Young student with sore fingertips

Elise Winters said: Aug 12, 2013
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

I have a student who is 8 years old; she is playing at Book 3 level. She just recently learned vibrato. She is complaining that her fingertips hurt when she vibrates, and sometimes when she’s doing ordinary playing. She has a lovely wrist vibrato with good finger flexibility; her vibrato appears to be correct in all ways, with no visible tension. She practices 45-60 minutes a day; she and her parents are relaxed, warm and open.

Although there’s no apparent injury to the skin, she and her mom have tried using Liquid Bandage to protect the skin, but it rubs off during playing. It’s not clear to me whether the issue is skin sensitivity, or a nerve … but it’s been going on for about four months (since she started learning vibrato).

Has anyone encountered this before? Is this developmental, or is it an injury? … and will it pass with time, or does she need to take a break from playing?

Thank you for any insight you can provide!!

Michelle McManus Welch said: Aug 13, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

I’m guessing that she was playing on the tips/near the ‘left corner’ of the nail. Now she is playing vibrato she is playing more on the flat of the tips and is using more “pad” and is developing a bigger field of callouses on her fingers.
I remember something like this happening to me. It will take awhile ( a few weeks, a months), (and maybe less vibrato) for everything to get better. I remember using some topical remedy my teacher suggested, but not what it was. If it is all the fingertips, I’m guessing that this is the issue. If it is just one finger, maybe a splinter or something and consulting a doctor might be in order.

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Alissa said: Aug 13, 2013
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

The only time I’ve had this happen was a student who was building a
callous. You could only see them by squeezing their fingertip and you
could see small white callouses under the skin. It lasted about 6 months
and faded. If it’s every finger though, that seems a little different.
Has she thoroughly described the pain? Is it dull or sharp, same on every
finger, consistent from the start of vibrato or worse as practice goes
on… Also watch her nail beds/lift her fingers when she plays regularly
vs. vibrates. She could be putting tons of weight into her fingers.
Slender fingers/certain races don’t have obvious visual cues when there’s

It is strange though, good for you for taking it seriously! I squeezed the
daylights out of my violin and no one noticed for years because I was doing
it from the middle joint in my thumb and you couldn’t tell unless you
pulled on my thumb or fingers while I played.

Keep us posted.

On Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 2:50 AM, SAA Teachers’ Corner Discussion <
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Wendy Caron Zohar said: Aug 13, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

It does seem likely that your student is placing fingers down into the string and pressing, while making vibrato. I also developed callouses when I was younger (before conservatory and during) and practicing 3-4 hours a day. When callouses sometimes ripped off they exposed tender skin underneath and I was miserable!

Eventually I worked with an insightful teacher (a great and famous player who had no callouses) who pointed out to me that I did not have to come down so hard on the fingerboard, and that that would also give me greater flexibility and speed. Lightening up with the thumb was also key. Its base joint should feel, as one teacher told me, like when you grab the drum stick on a well-done chicken; the drum stick should feel loose in your hand, no resistance at the joint! and of course the thumb should not be pressing against the neck. This goes back to the violin, jaw, neck, shoulder and back, of course. Right down to the lower spine, back tilted pelvis, flexible legs, soft knees, and feet planted down into the floor. Make sure every connection is relaxed, flexible, yet stable and secure. Tension at any of these lower points will find its way right up the body and into the finger tips. (and the brain!)

I worked to find the lightest weight necessary after the initial drop from the knuckle. Now I just have my students let the fingers fall on the fingerboard, on thumb side corners, and then lighten, as in a rebound. which gives the impetus for the hand/knuckle vibrato. The hand is free and light. No more callouses! I wish someone had shown me this when I first learned vibrato at age 9. It would have saved me years of callouses and pressing, and the need to relearn my approach to the violin. I hope this may be of help to you and your student in pain.

Wendy Caron Zohar

Elise Winters said: Aug 14, 2013
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

Wendy, Alissa & Michelle—Thank you so much for the really great feedback. I will explore these issues when she has her next lesson!!

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