7/8 Violin Test & 4th Finger

Edited: May 10, 2019, 12:25 PM · As some may remember, this 6-month along returnee has very small arthritic hands and I've asked for 4th finger related ideas here over the last few months. I was looking for ideas to add to the drills my teacher provided. In the course of that discussion someone here suggested I look at a 7/8 size violin as it might be a better fit.

Recently I was at my violin shop and they had a master-level 7/8 size used violin. It certainly wasn't in my budget nor am I near advanced enough for it but asked to try it on "for size", just to see what it felt like. Two things became immediately apparent:

1. Wow, this sounds better than my workshop intermediate level violin (no surprise there - not at +3xs the cost)

2. MAN THIS IS TINY! I did not expect to notice such a pronounced difference in size... I really felt on the cramped side with it.

So when my teacher & I agree it's time for an upgrade it won't be a smaller violin. Sadly. I liked the idea.

4th Finger? Outside of the E string and when my 3rd is high I do have to modify how I use my 4th (can't leave any other fingers down). That's fine, still working on making that happen, but also working on accuracy and then speed when shifting my hand back after leaving X4 note. Modified or not consistancy is my goal - and that's coming along in scales and drills. Next step is to replace those open notes in my current pieces. Helps being stubborn. This is a much easier issue to solve than what Django faced!

Replies (22)

May 10, 2019, 12:26 PM · How do you place your left thumb?
Edited: May 10, 2019, 12:49 PM · Andrew - I try to get my thumb down by my 3rd finger, and to swing my elbow across my body. Left hand tension is easing but it's still an issue. It may not help the tension that my left thumb is rather crooked but I think that's more related to my current level than anything.
May 10, 2019, 5:12 PM · Try moving your thumb to match your needs when you have to stretch any of your fingers. You might experiment with this to see what works for you. Of course there are limits to what you can do with this sort of thumb movement, but it might give you greater flexibility.

Also, some of the supplements sold for osteoarthritis can really help relieve the pain. Unfortunately not every thing works for everyone. Taking some of these has helped me a lot with the result that I have much less pain now than I did 15 years ago when I was only 69.

May 10, 2019, 5:24 PM · Thanks Andrew! I think part of the problem is tension and am working on that. If nothing else the little glitch (what my teacher calls it) I'm currently using when there is a low 3 IS working and I've gotten much better at hitting the following notes in tune. The fact I can do it properly with a high 3 does have me hopeful that I will eventually get there with patience and persistence.

I will look into the supplements a bit more closely - I started dealing with the OA since my 20s (40 years ago now) and I've gone back and forth with the supplements outside of my OA medication. Thankfully it IS OA, it could be worse.

May 10, 2019, 6:36 PM · Besides what Andrew mentioned above, I would like to mention another thing about thumb placement. Those with smaller hands mmay find it easier to reach for notes if the thumb is more on the underside of the neck. Many people have the thumb much higher and not so far under the neck. I hope you understand what I mean. It's hard for me to locate pictures or videos demonstrating this clearly. Also, when you do upgrade your violin, I would also try to find one with a narrower neck. Violins with narrower necks aren't the easiest to find, but they're out there.
Edited: May 10, 2019, 8:45 PM · Ella, I've seen some videos about that. Several women on YouTube discuss this very thing along with other options for small hands. So far I can't seem to actually get my thumb underneath the neck- which may be from overall LH tension, a fear of dropping my violin, or both. Thanks for the reminder though, I had pretty much given up on it but it's worth revisiting it.

I DID just successfully play Marche with my less than standard 4th approach and for the first time I didn't lose rhythm and the following notes were in tune (relatively speaking) - and I felt like doing a jig :-) Hopefully this returning beginner is finally making friends with my 4th, modified or not. Of course that was at my current practice speed, not at full speed yet. All in all I am not unhappy at my 6 month mark!

Edited: May 11, 2019, 5:17 PM · As discussed in another thread, I decided to replace my chin rest with an adjustable one so I can lower my SR - a far kinder option for my shoulder problems. It arrived last night, and successfully managed my first change of chin rest. I KNOW it's easy, but it was daunting for the first time.

It took quite some time this morning to determine the best height for my Wittier Zuerech (full 6mm option) and Kun (not quite as low as possible but close to it). Still tweaking it a bit, but one thing I noticed when I actually got past experimenting to practicing, that it was easier to use my 4th. NOT solved, but easier. Also easier to experiment with moving my thumb underneath the neck...

I'm noticing my Kun doesn't have full (but close) contact with my body so it may be due to be replaced with a Wolf Forte Secundo, but not for a bit. I want to make certain it's actually needed - and am wondering if a least a percentage of my 4th finger placement was due to a too high SR which perhaps led to other positioning issues that did not work in my small hand's favor.

May 11, 2019, 6:27 PM · Catherine, I think your left hand problems might have something to do with the high shoulder rest because your violin is raised far off your collarbone, which means you must raise your left arm (and your right arm as well) quite high which is not natural or healthy.
May 11, 2019, 7:25 PM · I've been thinking the same thing today Ella - and that would be if I had normal shoulders and I do not - one has been reconstructed and the other is very arthritic. My neck (which has been fused) doesn't seem to notice that anything has changed - which is good. I also noticed today that my playing felt different...more expressive. Likely only my imagination though as I'm more comfortable. My teacher will tell me if this has actually impacted my playing style.

My 4th finger issue isn't solved - but even my modification was much easier. So no more high shoulder rests...

May 13, 2019, 10:36 AM · Another thing which has not been mentioned, aside from thumb placement, for us with small hands is the (subtle) movement of the elbow in order to allow the fourth finger to "swing" into position. If your elbow is stiff and does not move in accordance with your hand, then you will not be able to use the fourth finger comfortably.
Edited: May 13, 2019, 11:24 AM · The elbow moves, unsure if it moves across my body enough. It HAS been broken, along with multiple other parts of my left arm and wrist at different times in my 59 years. A bit amazing I can play at all, and hadn't thought about it in this way.

It is much better with the very low SR and very high CR. 4th on E and A is much easier, modified 4th on G and D (and sometimes A) also much easier.

Also I can finally position my LH so the weight(?) balance(?) has shifted more to 3 and 4 rather than 1st and 2nd fingers, more nimble in general.

I'm nothing if not persistent :) My teacher won't be available for a few weeks for personal reasons so this gives me time to focus on my 4th, double stops and extra focus on dexterity and tone production in general. We knew this break in lessons would come, if not when, so he had already provided some exercises and other things to work on that I will take and run with.


Edited: May 17, 2019, 1:50 PM · I've a couple of other threads focused on 4th finger issues, so decided to add to this one rather than to create a new one. This one is different through - yet more progress but from an unexpected direction.

I can't ask my teacher as he had to take a couple of weeks off for personal things - he would probably respond if I texted him but am not about to disturb him during his time off. So I came here instead. He doesn't yet know about my CR/SR tests - hopefully lessons will resume next week. Meanwhile I'm experimenting with many things.

Last night I was experimenting with various 4th finger related exercises and drills to both improve my modified 4th (G, D, sometimes A), and the "accepted" non modified usage (E and sometimes A), when something totally unexpected happened.

Somehow my jaw slipped forward on my Wittner Zuerich so that my chin was centered above the tailpiece. Not comfortable - but noticed immediately that my left hand relaxed and the almost impossible (unmodified) D4 was suddenly easy as my thumb had simply moved beneath the neck. The high CR/low SR as previously reported had made a big difference, but this had almost an equal impact. I've a Wittner Augsberg winging my way from Shar for testing - one of the two will be returned.

So my question is this - does the type of CR (center vs off-set) typically have an effect on problems with both 4th finger and LH tension? I've been trying to think through how this might matter and was curious if others have noticed this. I did endure the uncomfortable position last night long enough to see if the improvement was consistent - and it was!

May 17, 2019, 1:53 PM · Catherine--for me a more center mounted position definitely helps. My shoulder and arm are freer to support without feeling twisted. I'm a somewhat short-armed, smallish handed person. I like a Berber/Ohrenform CR. You might also try a Flesch (w/o hump probably).
Edited: May 17, 2019, 2:38 PM · Thanks Kathryn, my left arm has indeed been through the wringer over the years and have noticed that sometimes it does feel a bit twisted, hadn't thought it might be CR related. I'm also in the shorter arm club along with my small hands. Hopefully the Augsburg will tick the box for me - I really need the ability to adjust the height. Will research the CRs you've mentioned just in case.
May 17, 2019, 2:44 PM · Yes, the centermount chinrests can make a difference. You might try holding the violin with the scroll more towards the center of your body vs to the left with your current chinrest. I often move my violin a bit inward/more centered/even lifting the scroll higher according to the shifts that are required - although this method is controversial (my teacher is okay with it, but others are opposed to doing so.) Will let the other more experienced players and teachers that visit v.com continue the discussion on this issue ;)

Where the violin is held also affects the bow.

Edited: May 17, 2019, 2:54 PM · Yes, center-mounted chinrests do benefit those with shorter arms and smaller hands because side mounts (especially those that sit completely to the left of the tailpiece as opposed to those that reach slightly over the tailpiece) tend to point the violin very far to the left. This is a very awkward position for a short-armed person because the left arm becomes twisted and pulled out of its natural range of motion, and the player may have difficulty reaching the tip of the bow. Side mounts work well for those with longer arms because a chinrest that is too centered will leave them with a alack of room to bow at the frog, and the left arm may feel cramped as well. For short-armed players, pointing the violin more in front brings the violin closer to the arms and hands, which is a much more natural and healthy position, and center mounts are good at putting the violin in this angle. Center mount chinrests also move the violin higher on the shoulder, which makes reaching for notes a bit easier for those with smaller hands or short fingers. Side mounts move the violin lower on the shoulder, giving large-handed people more room to place their hands.

The berber/ohrenform (if I'm not mistaken) is a high center-mounted chinrest with a prominent edge to hook under the jawbone. Those who like a chinrest with these features would enjoy this chinrest. You seem to be looking for higher chinrests so the height of the Berber should not be a problem. The Flesch flat, on the other hand, is not quite as high as the Berber and is pretty much flat on top. This is good for people who prefer relatively flat chinrests. The Wittner Augsburg is somewhere in the middle as far as shape is concerned, if I'm not mistaken. Finding the ideal shape of chinrest is a trial and error process, and you just have to try a whole bunch of solutions and find what works best for you.

Edited: May 18, 2019, 11:23 AM ·
I am also seeing more people using the Ohrenform chinrest. For very high notes on the E-string, my 4th finger used to slip off the fingerboard and hit the top of the violin. Then I changed the horizontal angle of the instrument from about 45o , a little to the left, about 30o. Then I changed my chinrest to fit that new angle. The Guarnerius chinrest is the majority choice of Luthiers, mostly because it puts the clamps at the end-block. But most players, who actually experiment with chinrests, will end up with something like the Teka, partially over the tailpiece. The high chinrest seems to me to be partly a fad. It is a lot easier to adjust the height with an adjustable shoulder rest.
Edited: May 18, 2019, 4:28 PM · Thanks Joel! I need my height from the CR as I've major neck and shoulder issues - the high SR causes problems with my shoulder. A low CR really stresses my fused neck - but everything seems happy with the low SR and high CR, but time will tell. I'm just thankful that I can play at all, and am able to progress as I've been able to in a short 6 months.
May 20, 2019, 12:22 PM · Thanks Catherine, and good look with the experimenting. Medical or anatomic issues change everything. I've been there too. I think that all players should do some experimenting with the C.R--S.R. set-up at various stages in their training; like when they start shifting, vibrato, and the very high positions. Age is another factor. And- the angle of the bow (Russian vs. F.-B.) coming out of the right hand needs to match the horizontal angle of the violin.
May 20, 2019, 12:47 PM · I'm getting ready to start shifting- right now my teacher is only having me do it for several scales. Good tip on the angle of the bow - guess I hadn't thought about an angle difference between the two bow holds, something to consider and discuss with my teacher.

I've been experimenting quite a lot with LH and postioning since my teacher's personal leave started a couple weeks back. Starting back up early next week and I hope we find it has been to good effect - he will let me know either way.

May 20, 2019, 2:47 PM · continued-- That bow-hold debate; Russian vs. Franco-Belgian is another big topic here on previous discussions. It's relation to the angle of the violin is best demonstrated at the incorrect extremes;
If you use the russian hold while the violin is almost straight ahead, like a fiddler or early music specialist, it is almost impossible to bow parallel to the bridge. Like-wise, with the early-music, old German, or some fiddler's hold on the bow, with the violin
all the way to the left, like you're playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, also doesn't fit, and is very hard on the muscles on the right side of the spine. I think one of the reason's the F.B hold is so popular is that is an ergonomic compromise.
May 20, 2019, 8:21 PM · Very interesting Joel! I learned the F.B. hold 45 years ago and it stuck with me.

The Wittner Augsburg (center) did arrive today, and it lasted on my violin for about an hour - the Wittner Zuerich (off-set) is back on. Much to my surprise my playing went south. Tried adjusting everything, including SR, no good. Put the Zuerich back on later and while my playing is certainly not perfect, it was back to normal. I will give it another chance in a few days.


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