:34 AM · It’s not about the strength of your pinkie finger. But the way you position your hand. Position your hand properly and you will play well.

July 12, 2016 at 10:09 AM · I am not so sure about that. My left hand is positioned correctly according to my teacher but the little finger is still a problem in certain situations.

It is nothing to do with strength though, it lacks coordination eg. not staying raised and sometimes curling in towards the palm.

July 12, 2016 at 10:32 AM · Sometimes it feels like the pinky is assisting the third finger. Very much linked anyway.

July 12, 2016 at 12:20 PM · Some of this boils down to semantics. Probably the pinkie is "strong" enough for most folks to play a piece that has a few 4's written above the staff. But there's also endurance/stamina (how long can YOU maintain a 34 trill?), independence from the other fingers, the ability to drop -- and lift -- the finger quickly (agility), and the ability to reach for extensions without straining. Studies can address these points in various combinations. Pianists deal with the same thing and the studies there (Dohnanyi, Hanon, Czerny, etc.) can be maddening.

July 12, 2016 at 01:47 PM · I agree with Paul and Lydia. Strength is not simply an attribute of the body, but depends very much on context/activity. As technique advances, 'position' becomes more and more meaningless as the hand adapts to various, and often rapidly changing, contexts. And adaptation is specific. See this article: What is Strength?

As others have suggested hand position matters more for the beginner, but that ideal position depends again on context, body proportions and concepts of basic technique, as even such basics vary from teacher to teacher.

To the OP: your quality of sound may have more to do with your sound point than pressure from pinky. As you shorten the string by stopping the string, your bow must draw closer to the bridge (given the same bow pressure and bow speed.) Even 2 mm (or 1/8 of an inch) makes all the difference.

July 12, 2016 at 08:34 PM · Jeewon Kim

To the OP: your quality of sound may have more to do with your sound point than pressure from pinky. As you shorten the string by stopping the string, your bow must draw closer to the bridge (given the same bow pressure and bow speed.) Even 2 mm (or 1/8 of an inch) makes all the difference.

Yes, I agree and I personally think a lot of left hand problems are actually caused by faulty bowing. When the bow speed and bow weight are correct the left hand has less problems.

July 13, 2016 at 02:56 PM · It goes back and forth between left hand and right hand. A good example is when you have a trill. It seems kind of obvious that if your left hand is not lifting and dropping the trill finger *securely* enough, the trill will sound fuzzy even if it's relatively slow. But my teacher showed me how to also improve the tone in mordents (and trills) by applying more bow (speed and/or weight). When you play a new note, it takes a finite amount of time for the string to start resonating at the new pitch. Applying more bow (often more speed) helps the resonance catch sooner (that's the idea anyway, but you really notice this when you switch over to viola). Thus mordents can sometimes be cleaned up by changing what is done in the right hand. But I have also been at lesson, trying to get a trill to come out cleanly, and applying more and more bow to no effect, only to have my teacher say, "Paul it's your left hand."

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