Thick fingers or do I need more practice?

January 9, 2023, 7:52 PM · Hey - I started learning violin a couple of months back. At 40 years old, I think I'm a bit late to start learning it but better late than sorry. I always wanted to learn the violin.

I am unable to press down on a string without it touching the next string. For example, I cannot play the A string without taking my finger off the D string. The finger somehow touches the A string as well. I might have thick fingers but I have seen other fiddlers do it.

Do I focus more on fixing the issue, or should I continue having just one finger on the board for the time being, learn to play and then focus on fixing this issue?

Replies (15)

January 9, 2023, 7:58 PM · Without actually seeing your hand, my guess is that you're keeping your fingers too flat. They probably need to arch higher above the fingerboard and come down more vertically.
January 9, 2023, 8:28 PM · So you reckon I should spend more time fixing it when I'm still a novice? My teacher suggested that I continue to play one string at a time.

I wasn't sure if learning to hold two strings would get difficult if I get used to raising my fingers each time I play a different string (I might as well go through the pain and learn it right now).

Edited: January 9, 2023, 10:36 PM · Why would your fingers be "too flat" as Andrew proposes? One reason is if you have "salon fingernails." Hopefully it goes without saying that in order to play the violin you have to trim your fingernails down to basically nothing. Then you can can curve/curl your fingers and approach the string essentially vertically with the round tips of your fingers that protrude past the end of your fingernail. The white part of my fingernails is right now approximately 1/2 millimeter. They need to be trimmed on both hands because holding the bow is quite difficult with long fingernails too. The pinky and the thumb of the right hand, especially, must have closely trimmed nails.

Yes you want to learn to play one string at a time for now if you're a beginner. Two strings at once comes later. It's also not a big deal for now if you accidentally brush your finger against one of the strings you're not bowing, although you'll ultimately need to learn to control that.

Play on the A string, and finger open-1-2-3 (A B C# D). If that sounds okay then lift your fingers up, rotate your left elbow ever so slightly under your violin so that the fingers now are positioned above the D string, and play open-1-2-3 (D E F# G). Then go back to the A string and start over. After a few times you'll get more comfortable and you'll learn to feel the subtle motions that are involved.

Hopefully your teacher has experience with adult beginners, as this experience will be important to your timely success.

January 9, 2023, 11:29 PM · Note: my comment is a guess based on what's typical. It's just very common for beginners to hold their fingers too flat. A photo that clearly shows your hand might help with diagnosing the issue.

As Paul says, it's not a huge deal at the beginner stage, but if your fingers are too flat, it's best to correct the problem now before it becomes an ingrained habit. The earlier you correct it, the easier it is to correct.

January 10, 2023, 4:22 AM · Seeing a photo of fingers in action could be very useful, for troubleshooting.
Edited: January 10, 2023, 10:10 AM · If you've only been playing a couple of months, then the answer to any problem or query you may have is, you need more practice!

For example, after 4 years I've just begun a piece where I have to doublestop the fingered D string and the open A string, which means I have to finger the D string without touching the A string. The end of my middle finger got torn off when I was 6 and was sewn back on crooked and is fatter than the other fingertips. I'm not going to give up - I'm going to practise keeping it over towards the G string more so that it is out of the way of the A string.

Edited: January 10, 2023, 10:10 AM · The only times that a finger touching more than one string may be problems are when playing double stops (i.e., bowing two adjacent strings at the same time) or notes on two adjacent strings in rapid alternation, arpeggios, chords, and bariolage (for which the left-hand fingers remain in place while the bow typically moves rapidly over 3 or 4 strings in very short separate strokes).

The only solutions I know for large-fingered people are to be sure the finger touching two strings is not touching the two strings the bow will sound or to have the instrument set up so greater spacing between the strings is tailored for the player’s hand. (One vote for violas :-))

Of course, this is not a problem if the guilty finger would sound a note lower than the sounded note on the 2nd string.

I am sometimes aware of this problem in my own playing but it has not stopped me in the years since my first violin lesson 84 years ago.

And yes! Everyone needs more practice! Initially to keep getting better and eventually to slow the decline.

January 10, 2023, 11:24 AM · Ditto, all the comments about fingers and nails. With that said, I've had (very, very few) students whose trimmed nail still comes to or past the finger tip. I've left my fingernails "long" on purpose at times to try to figure out how to communicate finger angle and such that works close enough but am not too confident about it just because it's so rare.
Edited: January 10, 2023, 1:09 PM · I agree with what's already been written. I will add, however, a couple of points.

In the early stages of development, there is a tendency to have your hand rotated in such a way that your finger nail is hitting the string at an angle, almost perpendicular to the string. Since your finger is wider than it is thick, you're more likely to hit both strings. As you develop, you will develop more flexibility in your hand and your wrist, allowing you to correct that rotation, and bring your hand closer to the violin neck.

Work to avoid touching two strings particularly when the note you're playing, is equivalent to an open string. This will help you with intonation . At this stage I'm assuming you're still working on first position. With your fourth finger on the a string, match that note perfectly with the open e-string. If you are only touching the a-string, the open e-string will resonate in sympathy with the fourth finger e on the a string. If you get used to this distinctive sound, you will search for it when you're playing, and this will help you to play more in tune.

Edited: January 10, 2023, 2:36 PM · Hilary Hahn's fingers. You can see the lines in her fingers where the strings have indented. Her optimal angle for the string relative to her nail is about 45° I think. I'm sure it's a little bit different for each person. Which makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong. I don't have any indentations in my fingers just calluses.

Picture of fingers

Anyhow, my point is: are your fingers too perpendicular to the strings, and therefore occupying too much space crossing both strings?

January 10, 2023, 3:44 PM · If you have ever taken a look at the Bear Claws that are Itzhak Perlman's hands, you will realize that it is all about the angles, and not about how fat your fingers are.
January 11, 2023, 2:22 PM · Takes practice thats all
January 11, 2023, 4:07 PM · The violin is a little wooden box that's always says you can do better, it's a lifelong journey.
January 11, 2023, 11:09 PM · Thank you, everyone; that was really helpful. Key takeaways for me:
- not worry about the finger touching more than one string
- keep practising and I'll get used to my wrist and finger positioning
- figure out what the correct finger angle for me is

Thanks once again.

January 11, 2023, 11:24 PM · By the way, the BEST place to see Perlman's fingers doing their thing is within the first 5 minutes of the 1996 movie "Everyone Says I Love You."

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