Short Pinky

Laura said: Nov 19, 2013
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Palm City, FL
105 posts

I have a teenaged violin student who cannot reach the fourth finger on any string. We have been working on left hand position and everything looks good, but she still cannot reach far enough for a fourth or octave to be in tune. She is in a full size violin which is the right size for her arm length and shoulder width, but I have considered moving her down to a 3/4 (even though it might be too short for her arm). I have heard about a “pivoting” thumb technique that violists sometimes use and was wondering if anyone has any experience with this and if it would be a solution to this problem. How does it work? and how is it different then shifting?

Renee Shaw said: Nov 23, 2013
Renee Shaw
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
19 posts

I do not know if this would help, but I have had similar issues throughout my training because of my small hands. Is it physically impossible for her to reach an octave? I will list a couple suggestions I’ve received from different instructors for my own similar issues.
- One exercise given to me by a former instructor was from the first couple pages of the Schradieck etudes. Completing the exercise with all fingers down really stretches the fingers out, but it is necessary for the stretch to be felt in the fourth finger, not in the wrist or elsewhere. It is also important to be mindful of possible pain, only an ache should be felt on the outside curve of the hand from the wrist to the bottom of the fourth.
- Scales on one string can also help the hand to open up and prepare itself to be stretched. This is particularly helpful when executed on the G string, and I use it if my hand feels tight and unable to make those reaches.
- I have been told I can be a candidate for a 7/8 violin size by violin luthiers and one instructor. This was scoffed at by another one of my instructors, but perhaps that could be a solution for your student.
- Remembering to swing the elbow out can really assist in this as well. My current instructor is always reminding me to do so because of my struggles.

I am sure you’ve probably thought of these exercises, but in case you haven’t, this has helped me. I have not heard about the pivoting thumb technique for violist, but I am eager to hear if anyone has any insights for that technique as well!

Laura said: Nov 24, 2013
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Palm City, FL
105 posts

Thank you so much!

Jennifer Visick said: Jan 17, 2014
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I find it much easier to set the left hand with the wrist and elbow centered under the pinky first.

  • Forget placing the other fingers for a moment and figure out how to set the arm so the pinky can reach the string in a comfortable, not extended, rounded, arched/tunnelled finger position. Then fan the other fingers backwards, so that instead of trying to stretch the shortest finger towards your face, you’re supporting the shortest finger and making the longer fingers do the stretching away from your face. (I.e., a sort of inverted Schradieck 4-3-2-1-0-1-2-3….).

(This may mean that the left wrist is slightly closer to the body than the rest of the hand than you’re used to seeing—i.e. that the back of the hand seems to be leaning back and the palm is closer to the neck of the instrument than before.)

  • Experiment with the angle of the instrument—hold the scroll a bit lower than the left shoulder if needed (look at pictures or video of violists playing larger instruments to get an idea of how much the scroll can be lowered)

  • Consider changing the placement of the jaw on the instrument. If the instrument is farther to the left (i.e. try a center chinrest instead of a side chinrest), this can ease difficulties for the left hand for some people.

  • as mentioned above, bring the left elbow forward (as if moving to the next lower string) when the pinky is employed

  • consider re-fingering the music and exercises. If the student is going to need to live with a short pinky, then the student will need options other than the fingerings used by those with longer fingers. There is a reason violists use second position more often than most violinists; it isn’t only because there are more passages of music written for viola that lay easily in 2nd position.

Jennifer Kovarovic said: Feb 5, 2014
Jennifer Kovarovic
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Seattle, WA
18 posts

Hi Laura! I recently heard that a member of the NSO plays on a 3/4 size violin, so there’s certainly a precedent for “full-sized people” playing on smaller instruments. If a 3/4 or 7/8 instruments allows your student to intonate 4th fingers (and she’s not completely cramped), I say go for it.

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