How to play cleanly with large hands

March 5, 2018, 12:49 PM · One of my frustrations as an amateur is how to play cleanly when part of my hand or finger gets in the way. I'm a large guy with fairly large hands. For example, I play a tune that requires fast alternating between a C on the A-string (using second finger) and the E above it (that is, the open E-string).

The flesh of my palm touches the E-string enough that it's muted or silenced. I can rotate my hand enough to get clearance, but that position seems very unnatural to me. I can also just play the E on the A-string, but the note isn't crisp enough.

What's a professional's solution to this?


Replies (12)

March 5, 2018, 12:51 PM · Have you asked your teacher if you have one? Perhaps you can have your hand more above the fingerboard? The "unnatural" position you're talking about may very well be something you just have to get used to. Posting a video or picture would help a lot.
March 5, 2018, 1:17 PM · As a fellow violinist with rather large hands (size 14 ring finger) the best advice I can give you is to test things out. Experiment in order to find a way that works. Sometimes this will require shuffling fingers over in order to keep from muting other strings. When you say the flesh of your palm touches the E string that sound like your hand position is too high. Like Ella Yu said pictures would be greatly appreciated.
March 5, 2018, 1:26 PM · Come over to the dark side! Viola is your instrument.
March 5, 2018, 5:07 PM · Second viola.

That aside, have a few lessons with a teacher who overcame size issues.

March 5, 2018, 5:41 PM · This is actually a very good question. There's a very easy solution to your problem: move your finger towards the D string, so you're moving it away from the E string.

But there's a problem...

What do you do if you have to play open D string, B in the A string and then open E string?

Edited: March 6, 2018, 3:26 PM · There is the cello (my first instrument), the most ergonomic bowed instrument ever invented, which, I suspect, is the main reason why community orchestras are too often overloaded with them. The cello section of one such orchestra I was once in years before I moved to the violin ballooned from 6 to a quite unreasonable 14, and rising - that was the main reason why I quit that orchestra!

And then there is the bass. I have yet to come across a community orchestra where the bass section is over-manned - usually the very opposite. A competent bassist should always be able to find an ensemble of some genre or size willing to have him.

March 6, 2018, 7:56 AM · Restring a viola as a violin? (with G, D & A viola strings and a packet of spare Es!)

Have your luthier prepare a wider nut+fingerboard+bridge?

Watch videos of Itzakh Perlman?

March 8, 2018, 7:25 PM · Trevor I remember being the only violist in a community orchestra with 10 cellists. It's a good thing my Chinese viola is a cannon.
March 9, 2018, 9:43 AM · Paul, many years ago, when I was lead cello in a community orchestra, at a rehearsal the lead viola didn't show and I was "volunteered" by the new conductor to stand in (or is it "sit in"?) for the absent player because there were a couple of solo bits that the rest of the viola section couldn't really cope with.

The viola treble clef parts were no problem for me. The real problem was that the conductor wasn't a string player and was apparently unaware of the critical difference between the the viola's alto clef and the cello's tenor clef. After the rehearsal someone in a white coat was very kind to me ;)

March 9, 2018, 10:50 AM · I think us men are at a slight disadvantage compared to most women.

Sometimes those dainty little long fingers make me so jealous!:)

I'm getting better at not touching the strings.My teacher told me that I would learn to cope. Easy for her to say.She has itty bitty hands. In some cases I need to lift my finger up slightly so that I don't touch unintended strings or use less force on the strings. Some violins are a few millimeters wider at the nut which might help you slightly.My teacher is correct. I am learning to cope.It is possible, just more of a struggle than someone who has smaller fingers.

If you have extra large hands/fingers I second the idea to take up another instrument.

Edited: March 9, 2018, 11:04 AM · I totally agree with watching videos of Perlman's playing (with those large hands). WRT that: nothing shows what he does with those hands better than a very short closeup bit within about 5 minutes of the movie "Everybody Says I Love You."

My hands and arms are pretty big; XL glove size and 36 inch shirt sleeves since my mid-teens. However I never found too much of a problem touching unwanted strings - the only problem is touching them when you don't want to. I suppose it's kind of like "broken-field running" in a football game, you just have to get that finger out of the way in time - even on chords. There is no problem if your finger touches the wrong string as long as your bow is not touching it also at that instant.

March 9, 2018, 7:48 PM · I agree with Ella Yu. Posting a video or even a photo of your hand in.playing position (2nd finger C on A moving to E) will better help the good people with knowledge and experience here give suggestions. It might help even more to also show the whole arm.

Perhaps it's owing to a combination of depth of hold (I would think that someone with larger hands would not want to let the violin sink as deep into the palm as some one with smaller hands) which brings the mass (not just fingers) of your hand closer to the strings, this in turn relates to elbow position below the violin (the more to the right it moves, the more the mass of the hand come closer to the strings).

Also maybe something to do with coordination between the left hand doing its thing and the right hand in carrying out the bow change. Is the left hand late in releasing the A string? Try go break down the sequence of actions and introduce pauses between them practicing them until you get a feel for the order. It might help.

Caveat : I'm not an advanced player.

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