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Oh my, I know I'm NOT supposed to have calluses on my fingertips just from playing the violin!
The Spring Chicken has flown the coup & my skin is really dry. I've tried to take care of my hand/fingers, but they've been abused with everything from JP-4 & MEK to desiccants & strong household cleaners over the years. I've butchered my nails for the sake of playing because of very thin finger pads - nails now look worse than when I chewed on them as a kid.
I'm a fan of William Fitzpatrick, who says you shouldn't have to press all the way down to the fingerboard to stop the string from vibrating.
Playing my 5-string violin, I'm sure my problems started many months ago when I decided it was time to get down & personal with the G & C strings. Of all the melodies, I picked Stephane Delicq's "La Femme de Marbre Mazurka" to play on the C G & D strings. Boy, was I pressing! And on top of that, I started trying to add vibrato! More pressing! That's when I noticed my fingertips getting hard & too dry - even tried filing them down because of such a HUGE difference in the way the strings respond to my fingers with supple skin vs. hard!
I thought as time went by (and my overall playing improved) it would be natural for my left hand to lighten up. Maybe it has somewhat.
Or is it inevitable that because I'm pressing, I'm also causing tension that I'm unaware of? (where's my emojis when I need them?)
Or do I need to go back to square 1 with just (cringe) scales or similar?
If I'm playing an average of 2 or more hours a day, how do get rid of the hardened fingertips (even if I try to lighten my fingers on the strings)?
Any suggestions? Maybe this is where I take up the Banjo?
I'm sorry everyone,
This has been a catharsis for me.
After I wrote this I thought about it all, revisited the 2 pertinent videos by William Fitzpatrick, then picked up my violin (moisturizer on my fingertips) to come to terms with "did I really need to press as hard as I've been?".
I'm embarrassed to say, "no I didn't need to press that hard".
I'm sure I started out maybe needing to press hard on the lower strings, but then it became a habit. The little voice in my head was saying "your fingers shouldn't feel like this" - it took reading what I wrote to have it sink in.
Part of my dilemma still remains. How do I stop calluses from forming if I'm still playing a couple hours a day (even though I'm going to make sure I don't press like I was).
Maybe moisturizer AND gloves? I don't want to stop practicing!
Here are the 2 videos that helped me in case anyone is interested.
These videos are excellent. (By the way, Mr. Fitzpatrick learned from one of the best: the teacher he briefly mentions was Dorothy DeLay, who taught many of the world's leading soloists.)
There's no need to wait for calluses to go away completely. If you play a lot, you can expect the contact points on your fingertips to harden and thicken a little bit, just not to the point of forming calluses.
One other thing: you're more likely to get hard calluses if the string action is too high, i.e. if the bridge or nut (or both) raises the string too high above the fingerboard.
Totally agree with Andrew H about the string action factor.
Somewhere in the body of this longish "Strings" article are actual numbers to measure string height and check how your string action measures up.
Two things brought my calluses back into reasonable range:
1) Fiddlershop (actually my local So.FL shop so lucky me) lowered the action on the violin I bought from them.*
2) I posted a video of myself playing a couple of years ago and Billy G immediately honed in on how my left hang was tight-clenching-pressing and other bad things.
The first fix was easy. The second is a work in progress... two years later. At least my calluses are tolerably discrete 🙂
* Having your action lowered is nice but adjusting it too low can lead to a floppy and buzzy strings ... especially the G string which has the least tension of the 4.
AndrewH -Thank you!
Bocaholly - Thank you!
I will definitely check my string action!
But I think it's just me NOT being mindful of how I practice. I practiced well last night with only probably 1/2 the pressure on each note. That's a lot of focusing for me (laughing)!
I just tried something this morning I think may help me get rid of my tough skin (so I can start fresh)!!!
Friend of mine dropped off what she said a "practice glove" this morning - anyone heard of this?
It's a thin, nylon knit glove - she said she used when she started guitar! I tried playing with it (lightly, lightly - my new mantra) - no problems... maybe not so good for pizzacato, but I'm not doing that now, anyway.
Maybe if I use this for a week it will help to get my skin condition back!
Being my age, it may take a little longer. Anyway, hopefully I'll have this under control, soon... if I can stay focused!
Update - 🤗 My skin on my fingers is almost completely back to normal!
I've been practicing with the "guitar practice glove" my friend lent me this last week & amazed at the change.
Thought I was lightening up my fingers while wearing the glove, but maybe not enough - 😬 preeettty tender, now!
Hope I don't have to struggle with this too long - starting to suspect I need a different brand of C string.
BTW, wearing this finely knit glove feels great/therapeutic - helps remove tension in my hand.
Gordon Shumway - you might find this humorous!
I actually did buy a ukulele - quite a while back (maybe 8-10yrs) - an Ovation Applause.
Was stupid enough to start with putting on Helicore strings (I think). My fingers WERE sore, but I taught myself a few songs, then (long story/short) I became very ill and lost all my interest in music of any kind. Believe the Applause had a carbon composite back that was rounded in shape - very slippery/hard to hold and I couldn't see an easy way to attach a shoulder strap. I hope to return to it.
Anyway, back to the fiddle - I'm definitely seeing improvement since I started to force myself to focus on tension in my fingers and use less pressure - the softer skin on my fingertips helps.
Think I hear a big difference in the way I sound, but my perception is probably amplified.
Can see this is going to be an on-going issue for me - I easily get a little too passionate & my fingers become possessed!
Be nice if I could just get it across to my fingers they don't need to kill the strings...
Thanks for the comments!
I hope this helps somebody.
I've been playing my 5-string violin the last 6 days while using the guitar practice glove on and off. My fingertips are MUCH better, but I think I'll keep using it a little longer while I get my finger pressure under control.
I've been trying very hard to focus on using "just enough" pressure on the strings with each of my fingers while playing many of the tunes I've learned, but it's still too easy to revert back to pressing too hard.
One important thing I realized this week is I'm absolutely no good at rubbing my stomach in a circular motion with one hand, while simultaneously patting the top of my head with my other hand! Actually, my little voice says "of course my hands are doing multiple tasks, independently" - just not enough, yet!
I have been wrestling to free myself of this "light" fingers = "light" bow & "strong" bow = "pressed" fingers pattern. So, started forcing myself to just bow strongly while I keep my fingers light on the strings.
There's hope this will help me break this pattern between my hands. I'm sure I won't have any trouble going back to being versatile with my bow, afterwards.
Anyone else struggle with this?