Excessive calluses

May 8, 2017, 7:30 PM · Is there anything in one's setup that can cause excessive calluses on left-hand fingers? One of my students is having some trouble with this -- she does practice quite a lot, but it's never been a problem before. I'm wondering if a switch of strings, or even string height, could help. Right now she has a Dominants, but the E is not wound. Is a wound E more gentle on the fingers?

Replies (15)

May 9, 2017, 11:10 AM · Does she play any other instrument? My calluses aren't nearly as pronounced as they were when I was playing guitar and mandolin.
Edited: May 9, 2017, 11:15 AM · Hi Dear Laurie,
The height in the bridge is right? maybe with some strings a little bit thin ?
May 9, 2017, 11:17 AM · About E string maybe Pirastro Eudoxa.... I tried once this E string...
May 9, 2017, 11:39 AM · I had my string height lowered when I bought my violin, which helped. Too much can feel mushy though.
May 9, 2017, 12:00 PM · There are many factors: string height, string hardness, how hard she presses, and past and present activities outside of violin.
May 9, 2017, 6:49 PM · She does not play any other instrumenat, but I second the observation about mandolin -- during my brief experiments on that instrument, my calluses grew at least twice as thick, and all in about a week!
May 9, 2017, 9:45 PM · I don't have calluses from playing a musical instrument of any kind, though I have some on the edges of my palms close to the base of my fingers from intensive monkey bar work when I was younger. They are not going to go away anytime soon, as I like to hang on the rings at home. Doesn't affect violin playing or anything.
May 9, 2017, 11:53 PM · Two things come to mind:

1) She may be pressing her fingers too hard. I've had this problem, but practicing with "minimum viable pressure" (you've probably seen the video from Nate Cole), playing without my thumb, and finger taps have helped a lot. These exercises have also improved my vibrato and intonation.

2) As others have suggested, the strings may be the culprit. I switched to Violino strings, which are among the lowest in tension, and I'm still amazed at how nice they feel under my fingers. However, you mentioned that she uses Dominants, and they are fairly low-tension too.

Finally, some people just have a greater tendency to form callouses than others.

Edited: May 10, 2017, 1:47 AM · While reading your post Laurie the first thing that came to mind is the strings are probably too high, requiring excessive pressure to create a good tone. In my experience excessive callouses are caused by either too narrow strings (unavoidable on a violin) and too much pressure.

A second thought might have to do with the tension of the strings. I don't know very much about dominants, I tried a set given to me and decided I couldn't stand the feel of them. If they're acquirable in a lower tension it could be worth a try.

I have very strong finger tips from playing classical guitar, but even I noticed sore fingers when playing on a friends instrument that had a very bad action.

As for a wound E being gentler on the fingers, I suspect so. It will increase the size of the string and make it less cutting, which could mean less callouses, but that's just theory mongering on my part.

Edited: May 11, 2017, 10:08 PM · Is your student doing a lot of shifting exercises... the kind where you slide up and down the string to the proper pitch? I've noticed that I start getting calluses when I practice a lot of shifting.
May 11, 2017, 11:33 PM · The one new thing she has been doing is two-octave double stop scales in thirds...it sort of doubles the shifts for your fingers!
Edited: May 18, 2017, 12:39 PM · She could try applying Pirastro finger protect everytime before playing

As everyone knows, the rule of thumb while shifting is to lift, shift, and drop. It is sometimes common to find students just pressing and gliding while shifting to another position.

May 18, 2017, 2:00 PM · I think it's okay to slide and shift at once, as long as you don't press too hard.
May 18, 2017, 7:25 PM · On the positive side, it may help her for L.H. Pizzicati in the future.

The important thing is that she's not pressing down too hard, or that she doesn't have an almost criminally high setup.

(Perhaps obvious enough for most of us, but worth mentioning that playing on a higher setup doesn't mean you have to press down the string all the way down to the fingerboard-just enough to produce a beautiful tone is fine. For less experienced players, this may be a not so uncommon problem.)

I used to play Classical guitar (poorly, I must add), and still have a few light calluses. They are definitely not unsightly, and you would have to touch my fingertips to notice. It doesn't bother my violin playing, and maybe it's controversial to say, but I feel practicing and playing LH Pizz wasn't such a big deal because of this particular "advantage."

(Of course, one doesn't need strong calluses to play LH Pizz-just my experience.)

Edited: May 18, 2017, 7:56 PM · No callouses needed for LH pizz, though.

The reason people get them from it is:

1) pluck too hard

Which is a consequence of

2) pluck incorrectly

Rather than hooking the string completely, it is more ringing and effortless to mostly pluck sideways with more elastic strength.

This keeps the fingers soft and agile while also allowing better articulation.

You can also flex the hand towards you to pluck more like a guitarist with the pads, which makes it very round and clear sounding (per advice of Paganini's grand-pupil). :) I agree with this sentiment, although I did initially "invent" it, then discard it because I thought it bad technique... Someone tell me to stop shooting myself in the hands please... :D

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