String students often suffer from weakness in the little finger, but this can be overcome, writes James Winram in the Strad's July 1913 issue
A well-developed fourth finger is of paramount importance in the successful working of the left hand. The third finger is the trying one for pianists, and the fourth is similarly so for violinists.
For a considerable time after the commencement of a student’s studies, the fourth finger displays, in the majority of cases, the most irritating weakness and helplessness. A pupil is many times tempted to the conclusion that the little finger is too short or weak, and that it will never come right.
But students with very short and, it may be, very weak fourth fingers, may take fresh courage. A fourth finger must be very short indeed to put a stop to an intended violin career. Before proceeding to strengthen either finger or hand, it must be impressed upon the pupil’s mind that the most wonderful results can be achieved by a little thought directed upon the work without touching the violin at all.
There is too great a tendency at the present time to practise by the clock. Less physical practice and more concentration of thought will often produce better results.
Let the maxim be ‘slow’. Speed will come later. Strength and elasticity must be acquired, and the muscles which supply the necessary power are situated around the ball of the little finger.
The student should spread out the left hand and examine the outline carefully. What is known as the ball of the little finger is situated between the knuckle joint of that finger and the wrist.
The building up of the muscles around this portion of the hand must be done slowly and steadily. Any attempt at rushing matters will only cause discomfort, for if the muscles are severely strained, somewhat suddenly, cramp is sure to result.
The tendons of course are very important factors in the gaining of strength and elasticity, but the student should never forget that the ball of the thumb and the ball of the little finger are the main essentials for strengthening the left hand.
To acquire strength of fingering, play slowly, raise each individual finger with a spring-like motion, and let it fall like a hammer. If this exercise is practised conscientiously it will produce wonderful results, for the manner of straightening the finger firmly and quickly after each note, produces, in course of time, that power and elasticity of muscle which are essential.
Other splendid exercises are what may be termed silent exercises, ie, play the passages with the fingers only, and hear the notes by percussion. A word of caution is necessary here. No one should practise silent exercises until the left hand has had a considerable course of training.
This article was first published in The Strad's July 1913 issue