Ramble, student with short pinky, short arms, trying violin sizes
Hi everyone, I'd love to hear your opinions on the topic of short pinkies and ways of coping. I have already watched videos and read up on this topic and learned a lot. I just bought a very cheap 3/4 violin so that I could have at-home experience of this size, and it's been surprising. I find that it's definitely better for reaching with the 4th finger, but didn't expect to feel so cramped with the bowing. My arms are short, but it's still awkward bowing on the E string without hitting the "corners" of the violin. Going back through adults playing the 3/4 on YouTube, I now see the same cramped effect and they do seem to avoid the E string.
I tried both my long bow and the short one that came with the 3/4. The short one seems much too short, but oddly comfortable at the same time.
I also got a shock at how easy the strings are to press down compared to my full size violin (also cheap but with good sound). Am I not supposed to have heavy calluses on my fingers? I thought this was normal, I know I had them when I played guitar.
So, at first play, I thought, this is it, I now have the confidence to upgrade in this size. Now I am all doubt again.
I can only just reach the right note with my 4th finger, so when I am playing, I am very likely to miss it and have to go back. I have to hold my left fingers and thumb at an odd angle built around on what is going to work for the pinky, and if I forget to set that up from the start of a piece, I will mess up later when it's needed.
I hear you say "so don't forget", but how can I know if this is the best approach overall? Perhaps I would be better off to rework the fingering and choose my pieces carefully.
They said to practise 3rds, and I can do those okay now, I even like them. I can't go from 4th back to 3rd finger in tune so I substitute the 2nd finger.
I also learned that my finger is not particularly stunted, it only seems that way because the knuckle of that finger is set very low down on my hand. In other words, the palm slopes away suddenly.
Also I learned that having a disproportionate pinky, with a locking top knuckle, is harder than simply having small hands.
Anyway to cut it short, I think I am going to have to find ways to compensate for my short pinky on a 4/4, rather than play a 3/4. And since I am on Suzuki book one still, I am not equipped to decide how to do that, going forward.
Any comments you have in response will be appreciated, there is so much to discover!
(PS I am female in my 50s, have played piano and guitar by ear but no formal training in anything and learned only basic music reading in primary school)
I think it is more a problem of proper technique than the violion size. There are some 4/4 violins that are on the small size, such as 350, 351, even 349 mm.
Lesley - I feel your pain, literally. I've short arms, as well as short pinkies and quite a lot of arthritis in both hands - especially my left fingers. So I've a few thoughts after working with this for just at 7 months (returning after a 45 year hiatus from playing).
Tried a 7/8 model yet? So-called ladies violins. Not so easy to find them, but this could be a good compromise.
I second the 7/8 suggestion.
It is ridiculous to assert that Suzuki teachers don't plan on the student using the fourth finger. It's used in book 1 repertoire.
Lydia - what is the "cup the scroll" test?
One thought: it may be worthwhile to work with a teacher who plays the viola. On a viola, most people's hands are too small to use the same left hand technique as a typical violinist. But it's possible for someone with small hands to use a large instrument. I have never met another adult with shorter fingers than mine (I mean all five fingers and I've compared my hand with people as short as 4'8"), but I mostly play viola. If you have a small hand, Lydia's advice on thumb position is good. It may also be useful to curve your wrist so that your hand points inward more; this is common among violists.
Good advice above. I've read a lot of posts about small people and playing full-size violins, and I've come to the conclusion that some can cope with strategic techniques while others can't do it so much. I really think it has to do with not only the size of the hands but also the finger length, joint flexibility, overall hand shape, palm size, etc. Besides the suggestion to place the left thumb across the middle finger rather than the index, smaller-handed people can also experiment with placing the left thumb more on the underside of the neck, which makes reaching easier. The palm should also be more parallel to the neck than for a larger person. For shorter arms, a more centered chinrest may be helpful. It might seem odd, but the position of the chinrest relative to the tailpiece as well as your overall chinrest and shoulder rest setup can affect your ability to reach for notes and such to some degree. A more centered chinrest tends to angle the violin so that it points more in front of you rather than out to the side, which makes reaching the tip easier, and the violin also tends to sit higher on the shoulder, which makes it easier to place the hand in a more open position and reach for notes. For people with longer arms, a more side-mounted chinrest is a better choice because a chinrest that is too centered chinrest brings the violin into a position that makes the player more cramped. A side mount brings the violin more to the left, giving long-armed people more room to bow at the frog. That said, some people have hands that are small to the point that playing a full size violin is almost impossible. I once met a woman, whose quite short with very small hands, and I compared hands with her and found out that her hands are a lot smaller than mine. I already have pretty small hands; I don't have any problems playing a full size violin and can even play viola relatively problem-free, but I can just reach an octave on the piano. This lady's hands are so small that she would not be able to reach a octave on the piano, nor would she likely be able to play a full-size violin. The bottom line is that you're just going to have to try lots of technical solutions and see what works for you. You may need a smaller violin or not.
And oh, Catherine, the cup the scroll test goes like this. Place the violin in playing position, stretch your left arm to reach the scroll, and put your fingers around the scroll. If your fingers go around the entire scroll and into the pegbox, the violin is the right size. If they don't quite go into the pegbox, the violin is a bit big. If your fingers are really far in the box, the violin is too small.
And in general, in the cup-the-scroll test, your arm shouldn't be fully extended -- there should still be a relaxed bend at the elbow.
Thanks for the description and, not that there is any surprise, my violin appears just a little large for me. I can cup the scroll and almost reach into the pegbox. Good information, thanks!
Lesley, what do you mean by "cramped with the bowing"? If you are hitting the corner of the violin when playing on the E string, should it be a problem of the bridge cut? Also, how does the adult on youtube with 3/4 avoid E string? Are they just shift and play high positions on A string?
Sivrit, when a violin feels small, the right arm tends to swing outward or the elbow becomes a bit folded, which results from a lack of room to bow at the frog. This results from a violin that is relatively small for the player. If the player is holding the violin pointing more in front, holding it farther out to the left will give them more room to bow at the frog and they will feel less cramped. A more side-mounted chinrest works well in this instance.
Dear Lesley, here is a ramble back to you :-) This has been said many times on this forum, but you should learn to position your hand based on a comfortable pinky. Then stretch back with 3rd, 2nd and 1st fingers. Don't fix your wrist and let your left hand position itself so that this is possible. So, no more "reaching up" with that 4th finger, but instead, "reaching down" with the other fingers!
Wow thank you all for the wonderful replies, it seems like every one has something I can use, and last night my practice went much better, on the 3/4 violin! (I never told you, but it is painted PINK which I think is why it was available at such a low price.)
Glad the comments were helpful - still wrapping my mind around the videos you saw of men with longer arms playing 3/4 size violins. Of course they had problems with the E string - but the larger question is why they were playing a fractional size to begin with. A rhetorical question, certainly.
I will try the exercises, thank you!
And keep your eyes open also in 4/4 models. There are some even smaller than the 35cm 7/8 I mentioned above, which aren't officially declared as 7/8.
Thank you Nuuska, I will keep an eye out. A quick search revealed there are zero 7/8 violins for sale (or even discussion) in New Zealand, so it would have to be overseas. Violin tourism, I am sure that's a thing :)
I also have the short 4th finger. I have modified my fingering system for the high positions; the 3rd finger reaches farther than the 4th up there. I don't use the 4th f. if the 3rd is on the string, but I will do the 1--4 extension.
I recommend calling whatever shops are available in your area, as they often do not keep their inventories up to date (nor full inventory lists) on their websites. It's worth it to give them all a call.
Lesley, as I can show you, it is eventually not necessary to go for a 7/8. Here is an example from the same website where a full sized violin has a significantly shorter back length than the 7/8 I showed you.
I also have small hands and short pinkies, although my right pinky is slightly longer than my left. I'm playing viola now but my problem has always been my bow hold. As one of the posters suggested, a teacher who works with adults can be very helpful. I have also been helped by Fischer's "Basics": he makes it clear that everyone's anatomy is different and has suggestions as to what might be modified. And, having a teacher who has an open mind and is willing to experiment and listen to the student is especially valuable.
Joel, thank you, this should be useful as I go forward :)