Violinists with small hands
First of all, thanks to all of you for the good threads in the archives on the topic of small hands and short 4th fingers. I'm working with my teacher to find the proper mechanics for me to solve this. It's now starting to hold me back from things I am about ready to start working on, so time to address it.
It would be encouraging to see videos of advanced violinists who fall in this camp. Suggest away, and please share your own experiences if you like, either personally or through teaching.
I'm not sure I agree with the idea that you need to conquer the 4th finger before learning to shift. The reason I say that is because in third position the spread of the hand is noticeably less. Also one reason to shift is to avoid taxing your fourth finger! But I can understand if you do not want to develop shifting as a crutch.
There are definitely violinists with small hands who cope. Some famous examples include Kyungwha Chung and Midori. Sarah Chang has short fingers but her hands aren't exactly that small. Some small-handed people struggle a bit, while others do just fine. It is such an individual issue that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution. What I am going to suggest is that you try to balance your hand more towards your 2nd or 3rd fingers rather than your first, and you may also want to move your wrist a little closer to the neck and perhaps let your thumb be opposite the 2nd finger instead of the first. Some people can get more reach with the opposite tactic by placing the thumb back towards the scroll behind the first finger.
Thanks Paul, I had already removed my reference to shifting. The real problem is that my hand is small enough that I cannot use my 4th - at all - if any other fingers are on the fingerboard. So it isn't as if it's straining, it currently must be totally independent and I have to move my entire hand down to hit that B on the E string, for example. For now, the interesting part is getting back to the lower notes in tune and fast enough. I won't give my current rate of success on that - it's a beginning - but not an ideal solution. I also didn't know that the spread is less in 3rd position, that's encouraging!
How wide and thick is the neck on your violin? A thinner narrower neck can make a huge difference to someone with smaller hands and/or shorter fingers.
George, I will check as soon as I locate my measuring tape. I'm sure it's a standard size, whatever that may be.
I have small hands and a short 4th finger whose tip is at the level of the upper knuckle of the 3rd finger.
Ella Yu: "Some people can get more reach with the opposite tactic by placing the thumb back towards the scroll behind the first finger."
My fingers are stubby; my hand is wide enough, but I play mostly viola so that cancels the advantage..
I have the shortest fingers of any adult I know -- although I'm 5'7", I have friends as short as 4'9" who have longer fingers than mine. And I play viola 99% of the time. My palms are wider than average, which helps a little on viola, but not nearly enough given my finger length.
I appreciate the comments and clips! At 59 I also have some flexibility issues, of course, and it will take me a bit longer to re-train my left hand than it would have been at a younger age, but I knew that coming in. Right now it's difficult to tell how much is related to having a small hand with short 4th, and how much is related to having only returned to playing 2.3 months ago. Time will tell - but neither will stop me. I'm too stubborn for that and this is something I have a deep desire to do.
There's a good YouTube video of my teacher from an angle where you can clearly see the positioning of his left hand, including his thumb:
These are all helpful videos - thank you! It is very encouraging to see such accomplished violinists who had/has small hands. You also introduced me to two I was unfamiliar with - win/win!
I wanted to say that this is coming along, the arthritic finger joints are proving a bit more troublesome then the size of my hands for that 4th finger but we are working with it to loosen things up and there is progress. Placing the thumb down by my 3rd finger isn't quite enough away from the E string, but am working with it. Yes, I know that relaxing the hand is also part of it - but right now that's a bit easier said than done...
When it comes to violin matters, it's pretty strange how difficult it is to relax.
Yes it is Nina, indeed it is. That is not the root of my hand positioning challenge but it doesn't help. On the other hand, pun intended, getting very good feedback on my progress so that helps to validate all I'm doing to return to this lovely instrument!
And thank you, Catherine, for making us think harder about what we really do!
Something I seen that might tie into this has to do with the sexes. Apparently as a general rule men and women have slightly different finger lengths.
Timothy- thanks for that chart. I have the short index and 4th finger. In low positions I try to lift the 1st and 2nd fingers off when using the fourth. For very high positions I don't use the 4th, because it doesn't reach the finger-board when the 2nd or 3rd are down. I can do the 1-4 extension on high notes, 2nd and 3rd off the fingerboard. In the low positions I can't do the major tenth or the 2-4 fingered octave. At some point, every advanced, adult, player needs to work out their own personal fingering system, to fit their hand. For me, I try remember that if Django Rheinhardt could play with two fingers, I should be able to play with 3 1/2.
Very interesting diagram Timothy - I don't fit fully into any of them. Ring finger longer than my 1st, 3rd the longest, 4th falls below the 3rd joint of my third. My teacher is working on my extension muscles and joints so I can properly use all 4 fingers.
I'm sure you're ahead of me Timothy, my challenge right now is to reach the 4th in first position without shifting. E4 is fine, now, but the other 3 not so much. I understand why my teacher doesn't want me shifting into the "1st and a bit" position. If the dexterity work we've started doesn't solve things then we will find a modification, but we dont want to start there.
As someone mentioned before here Itzhak Perlman had fairly large hands and from the videos it looks like he had sausage fingers. This makes his playing all the more amazing to me. I see a definite advantage to hands that can navigate fast between the strings or smaller hands/fingers. The only disadvantages seem to be hitting two strings at once side by side. This is easier for larger fingers, and moving to positions further down the neck without compromising lower positions. In all fairness there are extremes at both ends. I mean, look at Hillary Hahn. There does seem to be a larger percentage of smaller build people with smaller fingers playing at this point in time who play very well. I don't really know what that means. If I appear to be knowledgeable it's all smoke. I'm feeling my way around just like you are. The only thing I can do is look at potential answers.
Thanks for sharing the video Timothy! At some point I will become brave enough to share one of mine.
Timothy - I've seen that hand diagram before. I have the "male" hand configuration, more than the average man actually...my ring finger is like an entire joint longer than my pointer. Pointer isn't particularly short either. My mom has the same, but her hands overall are much smaller than mine. I don't know how any variations matter in terms of violin playing unless you have fingers of extremely different lengths, as that would make it hard to hold a stable hand position.
I wonder if the overall size of the hand matters just as much, or more, than the individual finger length/configuration? I'm sure this combination is unique for everyone so there is likely no way to answer it. That's without factoring in the work needed to loosen the finger extension muscles and opening the joints without straining either.
The first time I seen the chart it was in reference to a general recognized male/female difference in hand geometry.I say general because well, Leslie is a perfect example of someone who doesn't fall into the general category.
The only place I've ever felt "tall", as opposed to my reality of short, was in a 500+ year old pub in Yorkshire.... Wondered if they were just skimping on building material cost back then, but suspect I would have been average/tall in the 15th/16th century.
I have long fingers, but they are slender like a skeleton's (not that much, but more, so-called "feminine"-even my wrist is tiny), which means I must lay my fingerpads closer to the fingerboard for vibrato. Thus, every hand has a "problem" to deal with. Big hands have problems, tiny fingers have problems, and so do I, with my spider-leg fingers.
Yes, I think the size of the entire hand is an important factor, not just the length of the fingers but also the width and size of the palm and the flexibility of the hand joints in general. Unlike a number of small handers who have already posted on this thread, I have slender hands but proportionally long and skinny fingers (like Adalberto has), and I do not have a short pinky either.
The finger thing in women's hands is thought to be tied to the amount of testosterone in the womb or so said the quilt teacher that introduced this concept to me years ago.
My understanding is that there is a difference in sound for 3/4 violins over 4/4. If I'm still having this problem when ready to upgrade from my workshop intermediate violin then will consider a 7/8.
From what I have heard, the reasoning is there are more full size violin out there for you to try, compare and hunt for the tone you desire. While fractional sizes are mainly used by children and less number of high quality instruments are made. I think it makes sense when you are playing at a high level and want a very particular sound and response.
I went from a pretty large 4/4 violin to a very small 4/4 (I totally lucked out!) and it has made a world of difference.
:-) Pamela, so true! My teacher and I agreed on some exercises meant to strengthen, and stretch, my extension muscles and joints. Oy...these exercises are far from musical but I can certainly feel them doing what they are supposed to do. I even feel them on the inside of my wrist - it will take time with these 59 year old hands, but the desire is there - where there is a will there is, indeed, a way! The trick is to do these just enough to get the benefit without straining anything.
There is a huge tonal difference between a 3/4 and a full-size. The difference between a full-size, a petitely-proportioned full-size, and a 7/8 is fairly minimal.
In my opinion, very small handed players benefit from playing with a fair degree of sideways tilt to the violin, so that the strings face the center axis moreso. This can be achieved by either lowering the right foot of the shoulder rest or raising the left foot (or both).
Agreed Erik on your main point and the Bon Musica.
I agree with Eric. To play with ease on the low strings, I have a 30° tilt on the violin, and 45° on the viola. This is achieved with long-legged left feet (and short right feet) on my Kun Bravo rests, but equally important is my customisation of the two chinrests, which are thus not interchangeable.
Lydia - thanks for your comments re: 3/4th and 7/8th sized violins. It confirms what I've read.
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