Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

Went to camp recently and the instructor said I needed to work on getting control of my left hand pinky. He had me stand my fingers up then place them back down. Ok, my pinky falls exactly into place… until I start to play and then it tends to fly up (mostly when the ring finger plays). Is there a way to get better control of this? I’ve been doing the clothes pin exercises to strengthen; I don’t have a lot of problems using the pinky. My high B falls a bit short (have really small hands) .. but I’m working on that too. OR… should I even worry about it.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

please worry about it (a little) because mine does it too, mostly on tunes i learned early on in my fiddle learning days. tunes learned later: it works better. but it is odd. i have noticed the little fingers of some fairly well known and capable fiddlers doing the same thing, but i would like to learn better. it’s not the strength i lack, it’s the nice parallel curve on all the fingers, especially when lifting fingers off the string/notes. would love to see what advice shows up here.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

I assume you are talking about the fiddle.
I had a similar problem, or rather, situation, as it isn’t really a problem as such, just something you are aware of. Your finger will gradually come down (at least mine did) without you even being aware of it, as the muscles develop. Tommy Peoples is an exception — his finger now looks like mine did when I first started — but it doesn’t stop him playing.
You could try playing a little bit with your pinky curled down below the finger-board, or, as some suggest, stretched out and braced against the edge. I tried this for a while. It felt weird at first, but it got my brain used to having the finger in that position. It’s something to do with the ‘tea-cup’ reaction, i.e. getting your finger up out of the way if it isn’t being used. You know that your high B falls short, so you will be able to fix that relatively easily given time. I wouldn’t worry about the aesthetics of it, although I know what you mean — my pinky refuses to go into a nice arch, but collapses into a straight line with the tip bent down. It doesn’t stop me playing, but I still wish it didn’t do that.

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Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

The pinky does tend to get "tied" to it’s nearest neighbour, as does the ring finger to the index. Try these exercises from The Cowling Institute. I had used these many years ago and didn’t realise they are still out there.
http://www.tabmantables.com/cowling.html If you try these, you can hold the fingers in place with your free hand until you get used to them over a few weeks, but don’t make the mistake of forcing them into place. Gentle and slow, that’s the trick!

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

@vjohnson - It’s my guess that ‘finger independence’ has not yet been developed. It usually comes through time, but there are some exercises that focus directly on control over individual fingers. A good one is here, even just the very first simple exercise helps you to develop better control :

http://el-atril.com/partituras/Sevcik/School_of_Violin_Technique_Op1_Book1.pdf

@full measure : here’s a vid I did about lifting fingers (and clustering) :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRvPfgV3TV8

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

Small finger is used so very little in normal playing and practice time that does not incorporate it.

Remedy is to actually employ it much much more. There are too few opportunities to use small fine in while playing tunes. So where you can, use the it instead of the next higher open string.

And, here we go with the tirade about the value of playing scales, but if you are so inclined to play scales, don’t use the open string at all.

If the weak finger got as much use as the pointing, long and ring finger there would be no problem. That probably won’t happen. so just use the small finger as much as your playing/practice time allows.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

[If the weak finger got as much use as the pointing, long and ring finger there would be no problem.]

It does in those exercises that I linked to, which (besides other benefits) will help to develop it.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

sometimes this site really comes through with good help. i did try to think of little finger slagging points, so i could watch out for them, but couldn’t come up with many. thanks to jim and tom and all who answered, and especially to the OP who got around to asking the question i might have thought of!

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

The fiddle player who taught me had a straight little finger when he played and he played very well with it straight, and for many years so was mine as i tried to copy him. It was only that i had problems playing cuts and rolls with it straight that i changed it. As soon as i decided to bend it and became aware of it after a few weeks it stayed that way. I practiced playing scales without using the open strings (still do) this will make the little finger alot stronger. i also use a soft sponge ball to gain strength. Don’t squeeze repeatedly- just squeeze and hold as long as you can. Don’t do this too much though once a day for five minutes is enough. You will notice the difference after a few weeks. Hope this helps

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

By contrast, my little finger seems naturally to come down together with the ring finger, curling under the fingerboard when the adjacent finger is on the E-string. This, it seems to me, should be of greater concern, since it means that the finger is not poised above the fingerboard, ready for use. However, it is only really when I look at my fingers that it troubles me; my little finger always seems to prepare itself when needed for a high B.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

That Cowling exercise is great-I’ve used it for years and still do it faithfully when on the way to a gig or session. It’s like doing an hour of warm-up. That exercise was the first in a whole set. Does anyone know if the others are available online?

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

I meant to say earlier, Backer’s link is interesting and quite useful too, imo.

I used to have a very weak pinky (I have fairly small hands) and it was only after I was advised to do the Sevcik that it got more efficient in a matter of weeks. I know exercises are sometimes poo-pooed by many in the fiddling community, but they do have a very useful function. I did say earlier that strength and finger independence develop over time, but the right exercises simply speed up the process (claw back time, in a way).

[*my pinky refuses to go into a nice arch, but collapses into a straight line with the tip bent down. It doesn’t stop me playing, but I still wish it didn’t do that.*]

@gam - mine does that too, but to me it’s an advantage. If you think about it, if there’s a curve in the pinky, it limits its range of reach, eg hitting a high C if you’re 3rd finger need to be on the A of the 1st string.

There was a discussion on this subject on another forum, and I made a short video just to show what mine looked like. It’s not meant to be instructional in any way, just ‘this is my pinky’, type of thing. The ‘chords’ thing is irrelevant here - it’s just the pinky movement, with extension while the 3rd finger is down. Near the end of the vid :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU1K2NAfY6s

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

Jim -One advantage of the Cowling exercises is that they are done away from the instrument, so you have an instant come-back to the whiners who complain of the horrors of doing dreadful exercises instead of hacking through tunes. FWIW I might add that I recently downloaded the Jethro Burns material that Alistair Chisholm so kindly linked to-https://thesession.org/discussions/32795. The first thing on Mike O’Connell’s disk one is a pinky exercise. I have been playing mandolin for over thirty years, and just fifteen minutes of that exercise improved my playing.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

Denis Murphy played with his pinkie out at a weird angle. I’ve heard Peadar o’Riada fondly recalling the funny way in which that little finger would kind of wonk flatly down onto the strings whenever he played a cut or roll with it.

I suppose my point is, if functionally speaking, you can play all the notes and ornamentation you want or need to, the angle of your finger at rest isn’t a huge stumbling block. If it’s actually preventing you from accomplishing something, then it’s workout time.

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Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

I think that there are exercises designed to achieve different things. Exercises away from the instrument obviously do help, probably in a more fundamental way - in a similar way that the guitar grip-strengthener does. I’m also a firm believer in developing the fingers of the left hand on the instrument, but with certain exercises, not by running through their repertoire, although others will disagree with this.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

Wow… lots of great info. Thanks all… I just tried the Cowling exercises .. OMG.. that will take some doing…. and doing ……. and doing.
I don’t actually have any problems using the pinky but now that I see that my independence is limited I will try to gain some of that.

Re: Left Pinky stands straight up… mostly

The reason the "pinky" is tied to the ring finger is because they share the same tendon anatomically. The only thing I know to help is practice, practice, practice. Even after 40+ years of playing, I still have to consciously "make my pinky do some work". Good Luck