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A reader recently asked for some tips on how to play the violin with big fingers. I think it’s a great question that many other people are wondering. So here are some tips.
I know it seems impossible, and is very difficult, but take a close look at Itzhak Perlman’s hands. You’ll notice that his fingers are like sausages….very large and clunky hands, and yet his playing is as clean and agile as can be.
Here is the key:
1. Work slowly and precisely. If you are working on something with 2 tones, say on the D and A, then adjust your hand gently around until you can hit the notes precisely. Some ways of adjusting your hand around include:
- try adjusting the angle of the violin on your shoulder. Perhaps if you let your violin tilt so that the f-holes are facing more to your RIGHT, it can relieve the angle, and your hand will be more pliable.
- try MINIMIZING the pressure of your fingers onto the fingerboard. (most of us press too hard anyway, and it was said that Sarasate never EVER had dents in his fingers from the strings. He would barely touch with enough pressure to make the note sound.) Think of it: if you don’t press your finger down all the way, your fingertip will not “spread out”.
- try adjusting your elbow. Bring it more to the left or more to the right. And as you do that, try to also adjust the tilt of your violin, as well as the ANGLE that it protrudes from your neck. So you can tilt the violin by changing the angle of the f-holes, and you can also change the angle by moving the scroll to the left or to the right.
I know this seems like alot, and it’s a HUGE upheaval, and frustrating, but it can be done. And if you can find the position that works just ONCE in a hundred attempts….that is GOOD! Eventually, you will be able to find the position once every 50 tries, then once every 10 tries. I can sort of relate to you, in my frustrating search for a shoulder rest that worked for me. (Click here to learn a great position for most violinists’ shoulder rests.) It took a long time, but I eventually nailed it. And all the time spent in the meantime is NOT a waste of time. It’s not like your progress must come to a halt as you are trying to solve the puzzle! You will continue to progress, and there will be some passages you can’t play yet, because of your fingers, but keep working at it.
There is one other, easier solution, and that is to get a viola and play the tunes on viola. That opens up a whole world of harmony to you. And if you play in fiddle bands, it will be harder for you to play the traditional fiddle songs. But you could harmonize, and IMPROVISE your OWN solos or ask your band to take the song down a 5th. Then the fingerings would ALL be the same as for a violin. But this is just a suggestion.
Here’s a couple Perlman videos…..look at his hands….watch the angle of his violin….watch the tilt of his violin….watch his elbow…..
Now, I realize your fingers may be even larger than Perlman’s. I had a student whose fingers were literally about the size of small Bratwurst. But, if you see what he is able to play, in all that complexity and precision, then hopefully you will realize that you can play something of less complexity with some precision as well.
I also noticed on these videos that he NEVER has all his fingers on the strings at the same time. I think for people with LARGE fingers, the concept of “finger glue” is out of the question. You only have room for 1-2 fingers at at time.
Also, his violin is held at a downward sloping angle, more towards his front than his side, and the f-holes are tilting to the right. Some of this has to do with the fact that he SITS to play….but it’s also to accommodate his large hands.
Good luck! You gotta have patience and perseverance, but most of all, you’ve gotta have fun along the way.
I want to scream. Had my first lesson and it is pizzicato. My fingers are too fat to precisely hit the notes. Very discouraging.
I doubt your fingers are too fat. It’s just a matter of learning to hold our left hand at the proper angle so that it makes room for our fingers. There are lots of violinists out there with really meaty hands, and they figure it out.
My advice to you: be patient, and be kind. Ask questions of your teacher, ask for help….and be patient with the help. Play EASY EASY songs. Learn to sound good on easy songs. THEN, try slightly harder stuff.
If you love the instrument, but you really think your hands are a problem, you can get violins with WIDER necks, so the strings are spaced further apart. You can also consider viola, which is naturally bigger, and has a nice rich C string instead of the E string.
Don’t scream. Well, if you want to scream, please do, but then come back to your violin and try again! LOL Good luck!
Hi nice to speak with you. I need to learn to play the fiddle left handed because of an impairment and I have thick fingers. There isn’t very much info for left handed players. What would you suggest? Thank you for your time.
Sorry to be so slow to reply!
So, if you play violin left handed, you will definitely want to get a left-handed fiddle…..
The strings will be strung opposite, the bridge will be reversed, and the sound post and bass bar on the inside of the violin will be reversed. It’s really necessary to purchase a special left hand violin….it would be super hard to play a REGULAR violin left-handed.
And WHILE YOU ARE SHOPPING…..see if the shop can CUSTOMIZE the neck for you, so the strings have wider spacings. So if the violin is being built from scratch, have them make the neck a bit wider. OTHERWISE….just ask them to make the string notches on the nut and the bridge cut as far apart as possible. That will help you tremendously. It will cost you a little to have the custom work done, and getting a violin custom made will cost you more than $1000, but if you have the money, you can get EXACTLY what you want. If you don’t have the money, then you can “JIMMY-RIG” a left handed violin with wider string spaces.
I bought a violin, just so I could learn to play two songs. One is cajun fiddle, the other one is, you can probely guess, Orange Blosom Special. I have been watching your tutorials on the special, they are awsome, and John Cocmans on cajun fiddle. You both make it look so easy, I will learn them, it will just take some time. I have a question for you, could you on one of your tutorials show the proper way to rosin up tthe bow ? Every time I try to rosin my bow I brake the hairs, am I rubbing to hard or what ? I am open for suggestions, thanks.
I have a video about how to rosin the bow in my lessons course.
I think I could do a quick demonstration for YouTube. Hopefully in the next 7 days.
Meanwhile, YES, you are pressing too hard. Take note of WHERE the hairs are breaking. Are they coming out of the frog, coming out of the tip, or breaking somewhere in the middle?
Coming out of frog: Your spread wedge needs to be replaced, or your hair isn’t glued in well enough.
Coming out of tip: Your hair plug at the tip needs replaced or re-plugged.
Breaking in the middle: You are “pinching” the hair between the stick and the rosin, which clips the hair at the pinch spot. Either TIGHTEN the horse hair more when you rosin, or go more gently.
HOpe that helps! –Lora
Just discovered your videos on You Tube. Thank you for that. Mr. Perman is fantastic! I too have fat fingers and here I though I had to “harden” my finger tips so they wouldn’t flex when contacting the stings and fingerboard. However as you pointed out adjusting the violin and also apply a lighter pressure of the strings with the fingers. Thank you for that suggestion! I will be giving that a try in the morning.
Well……how did it go?
If you have large hands, STUDY PERLMAN!!!! Oh my gosh, I knew he had large hands, but until you really get a good look at him, you don’t realize everything he compensates for! He has FANTASTIC videos online, many of them tutorials.
The picture you have for this article is such a HOOT ! x-D
yes i have large fingers also an the teacher was going to write some double stops that would be easier to finger while playng the obs, but i understand the concept to manipulte your fiddle where it would be easier to finger,i know of fiddlers with large hands that play the obs with out any apparent trouble, jhust boils down to preserance. milt
As for Itzhak .. he’s obese due to his sedentary situation. Bluntly put, he’s got “fat” fingers, but if he lost a lot of weight his hands would slim down appreciably. If he survives to 70 or 80, he will naturally waste away and his hands will be like “new”.
Quickly switch the student over to the viola or even the cello …. bass viol too.
Yes, not a bad idea. But alot of people really really have their heart set on Violin or Fiddle. I recently heard there was a brand of violin strings that could be strung on a viola!!! Wouldn’t that be cool!