Pinkie adjustment

April 1, 2021, 10:25 PM · So I am really getting into this new old hobby of mine and have decided I need to work on my crampy left hand (medical issue, explained in a previous thread), in particular my weak fourth finger which doesn’t like to move independently of my third.

Not being able to access a live teacher at the moment, I have looked at videos by Julia Bushkova and Nathan Cole on hand positions and strengthening fourth finger exercises.

I learned that, in order to place the fourth finger on the lower strings, Bushkova advocates adjusting the hand/elbow but keeping the finger in the “supported shape”, the same curve as on the upper strings.

Cole advocates keeping the elbow in the same place but flattening the curve.

I find that, in order to reach the lower strings, my pinkie is so short I have to do both! And it is really short! I recall, as a teen, my violin teacher scoffing at me and telling me not to make a fuss about some fourth finger difficulty, saying “I have the shortest pinkie I have ever seen in a professional violinist, yours can’t be shorter - let’s compare hands - um...okay...yours is even shorter. The struggle is real!”

Sadly, I don’t recall whether he had any solutions.

Now I’m unsure what to prioritise - trying to keep the curve and move the elbow, or flatten the curve and keep the elbow still. Thoughts?

Replies (21)

April 1, 2021, 10:56 PM · Greetings,
I think you should try to keep the 4th finger as curved as humanly possible and let that dictate the position of the arm. The best possible option for the arm is in the neutral hanging position but this is not always possible. The key is to return to that position as much as possible. In the meantime there are excellent exercises in Simon Fischer’s warming up for gently extending the range of the fourth finger. The stretching must never be too extreme. Always gently doe sit.
You can find examples of unusually faltered fourth finger in the profession. Zimmerman is one example.
April 1, 2021, 11:35 PM · Not moving the elbow and stretching the hand is a recipe for injury. I know this from experience. For the G string I exaggerate the elbow movement and now am injury free.
April 2, 2021, 12:47 AM · I think this really varies from person to person and will be different for everyone. I think it's a combination of both mentioned things but moreso the elbow swing I think. A bit of flattening of some of the pinky joints will occur, but as long as it's not flat to the point of being inflexible you're okay. Another thing to consider is to rotate your forearm clockwise (with palm facing you as if playing the violin) to bring your pinky a bit closer to the strings.
April 2, 2021, 3:15 AM · Simple. Mr Cole has bigger, broader hands than Ms Bushkova.

I once started a thread "Elbow Swing or Spider Hand?"
All those who answered used more Elbow Swing.

We must still learn Spider Hand, though, for chords and arpeggios.

Fourth Finger rules! Stay safe!

April 2, 2021, 5:24 AM · Thanks everyone! I found the spider hand thread and more, seems I am not alone at all with this issue.

I notice that some call their pinkies short for “only” reaching to the third joint of the ring finger. Mine extends no further than half way between the second and third joint.

I know I should have learned the drums lol.

April 2, 2021, 8:11 AM · You could go to a shop and try out a 3/4 size or 7/8 violin and perhaps one of these smaller sizes would allow you to hit the right notes with less strain on your pinky.
April 2, 2021, 8:16 AM · If it comes to that, I've got a nice 3/4 kit that I've been trying to sell for years. It's a Scott Cao 750.
April 2, 2021, 8:58 AM · I bought a 7/8 size violin which is about a millimeter smaller then a 4/4 in the dimensions that matter here. It sounds like a 4/4.
April 2, 2021, 9:42 AM · Pinkies seem even shorter if the knuckle alignment slopes a lot.
Then we may have to slant the hand (like a "pancake" hand!) a little, to align the knuckles with the strings.
Edited: April 3, 2021, 12:42 AM · Tried out my child’s 3/4 one, but that doesn’t work at all - my pinkie is short, but my palm is rather big.

Child is going to transition soon anyway, an we are going to have violins in the house to try out. Maybe I’ll find one with a slender neck.

I’ve never seen or heard a 7/8 violin. Edited to say that I know of. It may be hard to tell.

April 2, 2021, 11:28 AM · 7/8 size instruments used to be called ladies' violins. They were more popular in the late 19th century. My local violin shop had 5 to choose from plus 2 modern Amati copies which were smallish. One was a lovely French instrument from 1906 which I almost bought because of its sweet tone but it lacked the power for some of the music I like to play. I ended up with a brand new violin made by a new manufacturer in Bubenreuth. 7/8 instruments are somewhat rare but are not more expensive because there is much less demand.
April 2, 2021, 3:50 PM · Which manufacturer was that, @Ann?
Edited: April 2, 2021, 5:52 PM · M.F. Bieg. A new company, my instrument has a serial number of 34. Information about this company is very scarce, you will see it as M.F. Bieg, even on my instrument's certificate but I believe it's really hyphenated, according to a Germany website about companies in Germany. The instrument was made as a 7/8 size Guarnerius copy. It has very tight wood grain and a nice brown finish. Nice resonance though there is a boominess at the 4th finger D on the G string which seems to be lessening as I play it. I have had it 4 1/2 months so it's still opening up.

Douglas Cox and some other instrument makers make some really nice 7/8 size instruments.

My local violin shop (not in a major metropolis) had 5 plus 2 new Amati copies that were small so these instruments are available, you just have to ask for them.

So between the smaller instrument, the exaggerated elbow swing when on the G string, plus being careful, my hand injury is gone and I'm playing better.

Edited: April 2, 2021, 10:44 PM · I remember from auto shop class that if you wanted to remove 8 bolts around an engine block head you started with the one hardest to reach.
Reset your first position and hand formation by placing only the fourth finger on the G string, curved, with the last digit at about 30 o back from vertical, move the left elbow around until it is most comfortable. The other fingers will be pulled back from there.
Avoid using the 4th finger with the 3rd finger down. Try to avoid 3-4 trills.
You are not alone, partially handicapped with a short 4th finger. Kreisler's fingerings demonstrate how he got around that.
In higher positions the 3rd finger will reach farther than the 4th.
Django Reinhardt invented solo jazz guitar style with only two functioning fingers.
April 2, 2021, 10:45 PM · I use the third finger for G, D, and A harmonics and it works fine. Gives my teachers fits but I don't care.
Edited: April 3, 2021, 12:48 AM · I have been planning to travel to Bubenreuth for yonks, close to where my parents live and middle child’s 3/4 violin, which they are about to outgrow, is on loan from a Bubenreuth maker. I hate sending violins per mail, have a visceral recoil, but that maker does it all the time.

Maybe we can do it later this spring when we are all fully vaccinated, take the 3/4 violin back in person and I can look up this shop. Odd, I found the address, but they have no internet presence at all...

Edited: April 3, 2021, 1:35 AM · Though I’d have a hard time giving up my current violin. My dad actually bought it from a Mr. Reinhardt, distant relation I believe, travelling musician and violin maker and Auschwitz survivor. He used to turn up at our house with an assortment of violins and let my dad try them all out, then offer to exchange the violin he liked best for his current one plus 1000 Deutschmarks. My dad always did it. (After he once casually showed his Auschwitz tattoo to them when they sat down for coffee my parents would have done anything). My violin is the last one my dad bought, he never came back after, probably fell ill, and I do not think my parents ever had a way to contact him pre mobile phones and internet.

So, it’s precious to me, but middle child likes it, so we’ll see.

April 3, 2021, 1:33 AM · @joel, never occurred to me that one might use lessons from auto shop for violin playing, but it makes sense, thank you.
I’ll try not to avoid it too much when playing, for strengthening, but definitely when performing. Easter Monday, gulp! Though what I’m most apprehensive about is not my violin playing (that is actually coming along nicely now I have so many new practice tips) but having to accompany one child on the piano, my keyboard skills being truly marginal. Off to practice!
Edited: April 3, 2021, 10:50 AM · Leonore, The lack of an internet presence isn't surprising since the shop sells through distributors to dealers and they appear to only make student or intermediate instruments but I am very curious about what you will find there. I hope you find a way to post this or you can email me at armorrill at yahoo. Subject what I found in Bubenreuth.
April 4, 2021, 1:49 AM · @Ann, I‘ll keep it in mind.
April 4, 2021, 2:59 PM · Thank you, Leonore, my chance of traveling overseas is zero with my health problems so I must travel through others' experiences and I'm just dying to know about the place where my beloved "Hildie" was "born."

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