Fourth finger placement on a new violin

December 26, 2018, 5:57 AM · Hi everyone,

I'm trying out a new violin for purchase. My teacher told me the fourth finger placement in the first position on this violin is quite a bit higher on the fingerboard (towards the bridge) than normal - and compared to my current and other violins.

I find this stretch quite difficult, but otherwise like the violin.

What could cause this, and could a luthier make adjustments so that it is not such a stretch for the fourth finger?

Replies (14)

December 26, 2018, 6:42 AM · Main reason is a longer distance between the nut and the bridge, effectively making the vibrating length of the string longer.

For violins of "typical" dimensions, the vibrating length of the strings can range from 325mm to 330mm. That can be a substantial difference if you are already at the limit of your fourth finger reach.

Measure the distance along your E or G string from where it exits the nut to where it enters the bridge. Do the same for the new violin and see how much of a difference there is.

Many violins can have the bridge moved slightly towards the nut to shorten the string length with little impact on tone or playability. Sometimes a minor sound post adjustment may be needed.

Obviously, not something you would want to try on a store instrument without permission. Perhaps the store will make the adjustment for you so you can try it with a shorter string length.

December 26, 2018, 8:40 AM · Your statement doesn't make any sense. All notes on the violin are relative to one another. If your 4th finger feels like it needs to be higher, the only reasonable explanation would be Carmen's -- that the whole vibrating string length is long. But in that case, ALL of your fingers would be spaced further apart, not just the 4th.

I would advise against getting a violin that's bigger than typical.

December 26, 2018, 8:44 AM · As Carmen said - but I'd say it's not the main reason. It's the only reason. Be it a larger instrument or not (or simply a uncommonly placed bridge), the determining factor for how far you have to spread your left hand is the vibrating string length. (If you want more of that, simply get a viola!)
December 26, 2018, 9:16 AM · It is possible that the cross-sectional curvature of the neck** or the thickness of the neck are different than you are used to (or also from standard dimensions) so that the stretch of the 4th finger (which tends to be felt in different ligaments than stretching the other fingers) feels different. This will be noted especially if you do not move your thumb when placing the 4th finger.

Make some measurements.

** The proper curvature of the neck is elliptical, not circular. The slight amount of force an improperly curved neck can put on the left thumb can be devastating: even just a "silly millimeter" can change everything-all the way up your arm and even affecting the nerves in your neck. (Based on my own unhappy experience that 30 years ago kept me from playing at all for a year and affected my playing abilities ever after.)

December 26, 2018, 10:33 AM · Phil, you said you like the violin... but is there a really special reason why it should be this violin?

As a rank beginner, I fell in love with a violin that had a standard vibrating string length when I knew I should have been looking for a 7/8th. I must have inadvertently made a couple of decent bow strokes when I tried the one I bought that day and said to myself, "this is the one".

After realizing that my 4th finger was under constant strain, I had my luthier shorten the string length... first by installing a deeper nut... and later (to shorten the string length even further) by moving the bridge north ... all with accompanying sound post adjustments.

I got lucky and it worked out well but I'm lucky considering those schenanigans. So this is an "if I knew then what I know now" answer. Unless there's an overriding reason to choose that violin, I suggest you keep looking.

December 26, 2018, 10:37 AM · Simple solution. Put the violin back in the case and return it to the shop. No one wants a goofy violin, whatever the reason is.
Edited: December 26, 2018, 10:52 AM · Lydia, you are right of course. The thing is though: The fourth finger, already in a disadvantaged situation compared to the other three (the hardest working slave among them), takes the brunt of the impact. The other three fingers make a minor adjustment one might not even notice as a beginner. The fourth, already stretched, has to stretch that extra millimeter that costs so much effort (and pain).

I agree with everybody's advice though: Leave this one alone and take the time to find your instrument.

December 26, 2018, 11:14 AM · I have advice contrary to that given:

Give the violin more time. All violins feel slightly different from one another, even if the measurements seem to agree. It is easy to reject a violin or bow that, while superior to what you have, just feels different. If you have a very stiff bow, you may always buy stiff bows because that's what you're comfortable with. But you may never end up with a better bow.

Having to stretch a little on a violin should not be a big deal. Remember when you had to use your 4th finger for the first time and it seemed impossible then? And then you got over it. Octaves and 10ths also feel impossible at first, then we get used to them.

I would not let a greater perceived stretch eliminate a violin from consideration if it's better than others in that price range. No violin is perfect--you may find one that fits your fingers perfectly and has a bad wolf, weak G, or whatever. Give a violin 2 weeks.

Edited: December 26, 2018, 4:30 PM · I agree with Scott.
I bought my violin about half a year ago. Because my fingers are really (really!) short, both my teacher and a luthier advised me to look for a 7/8 sized violin. The one I ended up buying has a slightly longer vibrating string than average and is a little longer overall.
I still don’t have a big problem with it. Meanwhile, some of the averaged sized ones felt very uncomfortable to me, and the few 7/8th I tried were Comfy, but not comfy enough to make me forget about the sound of the one I now own. While my violin now is the longest I have tried (I tried about 20 violins while searching) the fingerboard is also slightly narrower than most, which makes up for alot. My violin also happens to have the sound of my dreams.

I say, if you really really love that instrument and you don’t feel it’s too uncomfortable it doesn’t matter necessarily if it is standard sized. The people that adivsed me against my non standard size violin did it with the argumentthat it would be harder to switch instruments if I needed to. I think this depends on what you want to achieve with violin in general. I’m just an amateur, I only play for myself and I don’t have to switch instruments in emergency situations. If I ever really need to switch it might take me a little longer but oh well.

However I think if you don’t feel like “this is my instrument and I don’t care about what the world says” yet you may keep looking. I’m sure there is one you can fall in love with more.

Edit: spelling

December 26, 2018, 11:21 PM · If you're having trouble with your fourth finger, forget ever playing a piece like Faust Fantasy, where you have to stretch that pinky an entire whole step higher. Just make your life easier and disregard the weird instruments you come across.

Be realistic. You're buying a violin, not a friggin viola! Put that viola back in the case and send the damn thing back to the shop!

December 27, 2018, 12:40 AM · Honestly, why you need to adjust to the peculiarities of a certain violin and then need to adjust again when playing other violins. Especially when you don't really have a long pinky. And violinists generally don't play with just one instrument at any time.

It's you who use the violin, not the instrument using you.

I'm not an advanced violinist, but as a reasonable customer, I advise you to forget this violin.

December 27, 2018, 8:58 AM · There is another, less common situation that can impact the 4th finger from first position: string clearance above the finger board.

For example, assume the string clearance at the nut for both violins are practically the same. This is a common situation.

Now suppose your current violin has more clearance between the strings and the fingerboard near the bridge than the new violin. Even if the string lengths are identical between the two violins, you would need to stretch more with the 4th finger to get the new violin to play the same note as the current violin. The string stretches slightly and goes sharp as you press it to the fingerboard. On your current violin with the larger clearance, you need to bring in the finger a bit closer to the nut than the new violin to offset the stretch.

So besides comparing string lengths, you should also compare string clearances at the nut and, even more importantly, at the end of the finger board.


December 27, 2018, 10:35 AM · I just switched from a violin that was a bit on the long side to a smaller full sized violin and this new violin is a dream to play on. I was getting pain in my fourth finger and elbow from the hulk of my original violin, and just could not manage it anymore. (I also desired a more refined sound, which I got in spades with my new purchase.) If my new violin were the same size as my original, I would not have purchased it - even with "ticking all the boxes" sound and price-wise. Within 10 minutes into a lesson with my new violin my teacher commented how much more at ease my playing was. Totally worth it to specifically look for a violin that fit me and my idea of my sound more than the other way around.

Still, I also agree with Scott's advice! See how you feel in 2 weeks - after all, you are the one who will be playing on this instrument, not your teacher. You have to decide if this is the right instrument for you.

December 27, 2018, 1:09 PM · Sorry for getting off topic. Just out of curiosity: for those who play fractional size violins, do you play viola at all or basically it is just out of question?


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