I got a letter from your pinky the other day. I’m used to whole cellists writing to me asking for technical advice, but this was…a little awkward. What a conflict of interest! But I have decided to address the issues brought up in the letter, which I have included below. Click on it to enlarge.

Wow. That is a pinky in pain, both emotionally and physically. As your friend, you know I don’t like butting into your relationships, but I think this calls for a mediator. Let’s see what we can do.

First thing’s first. Don’t be in denial about the nature of your pinkies. They are short and tend to be weak. It’s easy to try and overcompensate for those qualities by hammering the strings with it, mangling your entire left arm position or by locking the joints on the right pinky and “standing” on the stick of the bow. None of those are good ideas and are more importantly unsustainable. What does that mean? It means that you might get away with them now, and maybe next week, but eventually you’ll suffer either injury or ruin some other part of your technique and then be unable to play with those strange postures. The wages of sin… Take this stuff seriously.

Next, we’ll deal a little with the left hand. Sure the pinky is short. So find an arm position where you can have all 4 fingers down on a string, and only play from there. Sounds simple. but if you’ve been swinging your elbow forward (and you don’t know that you’re doing it. Look in the mirror or video yourself.) this is your first step on the road to recovery. I like to prescribe a finger exercise that goes 1, 4, 1, 4, 2, 4, 3, 4 slurring 2 to a bow. Slurs are important because they really showcase any left hand silliness. Single bows let you get away with much more. So do that exercise, and find that sweet spot where your arm doesn’t have to cantilever all over the place to hit all 4 fingers. Drop your left hand and breathe between reps. It’s good to have to go back and find that position over and over again. Then you’re more likely to actually adopt it in your lesson, orchestra rehearsal, or whatever playing opportunity invokes Note Fever.

That’s enough work for today. Tomorrow, we’ll get into some Cossman, vibrato, and extension work. Dr. Morrow didn’t change my take on extensions, but she sure helped me articulate them in a way that I think you’ll benefit from, even if you don’t have a pinky writing me letters.

That you know of.

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks, Emily. The pinky is always a problem for me. I’m looking forward to your comments on vibrato also. BTW, the Sanford pinot was excellent. I’ve never had it before, and it was a real treat!

  2. SDM: It’s a problem for most people, including me, of course. And that Sanford never fails to deliver! I sometimes use its charms on people who insist they don’t like Pinot; it’s so complex that Cab drinkers can get into it.

    CGDA: I’m saying you should NOT swing your arm. Sure, it has to be flexible, but it is silly to swing your elbow 6 inches to move your hand an inch on the fingerboard. There are ways of doing it without many big movements.

  3. I think that might have been my pinky writing you that letter. He (why he? I don’t know) seems to have an inferiority complex and is indeed much shorter than I thought he would end up being. I’ve compared my hands with others — even the hands of my own kids — and the difference is striking.

    Thanks for the post and the suggestions.

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