7/8 violin versus 4/4?

February 24, 2018, 10:42 PM · I am an adult female beginner that has been playing about 6 months. I have a full size rental, Eastman 305. I am average in stature, 5’6”, but I have very small hands and can sometimes get away with wearing a Large in children’s gloves. I am struggling with playing the fourth finger notes flat and my instructor took a look at my hands and said I might have to consider going down to a 7/8 violin. I would like to try to play the 4/4, but I am wondering the pros/cons of the choice and if there is anything I should try before I move down. Long term, I would like to buy a good quality violin and wondering if there are better brands to look at if I end up considering a fractional sized violin. I am reading the 3/4 pro violin thread with some interest.

Replies (17)

February 24, 2018, 11:35 PM · You should make sure that your left hand is properly placed. I think most of the time when beginners have 4th finger issues, their hand placement is wrong. Center the weight of the hand on the 2nd finger, with the thumb placed closer to the 2nd than to the 1st finger.
February 25, 2018, 10:17 AM · I agree with Lydia. Also consider a 4/4 violin with small dimensions.
February 25, 2018, 2:47 PM · Jennifer,

There is only one answer: you have to try a 7/8 to determine if the slightly smaller instrument makes a significant difference in your playing. Of course finding a 7/8 isn't going to be easy but if you live in/near a large metro area with lots of musicians you can probably find a shop that has a few of them.

The decision is yours to make. If the frustration of reaching makes you dislike playing and the 7/8 makes it easier that is fine.

FWIW: I, like a lot of violinists, have a short fourth finger which caused the same problems for me. I accommodated it over the years by learning how to make what I call mini-shifts in first position. I also taught myself second position to make some music easier to play. Once you get to third and above the reaches get smaller-and-smaller.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 4:20 PM · I guess there are 2 things to consider, with a common denominator: motivation
1. comfort - you want to feel comfortable while learning violin and avoid injury
2. sound quality - you ought to love the sound of your violin
It boils down to have that feeling of "can't wait" to open the violin case and practice again.
Now, with 7/8 violin in you case will accomplish #1, but it will be way more challenging to find a great sounding violin. Yes, they are out there, but it is less likely to find a good 7/8 violin than 4/4.
Good sounding 4/4 violin with shorter vibrating string length is even more difficult to find and the gain in comfort would be negligible.
One, often neglected factor, is the shape of neck and width of fingerboard. Even with the same standard "mensure" of 325-327mm, violin can feel more confortable if neck is not entirely shaped as letter "U" (often the case with inexpensive violins) and fingerboard is slightly on narrow side. You can get your current violin adjusted, but it may make it impossible to sell later.
February 26, 2018, 7:37 PM · Thank you. This is all wonderful feedback. I really appreciate it. I think I am going to try the hand position and then work my way through the other suggestions. We have been working through Doflein, but we really don't spend that much time on the left hand position.
February 27, 2018, 5:18 PM · Some famous pedagogue once said that "the purpose of left hand position is to reach the notes."
February 27, 2018, 5:29 PM · Another way to think about LH-position is to first place the fourth finger as you would like it to be and then stretch down with the first finger. This is easier in most situations than to stretch the fourth finger upwards.
Edited: February 28, 2018, 3:08 AM · I have been following this post for a while, and I just finally have to speak up, because I simply don't understand why people suggest placing the thumb between the first and the second fingers in order to "stretch" the palm and fingers.

If you look at your hand at a relaxed position, which is exactly how we should loosely "cup" at around the neck with the palm facing the face, it is easily seen that the thumb naturally wants to be right at the opposite of the index finger. Moving the thumb even just a tiny bit to be between the index and the middle finger, you will immediately feel the tension at the base of the thumb.

Because of this tension in the thumb, the straight line from the back of the hand down to the elbow will be broken. Initially, the wrist pops out slightly, but as the base of the thumb gets tired, the violinist starts to "hug" the neck with the palm, which will eventually cause tension in all fingers. For beginners, this is not yet detectable. However, when it comes time to learn different positions and vibrato, the violinist basically has to re-learn how to relax the entire left hand with the correct placement of the thumb, which is directly opposite the index finger.

I said so, because I had been there and done that. Now, it is probably true that the currently violin you own is a standard pattern, which is about 357mm. Being someone who also has small hands and own several violins of different measurements and qualities, I can tell you that by downsizing to something that is around 352mm and less, you WILL feel a lot of relief, but you will still have to stretch, not as hard as playing on a 357mm though.

One of the violins I own is a very nice Scott Cao bench made based on the Guarneri "Ole Bull" pattern. This violin is 352mm in length, and the vibrating length is 325mm. This is the one I play on most of the time. I also have a workshop made copy of a Strad pattern with the back length of 357mm and 328mm in vibrating length. With this violin, I have to stretch a lot more, especially on the G string. This is my back-up/outdoor violin, so I don't practice music on this violin most of the time. Instead, I use this violin to help me stretch during my fingering/shifting exercises. I keep practicing on the stretching, because one of the violins I ordered and am waiting patiently for is a 357mm in back length. The maker does not make any other pattern. I need to just keep practicing in order to live up to his standard. :)

I also own a nice copy of a Guarneri Canonne. The back of this violin is 354mm, but the vibrating lenth is 330mm! Interestingly, I thought having a long vibrating length like that would make me stretch even more, but NO! I actually feel quite comfortable with it, and in some ways, more comforting for my 4th finger than the Ole Bull. HOWEVER, I do have to point out that I had this one made with a thinner neck, and I am not sure if it is this thinner neck that made the difference.

Anyway, there are some important things you can do to help you become a better and more relaxed violinist:

1. Stretch, stretch and stretch! Yes, I know we are adult amateurs and the muscles don't stretch easily like a 5-year-old, and that is a disadvantage. But it CAN happen! Just think about how we learn to stretch out before and after exercises and yoga. Same thing! You can stretch between each of your four fingers by using the side of your right thumb and right pinkie and push out between two of the left fingers. And you can do that anytime, anywhere. Trust me, it will happen, that someday, you all of a sudden feel like your pinkie can reach in tune without as much tension.

2. Not sure why no one mentions it, but stretching out the pinkie is no use if you don't aide the reaching-to-the-note by bring in the left elbow to the right. This will also require you to keep the line straight. You will also develop a nice muscle on your lower arm.

3. Like with my Canonne, a thinner neck may help, but you need to make sure that it is the right shape, otherwise, it won't help much. I am no expert in this, so you will have to consult with a luthier on the possibility.

4. Try a smaller full size, like one of those late Guarneri models. A Panette, Lord Walton and Ole Bull are just examples of smaller full-size violins. But these are not common patterns, so you won't be able to find them among mass-produced factory violins.

I hope this helps.

February 28, 2018, 7:41 AM · 'I simply don't understand why people suggest placing the thumb between the first and the second fingers in order to "stretch" the palm and fingers.' (Y Cheng)

How I see it is not that the thumb is placed between 1st and 2nd finger 'in order to' stretch the palm and fingers (btw: did anyone ever suggest stretching the palm?), but 'as a result of' stretching backward with the first finger. Since I have small hands and want to keep my 4th finger round I keep the hand in something like a 1+1/8th position and treat the 1st finger notes as mini-extensions. The thumb is opposite the 1st finger in the 1+1/8 position and ends up between the 1st and 2nd finger as a result of the 1st finger stretch. Works perfectly fine for me. If you have a copy of Galamaian's book you could risk a look at illustration 6 to see what I am aiming at.

February 28, 2018, 8:10 AM · OK, Stefan, your explanation is different from "thumb being closer to the 2nd finger." Physically, the first finger stretching back is different than placing the thumb closer to the 2nd finger. I can see how that works, and actually, it does not require a strain in the base of the thumb, which causes tension in the whole hand and knuckles.
February 28, 2018, 3:01 PM · I have often wondered about the phenomenon of thumb position affecting 4th finger reach. In addition to what Stefan suggested, I wonder if moving the thumb forward helps to slacken the ligaments that extend across the hand in a transverse fashion, thereby freeing up a little extra reach for the 4th finger?

Alternatively, might a forward thumb cause the hand to slightly rotate away from the neck of the violin, allowing the 4th finger to reach in a more forward (sagittal) fashion, rather than side-to side?

February 28, 2018, 7:02 PM · My teacher phrases the physical placement of the Russian school as this: The hands are based on two circles, made with the thumb and 2nd finger, on both hands. Relaxed in both cases.

Place the left-hand thumb that way and the balance of the center hand is more towards the middle, giving your 4th finger more strength.

Edited: February 28, 2018, 7:57 PM · Lydia, when my hands are quite relaxed, and I'm touching the fingers with my thumb, it's either between first and second or close to first. Aligning thumb to second is not, at least for me, the most relaxed position.

Also there are many violinists who have different thumb positions, especially pointing more towards the scroll (especially when doing vibrato without SR). I have the impression that it depends on the individual anatomy and overall ergonomic system (how the violin is held and so on)

(Sorry if I'm straying from the main point of the post)

Edited: February 28, 2018, 8:32 PM · I think you'll find that there may be ways to manage with a bigger instrument but my experience also makes me want to suggest taking your teacher's advice with more weight than ours, as he or she has actually seen you play.

I have very small hands and short arms as well, and was struggling when I was first learning. After a few months, my teacher at the time suggested I downsize because the reach limitations were holding me back. He actually put it a bit more bluntly and said if I were a child instead of a stubborn adult I would be playing a 3/4 size instrument.

So I went to a well stocked shop, and tried a 3/4 a 7/8 and a petite 4/4 side by side. I ended up with the compromise and got a cheap, but functional 7/8 violin (it was 315mm vibrating stting/scale length) and it was a world of difference.

It may be that the same will be true for you, or it may not. But trying it is likely worth it given your teacher's input.

If you decide to downsize, it is fairly easy to find a cheaper 7/8 to try out and then you can take your time and see if you can move back up or if you need to start looking for a good quality smaller instrument.

As for quality 7/8 options, a quick web search shows there are several modern makers that get good reviews on 7/8 violins, and as noted above, the concept of a standard 4/4 size is fairly new and not quite set in stone. Instruments have all sorts of variations especially older instruments so if you work with a shop they can likely help you find small 4/4 options where the proportions work for you.

I have upgraded a few times since the first 7/8 and neither of my current violins fit an exact standard but they work well for me.

My main violin now is a lovely, strange, high-arched, 18th century violin that just happens to have landed on a 317mm vibrating string length over a long lifetime of random repairs. I also have a mid 1920`s Juzek that I play for a different purpose which is larger, but still on the small side of 4/4 (323mm) with a 13.75 inch back and a thinner neck. Their voices are very different and both sound beautiful.

I play both comfortably now, but I still learn new material much more quickly on the smaller fiddle. As Y Cheng mentioned, I also practice exercises on the larger one when I want a good workout. Afterward, switching back down size makes playing feel relaxed and flowing.

Ultimately, it is going to be a matter of finding what works best for you and that may take some experimenting.

March 1, 2018, 12:03 PM · Wouldnt this alligning the thumb to first or second finger depend entirely on ones handshape? When I realax my hand completely and then raise it my thumb wants to touch the second finger, not the first.

There is also the Menuhin hold to consider with a smaller hand, where the weight of the violin rests on ones thumb the thumb being a bit more under the violin neck so that the first finger does not touch the neck. This is how my daughter plays, the violin rests only on the thumb (she doesnt use a shoulder rest, but that is not the point here), so she can stretch her fingers more this way.

March 1, 2018, 12:52 PM · I agree that optimal thumb placement differs from person to person. Maybe one shouldn't over-analyze it. If the fingers are positioned comfortably in a way that they produce the desired sound the thumb will usually find it's place. Sometime's it also helps to simply wiggle it back and forth a bit to see where it feels best.
March 1, 2018, 2:54 PM · A 7/8 or "lady's violin" or just more petite full-size model is a boon to smaller players. (I have long wanted a smaller violin, but have never found a satisfactory one at a non-insane price.)

Hand size and shape results in different placement for different players, but small-handed players have a greater need to optimize placement in order to facilitate greater range.

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