Regina3000

Adult with kid-sized hands. Help!

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I have small hands. My left palm is about 3 1/2” (90 mm) from the heel of my hand to the base of my middle finger and about 3" (78 mm) across its widest part. My middle finger is 2 1/8” (66 mm) long, index 2 2/8” (60 mm), ring 2 3/8” (60 mm), and pinky 1 7/8” (49 mm). I wear kids' size gloves.

I haven't gotten beyond first position, yet. I have a full-size violin.

Here's my problem:  I have enormous trouble holding down my middle finger in low position and keeping it in the right place while putting my third finger down. For example, from C to D on the A string. If I'm trying to slur from C to D or vice-versa, the C sharps or the D flats because my finger slips out of place.

I have similar troubles reaching my pinky to the proper place when my other three fingers are already down.

Other than continuing to practice these finger placements, what are some stretches or exercises I can do to build strength and stretch in my left hand when I can't be near my violin?

I am SO ENVIOUS of people with long fingers!

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52 minutes ago, Regina3000 said:

Here's my problem:  I have enormous trouble holding down my middle finger in low position and keeping it in the right place while putting my third finger down. For example, from C to D on the A string. If I'm trying to slur from C to D or vice-versa, the C sharps or the D flats because my finger slips out of place.

I have similar troubles reaching my pinky to the proper place when my other three fingers are already down.

Hi! Many people with small and smaller hands pay full-sized violins.  So it can be done.  Applause for not asking whether you should get a smaller violin.  That is generally not the answer.  

Many of my students, and my own children play full-sized instruments although their hands are small (about the same size as yours by the description above).

1. Your first issue seems to be a confusing one for me.  For example, the C on the A-string in first position is either C natural, or C sharp.  Meaning, it is either a hald step from your first finger or your third, respectively.  Are you tense?  Your fingers should be almost touching in the half step scenario.  Now, because you have small hands and shorter fingers, this doesn't really relate to width.  As such, the fingers in the half step positions might not actually touch, but should be darn close.  If you are relaxed, the middle finger should stay down.

2. Ah...the pinky...I have a torn ligament issue in my left hand affecting my pinky.  It took some time to find a work around.  Try the following: A) practice trills with only your ring finger down.  Then add your middle finger, then fore finger.  Trill only using pinky.  Do both half step and full step trills with the pinky.  b) Try doing left hand pizz with pinky.  Pinky and fore finger, pinky and middle finger, pinky and ring finger, pinky and all three fingers.

Hope this helps.

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In ddition to the above strengthening exercises there are a few strategies with regards to hand positioning that may help you reach slightly further. I also have small hands, my maximum reach on a piano keyboard is an octave.

1. You may place your left thumb more across from your middle finger rather than your index finger. While it is typical to place your thumb opposite your index finger, if you have small hands you may be more comfortable if your left thumb is across from your middle finger instead of your index. Your thumb can also go further underneath the neck than you typically see.
2. Rotate your forearm so your hand is slightly more parallel to the neck of the violin and your pinky is then closer to the string.

I hope this helps :) Life is definitely tougher if you have small hands, but I think if you find a method that works for you things will be fine. 

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2 hours ago, Rue said:

There are many exercises available on-line and in books.

A quick search brought this up.  Just a start:

https://www.connollymusic.com/stringovation/best-3-exercises-for-violinists-with-small-hands

Thanks!

I think I do need to retrain my left thumb. It likes to sneak up along the side of the neck, and that's probably not helping. I did try to keep my thumb more under the neck today, but it's not yet "natural" for me to do, and it strangely feels like I have less leverage that way, although I really should have more.

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3 hours ago, violinnewb said:

Hi! Many people with small and smaller hands pay full-sized violins.  So it can be done.  Applause for not asking whether you should get a smaller violin.  That is generally not the answer.  

Many of my students, and my own children play full-sized instruments although their hands are small (about the same size as yours by the description above).

1. Your first issue seems to be a confusing one for me.  For example, the C on the A-string in first position is either C natural, or C sharp.  Meaning, it is either a hald step from your first finger or your third, respectively.  Are you tense?  Your fingers should be almost touching in the half step scenario.  Now, because you have small hands and shorter fingers, this doesn't really relate to width.  As such, the fingers in the half step positions might not actually touch, but should be darn close.  If you are relaxed, the middle finger should stay down.

2. Ah...the pinky...I have a torn ligament issue in my left hand affecting my pinky.  It took some time to find a work around.  Try the following: A) practice trills with only your ring finger down.  Then add your middle finger, then fore finger.  Trill only using pinky.  Do both half step and full step trills with the pinky.  b) Try doing left hand pizz with pinky.  Pinky and fore finger, pinky and middle finger, pinky and ring finger, pinky and all three fingers.

Hope this helps.

I don't think I was describing my problem well. I can reach all fingers when the half step is between the 2nd and 3rd finger (although I still need to build strength and stretch there), but if the half step is between 1 and 2, I can't reach the 3rd finger without the 2nd one sliding down the fingerboard, sharping the natural. My first and second fingers do NOT like to stay close together when the third finger is extended. And to put the fourth finger down after that makes it even worse.

I'm thinking I may not always be able to keep all fingers down with the fourth finger down. When I try fourth finger down on the G with the half step between 2 and 3, my hand is so twisted around the neck it's funny.

So, here is a photo of my fingers down on G, with the half step between 2 and 3.

IMG_OC_Mg7_20210106_153628-01.thumb.jpg.84b8eaf31bc2b6e9348cffcf4119db44.jpg

And here is a photo of all fingers down on A, with the half step between 1 and 2. No really, it's supposed to be between 1 and 2. You can see how 2 has slid down the fingerboard.

IMG_OC_Mg7_20210106_154113.thumb.jpg.4cc93e36478d74a89139d69e7ce53520.jpg

I have no E because this is the violin with the broken tailpiece. I don't have the one I'm playing on in my office, but this one was close by, so I could demonstrate.

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3 hours ago, monian said:

In ddition to the above strengthening exercises there are a few strategies with regards to hand positioning that may help you reach slightly further. I also have small hands, my maximum reach on a piano keyboard is an octave.

1. You may place your left thumb more across from your middle finger rather than your index finger. While it is typical to place your thumb opposite your index finger, if you have small hands you may be more comfortable if your left thumb is across from your middle finger instead of your index. Your thumb can also go further underneath the neck than you typically see.
2. Rotate your forearm so your hand is slightly more parallel to the neck of the violin and your pinky is then closer to the string.

I hope this helps :) Life is definitely tougher if you have small hands, but I think if you find a method that works for you things will be fine. 

Thanks!

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I've also got short arms. If I hold the violin under my chin (no shoulder rest in the office), I have a straight elbow when I wrap my hand around the scroll. I haven't tried that with my other violin, but I imagine it's the same.

I don't want to get a smaller violin. I just want to be able to play the one(s) I've got.

Trying to play a C major scale with 4 notes to a bow is really difficult when #2 finger won't stay put...

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The only good exercise away from the violin I know of is simulating the position of the fingers -- bend and relax the middle knuckles while keeping the base knuckle straight.  That is from Simon Fischer.  

Dounis "Fundamental Technical Studies" is good for fourth finger, esp. fourth finger vibrato.

What will be most useful is some of the silent exercises without bow, and after that, scales in 3rds and 6ths.  Octaves too, for hand frame shape.

I think the silent exercises are from Flesch, but not sure.  One that will help you is on the D string put your fingers on E, F#, G#, A#.  Note the high 4th finger.  With all the fingers down,  raise and lower each one several times.  If you can't reach A#, see if you can somehow -- maybe move the whole hand up and reach back for E a bit. If you can't reach A# immediately, reach as far as you can and you eventually will.   Repeat on all the strings.  Don't let it start hurting very bad, and if it aches the next day don't do it that day.  Do maybe 10 min a day.  You will see results.

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11 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

The only good exercise away from the violin I know of is simulating the position of the fingers -- bend and relax the middle knuckles while keeping the base knuckle straight.  That is from Simon Fischer.  

Dounis "Fundamental Technical Studies" is good for fourth finger, esp. fourth finger vibrato.

What will be most useful is some of the silent exercises without bow, and after that, scales in 3rds and 6ths.  Octaves too, for hand frame shape.

I think the silent exercises are from Flesch, but not sure.  One that will help you is on the D string put your fingers on E, F#, G#, A#.  Note the high 4th finger.  With all the fingers down,  raise and lower each one several times.  If you can't reach A#, see if you can somehow -- maybe move the whole hand up and reach back for E a bit. If you can't reach A# immediately, reach as far as you can and you eventually will.   Repeat on all the strings.  Don't let it start hurting very bad, and if it aches the next day don't do it that day.  Do maybe 10 min a day.  You will see results.

Ok, thanks! I'll have to try that last bit tomorrow morning.

I looked up Simon Fischer and there are a BUNCH of PDFs of articles on his website. I found this one, in particular, that says that finger positions for smaller hands might need to be based on the second finger position. https://www.simonfischeronline.com/uploads/5/7/7/9/57796211/113reaching_back.pdf

I also found this one, which may be the silent exercise you were talking about:  https://www.simonfischeronline.com/uploads/5/7/7/9/57796211/210_dec_freeing_the_left_hand.pdf

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Glad you found that.  The silent exercise I described is similar to one by Flesch, pretty sure, I know it wasn't Fischer.  He is good though.  The important thing is the extended 4th finger.  Once that becomes easy, it eventually will, so much other stuff will be easier too.  Another stretch to work on that will have widest benefit is low 2nd - middle 4th (F - A).  The super 4th you'll develop from all this in a year or two is important for sight reading fast passages too.

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Ok, what I gave you is derived from Flesch Urstudien, part 1.  You can download it from imslp.  You hold down the whole notes while you wiggle the 16ths. 

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3 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

Ok, what I gave you is derived from Flesch Urstudien, part 1.  You can download it from imslp.  You hold down the whole notes while you wiggle the 16ths. 

Cool! I downloaded that just the other day, but haven't had the chance to look at it, yet.

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From your pictures, my opinion is that the angle of your hand and how you are wrapped around the neck needs slight adjustment.  I would say try rotating your hand about 5 to 10 degrees counter-clockwise.  Bring your thumb around a little more...this is my preference though.  My thumb is usually on the vertical plane and the padding of my thumb covers the neck and fingerboard.  Yours seems too far down.

Second, while leaving your first and third fingers down, practice lifting and placing your second finger in towards the first finger, and then the third finger.  

Lastly, the difficulties that you are describing are normal for beginners.  I don't know how long you have been playing, but I am guessing that you have not been playing for very long, or you developed some bad habits early on.  Either way, the biggest piece of advice that I can give you is learn to control when and how to relax and then tense your finger muscles.  Relax for placement, slightly tense them up for tone.  One of my old teachers, who is now at Julliard, used to tell me that it doesn't take a whole lot of tension on the fingerboard to produce a good tone.  Relax.  Use the minimal amount of tension and force necessary.  Keep at it!

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3 hours ago, violinnewb said:

From your pictures, my opinion is that the angle of your hand and how you are wrapped around the neck needs slight adjustment.  I would say try rotating your hand about 5 to 10 degrees counter-clockwise.  Bring your thumb around a little more...this is my preference though.  My thumb is usually on the vertical plane and the padding of my thumb covers the neck and fingerboard.  Yours seems too far down.

Second, while leaving your first and third fingers down, practice lifting and placing your second finger in towards the first finger, and then the third finger.  

Lastly, the difficulties that you are describing are normal for beginners.  I don't know how long you have been playing, but I am guessing that you have not been playing for very long, or you developed some bad habits early on.  Either way, the biggest piece of advice that I can give you is learn to control when and how to relax and then tense your finger muscles.  Relax for placement, slightly tense them up for tone.  One of my old teachers, who is now at Julliard, used to tell me that it doesn't take a whole lot of tension on the fingerboard to produce a good tone.  Relax.  Use the minimal amount of tension and force necessary.  Keep at it!

Do you mean rotate my hand counter-clockwise around the neck? That seems incompatible with your suggestion about my thumb, but perhaps I am not understanding what you mean.

I can't reach the G string as well if my thumb is up higher. I started out that way, and discovered by trial and error that it's easier for me to reach with all fingers if my thumb is more under the neck than next to it.

Oh! I didn't think of your suggestion about the second finger practice. I will add that to my routine.

I played for several years as a child, then again for a couple of years as an adult, but about 18 years ago, now. Recently, I've only been playing for a couple of months. I'm definitely not as flexible as I was even 18 years ago. I don't recall either of my teachers teaching me much about my thumb (except when I first started out, of course). And I was never aware enough to ask about exercises for my fingers the two times I've had teachers.

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1 minute ago, Regina3000 said:

Do you mean rotate my hand counter-clockwise around the neck? That seems incompatible with your suggestion about my thumb, but perhaps I am not understanding what you mean.

I can't reach the G string as well if my thumb is up higher. I started out that way, and discovered by trial and error that it's easier for me to reach with all fingers if my thumb is more under the neck than next to it.

Oh! I didn't think of your suggestion about the second finger practice. I will add that to my routine.

I played for several years as a child, then again for a couple of years as an adult, but about 18 years ago, now. Recently, I've only been playing for a couple of months. I'm definitely not as flexible as I was even 18 years ago. I don't recall either of my teachers teaching me much about my thumb (except when I first started out, of course). And I was never aware enough to ask about exercises for my fingers the two times I've had teachers.

Yes. around the neck.  The thumb placement, albeit up for a whole lot of discussion, is vital in the way that I play.  My 7 year old has smaller hands than you and is playing on a 3/4 size.  He had similar issues as you do.  

Also, age is relative.  I stopped playing and didn't even know where my violin was between the ages of 25 through 35.  Then, I played like once a month for fun.  In my early 40s, I decided to get back into teaching, but not serious playing.  Only recently did I decide to up my game, join an orchestra, and get serious again.  Long story short, after some time, flexibility comes back.  But with age and wisdom, pieces and technique that were foreign to me in my youth seem very much doable now.  Go figure.

You will find the answers you need through experimentation.  May I also suggest watching youtube videos of Midori and Kyung-Wha Chung?  They have relatively small hands.  Play the videos in slow-motion.  You can see what they do to compensate.  There are also a few violinists with short fingers.  I cannot remember who.  Google it.

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On 1/7/2021 at 12:49 AM, Regina3000 said:

Cool! I downloaded that just the other day, but haven't had the chance to look at it, yet.

Ok, I just tried the first exercise (hold down on D while activating on G, etc.)

Oh boy! My ring finger, #3, can't raise up very high. I think that's my limiting factor, at the moment.

I'll have to do this exercise a few times a day for a while to build up range of motion and flexibility. I think I won't add exercises from Urstudien until this one is easier. Probably a few weeks.

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So much useful info posted here!

All I can add is: the great 20th century classical guitar player Andres Segovia had freakishly small hands. Didn't stop him!  

It's amazing how far your fingers can stretch when you don't tense up. 

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8 hours ago, Al Cramer said:

So much useful info posted here!

All I can add is: the great 20th century classical guitar player Andres Segovia had freakishly small hands. Didn't stop him!  

It's amazing how far your fingers can stretch when you don't tense up. 

Cool! I didn't know that about him! I like classical guitar, too.

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It takes a long long time to get your hands to do what they need to do to play a violin. Too many people are too quick to assume they have some physical disadvantage.

With that said, violins do come in many shapes and sizes. Many old violins, including GDGs are on the "petite size" have dimensions between a 7/8 and full size and often with a shorter string length. I have a Mittenwald violin at about 353 mm  and a slightly shorter string length, sounds great but feels like a 3/4 in my hands. There is no shame in playing a smaller violin, we are all different sizes, no reason we should have to play the same size violin, violists dont care. But for now keep working on your full size, I suspect you are not technically close to having to make that decision yet. 

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1 hour ago, deans said:

It takes a long long time to get your hands to do what they need to do to play a violin. Too many people are too quick to assume they have some physical disadvantage.

With that said, violins do come in many shapes and sizes. Many old violins, including GDGs are on the "petite size" have dimensions between a 7/8 and full size and often with a shorter string length. I have a Mittenwald violin at about 353 mm  and a slightly shorter string length, sounds great but feels like a 3/4 in my hands. There is no shame in playing a smaller violin, we are all different sizes, no reason we should have to play the same size violin, violists dont care. But for now keep working on your full size, I suspect you are not technically close to having to make that decision yet. 

Yes, considering that I was apparently able to play a full-size violin fairly well in grade school, I think it's just a matter of having become less flexible as I have gotten older.

I am right-handed, and for several years I have been noticing that my right hand doesn't have the same range of motion as my left hand, presumably due to years of holding a pen or pencil, so I need to redevelop range of motion and strength in BOTH hands.

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On 1/8/2021 at 8:22 PM, Regina3000 said:

Ok, I just tried the first exercise (hold down on D while activating on G, etc.)

Oh boy! My ring finger, #3, can't raise up very high. I think that's my limiting factor, at the moment.

I'll have to do this exercise a few times a day for a while to build up range of motion and flexibility. I think I won't add exercises from Urstudien until this one is easier. Probably a few weeks.

I've spent some time trying to decode Urstudien I A (because I'm not yet fluent at note-reading) and I've noticed that there are no sharps or flats (and no time signature, either, but it looks like 4/4). This tells me that it's in C major, so rather than 1, 2, 3, 4 for all strings, I should do 1, 2, 3, 4 on G; 1, low 2, 3, 4 on D and A; and low 1, 2, 3, 4 on E. Is this a correct interpretation? Or do I even need to worry about that until I get more independence, strength, and flexibility in my fingers?

My gut tells me not to worry about it until I can at least improve in the 1-2-3-4 locations.

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