Another darling of our community, CelloGirl has stress when it comes to her pinky joint. A portion of her comment reads,
“…Sore pinky joint. This one I struggle with quite a bit. I know that I seem to tense up my pinky finger so that it is almost straight. I’ve made a lot of adjustments to relax it – this works ok in scales, but when I start going through passages, my pinky finger will tend to straighten out and stiffen up my hand. Any suggestions?”
Now I am a bit of a rogue when it comes to this, and my approach is a sort of hybrid of what Ron Leonard taught me fused with the end result of watching a hell of a lot of footage of powerful, relaxed players. If you use the Emily Wright bow grip (and not all of my students do: if their grip works, I leave it alone), then the pinky is pretty much inert. When I am at the frog, it may rest on the stick, but the further out I go, the less presence my fingers have, particularly the pinky, on the bow. Often times we do crazy, strenuous things with our pinkies as we move away from the frog. It makes sense: the hand’s pressure is most directly telegraphed to the playing surface when the hand is right on top of the string. So as we draw a down bow, and the source of weight moves away from the point of contact, if nothing changes, the sound fades al niente. Some people try to prevent this by increasing the tension of the bow grip or maybe pushing down on the button with the tip of the pinky. What I suggest is in line with my general philosophy: Cello is hard enough! Let the large muscle groups do the hard work. Instead of giving the puny hand so much responsibility, use the weight, force, and torque generated by rotating onto the index finger to maintain or increase the level of pressure on the string. The further out in the bow you go, the more rotated onto that finger you are.
Here’s an exercise that demonstrates the general concept.
Sit at the cello with your bow on the D string, near the tip. Have a friend or teacher try to lift the bow from the string by looping a finger around the stick and pulling up. Fight them on this. You’ll immediately rotate onto the index finger to increase strength at that remote point of contact. And as you do that, your pinky will, if not come completely off the stick, make a significant gesture in that direction.
…and a pinky without a job is a relaxed pinky.
Another, slightly silly remedy for this is rubber banding the pinky and ring fingers together. At the very least it will raise awareness, at at best you can begin work to decrease the amount of work you’re asking that poor little guy to do.
One last note: during the course of working to change a habit that causes pain, make sure you’re taking good care of the finger/joint/whathaveyou in the meantime. Ice, heat, maybe some ibuprofen or arnica, and general gentle treatment so that you can reap the rewards of your more efficient, relaxed technique.