Nick Allen

Viola scale length vs. short pinky

Recommended Posts

So I've tried to search for info on here about playing viola with a short pinky. Couldn't find anything on it, only about violins. 

So anyways, I have a viola with a 380mm scale length. It hurts to make the 1st-4th finger stretch in 1st position. I have to flatten my pinky out and strain it in order to make this interval. 

The thing that confuses me is any info on sizing an instrument on the web only account for the size of the arm or height. It's as though the people writing these articles assume that everyone has been drawn into existence by Leonardo da Vinci. 

Now, I'm a 6'1" dude, but my pinky is very short. It only comes up to half way in between the second and third knuckle of my ring finger, and to top it all off, it curves inward slightly lol. 

So my question is, is 380mm simply too long for me and my diminutive digit? 

I am a luthier (I think), so I could place a new neck on the instrument to shorten the scale length. But what length I'm not sure of. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
GeorgeH   

Have you tried moving your hand up a tiny bit? It is less stressful to "fan" your index finger back than it is to stretch your pinky. Also, you can try bending your left wrist in toward you to help make that interval.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deans   

I would not shorten a neck on any instrument. Try one with a shorter scale and switch instruments if needed.

Where are you in your playing? Do you have a teacher, what does he/she think? Perhaps it is your technique and not your physical dimensions. But if you are already fairly advanced, maybe its time to look for something smaller, go down to 37cm and it might be a big difference, and that's still a fairly healthy string length.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Rue   

I know a superb player with a short pinky.

You don't adjust the instrument - you adjust your technique. If you can't do it "normally" you learn how to account for your short finger by either stretching, or shifting your hand, or both, etc.

You will need a good teacher to help you figure out the best adjustments for both ease of playing and to avoid developing an injury.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
carl1961   

have you thought or tried smaller viola's? another way to try is shorting the intonation by moving the bridge closer to finger board, if moving the bridge helps with finger then you may need to move the post the same distance for tone, (just a thought).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MANFIO   

What is your neck length? 150 mm? If it is longer you can reduce it to 150 mm.

You can also move your bridge up, perhaps for 5 mm or more. Sacconi mentions that. Walter Trampler's viola had its bridge very up the

normal f hole nick line.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Will L   

FWIW

Fredell Lack's left little finger was partially cut off accidentally while she was at Juilliard.  Galamian offered to work to re-finger her whole repertoire.  She said no,  she'd learn to deal with it.  She did.  And had one of the finest little finger vibratos I ever saw.

IMO, most of us don't like the conformation of our hands and fingers, and, no matter who, we have to figure it out.  (Sure, some people are luckier than others of course.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As was suggested above, you could try placing your thumb a bit higher, perhaps opposite the second finger instead of the first, so that you reach back a bit with the first finger, but reach more easily with the fourth. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/25/2017 at 2:17 PM, thirteenthsteph said:

As was suggested above, you could try placing your thumb a bit higher, perhaps opposite the second finger instead of the first, so that you reach back a bit with the first finger, but reach more easily with the fourth. 

This only alleviates if I must hit the 4th finger in 1st position without a forefinger anchor, i.e. making the stretch. The issue still stands of raw hand span. I've been told basically my whole life that repetitive strain injury is very real indeed. 

 

On 9/25/2017 at 12:55 PM, MANFIO said:

What is your neck length? 150 mm? If it is longer you can reduce it to 150 mm.

You can also move your bridge up, perhaps for 5 mm or more. Sacconi mentions that. Walter Trampler's viola had its bridge very up the

normal f hole nick line.

The neck is exactly 150mm. I suppose the large body/f hole placement makes up for the rest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MANFIO   

The idea of moving the bridge up, regardless the traditional postion betwen the lower nicks is not mine and is old. Walter Trampler viola (an Amati, if I'm not wrong) was big and the bridge was moved up to shorten the string length and make the instrument easier to play, as well as making the sound more focused, I think.

Sacconi wrote a special chapter on his "I Segreti di Stradivari" about the "Piazzamento e Taglio Delle ff di Risonanza". On page 91, he comments the sound problems caused by the wrong positioning of the sound holes, that is, holes that are too much apart, too close or too low in the soundbox. And he coments that moving the bridge up causes no problems, I'll quote Sacconi, and since you speak Italian I'll not translate, but I can translate it later, if you want:

"L'spostamento del ponticello verso l'alto, con gisuto distanziamento delle ff, non ha invece una sostanziale influenza sul suono, in quanto, dato l'andamento dell'inclinazione delle ff, non ne deriva una incidente variazione della distanza tra esse e i piedini del ponticello. Questo è assai importante , perché consente di spostare il ponticello verso l'alto in quegli strumenti antichi di grande misura (vedi bassetti e viole tenore), che presentano una maggior lunghezza del diapason. Tale operazione, anche se di effetto estetico non troppo bello, è senz'altro da preferirsi alla deprecabile pratica di accorciare la parte superiore della casa armonica, che oltre ad alterare lo strumento è ancor più aintiestetica." ("I Segreti di Stradivari, pagina 91, terzo paragrafo, seconda edizione, Libraria del Convegno, Cremona).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Nick, 

Playing a viola successfully and without pain seems more a matter of technique than of the player's--or the instrument's--size. Little Lillian Fuchs (4' 9")  played a 17" viola quite successfully. 

My college teacher reshaped my left hand position using the Geminiani chord, which greatly enhanced my pinky extension (see an old thread, here ). 

You might enjoy this article, too: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-violas17-2009may17-story.html

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I certainly found Manfio's remarks about bridge location very interesting - especially since it is an opinion I have long held - that some makers have not always placed their f-hole notches appropriately for the acoustics of their instrument (or for the length of the neck).

In my opinion 380 mm is a typical vibrating string length for a 15-1/2 to 16 inch (body length) viola. The required hand span is reduced somewhat the more the instrument neck is pointed to the left when playing it (but that is also a function of the upper (right) arm length for convenience of straight bowing). Cellists make up for the awkward finger spacing required in low positions by doing a lot of "hand dancing."  That has to be done on viola for some awkward passages - depending on what is awkward for the player.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.