Double-Jointed Right Pinky

Mikaela said: Jan 4, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

I am inexperienced in dealing with double-jointedness, which became very obvious a few months ago when I finally identified my student’s right hand pinky as double-jointed. He is seven, and I have been fighting a battle against his soft, weak pinky since the time I put a bow in his hand. The rest of his fingers all seem perfectly normal, but he cannot get his pinky on its tip with a curved shape. I have tried pinky taps (tapping the pinky firmly on the frog) and knuckle-strengthening exercises such as pushing on each curved knuckle with his left hand.

He is on “Perpetual Motion,” and I have been preparing him to move his thumb from the outside of the frog to the inside. Do I halt these preparations? Can there be any chance for getting him to curve his pinky eventually? Do you have exercises, games, or aids for me to use with him? Will his future playing be impacted detrimentally if we cannot get this pinky curved? And, any further insight you can give me on double-jointed players would be so helpful. I have spent time perusing all the archives on this topic, but was not able to find any posts addressing this particular trouble.

And, the kicker is, I have just started his younger brother who has the exact same pinky difficulty!

Merietta Oviatt said: Jan 8, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I actually have those nasty double joints. The worst for me is that my thumbs are double-jointed. The more you work the muscles around the joints the stronger they will become. Just like lifting weights, if you try to go with a weight that is too heavy you won’t be able to lift properly and won’t make the progress that you want. I highly recommend using some kind of a pinky aid, such as a corn pad, to help the finger build the muscles around the joint in a more specific way. Continue to give him exercises that he can do to build the strength in the pinky such as taka (bringing the bow from horizontal to vertical using the pinky). Building the strength of the thumb is also important because it can help give aid to the pinky and take some of the stress off of the pinky. Also, because joints are muscles have a tricky relationship, it will take a long time to build that strength—so you may need to wait to have him move his thumb to the inside. Also, I don’t know if you know if he has issues with other joints, but nutrition plays a BIG role in this. MSM supplements help build elasticity around the joint area. I would suggest that the parent ask his pediatrician if there are some foods that he can eat or avoid to help with this. To this day I have issues with my hands, but I have been able to make a very good career as a musician and am very successful at playing. You just have to be patient and understand that this is something that will be a little bit of a bug-a-boo his whole career.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Paula Bird said: Jan 8, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I wonder if double-jointeness in the pinkie is a common thing. I also have double-jointed pinkies. Here’s what I did to strengthen my bow hold pinkie. When I set my bow hold I put my ring finger down a little lower on the frog so that the pinkie was forced to adopt a more severe curvature. After about two weeks of that, my pinky seemed to adopt a permanent curve. As for curved pinkies in the left hand, that’s a whole different set of exercises and a much larger topic.

Here are some things to try to strengthen the muscles around the joints. One of them was suggested by a chiropractor friend.

Take a sheet of newspaper, place it against your thigh, and then use one hand to keep curling up the paper until it finally results in a compact ball that fits in your hand. Repeat with the other hand. Do this every day.

Buy a rubber ball about the size of the hand, and practice squeezing it every day in one of three ways. One way is to squeeze the ball with the palm of the hand. Another way is to squeeze the ball with the fingers curling around the ball. And the third way is to just dig in the knuckles and fingertips and squeeze those. I do this 10 squeezes per exercise every day. The ball I use is called “pinky’s” and I found it in a sporting goods store.

By the way, my chiropractor friend told me that they had seen much more double-jointedness since the beginning of the electric keyboard rather than the manual typewriter. Also, he suggested that children don’t dig in the dirt and play in sandboxes the same way they used to in our younger days. He suggests that it is a result of repetitively moving in a way that doesn’t use a complete follow-through motion.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Mikaela said: Jan 9, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

Merietta and Paula, thank you both for your insightful answers! I look forward to investigating this further and trying out your exercises and suggestions. The idea that double-jointedness is increasing with modern repetitive activities is intriguing, Paula. I remember reading in one of the music journals that there is a higher percentage of double-jointed individuals in music than in other walks of life, which begs the question—does music cause the double-jointedness, or do double-jointed people naturally gravitate to music?

Regardless, it seems to be a condition I must be prepared to successfully work with!

Sue Hunt said: Jan 10, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

If you are thinking putting a corn pad on the bow for a pinkie nest, position it so that the student will feel the need to pull the pinkie towards the hand. Personally, I don’t use them. My students all used them as a safety rail, to stop the pinkie from falling off the bow, when they pushed in the wrong direction.

We take far too few opportunities to use our hands nowadays. We spend far too much of our relaxation time in front of a TV, or video game. I can think of at least 3 fun things I have done, which really increased my finger strength: clay sculpture, baking bread and sailing.

Although I resented it at the time, helping mum changing the sheets on the beds also did the trick for me. This sort of activity needs a reward, which is also finger strengthening. What about a horseback riding session, in exchange for X weeks sheet changing.

Music in Practice

Barb said: Jan 26, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Paula, thanks for those exercises, and Sue, thanks for the list of other activities.

Yesterday I made Therapy Putty as a test run. This will be a party activity for my students, and I will show them the above exercises (I think some will work with the putty as well as a ball) as well as one Brenda told me about here for left hand finger strength.

Here is the recipe for the putty. I doubled the recipe to make a good handful-sized ball. After we make them, we will watch a short video, and I’m sure they will all want to keep playing with the putty as they watch. I did last night!

Mikaela—maybe it’s just that people who aren’t musicians don’t notice or care about double-jointedness?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Sue Hunt said: Jan 27, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

What a good idea Barb. Kneading really strengthens those tiny finger muscles. With that in mind, I’ve found a great site devoted to playdough.

With no less than 21 different recipes, you are bound to find a good one. I’m looking forward to making the edible chocolate one and maybe even one which glows in the dark.

Betty Douglas said: Jan 27, 2012
 16 posts

I appreciate this topic as flutists have trouble with double-jointed pinkies as well. It is my understanding, however, that there are no “muscles around the joints.” I believe finger movement is controlled by tendons. Perhaps a reader who has taken a physiology class can clarify? I only mention it because I think injuries can result from incorrect body mapping (an Alexander principal). While I am sure the exercises are wonderful, we should be cautious about isolating an area when the motion actually originates elsewhere. Again, thank for the great suggestions, I am going to try them with my students!

Betty Douglas, flute teacher

Barb said: Jan 27, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Mikaela (and others),

I know the curved pinky is ideal, but probably we all know someone who can play quite well without the ideal bow hold?

Here is my friend, who now goes by Swil Kanim (we started violin class together, and don’t believe all his stories—I was a higher chair than he was our first year! :-)). http://youtu.be/nmSvRbIubkI
and for some different bow work http://youtu.be/wEuVPUsHHIM (playing starts about 3 mins in)

His pinky was broken as a child and never set, so he will never play with a curved pinky (going in the right direction). He was classically trained (started with Suzuki in school), but now plays mostly his own music.

Hopefully the double jointed fingers can be strengthened (even if it’s not about muscles around the joints), but even with hand issues, there is a lot we can do—don’t give up!

Sue, thanks for the play dough page—fun! I opted to look for the putty recipe because it’s so firm. I heard that play dough may work well for the very little hands, though. I suppose you can adjust the recipes, too, for firmness.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Karen Zethmayr said: Jan 27, 2012
Karen ZethmayrViolin
15 posts

Let’s research those ingredients very carfully, 2nd opinions and all, if we’re going to make glow-in-the-dark play dough. Finding out what we absorb through our skin really gets your attention!

Karen

Barb said: Jan 27, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Good point, Karen. The recipe I use has this on safety. I will make sure the parents see it. I don’t plan to use any glow-in-the-dark stuff.

Safety Precautions:
Although these substances are not considered hazardous, you should treat all chemicals with care, and wash your hands after handling them. Do not taste or eat any of the materials. Do not pour any of these materials down the sink. Do not allow any putty to remain on clothing, upholstery, wood surfaces, or carpet, since they may stain or damage them.

I believe some of the play dough recipes are edible and very safe.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Sue Hunt said: Jan 28, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

No, I won’t be trying glow in the dark playdough on kids. I was just curious.

Seriously, the whole point of this is to help little fingers to become more useful to their owners. It seems to me that many of the little ones that I teach don’t have enough opportunity for messy manual play and their finger strength and dexterity is a bit delayed.
Music in Practice

Merietta Oviatt said: Jan 28, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

There actually are muscles that go up and around the first joint of the pinky (hypothenar eminence). I’m absolutely not an expert, but have taken some body mapping courses and have gotten some good information from my doctors concerning my hand (as a professional musician, this has been a really important issue for me). There are three: abductor, flexor, and opponens digiti minimi. The abductor and flexor in particular do cover that first joint. Connective tissue can get stronger, not just muscles. The only way is to exercise them. So, how do you exercise them? Practice!! The more you practice the stronger they will get. The younger the studentw are the better it will be as they get older. Just make sure that you have correct technique so that no injury occurs and with patience and time their joints, muscles, tendons, etc…will improve! Important note from my doctor!! PLEASE make sure you teach your students to stretch before practicing. I have had some injuries because of this, which he said could have been prevented with consistent stretching. I have been using some suggestions I got from this forum for stretching for kids and they have been working wonderfully! My kids LOVE making their bodies like animals and holding the pose so that I can take a picture. Stretching hands are just as important as larger muscle groups.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Mikaela said: Feb 9, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

Playdough and putty—love it!

Merietta, your explanation makes perfect sense. And its very encouraging to think that the younger the student, the more potential to get those joints, muscles, and tendons properly strengthened. Right now, I feel like I’m dealing with Jello!

I have been implementing the gathering of an entire sheet of newspaper, as Paula suggested, and I love that exercise, for it is strengthing the fingers while providing support. I’ve also been having my students make circles with their thumb and each finger, pressing lightly while not letting the joints collapse. Pinky taps are rounding out the exercise regimen right now, but I look forward to implementing these other suggestions soon.

Brenda Lee Villard said: Feb 9, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Edina, MN
27 posts

I use therapy putty. I have a father in my studio who is a physical therapist for musicians and dancers. The therapy putty comes in varying degrees of strengths and is also ideal in strengthening a finger after an accident where a finger has been broken. My kids love to use it and the practice with the putty can be done away from the instrument while sitting and reading a book or riding in the car. It works every time!

Phankao said: Sep 26, 2015
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

I had an interesting time reading these. Was researching bc my little one has v flexible joints due to double jointedness. His pinkie can curve like that person in the honorworks videos. But will curve the right way too, so I have to keep reminding. Thanks for all the ideas!

Chanel Beck said: Nov 23, 2015
 1 posts

I came across this from googling “playing violin with double joined pinkies” because I’ve struggled with this for almost 20 years. I love the suggestions.

I have a weird suggestion that may sound totally bananas; Search amazon for “armor rings”. These things were all the rage when I was a goth kid in the 90’s. I haven’t tried it yet myself but if you could find a small lightweight one that’s the right size for your pinky I don’t see why it wouldn’t help you build the muscles over time. I vividly remember not being able to collapse my finger joints while wearing one but I can’t remember ever wearing one to violin practice either. I’m tempted to get one and try it though. lol

Barb said: Nov 30, 2015
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Armor rings… Well, I’ve considered having a metal ring splint made for my left pinky as the arthritis develops in that double jointed digit! Not too much different! But I’ve mostly learned to use the pinky in a way it doesn’t collapse—this would be more a crutch as it weakens… Maybe using a splint like that all the time would result in my joint completely seizing up and never collapsing (or bending)… Interestingly, it has never locked on me, but the right one, which doesn’t usually bother me and isn’t as enlarged, has (but not while playing my cello).

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Barb said: Nov 30, 2015
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Here is a case of someone with hypermobile joints using ring splints: https://purlbeadsjo.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/silver-finger-splints/

Not sure how functional they are for string instrument playing!
She mentions ordering them… I thought they were always fit by hand therapists or the like…

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

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