Adult Violin Student with Left Pinkie Problem

Courtney Morgan said: Mar 21, 2013
 Violin
Smithville, MO
9 posts

I have a new, young adult violin student who I started with last week. We are using Suzuki books and techniques minus some of the rhymes and games best suited for children. Because she is an adult with experience on other instruments and can understand the concept, I decided to go ahead and have her practice framing her hand with all four fingers on the string so her pinkie will be strong enough to apply the right amount of pressure once she is ready to use her fourth finger. The problem is that she has trouble extending her pinkie all the way to the fourth finger tape, even on the E string. I adjusted her hand and elbow, but I was not convinced she was still not feeling more pull than what I would like in order to be cautious of injury. It’s not like the pinkie falls flat as she plays, since she has not started playing yet. It starts out flat and looks more like an extension when she forces it to reach the tape. If she were a child, I might think the violin was a little big for her or that her pinkie would grow and get stronger. However, in this case, I don’t expect her hand to get any larger than it is now. I have been brainstorming some ideas over the past few days, but I am wondering if another instructor has experienced a similar issue and what you did about it.

Linda Louise Ford said: Mar 22, 2013
Linda Louise Ford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Rochester, NY
16 posts

I would try a smaller instrument.

Linda

Melanie said: Mar 22, 2013
Melanie Barber
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Maple Valley, WA
24 posts

I find with older beginners it is stiffness in the hands and lack of flexibility that causes those problems. If the back of the left hand is soft and fairly flat without knuckles sticking out, it should help. If the set of knuckles at the base of the hand and fingers do stick out, the pinky will look like it’s extended and there will not be a good range if motion. You also might want to check to see if her hand is turned far enough around towards the fingerboard. I have found when I physically move their hands and fingers around while I’m standing at the scroll that we can usually find an ok placement. Lately on some middle school transfer students, we have been working on the left hand pinky. I set their hands and moved there pinky for them like an extension just so they could feel how to move their pinky and see how flexible it could really be. These students never could do anything with their pinkies before because they were using the wrong muscles with a hand frame that needed work.

All of this being said, these things have helped my adult students but stiffness and lack of flexibility still persist but are getting a but better. I hope this helps or at least gives you some ideas to think about.

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 22, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

This is a great topic. Adult students are often stiff and have limited motion. They are not used to the positions required for playing the violin and need to be shown how to relax, release tension, and shape the shoulder, arm, elbow, hand and fingers, for best motion range and comfort. It sounds like she may be headed for hand strain and potential injury if you continue to ask her to get her pinky up to its place while all four fingers are planted in block formation. Your job as a skilled teacher is to help her find the best way to learn to play violin and at the same time keep her pain- and injury-free, so that the process of learning to play is a pleasurable and encouraging experience.

Please try the following, and hopefully you’ll find that it works: First, demonstrate what it feels like to have soft fingers, soft palm and wrist. Ask her to walk her fingers up to 4, starting with the open string, releasing once the next one touches down, just as we walk with our feet, or an animal walks with four paws, one at a time. In this way we transfer balance in the hand. At the same time, the palm of the hand should be turning in toward the fingerboard, and the back of the wrist should be somewhat inverted, and soft, with no strain. By the time 2nd and then 3rd finger have come down, the knuckle of the 1st finger should be released to the back, and lowering, allowing the hand to comfortably swing open so that the pinky easily falls in place. Then return from 4 back to 1, rebalancing on each finger, and end on the open string. Try this using various finger patterns so that each one is comfortable and in tune. Let the fingers swing, one to the next, like hanging and progressing on the parallel bars on the playground.

If this doesn’t make sense, you may send me a message and make arrangements to Skype with me. I’d be happy to show you what I’m writing about, how it’s done, and an effective way to teach it. Don’t allow your adult student to strain her pinky or hand. That can be irreversible and may result in tendonitis or other ailments.

Wendy Caron Zohar

Courtney Morgan said: Mar 23, 2013
 Violin
Smithville, MO
9 posts

Thank you everyone. I told her I was worried about injury and that I didn’t want her to hurt herself. I have RSD/CRPS in my left hand from a non-violin injury—well, not exactly true, since I was holding my violin and trying to protect it when I took a tumble down a flight of stairs and slammed my hand into a brick wall—and am therefore very conscious of what happens when you play after the damage has been done. I told her to practice tapping each finger in turn but to not do anything that hurt, even if it meant ignoring her pinkie, and we would work on some strength and flexibility later. I would rather her not practice at all than to hurt herself. I’ll have her try more of a walking motion than tapping and see if that helps, and I think I’m going to not only demonstrate the soft fingers, palm, and wrist but also follow these with my fingers so I can feel the curve as well as see it and make absolutely certain nothing is amiss.

I don’t think a smaller instrument is a reasonable option in this case. A 3/4 would be too small, and to my knowledge none of the shops in our area offer 7/8, so she is probably stuck with the 4/4. She plays piano, so I’m sure she can stretch the pinkie, but for fear of injury I am concerned about the lack of curvature and overall stiffness.

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 23, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

When you’ve walked the hand up to the fourth finger, its knuckles should be forming a round shape, like the roof of a tunnel. If the pinkie is still straight, have her turn the heel of her palm closer to and gently facing the fingerboard so that the hand is all rounded. No finger should be straight, including the pinkie.

Wendy Caron Zohar

MaryLou Roberts said: Mar 23, 2013
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

Just to make sure, check that she can rotate her arm from the elbow. It sounds like she is not able to turn her palm enough…..also a very big challenge in guitar. If she can hold her palm out flat, that part is working well.

Also, if under the first knuckle is tight, it will limit the whole extension and create too much tension across the palm, so you might see if she can relax it…..in guitar, it should be a rounded shape, and not bending/collapsing in. I think it might be helpful to look at as you teach her.

Rebecca said: Mar 24, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
West Valley City, UT
12 posts

I recently did some fascinating reading on the Alexander Method. Another suggestion you might look into is whether the chin rest and shoulder rest is the best fit for the instrument. When you have tension in the neck, shoulders, and/or jaw, movement is limited in the the fingers. Maybe a few simple adjustments would help the student relax enough…and give more reach and flexibility in the hand.

Kiyoko said: Mar 26, 2013
 84 posts

@Rebecca: Don’t know if you know, Alice Greminger is a Suzuki teacher who does a lot of work with the Alexander Method.

@Courtney: Her hand will stretch as she progresses, but if she is petite and her hand is really small, you may want to see what she looks like with a 3/4 violin in order to gauge if she should be on a 7/8. If she needs a 7/8 instrument, I’m fairly sure places like Shar Music can rent you a 7/8 instrument and ship it.

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