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Is my viola too big?


FromBassToViola
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8 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

I was just thinking that my little finger is roughly pink (if with blemishes), although not everybody's would be

Pinkie and pink entered the American lexicon via different etymological routes.

4 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

^A "derogatory" term for communists, did you say?

I'd say pinko is pejorative, not derogatory.

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Hi GTone,

good to hear that you were taught the same way as Hempel (with regards the stretching exercise), I have been trying it and I like it, and I can see the benefit of it. Previously I had been stretching my 4th finger upwards from my 2nd, but I can see that stretching the 2nd backwards from the 4th is better.

And I am most impressed that a violist knows the different schools of Simandl and Rabbath. Yes I learned the Simandl way, although I am familiar with the Rabbath method but never practiced it enough so that it comes naturally to me.

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Hi Hempel,

yes you are correct about my musical standards, even though I am not practicing the viola with the aim of playing professionally (like I did when I practiced the double bass almost 40 years ago), I find that I still have the same high standards.

And I understand what you are saying about the correct hand frame and arched fingers, because one day I tried an experiment and flattened my 4th finger and even though I found I could actually reach the E better than when arched I wasn't at all pleased with that approach because once my 4th finger was flat I felt "flat-footed" and less agile and thus decided I didn't want to pursue that approach.

So I am definitely going to stick with the approach you (and others) suggested, and work on the hand frame with arched fingers, in particular stretching backwards from the 4th finger rather than forwards from the 2nd.

Thank you very much for you considerable input, I very much appreciate it!

 

 

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11 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

Hi Hempel,

yes you are correct about my musical standards, even though I am not practicing the viola with the aim of playing professionally (like I did when I practiced the double bass almost 40 years ago), I find that I still have the same high standards.

And I understand what you are saying about the correct hand frame and arched fingers, because one day I tried an experiment and flattened my 4th finger and even though I found I could actually reach the E better than when arched I wasn't at all pleased with that approach because once my 4th finger was flat I felt "flat-footed" and less agile and thus decided I didn't want to pursue that approach.

So I am definitely going to stick with the approach you (and others) suggested, and work on the hand frame with arched fingers, in particular stretching backwards from the 4th finger rather than forwards from the 2nd.

Thank you very much for you considerable input, I very much appreciate it!

As long as you understand the major concepts I conveyed I think you'll be all right. (arch is structurally strong; "soft" relaxed left hand; position favoring the pinkie & stretching the long fingers back).

Experiment with the minimum downward string deflection you can get away with while playing scales and still get a good tone (light touch), as well as how high/low the left thumb can be on the neck.  This will help you find the ideal frame, minimize tension, and improve finger agility. 

Once you feel sufficiently comfortable, move on to trills.

Patience is required to not succumb to the temptation of over-practicing.  You don't want to risk tendinitis, especially in the beginning.

Playing with a less-than-dependable pinkie is a bit like driving a car with a flat tire.  Just suitable enough to get you limping to the nearest service station but not enough to do anything else. 

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I don't think "just practice" is good advice without some specifics of what, mechanically, might help. That's what teachers are for, and the best ones are great at fine tuning hand, arm, and instrument angles & body position just to solve those issues. The problems and challenges are different for everyone. I think the advice to consider "reaching down with the 2nd finger to play the C natural" is good advice. The idea of "where the hand is balanced" comes to mind - many violists with smaller hands will balance their left hand either on the 2nd finger or perhaps alternate between the 2nd and 3rd finger, depending, whereas many violinists "anchor" on the 1st finger (Julian Rachlin is a big proponent of this). 

My 4th finger, while not as short as the OPs, still gives me plenty of challenges with reaches, particularly in half and first position (I play on a 16-5/16" viola). People often assume that because I'm tall, I should play on a bigger instrument, but these days, I'm hearing more often that anything above 16" is already considered "a bigger viola". Seems everyone wants a really small viola that sounds great. I can understand that!

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16 minutes ago, Zeissica said:

I don't think "just practice" is good advice without some specifics of what, mechanically, might help. That's what teachers are for,

Agreed.  The OP needs to ask his/her teacher, or get one if he/she doesn't have one.

As keyboard warriors, we simply do not have enough information or know the OP's skill level to properly assess the issue(s).  Simply saying "just practice" was not a good response.  Apologies to the OP.

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don't worry vioinnewb - I didn't take offence....in fact...quite the opposite, I found it reassuring that someone else out there has a similar hand shape and can play a 16" viola!

And I certainly will persevere with practicing the viola, I love it, I've always thought that the greatest musical activity would be to play in a string quartet, so that is my ultimate goal.

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  • 4 months later...

Just following up from my original post 4 months ago....I've been working hard on things and I would say that THANKS to all the people who answered my initial question on this forum my 4th finger problem is now "cured".....and I didn't have to buy a smaller viola!

The main thing that helped me was the advice to place my thumb opposite my 2nd finger rather than the 1st. And to keep the palm more parallel to the FB. And to consider the 4th finger my home base and then reach back with the other fingers.

Also I found that moving the position of the viola from 11 PM back to about 10 PM helped a little, and also tilting a little more towards the ground (I mean so that A-string is closer to the ground) to about 45 degrees off the horizontal.

 

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On 2/26/2022 at 9:55 AM, Zeissica said:

Thanks for the update - that's great to hear! Any progress towards playing in a quartet?

not yet but it's still a goal.

By the way, there was one another thing that helped a bit with the 4th finger, I found that releasing the 1st, 2nd & 3rd fingers when using the 4th helps to free it up. Previously I'd been keeping them down just in case they were needed again, but I think they were kind of acting as an anchor to the poor little pinky!

Just wondering if anyone else does this?

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On 2/26/2022 at 10:14 PM, FromBassToViola said:

not yet but it's still a goal.

By the way, there was one another thing that helped a bit with the 4th finger, I found that releasing the 1st, 2nd & 3rd fingers when using the 4th helps to free it up. Previously I'd been keeping them down just in case they were needed again, but I think they were kind of acting as an anchor to the poor little pinky!

Just wondering if anyone else does this?

I know Julian Rachlan is a big fan of "always keeping the first finger down" and he plays both violin and viola. I think lifting fingers 1, 2, & 3 while playing the 4th can be helpful, but "it depends" on context. Galamian always taught students to always have at least two contact points between the left hand and the instrument, for orientation - knowing how it feels to be in 3rd position vs. 2nd, etc. But he also believed fully that everyone's anatomy is different and thus everyone has to arrive at the various solutions to these problems on an individual basis. My thought is that if you are able to play in tune on the 4th finger and have a good sound, with appropriate vibrato for the passage, or the the particular note, and you need to lift fingers 1, 2 & 3 to do that, then so be it!

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You might check with your luthier to learn if there is a practical way to shorten the vibrating string length a bit (such as move the bridge and sound post but still retain the instruments best playing and sound characteristics).

If it works you will have a solution, if it doesn't just reverse it.

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16 hours ago, Zeissica said:

I know Julian Rachlan is a big fan of "always keeping the first finger down" and he plays both violin and viola. I think lifting fingers 1, 2, & 3 while playing the 4th can be helpful, but "it depends" on context. Galamian always taught students to always have at least two contact points between the left hand and the instrument, for orientation - knowing how it feels to be in 3rd position vs. 2nd, etc. But he also believed fully that everyone's anatomy is different and thus everyone has to arrive at the various solutions to these problems on an individual basis. My thought is that if you are able to play in tune on the 4th finger and have a good sound, with appropriate vibrato for the passage, or the the particular note, and you need to lift fingers 1, 2 & 3 to do that, then so be it!

Thanks Zeissica, very interesting to hear what Julian Rachlan's ideas on the subject matter are. (I subsequently watched a video of him playing Beethoven's Spring sonata - beautiful playing and interpretation)

The context I had in mind was when going from low 2 or low 3 to 4 (not going from 1 to 4, or high 2 or 3 to 4).

I'm going to stick with it for a while and see what I think in a week or so. I actually really like experimenting with different techniques and ideas about string playing, for me it's definitely part of the fun. And from what Rachlan says about arriving at individual solutions, it sounds like he'd definitely encourage such experimentation.

I've been doing further internet research on the matter and found this interesting quote from a violist named Kim Kashkashian in a book called the "Karen Tuttle Legacy". It seems to be recommending lifting the lower fingers for any combination of going from a lower finger to a higher finger:

"The vertical release happens before transferring to any new finger as if jumping from one foot to the other. This jumping analogy describes the strength of your initial motion into the fingerboard, and also the consequent immediate release of weight. This happens naturally when going from a higher to  a lower finger, but we must think about the timing of this release when moving from a lower to a higher finger! If you succeed in creating this timing, it gives a great articulation and breathing feeling between each pitch".

 

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10 hours ago, Andrew Victor said:

You might check with your luthier to learn if there is a practical way to shorten the vibrating string length a bit (such as move the bridge and sound post but still retain the instruments best playing and sound characteristics).

If it works your will have a solution, if it doesn't just reverse it.

thanks Andrew, I had forgotten about the possibility of moving the bridge, but now that you mention it I do remember a bass playing colleague of mine shortened his string length by moving his bridge one inch closer to the fingerboard, and after that he swore that his bass sounded better!

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  • 3 weeks later...

@FromBassToViolaI've enjoyed reading this thread. That's good to hear that you have been able to resolve some of the issues you were having with the 4th finger. As someone with what others have noted are child-size hands, my modestly sized viola is quite a challenge (approx. 36.7 cm string length) to play as an amateur violinist and newly amateur violist.

I also have the Karen Tuttle book, and while it's really interesting to read, I am finding it challenging to decide which of the advice in the book to incorporate into my practice. There is just so much content.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 3/17/2022 at 7:19 AM, Theghostis said:

@FromBassToViolaI've enjoyed reading this thread. That's good to hear that you have been able to resolve some of the issues you were having with the 4th finger. As someone with what others have noted are child-size hands, my modestly sized viola is quite a challenge (approx. 36.7 cm string length) to play as an amateur violinist and newly amateur violist.

I also have the Karen Tuttle book, and while it's really interesting to read, I am finding it challenging to decide which of the advice in the book to incorporate into my practice. There is just so much content.

Theghostis I think I know what you mean, and in fact, there is some advice that I can't really make much sense of, for example: (and to be fair, I'm not sure if this is from Karen or one of her students) "feel the viola resonating through your spine"...well I can certainly feel vibrations in the tips of my fingers of both hands, and also through my collar bone and jaw....but through my spine? It's beyond me, so I guess my body is not a very sensitive/resonant one.

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