Help on playing with naturally dependent fingers

Edited: February 8, 2018, 12:13 PM · Hello everyone,

There is already a thread about this research

A percentage of the population don't have an fds muscle which make their fingers more dependent : it means more difficuties in switching between ring / middle finger or ring /pinky notes.
Some teachers aren't even aware of it and give wrong exercises and try harder advice.
It is actually problem unless you have very big hands.

My question is about alternative techniques /exercises for those with such an anatomy and how can they play without tension.

Any violonist here with this issue ?

Best Regards,

Replies (12)

February 8, 2018, 6:11 PM · The only finger on my left hand that I can bend without the others following it is my 1st finger. My middle, ring, and pinky fingers are all linked.

Until pretty recently I was convinced this was the case with everyone.

Once I figured out that some don't have this problem, I went through a short period of feeling sorry for myself and how much harder I have to work.

But, then I realized that everyone has different challenges in their playing. Some guy played the Tchaikovsky concerto without a right hand, for example.

So, I just started practicing with a bit more awareness of my anatomy (and that of my students), and everything went on as before.

Since realizing that everyone's body works in different ways, I have allowed some technique changes to occur that I previously thought were witchcraft, and it has made a tremendous difference in my ability to play notes in a beautiful and relaxed manner.

So, I think the necessary technical changes totally depend on the individual and thus I can't speak about any particular alternative exercises or techniques that would work for everyone. But what I WOULD say is don't be afraid to experiment with physical changes to work around your anatomy. There is no "one way" to play the violin, although some rules are indeed hard-set (like don't play with the violin on top of your head). But whatever allows you to work around your own limitations on the violin - and allows you to produce the desired sound on a particular piece of music - is the best way.

If you watch the Menuhin Masterclass video on youtube, he watches a student whose primary teacher is Gingold. The young student is very adept at getting around the violin (with his thumb sticking up above the fingerboard, instead of the pad supporting from below). But despite the aptitude with which the student plays, Menuhin insists that he should be supporting the neck from below with the pad of the thumb.

This is a classic example of a high-level player assuming that their own physical technique is superior to that which the student is using. But I promise you if that student was to go home and start beating himself to death trying to play with the pad of his thumb, he might waste YEARS trying to do it this way before realizing that Menuhin didn't know what he was talking about. Luckily, Gingold was an excellent teacher, so that student never attempted to make that change (although he did politely nod when Menuhin mentioned the change).

Now, looking at the anatomy of that student, it's clear that he just had a very long thumb (and a few other factors), so he needed to get it out of the way -- similar to how a student with longer arms needs to hold their violin more to the left than a student with shorter arms, because otherwise the bones will force a compromised playing position.

I'm convinced that there are very few teachers who actually consider a student's anatomy when teaching beginner (or even advanced) students, and waste a lot of time and energy trying get a student's technique to match their ~aesthetic~ ideal rather than a ~functional~ ideal.

It would be nice for that to change.

February 8, 2018, 7:16 PM · I can't bend any of my fingers without the others moving, not even the first. But it's not really that big a deal because that's mostly the gross movement of the finger, as opposed to the smaller motion needed for placing left-hand notes. The finger should be kept quite close to the string. It's the velocity of the drop and pull-up that creates articulation, not the strength or distance of the motion.

Standard technique works fine. Left-hand exercises for finger independence are still worth doing, as they'll improve your control, to the limits of what is physically possible.

February 8, 2018, 11:05 PM · Just not so sure this particular thing is an issue, it may be a more complex issue involving more muscles and nerves. The lady in the youtube is a surgeon and has played the violin and no problems. I have similar hands to hers, one has it and one has not and there has never been any flexibility problems with my pianoplaying and havent noticed it either with my, admittedly low, violin playing. I have worked in a very highly finger-skilled job and my fingers are really loose and independent otherwise.

Having said that it is good to look for ways to make fingers more independent and flexible, just not so sure this is the real issue with the clumsy fingers.

February 8, 2018, 11:09 PM · I agree with Erik that it's okay to use slightly less-conventional techniques and postures due to your anatomy. My teacher has, thankfully, taken my anatomy into a fair bit of consideration when teaching me.
February 9, 2018, 9:51 AM · All violin students start with a dependency that the right and left hands want to do roughly the same thing at the same time. Its a result of 'brain wiring' that evolution has given us for self defense. Early practice routines develop right and left hand independence, and later finger independence in both hands.

I know nothing about an fds muscle, but fingers are controlled by individual muscles in the forearm. My hunch is that some kind of practice can overcome the fds muscle issue, just like all violinists overcome the 'brain wiring' dependency issue and get the individual muscles of both forearms to become functional for a violin.

February 9, 2018, 12:01 PM · Mike, no amount of practice can change the connection between the bending of the fingers. This is a mechanical connection, not a neurological one.
Edited: February 10, 2018, 10:40 AM · If you learn one thing as a piano student, it's that finger interdependence can indeed be overcome -- somewhat. Simply put, one learns to strengthen, control, and activate the muscles that counteract the natural tendency. And for some that's more work than for others. (I'm sure violin students learn this too. I learned more from my piano lessons quite generally. Maybe that is why I'm such a miserable violinist.)
Edited: February 10, 2018, 12:02 PM · Mike, I also didn't know what the fds muscle was until I looked it up in Wikipedia. It is the "Flexor digitorum superficialis muscle".
February 10, 2018, 11:56 AM · I think Paul is hinting that there can be a carry-over from the piano to violin (or cello), and vice versa. I've found that my piano left hand is stronger and more agile compared with the right, given my not particularly advanced standard on the piano, even though I'm a natural right-hander. I put this down to the thousands of hours of cello (and now violin) playing over many years.
February 10, 2018, 1:51 PM · Trevor I don't want to overstate that carry-over. If there is carry-over, it's in one's approach to practicing, not specific musculature. The physicality of the piano is very different.
February 10, 2018, 8:36 PM · This is a great topic, and I'm glad to hear that other players have this issue! I know I don't have independent fingers 3/4 and it has slowed me down, particularly in complex fingerings that involve a lot of 3/4 finger changes. There are a few work arounds and training mechanisms to at least improve independence. One is shifting more often and not doing turns and trills involving 4. Another is strength training the pinky (gripper or tapping on a table). There is an independence exercise where you put all fingers on the table curved (palm down) and then tap the fingers in succession while leaving the others in contact with the table. In terms of at the fiddle: there is a weird exercise I do sometimes that helps me (probably more cognitively instead of the muscles): I finger the left hand passages and tap the strings with my right hand (no bow) with the exact finger that is playing in the left. In other words if it's a 1 fingering, then the index finger taps in the right hand, a 2 then the middle finger taps etc. I try to coordinate the hands, and play exactly together in rhythm. Rhythm practice also helps, but one shouldn't push through pain. I find having a neutral wrist, or even slight towards the fingerboard (i.e. not bent backwards) is crucial as it cuts down on tension. I have a youtube tutorial list with some different ways of practicing fast - not sure if there is anything useful, but you can take a look. I still plan to do something on rhythm practice, since I have to do this so much myself. The channel is here:
Edited: February 11, 2018, 10:33 AM · Just be forewarned that these kinds of exercises yield results in time intervals measured in months or years, not days or weeks. Of course the time is shorter if you're 10 years old and longer if you're 50.

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