Can Simon Fischer help me grow my short pinky?

Edited: June 11, 2023, 11:07 AM · During the pandemic, I splurged on a number of Simon Fischer books among them the Violin Lesson and Basics. I think he’s a genius, I want to win the lottery and book a real life lesson with him! (I have trouble occasionally figuring out what he’s trying to say with his photos).

I’m working on rebuilding my technique. I am rebuilding my left hand, improving my shape and balance, working on scales and arpeggios and can already hear that it is working wonders on my intonations, string crossings, double stops, and fast passages. Everything realiy. It’s marvellous.

However, as I have complained about here before, I keep running into the physical obstacle of my super short pinky fingers. All my fingers are short and stubby, and my pinky only reaches halfway between the second and third joint of my ring finger.

Fischer writes that there is no such thing as physical limitations, just poor technique and anyone can overcome shortcomings with the right technique and practice. But I’m beginning to think that must be his tall person bias that others have remarked on and that I am the one example to the contrary.

I find that I am physically unable to keep fingers on the strings as recommended and raise and drop them comfortably. I cannot comfortably play two whole steps with my second, third and fourth finger, on any string in any position (my repertoire rarely goes above 5th), leaving them in place. I need to press them on the strings to sort of “stick” them there to reach. I cannot leave the fourth comfortably in place, let alone balance the weight of the hand on the third and fourth and reach back with the first. I cannot, no way no how, play the exercise to widen the base joints on pg 136 of the Violin Lesson.

I realise that all my life, I have sort of played the violin like a piano, always lifting fingers, shifting between reaching with the first and the fourth and it’s been holding me back from ever progressing beyond intermediate playing. It wreaks havoc on the intonation.

As I have mentioned, I notice that even *trying* my best has already transformed my playing, and I want more!

I love my current violin, my dad gave it to me when he was still healthy, it has a slender neck and that already helps, and I had been hoping that stretching and strengthening would do the rest. However, I am beginning to think that it is a losing proposition, will only lead to injury in the long run and that I need to follow the suggestion given by some of you in my earlier thread on this and need to find a 7/8th violin.


Replies (27)

Edited: June 11, 2023, 12:00 PM · My 2 centimes d'Euro, from a stubby-fingered violist.

For fast passages, we need to open the hand beforehand and "plop" the fingers down as best we can; in slow passages we can roll the hand over the sounding finger for continuous pressure and vibrato.
YouTube: watch Kyung Wha Chung's tiny hands.

- When the hand is wide open, the middle finger can curl almost under itself (with a very short nail); the index finger can lean back, and it will be the side of the tip which presses the string.
- The creases between palm and fingers should often be level with, and parallel to, the string we are using. My shoulder & chin rests tilt my viola at 45° for suppler access to the low strings.

Intonation? We must cultivate two sets of reflexes for the static and mobile hand shapes. We can also use cellists' fingerings:, or 1_2.3.4 with more, smaller shifts.

If this is clear enough, it may help!

Fischer, like Galamian (but unlike Flesch), has looong fingers; the the woman in his photos is more "normal"!

June 11, 2023, 3:15 PM · I understand what you are saying -- it's not just having "short fingers" or "small hands" but it's the imbalance among the lengths of your fingers that create a different kind of problem.

Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg injured her pinky and refingered her concertos to make do while it healed! Well, maybe that's easier with a brilliant talent like hers. But the lesson is that your fingerings have to meet your needs. Obviously that only helps some, but it's better than nothing. For a long time I had a weak pinky that "jammed" easily and painfully. That plagued me throughout my childhood, but by being very careful and working to strengthen it, I've almost entirely overcome it. But for a long time I would finger things to make more use of my ring finger for notes that needed killer vibrato, for example. Nowadays I prefer 4 for that.

June 11, 2023, 4:07 PM · I think every teacher, no matter how experienced or skilled, has "blind spots" due to their own experiences.

It's good to read as much as you can, but at the end of the day you must find what works for you, even if it breaks conventional norms. I feel that this attitude is the hallmark of someone with great potential: they try to learn from others, but they also forge their own path when it's needed.

If this helps you, understand that if people with normal fingers can play the viola well, then you can learn to play the violin well.

Don't make excuses, as the human body can be trained to do amazing things with diligent and clever practice. Even a player with only 3 fingers could likely reach a high level, but they would have to work harder at it. Perhaps try only letting yourself use 3 fingers for a while, and then reintroduce the pinky. This will help you learn to appreciate what your pinky can do for you, rather than lamenting what it cannot do.

June 11, 2023, 8:44 PM · I would consider altering your hand position so your pinky can reach the string more readily, even if the resulting conformation seems non-ideal to other observers. But if your hands are really exceptionally small I'd consider trying a smaller violin, especially if your arm is also short for an adult's.
June 11, 2023, 8:53 PM · All of the above. The highly successful professional I knew with smallest hands on the planet kept her thumb underneath the neck pointing away from her. You just gotta find out what works.
Stick at it,
Edited: June 12, 2023, 5:14 AM · A lot has been written about technical adjustments that violists with small hands make, and that information is also helpful for violinists with exceptionally small hands. I would especially not be too dogmatic about thumb placement; the thumb needs to be more mobile. And you may need to find fingerings that work for you.

FWIW, I am primarily a violist and I wear XS gloves. I have great difficulty playing two whole steps with my second through fourth fingers and keeping the fingers in place. I do all the things that Adrian does. I often shift to avoid whole steps between third and fourth fingers, and if I can't avoid it I may lift my second finger to allow my fourth finger to reach.

Edited: June 12, 2023, 5:08 AM · To get a more radical sense of what would work with your hand, perhaps start with scales fingered 3-4-3-4. If you know what is necessary to make that comfortable, you can start to add 1 and 2 to do more normal things.
June 12, 2023, 6:57 AM · Leonore, probably the following is redundant, as you've been working with Fischer's book, but, since you admit that you sometimes do not fully get what he tries to say, let me repeat: the idea is that you place your hand around the neck in such a way that the fourth finger, however short, is nice and curved. From that position down, you stretch, essentially, down, all the other fingers. If that brings your wrist up a bit, possibly even almost against the underside of the neck, that's no disaster. Having said that, the 7/8 violin is probably a good idea nevertheless. But even on a 7/8, the principle remains.
Edited: June 12, 2023, 11:35 AM · Adrian, thank you, thwt was very clear. And thank you for mentioning Kyung Wha Chung. I wasn’t aware of her.

Her fingers look as short as mine, though my palm may be a bit bigger. She is definitely stretching her fourth finger the way I have to, with a much nicer curve of course. I shall work on the strength to at least get that slight curve, even if it’s not the perfect curl.

I think I am curling my middle fingers (and cutting my nails!) as much as I can, no room to improve here. I shall try tilting my first finger more.

I notice that in earlier videos, the tip of her thumb is still visible, in more recent videos it disappears under the neck. I have some room to experiment here. Also with the 45% tilt of the violin.

Not sure whether I’m ready to completely overhaul my fingering. I notice that I appear to have gravitated to lots of pieces in G and D minor. I had been wondering why it makes a difference, since the stretch between B and E is just the same as between Bb and Eb - but it’s the stretch between the third and fourth fingers that I struggle with most, so it makes sense to me now. I’ll look for A and E major stuff, more open strings to play, yay!

June 12, 2023, 11:14 AM · Perhaps altering the manner in which you hold the violin will help.
1. Hold the violin so it is more vertically inclined, rather than horizontal.
2. Get an over the tailpiece chinrest (Flesch style)and place your chin over the tailpiece.
3. Move the scroll of the violin more to your right.
June 12, 2023, 11:33 AM · Lots of great advice above. It's very important to evaluate conventional "rules" of technique to make sure they aren't getting in your way. Even in this discussion things have appeared which can be misapplied to your situation, for instance the 'curved finger'. It is not uncommon for great players to use a straight pinky to get the job done. Every conflict like this requires a cost-benefit analysis, which requires knowing the relative importance of the factors involved. Absent a really good teacher, that requires experimentation, evolution, and taking rules with a grain of salt.

I'm going to be a bit oblique about this since I can't message you privately: at this time of year you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome if you reached out to your favorite teacher about your questions.

Edited: June 12, 2023, 12:01 PM · Thank you for the observation about imbalance, Paul. It didn’t quite understand how much it compounds the problem, but my second and third won’t curl away entirely enough to allow the pinky to reach while still in a curve. So I need to not just strengthen my fourth, but also try to adjust all the other factors around it.

Substituting the third for fourth for vibrato is actually something my childhood teacher taught me at the time, and he conceded that I might need to shift rather than stretch for say, a fourth finger c on the E string. But I cannot recall any adjustments for fast scale passages…and I’m not exactly a brilliant talent. See above, stuck at intermediate level.

Edited: June 12, 2023, 12:30 PM · Erik, ,lamenting” is a bit harsh and implies entirely more dedication to complaining than I actually have; I prefer the term “gentle whining” instead. I am aware that I do not have the attitude of someone with great potential and it would be embarrassing if I had; my attitude is that of a person with very limited potential, limited time and whose time when her body did amazing things are entirely in the past.

However, your point about finding out what works for me without worrying about correct wrist or thumb or chin placements, which I gather is also Lydia’s, Buri’s, Andrew’s and Andres’, is well taken.

Thanks everyone.

June 12, 2023, 1:50 PM · Bruce, Adrian, I’m home from work and have adjusted my violin hold. Definitely helps with fingering, and I can keep the thumb just on the side of the neck, but lower, I’m not yet moving under. Not trying to do too much at the same time. I also find, however, that there is now a tendon hurting on the top of my arm and hand. I need to adjust slowly.

Also, now the scroll gets in the way of the sheet music, lol. Always something…

Edited: June 12, 2023, 2:00 PM · Stephen, I’m actually fantasising now about a violin method that (after open strings) starts kids out with the third finger as opposed to first or second, matching to the lower open string, then adds the fourth fingers matching to the upper open string. I, IV, V, one could do all the twinkle rhythms like that, accompany most of the first book of Suzuki. And once the third and fourth are well developed, shift to third position, learn first and second, again matching to open strings.

I think I am getting an idea what to work on.

June 12, 2023, 1:59 PM · Andres, i am trying to wrap my head around what might make this time of year so special, considering how entirely un special I am as a violinist…I can be reached at first name at last name dot com.

I think I used to play a lot with a straight fourth finger. I find i can’t properly stop a string with it, my fourth finger notes always sounded a bit weak. Curving does make such a difference. Ill try to work on the Kyung Wha Chung light curve as a compromise.

June 12, 2023, 2:02 PM · Jean, te adjustments I’m currently trying out sort of bring my palm and wrist to the right side of the neck rather than under. As I said, it stretches my arm and hand now. I’ll take it all slowly. But there is light at the end of the tunnel!
June 12, 2023, 3:34 PM · Leonore, why not write to him with your concerns? Once teachers like him are more established, they are more concerned about doing the job well than about raking in the cash. He can't do worse than ignore your letter.
June 12, 2023, 3:55 PM · Angling the instrument (sideways) is another way to ease finger access to the strings. Changing that angle while playing is difficult (if not impossible) with many shoulder rests, but easier with some of the other moveable pad-type shoulder "cushions." Considering alternate chinrest designs is another approach. If you are using an over-the-tailpiece chinrest you are pretty much locked in, but side-mounted chinrests offer more flexibility because as part of adapting them to individual player differences.
June 13, 2023, 1:08 AM · I apologize if my response came across as negative in any way. I usually write my posts in haste, so I don't have time to go back and double check them for the possibility of being seen as rude.
June 13, 2023, 3:12 AM · Just repeating myself but important is to stretch down with fingers 3, 2, 1. There is no stretching with the 4, except the feeling you get in that finger because you are stretching downwards with the other fingers. I am just repeating this, since in your replies above you keep talking about stretching the 4. Your palm may be stretched, but not the 4 itself. Really want to advise against this. All the best!
June 13, 2023, 4:57 AM · We can also try a guitar or 'cello shape with the wrist well away from the fingerboard, the thumb under the neck.
But not for long...
June 13, 2023, 7:08 AM · To restate some of what is above-- try the Geminiani grip while not putting the violin under your chin. Then fish around and see what angle and location vs your chin will allow you to keep that intact. You will have to start with 3 and 4, but if you can't also then fit 1 and 2 in it won't be much good.
June 13, 2023, 9:09 AM · I just want to expand on what Lydia said: moving the hand. This actually helps medium sized hands too.

Make the the specific finger contact he dominant force for hand position. Thus, most people are taught to position the hand and then move the fingers to hit the notes. Instead practice positioning the specific finger and moving the hand to make it comfortable. The hand then does a sort of little dance in synchrony with the finger grouping. Also, make sure that the rotation of the hand around the fingerboard is optimized - you want the straightest finger extension shot possible.

These won't solve it by themselves (the smaller violin really may be essential) but they will help. Good luck!

June 13, 2023, 3:12 PM · This is such a helpful group! :)
I don’t think I need Simon Fischer quite yet…
June 13, 2023, 6:28 PM ·
June 13, 2023, 6:28 PM · As Elise says. The basic rule of thumb (forgive the pun) is that the position of the fingers dictates where everything else goes.

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