The dreaded pinky finger

The dreaded pinky finger

First of all, I would like to say how delighted I am to have found this site. I have made it part of my daily routine to come check out the various discussions and the wealth of knowledge that can be found here and its been a lot of help.
I just started learning to play the fiddle about six months ago with no previous music experience. Just about everyone I know told me I’m crazy since its such a difficult instrument, especially to start on. Despite the squeaks and squawks, I’m incredibly addicted! I found a good teacher near me who teaches Irish fiddle and have been taking lessons weekly for the past four months.
I think I’m making decent progress, although sometimes when I record myself playing it’s a different story haha 🙂. The biggest hurdle that I’ve yet to tackle is the use of the pinky finger on the ‘E’ string. I have small hands and I just can’t seem to stretch it far enough. My teacher has suggested that I shift my hand down to hit the note. I have tried doing this but I find that I end up fumbling or pausing as I try to get my fingers back into proper position afterwards. I’m wondering If I should be trying to stretch out my pinky to eventually be able to reach the note, or if I should continue to practice the shifting. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Bring your arm around, using larger muscle groups., Bring the elbow closer to the center of your body, that should help your pinky reach. It’s not so much about stretching the pinky as it is using the arm (starting with the large muscle groups in the back).

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

wyogal is right—find the optimal position for your left elbow, and keep stretching for that note. Don’t just stretch your little finger, learn to position your whole hand and arm so that you can reach all the notes comfortably. Swing your left elbow under to reach the G string, swing it back for the E string.

Shifting your hand a little bit up the neck for that note will throw your intonation off, and won’t be fast enough when you start to pick up speed.

You aren’t playing with your left palm flat against the neck, are you? That makes it harder to spread out your fingers, I think.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Thanks for the advice. I will try moving my elbow around and start focusing on my arm to see if I can find a good position without shifting. As far as my palm, no, keeping my wrist out is one thing my teacher beat out of me from the first few lessons.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

It must be difficult for a beginning fiddle player to learn to use the pinkies, since it takes so much time to get them out of your ears and into position.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Actually stretching the fingers and toes is meant to help….
7/8th size instrument?

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

I’ve seen with young players using stickers to guide them until their ears can do it. My daughter is down to one sticker, fourth finger on E. She does still need it, and it helps her orient when going up the neck (which the brat has just started learning. Ouch.).

Getting your elbow under you should be a big help, and after a bit you won’t even have to think about it.

Good luck!

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

I play the tenor banjo and i too had this problem .What my teacher did was make me move up but this takes a lot of practice The fiddle and the banjo are much the same as in tuning but the fiddle does not have the frets Break down the bit you find hard and just move your hand up .it works for me

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Des Rynne—Moving your hand up is necessary for banjo, unless you have huge hands, because the scale is larger than on fiddle. And with frets, bnajo players don’t have to worry about intonation like fiddlers do.

jig had it right—jasten, if your hands really are too small to make the reach, get a 7/8 or even 3/4 size fiddle.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Thanks for the advice all! I definitely think its a solvable problem without stepping down in the fiddle size. I know with time and stretching I can eventually work it out, it’s just frustrating when it derails a tune I’m learning. I really think that if I practice moving up that it will turn into a habit that could otherwise be avoided if I just suffer for a bit and see if i can work that elbow and stretch that pinky out. I will give it some time and see if I make some progress 😉

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

You can do it. I’m 5 foot nothing and I play a full size, I have ever since I was 11.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

How do you position your fiddle relative to your body? If it’s pointing too much to the front that is going to affect your left-hand technique, making it more difficult to reach with the pinky. Having the fiddle pointing in a direction 30-45 degrees to the side is much more effective and brings your left elbow under the fiddle much more comfortably with no straining.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

I tell my students that the nose points to 12 o’clock and the fiddle is at 10.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

I think the "pinky issue" like many other technical issues of playing the fiddle — just improves more and more if you DON’T GIVE UP. That is, IMO, the main thing — if you really love the music and don’t give up (even if you take a few vacations from the instrument over the years but come back to it) and do use your brain analytically during your practice time.

It took me years of working on the use of my little finger to get it to behave. In addition to using it to get a "B" on the E string, I began slowly to work on a vibrato on all the strings, with each finger, so that some day I would be able to use a little bit on slower pieces if I wanted to. This strengthens the fingers and in particular, the little one.

Oh, I might add, my pinky on my fretting hand has been broken and healed slightly crookedly — nevertheless —- I decided that I would be the master of this crooked appendage, and I just kept at it, and at it, and at it. I’m still keeping at it. I’m working on gracing notes with my little finger — and trying to do it with definition. Both of my little fingers have been broken, one when I fell skating and the other when it was smacked with a volleyball. That was the last time I played volleyball!!!!!

GADS, they are so funny looking — my two little fingers — both of which healed crooked — with breaks in different places. It is VERY DIFFICULT to set a little finger and have the splint stay stable; in my case, it seemed to have been impossible!!

Linda

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Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Jasten, I’ve got a short and distinctly curved pinky and as a learner had the same trouble with reaching that note on the E string. My teacher had me simply keep practicing sliding the pinky up a bit to the right spot until I could do it easily. That takes time but it does come if you’re patient and keep trying.

Stretching the finger can help too; it really depends on your hands. I used to rub the outside of my hand and tug gently on the pinky as a warm-up before playing. It seemed to improve my flexibility and reach just that little extra bit.

Good luck!

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

It’s interesting to read how fiddlers approach this problem. Guitar students always get around to telling me that their hands are too small to reach this chord or the other, or that their joints don’t bend the way mine do, so they can’t do it. There’s always a way to make it work. Sometimes it’s re-working habits, like the way you hold the instrument, sometimes there’s a trick to it, sometimes it’s just work on it until you get it, but there’s always a way.
Right now I’m looking at pinky issues on the guitar, trying to figure out in some depth when it’s best to shift position and when it’s best to stretch for the b, and I’m finding that just spending some time thiinking about the problem has somehow improved my reach a good bit, and it’s also made me better at shifting smoothly up to the fifth fret. So don’t overlook the benefits of simply thinking about the mechanics of the problem, that in itself might help you get there.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

I’m just beginning to get my pinky working, so I feel your frustration!

My teacher gave me a clothes peg - the type with a spring. Place it on the palm of the hand and press down with the pinky as a finger strengthening exercise. I keep it in my coat pocket, so I can do the exercises when I’m in a queue, or otherwise have a few idle moments. Helped me loads.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

There’s also a gadget you can get called a gripmaster, which helps strengthen all your fingers.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Don’t overdo it with the Gripmaster or whatever, though. Apparently a great pianist named Robert Schumann permanently damaged his hands by overusing some sort of exercise device.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

>The biggest hurdle that I’ve yet to tackle is the use of the pinky finger on the ‘E’ string.

Try using it on the ‘G’ string for a good while.

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

I have the same dreaded pinky
problem just bought my first
guitar am having problems putting
pinky on fret #12 seems to point
inward to my ring finger.Trying
to do pinky exercises to no avail.
I just do not want to get frustrated.
Always wanted to learn guitar.
Even my ring finger is bent inward
towards index finger
Any advice greatly appreciated
Craig

Re: The dreaded pinky finger

Craig- the pinky turning inward is normal, and considered correct guitar technique. If the four fingers are placed on adjacent frets, say frets 2,3,4,and 5, the fist and fourth fingers should turn slightly inward towards each other. The second finger should be fairly straight, and the third finger should be pretty straight but can turn very slightly inward, and the thumb should be behind the second finger, although that changes depending on what your hand is doing.