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Is my viola too big?


FromBassToViola
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Hi folks,

On viola in 1st position when I'm playing a C on the A-string with my 2nd finger and then want to play an E with my 4th finger,  I have to slide a tiny bit up on my 4th finger to play the E. I would have thought that I should just be able to plonk down my 4th finger (with the 2nd still on the C) and the E would be right there without having to move.

So I suspect my viola is too big, it is 16". I have a large hand, however a relatively short 4th finger.

All opinions gratefully received!

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I'd say string length and neck dimensions will give the biggest difference in left hand comfort, as viola dimensions don't seem to be standardized. Also, try to balance your left hand more towards your pinky whereby you reach back with first/second finger more often than stretching up with your pinky. Hope this helps.

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What does height have to do with it?

I was 6 feet tall when I was teaching my granddaughter to play violin. By the time she was 12 years old she was 5' 4"m but her arms were about as long as mine. It started with a game wherein we poked our finger tips into the other's underarm "pits" and both touched flesh!

By now (20 years later) she has gotten a bit taller and I have shrunk 4 inches in height, but our arms are still the same length.

My hands are still substantially larger than hers.

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31 minutes ago, Andrew Victor said:

What does height have to do with it?

I was 6 feet tall when I was teaching my granddaughter to play violin. By the time she was 12 years old she was 5' 4"m but her arms were about as long as mine. It started with a game wherein we poked our finger tips into the other's underarm "pits" and both touched flesh!

By now (20 years later) she has gotten a bit taller and I have shrunk 4 inches in height, but our arms are still the same length.

My hands are still substantially larger than hers.

Yes, Michael Tree was not all that tall, but had very long arms...

 

But height is an starting point. As a viola maker, I ask about height, arms, fingers of players when they write me. it is rather strange.

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thank you everyone for your replies and many ideas (what a great forum!).

To "Arbos", here's a picture of my left hand

image.png.e6e3a0004494d2881dba4f4d07afc3ad.png

 

To "chiaroscuro_violins": The bridge to nut length is 373 mm give or take 1 mm

To "monian": thanks for that tip, I tried it and it did help a bit, although still not a nice in-tune E unfortunately.

To: "MANFIO": I am 6 feet tall.

To "Andrew Victor": That's a practical solution indeed, yes if there is a particular passage that is causing a problem then any fingering that helps is the way to go, whether it is a bit unorthodox or not doesn't matter.

 

And to everyone: I think I've thought of a clearer way of stating the problem: When I play a C# with my 2nd finger in 1st position on the A-string then my 4th finger is easily directly above a nice in-tune E. However, when my 2nd finger is playing the C natural then this inhibits the stretch to the 4th and the E is too flat.

So I was wondering whether I just have to improve the stretch from 2nd to 4th finger better (maybe like Andrew was saying, "finger dancing"), or whether a 15 " inch viola would do the trick.  But then again, maybe, along the lines of "chiaroscuro_violins" I should just accept the situation as it is and not expect it to be easier.

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14 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

So I was wondering whether I just have to improve the stretch from 2nd to 4th finger better (maybe like Andrew was saying, "finger dancing"), or whether a 15 " inch viola would do the trick.  But then again, maybe, along the lines of "chiaroscuro_violins" I should just accept the situation as it is and not expect it to be easier.

The stretch between low-2 and 4 is a big stretch in First Position.  Practice reaching it every day, taking care not to over-exert your hand and before long it will be easy.

This is a very common problem for beginners.

I think along the same lines as Andrew's "finger dancing", make sure your hand structure rotates to support the pinky side, if your hand is "back" towards your thumb and first finger, it will be much harder to reach that fourth finger.  Especially on the G-string, you may find that bringing your left elbow further inside will give your pinky more length.

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Based on the picture of the hand you posted, your pinkie is short compared to other fingers.  For example, the tip of my pinkie reaches the distal phalanx joint of the ring finger.

I don't think stretching (higher) exercises are advisable.  Instead, you should position your hand such that the 4th finger E is always comfortably in tune, and stretch the other fingers back.  Violinists practice tenths this way.

You should also make sure your palm is as parallel as possible to the treble edge of the FB, so that your fingers are always nicely arched and not collapsed.

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14 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

And to everyone: I think I've thought of a clearer way of stating the problem: When I play a C# with my 2nd finger in 1st position on the A-string then my 4th finger is easily directly above a nice in-tune E. However, when my 2nd finger is playing the C natural then this inhibits the stretch to the 4th and the E is too flat.

So I was wondering whether I just have to improve the stretch from 2nd to 4th finger better (maybe like Andrew was saying, "finger dancing"), or whether a 15 " inch viola would do the trick.  But then again, maybe, along the lines of "chiaroscuro_violins" I should just accept the situation as it is and not expect it to be easier.

In addition to all the hand position suggestions given above, see if you can find another 16" viola with a shorter string length. 37.3 cm is a little on the longer side and I'm sure there are 16" instruments with a shorter string length.

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16 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

To "Arbos", here's a picture of my left hand

You do have a rather unfortunate anatomy and a smaller instrument might help a bit though not much. Try see if the problem persist on a violin.

Most of the time you'll be able to walk around the problem. (A good teacher will show you how.) But not all the time. 

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Thank you everyone again for your input, and I am pleased to say that I notice that none of the suggestions are mutually exclusive! They can all work together, for example, on a smaller viola (or more to the point, a shorter necked viola) I can change my hand position to favor the pinkie, and also do stretching exercises, and also think of ways to walk around the problem if need be.

Incidentally, the funny thing is that I used to be a professional double bass player - and many people might think that to play the largest string instrument requires the most stretching....but it seems to me it's in fact the opposite. I certainly know that cellists have to stretch more that bassists (bassists only have to cover 1 tone in a position), and now I have learned that violists too have to stretch more than bassists when in 1st position, and who knows, maybe violinists when doing tenths have to stretch more!

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13 hours ago, Hempel said:

Based on the picture of the hand you posted, your pinkie is short compared to other fingers.  For example, the tip of my pinkie reaches the distal phalanx joint of the ring finger.

I don't think stretching (higher) exercises are advisable.  Instead, you should position your hand such that the 4th finger E is always comfortably in tune, and stretch the other fingers back.  Violinists practice tenths this way.

You should also make sure your palm is as parallel as possible to the treble edge of the FB, so that your fingers are always nicely arched and not collapsed.

This is roughly how I was taught and it worked for me.

Although everyone has had some good input.

Also I agree with what you are saying regards to bass but that also depends on what method you grew up with(Simandl is most common,and still good) .. Francois Rabbath method  of bass has some great technical demands but ends up being easier than Simandl method.

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3 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

Thank you everyone again for your input, and I am pleased to say that I notice that none of the suggestions are mutually exclusive! They can all work together, for example, on a smaller viola (or more to the point, a shorter necked viola) I can change my hand position to favor the pinkie, and also do stretching exercises, and also think of ways to walk around the problem if need be.

Incidentally, the funny thing is that I used to be a professional double bass player - and many people might think that to play the largest string instrument requires the most stretching....but it seems to me it's in fact the opposite. I certainly know that cellists have to stretch more that bassists (bassists only have to cover 1 tone in a position), and now I have learned that violists too have to stretch more than bassists when in 1st position, and who knows, maybe violinists when doing tenths have to stretch more!

If you were a professional bassist chances are your musical standards are high.  And as a professional, you need to face the fact unless you develop a balanced hand (finger) frame while playing you'll always be handicapped. 

I'm not saying progress comes quickly, but working/walking around a less than reliable pinkie is not a viable solution and will only hamper your left hand technique.  The sooner you make a commitment to have balanced hand frame the more proficient you'll be.

It's worthwhile to understand (hand) geometry provides structural strength, not "muscle."  That's why a nicely arched pinkie is a requirement.  The other fingers, being naturally longer, can be a bit more tolerant of less arching.

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1 hour ago, jacobsaunders said:

Is the frequently used (American) expression “pinkie” not racist?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the etymology of pinkie derives from Dutch "pinkje."  The Scots adopted it "to refer to something small, as explained in An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language by John Jamieson, published in 1808. The term comes from the Dutch pink, meaning "small." Jamieson writes that "to pink" means to "contract the eye," and the adjective pinkie is "applied to the eye, when small, or contracted."

Perhaps you've confused American use of "pinkie" for "Pinko," a derogatory term for communist sympathizers?  (Electoral win in Graz?)

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Your whitey is short but 2nd is long.  You might want to experiment with more reaching back with the 2nd.  IOW moving the hand frame forward a tiny bit.  Practice with scales in 3rds where you use 1-3 and 2-4 together, listening carefully for most resonant intonation.  Practice the first couple pages of Schradieck using low 2nd instead of high.  Some of the silent exercises seem to me to develop strength faster than anything.

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1 hour ago, Bill Merkel said:

Your whitey is short but 2nd is long.  You might want to experiment with more reaching back with the 2nd.  IOW moving the hand frame forward a tiny bit.  Practice with scales in 3rds where you use 1-3 and 2-4 together, listening carefully for most resonant intonation.  Practice the first couple pages of Schradieck using low 2nd instead of high.  Some of the silent exercises seem to me to develop strength faster than anything.

One must learn to walk before learning how to run.

If the OP has difficulty with hand frame, I don't think it's wise to start with double stops.

The OP should first understand what a _relaxed_ hand frame playing on one string feels like before considering double stops, because players instinctively tense their left hand when playing double stops.

Without a proper relaxed muscle memory frame, starting someone on double stops is a singularly bad idea and develops harmful technique.

Only when a player can play a partial scale progression using all four fingers at speed comfortably in tune, should double stops be considered.

The player should aim to reproduce the same relaxed left hand frame in double stops.

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