Like most things, all it takes to work on the pinky is a little discipline. Ok, a lot of discipline. If you have already injured yourself, there might be steps in between, like some rest, taping 3rd and 4th together in your daily life to avoid throttling the poor little thing, a serious course of anti inflammatories, (paracetamol, for those of you in the UK is NOT an anti inflammatory) and a heavily modified practice. But if you have not yet hurt yourself, there are some immediate steps to take to get some serious results. Just because I advocate a gentleness of hand does not mean I settle for mushy results with my students. These folks, if they stick with it, can play a mean 4th finger trill. Their shifts are in tune. They have an even, painless vibrato. Many of them fight me (for years!!) on the change I ask for, as some sort of karmic repayment of my obstinacy with my own coaches, especially Ron. Ah well. It’s good for me, and makes me a more nimble teacher. And eventually, most concede that I may have a clue and make the adjustment.

One thing I have been benefiting from are those darned Cossman exercises. There is something about them that, when coupled by mindfulness of your technique, seem to accelerate improvement. Oh, and if you’re a jackass and play them without good technique, they’ll accelerate and aggravate your particular injury or impediment. Think of the Cossman as a sharp blade: you can remove a cancer with it or impale yourself. Your choice.

I’ll get more into this next one after I find my camera, which, because of its awesome cute size, has vanished. I’ll need it sooner than later, so look out in a few days. Anyhoo, 4th finger vibrato can be a huge irritant to the ulnar nerve/tendon and surrounding structure. Even when you don’t have pain or tension there, it takes a lot more attention to the axis of rotation and hand stability than the other fingers. Sound like you? Then try to couple 3rd and 4th fingers for a while. I know some pros who have this as their actual technique. Not me, but depending on the piece, I’ll sometimes bolster 4th finger with a 3rd right behind it, especially if it’s a short note that requires vibrato at the end of a phrase. So take your scale and hold each bow out for 12 beats with the metronome on 60. Control the speed of the vibrato. The initial point is control of your hand, not beauty. After you can control the speed of the spin, your tone will be radiant, and soon. This kind of work takes a few stabs (I really am full of violent metaphors today!) and then you will have another bit of muscle memory to draw from.

The last thing, which I am actually trying to swindle Dr. Morrow into writing a guest blog about, are extensions. Quick! What’s an extension? If you said anything about 4th finger, I’ll swat you. Sure you may have to reach for a high 4, or go from 4 to a low 1, but an extension is a whole step between 1 and 2. If extensions give you fits (and you would be in huuuuge company!), go backwards first. To try:

1) On the D string, put all 4 fingers down. Those should be half steps under your fingers. e, f, f#, g.

2) Keeping 2, 3, and 4 down, pick up 1st and wiggle it around a bit.

3) Put 1 down and slide it back as far as you can, straightening the finger rather than excessively rotating your whole hand towards your ear or swinging your elbow like some sort of disco remnant.

4) Come back to regular position, with half steps between your fingers. Repeat a few times, in silence. This is purely a physical exercise, and is not to be done with the bow in your hand. After a few days of this, if you’re mindful of things like your thumb (keep it loose) and a supple torso (include your jaw in the survey), the extension will start feeling smaller and more manageable.

After you’ve gone backwards a while, try going up, like from Bb on the A string to C and then onto D. This is Dr. Morrow’s thing, and her description will surely make mine look feeble, but the general idea is that 2, 3, and 4 fall away from 1 while 1 remains securely anchored to the fingerboard. It’s like those other fingers are being pulled by gravity down the fingerboard. When I get a student (even one with tiny hands, so stop thinking you’re unique or flawed) to think this way, the end result is usually a big, loose extension that is much bigger than intonation asks it to be. That’s what we want.

And I think I just got a text from someone’s thumb.


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8 Responses

  1. These last few posts have been very enjoyable to read. It is refreshing to see the not-so-serious / technical. Good job…

  2. Wow — *wow*. The phrase “the general idea is that 2, 3, and 4 fall away from 1 while 1 remains securely anchored to the fingerboard” really was a figurative light bulb over the head for me. Aha! Sometimes it’s just about using different words and imagery to really grasp a concept one has theoretically been working on for years. Thanks, Emily.

  3. How I wish I could take lessons from you! I love the pictures you come up with to explain technique. Priceless!

  4. Glad I can be of service. I know people like the technical stuff, but it can be so *cough*… dry. I have been feeling a little punchy lately, and for me, punchy always translates into a little humor. I’m also getting giddy about the book. The wheels are in motion, and I even have a contact now at BookSurge. He has a good name, which sounds auspicious.

  5. Joining in the chorus here to thank Emily for reminding us about the idea of the extension being less pinky-centric, and more focused on creating a whole step between first and second fingers. It makes extensions so. much. easier. (I like the gravity idea, too too.)

    Another stellar tidbit is in point four, in which Emily talks about keeping a supple torso and including your jaw in the survey. The jaw comment struck a chord with me. A number of years ago while thinking about body-tension while playing difficult passages, I realized that when I got nervous, I tensed up (of all things) my calf muscles. Odd, I know, but fixing it actually gave me a great body-tension barometer; now when I focus on relaxing while or before playing, I include in the mental survey my calf muscles, and relaxing those helps relax the rest of my body. You never know where tension is going to lurk!

    Thanks, Emily!

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