What to do for a violin student with exceptionally long arms and fingers

Olivia Watson said: Dec 10, 2012
Olivia WatsonViolin, Viola
4 posts

HELP! I have a 13 yr. old beginning student that is having trouble becoming comfortable with her left hand position. She has a small frame and is very tall with exceptionally long arms and fingers. Her hands are rather large, as well. When she plays, it is obvious to me that her LH feels awkward on the neck because there is so much distance between the palm of her hand and the neck. It’s hard for me to describe the way her hand looks against the neck. When I can tell that her hand is uncomfortable, I normally ask her if her hand feels like it’s “out in outer-space” because that’s what it looks like to me. Her very long limbs make me wonder if violin is the right instrument for her….maybe she would be a good fit for cello? I don’t want to lose her as a student but am desperately searching for the right solution.


Michelle McManus Welch said: Dec 10, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts


Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Carol Gwen said: Dec 11, 2012
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

Hi Olivia,
When you say small frame, do you mean she hasn’t the shoulder width for a bigger violin, or the viola?
Viola is a great thought for her hands/arms! In most cases the viola can be heavier, which isn’t good for her body. Does she want to play viola?

When I work with long-armed boys with small collar bones/shoulder area I set them up with the violin farther to the left. The bow arm moves to the left and in front; the arm can comfortably reach the tip.

The left hand issue can be mitigated by the further extension of the arm to the left. Finger crowding became more a matter of refining the angle to the string. Of course, how far to the side is comfortable for this child is up to you both. What looks “right” may feel wrong.

Another idea is to watch other long armed professionals with big hands. I’ve seen men with long arms/hands that dominate the finger board!

I hope there’s something helpful here :)

Olivia Watson said: Dec 11, 2012
Olivia WatsonViolin, Viola
4 posts

Thank you very much for your replies!

Carol, I have yet to ask her about viola but will during our next lesson. I’m not sure how the viola would fit on her shoulders; like I said, her frame is small. We will experiment if she’s up for it! If she really wants to stick with the violin, I think the suggestions you offered will help me solve the issue.

I appreciate it!

Cynthia Faisst said: Dec 12, 2012
Cynthia Faisst
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
127 posts

Dear Olivia:

That was me as a child and well through out my youth. If her shoulders are thin make sure her chinrest and shoulder rest are comfortable, so she is not tempted to clutch the violin with her thumb or pull the violin too closely to her neck.

My teachers were short stocky people who did not realize how flexible I was or how high on the shoulder I needed to place the violin.

1st do activities that lift up her frame and open up her shoulders. If she has long arms give them lots of room to stretch across her body. Make sure to adjust the music stand high enough when it is used and place it at the end of her scroll. Make sure that she is not clutching the violin with her shoulder in a way that keeps her from freely swinging her elbow under the violin, so that finger pads can make as much contact as possible with the curve of the fingerboard and each string.

Put the violin against the wall with a sponge and allow her to practice feeling the weight of her elbow hanging from the fingers on the strings. This may help her bring the upper palm of her hand closer to the neck of the violin. I have some students doing finger curl ups in this position, so they can get more finger strength and stretch out the thumb. Make sure her thumb is not buckling under or wrapping around the neck. (Another problem that needs more discussion) Check her finger tips to see how tightly she is pressing against the strings and the direction of the dent of the string on her fingers to determine how much of her finger pad is in contact with the string. Students with very narrow finger tips need to have as low string height as possible on their instrument until their fingerpads become wider.

If her fingers are long and wobbly she may need a little more support under the neck of the violin, so she is not tempted to roll the palm upward. When I have a student like this I get them one of those squishy air filled balls with the loop which I insert their finger in, so the ball can hand in the palm area of their hand under the neck to help fill in the space. Another solution is to get one of those oversize neon colored golfballs made of memory foam. Cut it in half and use a short flat rubber band to secure it against her palm. Wedge it just under the neck of the violin. Both of these are soft but give just enough scaffolding to help balance the fingers on the fingerboard and fill the space until her hands begin to bulk up and become more limber with practicing.

Another activity that also prepare them for the motion of shifting in this position is to put a small bit of tissue on the fingerboard and have them glide all four fingers up and down on one string in the above position. They must keep the 1st knuckles of all 4 fingers over the finger pads and the string with out pressing down on the string, moving like a hover craft.

Some of these students need finger lifting exercised to strengthen the back of their hands. Our kids are using gadgets so soon in life that they aren’t doing as much sewing, threading, stirring or unscrewing with the finger tips. I often which there was an anti typing activities they could do on their I pads that requires finger lifting.

Having lots of room to move is not a big problem. If she has very narrow finger tips I’m not sure I would rush her on to a viola. These kids are going to have wonderful flexibility for the violin in the future. They just need time to limber up their hands and get balanced up on their finger pads so the are not wobbling off or squeezing down on their delicate finger tips.

Hope that gives you some ideas to try and consider.

Ms. Cynthia
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

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