Pinkie popping up!

February 5, 2005 at 06:49 AM · i have a slight problem with my left hand technique- my pinky always seems to be "popping up"... i can't keep it hovering over the fingerboard, so when i play fast passages with fourth finger, they're not always very clean since my fourth finger can't seem to stay close to the strings... my teacher says it's a problem that i need to fix because it will really hinder my playing once i move on to bigger concerti, which will be soon. if you've heard of british people drinking tea with their pinky fingers up from the cup, this is how mine looks. is there any way to fix this problem, or is it not a big deal? i've tried playing scales really slowly, just focusing on keeping that finger down, which works, but then once i raise the tempo, everything just seems to disappear. any advice? thanks,


Replies (20)

February 5, 2005 at 07:08 AM · Okay, confession time. My pinkie does this sometimes too. Don't tell anybody! Just when it is bored, feeling left out, unwanted, etc.

If you do it all the time, no matter what, it is a problem, as you need the pinkie to hover over the fingerboard, ready to go when you need it. One way to solve this might be to play scales or an etude and keep the pinkie down on another string, just to train it to be close to the string and not in the air.

February 5, 2005 at 07:41 AM · I think most average level players have one or two slightly recalcitrant fingers. In my opinion alot of the problem with sticking up fingers has to do with finger strength and independancy of each of the fingers. For example, in my own case, my third finger is not as independant as the other three. That said, it is a lot better through having done exercises to improve it. That said, in my experience, a sticking up forth finger can not only be a sign of a weak forth finger, but also a weak third finger and overall lack of strength and independancy of finger movement.

Some exercises to consider:

1. Shradieck, observing the instructions of not to lift unused fingers. Also with Schradieck, changing the rhythms to triplets, dotted notes, etc, rather than just even rhythms. Be absolutely scrupulous with maintaining as perfect a rhythm as possible, even if you have to slow it down. Having perfect rhythm is secondary to trying to break speed records, at least for the time being.

2. Double stopping, and lots of it. Especially thirds and octaves. This will dramatically improve your strength and fingers.

3. The first set and second sets of Dounis Daily Dozen exercises. These work heavily on improving finger independancy.

4. There is a little exercise out of the Encyclopedia of the Violin by Alberto Bachmann. In my edition it is on page 173 (November 1980 edition). The exercise is actually to develop an improved trill but was recognised as a good general exercise for problems like these as well. If you don't have it I can scan the page and sent it to you. It is a very simple exercise and only takes a few minutes a day.

February 5, 2005 at 05:16 PM · Isn't the problem of a pinkie curling down and under a bigger problem? I've been told since day 1 to HAVE the pinkie pointing up because that counterbalances the hand in some way. I see a lot of people who play quite well whose pinkies are up a lot of the time but they can do quite rapid passages. I saw the "hovering over the fingerboard for all fingers" instruction for the first time in a Suzuki book, I think. Is that the philosophy everywhere from everyone? I'm genuinely curious.

February 5, 2005 at 09:17 PM · The idea is that no finger should suffer from "flagpole" syndrome. As Laurie pointed out, they generally need to be nicely curled above the fingerboard unless in very particular circumstances (which are not the "norm"). If you see players where certain fingers tend to stick way up, then that is in my opinion a "bad" habit developed by that player. Some players are good enough to get away with it because their initial technical grounding was so strong. But in my opinion, even these plays would be better off if they did not do it. The further away a fingertip is from the fingerboard, the longer it is going to take for the finger to get there when needed.

February 5, 2005 at 09:53 PM · Tea-time!

I grew up learning that the curled pinky is more of a problem. On the other hand, it seems that your pinky's too tense when you play. Check your overall hand tension, maybe that will help you investigate the problem.

February 5, 2005 at 10:32 PM · I have that same problem with both playing the violin and piano, and both my teachers hate it, specially with piano. But, watching my pinky constantly when playing old pieces has seemed to help. Whenever I see it go up, I quickly put it so that it's over the fingerboard. I do that until I notice that it never pops back up. Maybe that can work for you, too.

February 6, 2005 at 01:51 AM · Um, you guys are being told that sticking your pinky up in the air is bad, and I'm being told that having it curl under is bad and maybe both are bad. And to stop the curling under I'm told to have it sticking up, though not ramrod straight. However, I've thought about the "curving over the fingerboard bit. But maybe the common ground is the "curving OVER" part. I've managed neither manoeuver very well and my nemesis is having the hand too close to the fingerboard pinky-side i.e. knuckles quite parallel and that is awkward. The reason I got into this habit is because I wanted to have a nice curved pinky, which I do, but then the distance from pinky to a string is more difficult to manoeuvre because the greatest distance travelled is in a straight line and a curved pinky can't travel as far as a straight pinky. Ergo, knuckles too parallel to finger board and other nonsense happening. I suppose you need to be "curving over" in the correct fashion and have other things happening within the hand to get this all going right, and that takes time.

Oh, and about the piano factor. Our piano accompanist TEACHES for the pinky to be lifted. She herself has short pinkies and all her students look like carbon copies of their teacher when they play, and they play well. My violin teacher who also teaches piano agrees with this and there is a school of thought behind it. I played piano self-taught in the past and have played with the idea of pinky-raising recently and it seems to stop the hand from dragging down and gives me a cleaner articulation as well as strengthening the finger.

So are there "lift-the-pinky" and "hover-the-pinky-over-finger/keyboard" advocacies out there?

February 6, 2005 at 04:38 AM · hmmm... interesting comments.. thanks, well if you go to violin master class and click on the scherzo tarantelle video, my pinkie looks like su yeon's... oh jonathan, thanks for all the suggestions, my teacher actually just gave asked me to xerox her shradieck a few days to work on... could pinky position just be a personal preference? i mean, i understand that you don't want the pinky to be straight up, creating so much tension that you can't play half decently, but it just kinda doesn't make sense...

February 6, 2005 at 06:24 AM · Yes, what I am saying is in my opinion players should avoid what I call the flagpole finger position. And by that I do mean a finger (any of the 4) in which the joints are straighted or close to being straight (that's why I call it the "flagpole").

If I were a teacher, I would probably try to actively eliminate such a problem with a student, but so long as the unused pinky had enough joint curvature in it (maybe an obtuse angle of a 100 - 120 degrees as an arbitrary figure, I probably wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over it).

I'm having difficulty visualising Inga's description about a straight pinky having less distance to travel than a curved one. If I were to adopt a straight (or even slightly curved) pinky position, it would be further from the fingerboard than a curved one. And in saying that I am talking about a "general" usage hand position where the hand is actually spanning one position - not in cases where the hand is spanning ninths or higher, where different factors come into play.

And I would totally agree that an excessively curved pinky (or any finger) spells a lot of trouble too, it's just that I actually have not run into that particular problem before. But I can imagine it being even more "debilitating" than fingers which stand straight up.

In the end our opinions will no doubt vary, but my view is that fingers which are straightened or excessively extended when not in use is a waste of valuable energy, tiring in terms of prolonged tension in the left hand and can interfere with the ability to execute fast passages, especially those requiring frequent string crossings.

As for the Shradieck, it's really great if used properly (and with the rhythm variations), but as someone who used to have a bit of a flagpole pinky, I think I found it most beneficial to actually concentrate on double stops in thirds, octaves and tenths in combination with those other things, plus that quaint little Alberto Bachmann exercise.

EDIT: I was just playing now to try and get a better understanding of Inga's description. I could see the scenario she describes happening if perhaps the left forearm / wrist pronation action and left elbow actions are not carried out properly when crossing from string to string. I'm certainly not suggesting that might be happening - it's just that I was able to reproduce the problem by doing those things. By not being active with the elbow and forearm pronation when required I was forcing myself to straighten my pinky to keep it close to the string. On the other hand if I actively use my elbow and forearm and wrist the way I was taught, the curved fingers are always closer to the fingerboard and more "primed" for action with seemingly less tension and certainly less distance to travel.

February 6, 2005 at 06:59 AM · I do see the curved pinkie problem a lot in beginners, though we nip it quick. When they aren't using the pinkie (which, in the beginning, is all the time) they actually curl it underneath the fingerboard, where it actually is "hiding." If this is allowed to continue (and I've seen some bad cases), it makes for a very unresponsive and slow fourth finger. One has to bring it around and over the fingerboard every time! No, the fingers should be hovering over the fingerboard, ready to drop. If the pinkie straightens now and then when not in use, no biggie. If it is straight in the air all the time, it produces the same problem as the curved "hiding" pinkie: it is farther away from the fingerboard than it should be, and its response will be slow.

February 6, 2005 at 02:29 PM · Jonathan, when you address it as a whole-hand issue as well as involving the elbow etc. you are getting closer to it. And it is the 'wrist' element that I am looking at the closest at this time. I suspect that there can be a misunderstanding about "straight wrist". I can't describe it, but there is a way most of the more experienced/sophisticated violinists bring their fingers to the fingerboard that creates a kind of curviness to the hand and it's starting to develop in my playing as well. It's a lot more subtle than what we start off with as beginners, and I think it also has to do with a growing strength, flexibility and mobility in the fingers. In that sense I suspect that in any adult learner there has to be some conscious strengthening and flexibility going on and maybe work needs to be done in finding out some new ways of bringing that about. But in any case, I would not be surprised at all if issues involving the pinky were to find their cause and solution in part somewhere near the thumb. Have I managed to puzzle anyone?

February 7, 2005 at 03:51 AM · Pratik,

I went and looked at the video and in my opinion Su Yeon's pinky is sticking out too much at certain points. I also felt that her hand looked tense and cramped and her index finger was too heavy on the fingerboard. (Of course, she said bad things about homeschoolers on another website so I might be biased >:-)

In general, apart from Su Yeon's playing which is very proficient, My opinion is that the pinky should be held as close over the fingerboard as possible, especially for fast passages. It shouldn't stick straight up but should be integrated with the hand.

The curled pinky is also a problem if you are curling your pinky up even over the fingerboard, because it will pull the joint back and then you have to snap back through the joint to get the pinky back down.

These challenges really matter if you are double jointed like me.

I had to spend about six weeks summer before last just focused on my pinky issues. I played everything reeeeally slowly keeping my pinky from doing what my old teacher called "intergalactic finger shots"--wham!("Down!! Bad dog!")

Since we are teenagers we have the opportunity to correct these bad habits before we get to college. Good for you for catching it!

February 7, 2005 at 09:21 PM · i noticed perlman's pinky pops up too, especially when doing vibrato with the first finger in a low position

for my self i have found that it is almost as if moving your pinky helps with vibrato, at least for me...

i guess im talking about something a little different, im not really talking about the finger popping up when doing scales

February 9, 2005 at 11:09 PM · hey! thanks for all the responses... a lot of good advice- okay, so, i've been doing all these things- shradieck, dounis thirds, kreutzer octaves, and my teacher said to me that she says that it's a little better, but i've still got to fix it quite a bit.... i don't want to have to be spending months and months trying to fix this problem, so i'm assuming that from the responses, this is an easy problem to fix, right? i mean, it can be fixed quickly if i pay attention to it and do what i'm supposed to? thanks for all the help,


February 9, 2005 at 11:27 PM · A thought: If she is telling you to fix it several lessons in a row and you're trying to fix it - can she help you figure out how to fix it?

February 9, 2005 at 11:31 PM · haha.. that would make sense... actually, she was the one who gave me her shradieck and the dounis and kreutzer assignments... she also suggested doing the scales really slowly and these "pinky strengthening" excercises...

February 10, 2005 at 12:26 AM · Actually I wasn't joking, Pratik, I was in dead earnest. If you have a problem and try as you might you can't fix it -- assuming that it IS a problem, of course -- then there can be a different cause, or there can be another way of going about achieving the goal. My pinky curled UNDER rather than over. It had to do with squooshing the hand too close into the fingerboard when trying to reach certain double stop fingerings. Maybe raising the pinky will unsquoosh my hand, in which case I have solved two problems at once. Maybe unsquooshing the hand will help the pinky pop back up. Or maybe the way I'm fingering those particular double stops are making the squoosh and pinky-droop. Or maybe, heck, maybe my pinky is drooping because I have poor posture and squeezing my arm against my side which in turn is making my hand unflexible or at a bad angle and all the rest is happening. So I would expect my teacher to have an eye for what else may be going on and advise me accordingly. (Of course, if raising the pinky makes you automatically have a good posture .... and I've seen stranger things be true with the violin ... then I should work darn hard to raise my pinky, and you, to lower yours.) ;-)

February 10, 2005 at 01:57 AM · Pratik, if you make it your top priority and stop in every piece if your pinky sticks up and play that passage over slowly and keep pinky where it's supposed to be, it won't take too long. Just stare that finger down until it stays down :-)

February 10, 2005 at 02:56 AM · Do I stare mine up? How about if Pratik and I just trade pinkies. Anyway, your advice applies to me, but in reverse, Nick.

February 10, 2005 at 04:05 AM · Inge--lol!

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