Do you play with a curved fourth finger? Does it really matter that much?

Edited: August 7, 2017, 8:36 PM · For the professionals and advanced players out there:
- Do you play with a curved fourth finger as opposed to a flatter one or a locked one? If you do, did it come naturally to you or did you have to work to get it? If you don't, how much do you think it affects your playing?

I've heard a lot about the importance of a curved fourth finger, but I've also heard of people who don't have one and manage just fine.

- Is this really something every hand is capable of?
- What aspects of technique are harder/not possible for someone without a curved fourth finger?

Replies (24)

August 7, 2017, 4:14 PM · My 4 is curved. As a kid I didn't have to work on it besides being constantly reminded by my Suzuki teacher! As I got older, it started straightening imperceptibly and finally at about age 22 I had to work on it again. Then again at age 35...

I've personally only taught one or two players whose 4th fingers were so short that they couldn't curve. The vast majority can, although some people play with their palms far enough away from the neck that it becomes practically impossible.

It's not a make-or-break thing, although many people whose 4th fingers are straight have other weaknesses in their left hands as well. Why not have the four fingers behave the same way?

As for what you can/can't do, great players have shown that you can do just about anything in any way. That said, vibrato on 4 is never easy with a straight finger. And most people find that they can't use 4 in fast passages as easily with a straight finger either. The path up and down tends to be longer than for the other fingers. Finally, at a high level, the point of contact for a straight 4 tends to be more on the pad than for the other fingers. This can give a softer articulation on that finger, which is again a problem in fast passages.

It's something worth working for, I believe... I made a youtube video on it, after all. But not the first priority!

August 7, 2017, 5:36 PM · I think this depends partly on physique. My pinky is partially curved when playing, generally speaking. When I say partially curved, I'm saying that the joint closest to the tip is almost always curved while the joint closest to the palm is only occasionally curved.
Edited: August 7, 2017, 7:56 PM · If I understand the question right, it refers to normal placement on the fingerboard in typical use. And if that IS the question, then, yes, mine is curved to a certain extent, if somewhat less than the others. Perhaps someone with a really short 4th finger would have trouble with this.

But placing the elbow properly well-under the violin will support the 4th finger (as well as the hand in general) for better positioning, stretches in double-stops, etc.

But there is something else: at rest, away from the violin, my left-hand 4th finger curves quite a bit more than its right-hand counterpart - and even more than the other left-hand fingers. I suspect that this is from many years of playing - and especially from double-stops. Anyone else have that?

August 7, 2017, 9:29 PM · I think it depends on physique, too. If you have a short fourth finger, and you can't play a whole step without making it straight, you just play that way. Think of all the poor violists without a huge hand span who have had to suffer because someone insisted that they curve their fourth fingers while playing a 16+inch instrument. It's baloney.

Raphael, I have the exact same behavior of fingers in hand.

August 7, 2017, 10:17 PM · I got the bad luck of a really short fourth finger. I worked a lot on getting it curved, but there are positions where I dont have any chance but making it flat. Luckily for double stops my index finger is quite flexible, so I can still manage those big ones.
When its flat the sound seems to be worse, same for vibrato. So if you somehow can manage to curve it, do it.
Raphael, my fingers seem to be symetric, as you asked. But I got a part in my beard, where the usual violin mark would be, where I dont grow any hair. I think this might be caused by my playing in my youth.
August 8, 2017, 4:21 AM · Fourth finger rules! To be flexible for vibrato, and to make extensions without provoking Violin Elbow, it should probably stay curved. The othe fingers should make way for it.
Edited: August 8, 2017, 7:17 AM · I play with a curved 4th finger. It is the natural shape for the hand to grip a handle. A curved finger (any finger) helps a lot with vibrato.

However, one of my teachers has a small hand and uses a flat 4th finger. She plays beautifully. She tried to teach me to use a flattened 4th finger for stretch notes, e.g. C on the E string from 1st position. I did not have the patience to develop that different set of muscles and flexibility, so I just decided to shift more often.

Bottom line: it does not make a difference, if you practice enough.

August 8, 2017, 1:38 PM · Nathan, I haven't actually tried the tissue trick yet, but I watched your video and I've been thinking about it while playing, and trying to keep my 4th finger curved. That in itself seems to be helping my 4th finger become more effective, and even get a bit of vibrato. Thanks for the tip!
Edited: August 31, 2017, 7:01 AM · Curved 4th finger is a must. Every hand can accomplish this as it is not about physiology but technique. Turn the palm towards the violin and bring the elbow forward. Job done.

Cheers Carlo

Posted under my own full name in accordance with Vcom's rules.

August 8, 2017, 2:03 PM · Barring physical anomalies, the ways I can imagined someone's pinky being flat all involve very poor left hand position.
August 8, 2017, 7:50 PM · For me, the knuckle collapses no matter what I do. I have tried everything, and I physiologically cannot make it different. I get by anyway.
August 8, 2017, 7:52 PM · I try pretty hard to play with a curved 4th finger, but sometimes it just doesn't happen when reaching. Part of the fun of having your 4th finger be barely over half as long as your 3rd (ignoring knuckle slant) :)
August 22, 2017, 9:50 AM · I've always found that if I'm having trouble with my 4th finger, it's because I'm not bringing my elbow around far enough underneath the instrument, so as to keep my hand at a good angle with all four knuckles reasonably close to the neck. Playing scales in front of a mirror may be helpful.
August 22, 2017, 10:09 AM · So am i weird for playing tenths in first position?

I managed to flex the 4th with enough force for the sound to be correct. I still hate doing them.

You need to stretch for unison double stops.
No Paganini 17 for you first bars

August 22, 2017, 12:37 PM · I read and re-read the original post. There is no mention, nor even a clue, as to which 4th finger the OP is referring.

Having either pinkie straight is a flaw. I'd argue that it's an even worse (and very common) flaw on the bow hand. As Jennifer said, having a straight left pinkie usually means not getting the proper hand/elbow position. In very high positions, this will translate to more tension right where you don't want it.

Having a straight right pinkie will prevent one from ever achieving a fully professional and refined bow technique. And so, in my opinion, will a straight right thumb joint.

In fact, you pretty much can't do ANY kind of physical activity with finesse and efficiency if a joint is locked. That should be a defining rule of playing an instrument. I'd consider 10ths to be an exception, though.

August 22, 2017, 1:12 PM · Scott, you've hit the nail on the head. The original post is indeed ambiguous as to which hand the 4th finger of which is under discussion. Possibly, with subconscious reading between the lines the understanding may be that the OP was talking about the 4th finger of the left hand. Or am I being influenced by the other posters who have read it that way?

Anyway, your comments and advice in your post are straight down the line and fit either eventuality perfectly.

Edited: August 22, 2017, 4:02 PM · I am a violin dummy and I am so happy to learn that a fourth left finger should be naturally curved.

However I watched a video made by professor V on the web. He essentially said that a straight left pinky finger makes it easier. This echoes a lot with me because I have a pinky finger curved inwards, and I feel it's a bit hard to for the pinky to be in its natural first position. So I thought a straight one made it easier.

The part is in the video at 2:30. I know he is a great teacher on YouTube, but I hope he was wrong on this :D what do you think on the point made in this video? Thank you so much in advance,

August 22, 2017, 3:20 PM · When he talks about a straight 4th finger, he's talking about the shape of your hand; he's saying that if you're born with a longer pinky that is straight up and down, not curved in, it's easier to play. When people in this thread talk about a straight 4th finger, they're talking about having the joint flattened out when you place it on the string, not about the natural shape of the hand.

Personally my pinkies are doublejointed and my 4th used to collapse when doing double stops; I found that my intonation was less consistent and the joint started to ache when it was locked out, so it took me about two or three months of paying attention to the issue to get it to be consistently rounded.

August 22, 2017, 4:49 PM · What Raphael said about having your elbow well under rings true. Unfortunately this itself can be difficult for the adult beginner. I'm a returner and that's one of the things I had to work hardest to get back.
August 28, 2017, 10:51 PM · Eh it wouldn't have been referred to as a "4th finger" if it was the bow hand. Would have been the "pinky".
August 28, 2017, 11:23 PM · Right. On the bow hand there is absolutly no way to play a flat fourth finger!
I cant play tenths without making fourth flat, sadly. My original post might be missleading. I need to flat it nearly completly in tenths. If beeing within an octave I curve it although beeing very short. My 4th finger is ends 3.4cm before my 3rd finger. I needed a lot of practise in my youth but if you achieved a flexible left hand this works for pretty much everybody.
August 28, 2017, 11:33 PM · Nathan Cole's YouTube video on finger strengthening exercises is fantastic. I've added the rolled up tissue one to my daily routine (I was already doing the rest through Simon Fischer's Warming Up book), and it's been literally transformative. My hand looks like a professional violinist's now after so many previous years of mediocrity, and I can now play much faster and more accurately AND with less tension (really none now, I'm so liberated). I can't recommend taking his advise enough.
Edited: August 30, 2017, 6:45 AM · Straight pinky is okay so long as you know how to compensate elsewhere. Locked is okay so long as you're able to unlock at will. (For both hands, reversibility is more important than how it looks from the outside.)
Edited: September 2, 2017, 12:40 PM · My 4th finger is too short to curve much , both in absolute terms and even more relative to my other fingers. I move my wrist a lot anyway - to get my fingers down at angles that feel good : to always curve my particular 4 th finger would require ridiculous amounts of movement in my wrist and elbow for even quite simple passages.
I have found my own technique of dealing with a lilliputian 4th finger.
This also recognises the relative weakness of muscles controlling fingers 3 and 4 ( in the LH) , compared to 1 and 2 .
This is my own technique, which I have never heard of elsewhere - so I will happily accept a donation of 6 million pounds for revealing it here to anyone who wants to do the decent thing and stump up.
I consciously and deliberately (but now instinctively) play with as little force or pressure as possible with fingers 1 and 2 , and a lot of those with fingers 3 and 4 - but still trying to rely more on elasticity than brute force,.
It might be a side effect of this that any notes in the domain of 3rd and 4th finger tend to go off like fire-crackers and catherine wheels whereas those in the domain of 1 and 2 are much more sedate and self-effacing - but there you go. You get worse side effects with statins!

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