Can Simon Fischer help me grow my short pinky?
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.
My 2 centimes d'Euro, from a stubby-fingered violist.
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.
I think every teacher, no matter how experienced or skilled, has "blind spots" due to their own experiences.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adrian, thank you, thwt was very clear. And thank you for mentioning Kyung Wha Chung. I wasn’t aware of her.
Perhaps altering the manner in which you hold the violin will help.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
We can also try a guitar or 'cello shape with the wrist well away from the fingerboard, the thumb under the neck.
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.
I just want to expand on what Lydia said: moving the hand. This actually helps medium sized hands too.
This is such a helpful group! :)
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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