Pinky "collapsing" at middle knuckle- any exercises to help keep an arch?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by RBrownBass, Apr 25, 2018.

  1. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Thoroughly Nice Guy Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    Today, I noticed that my left pinky is collapsing (not quite locking, like one would do a knee, but flattening out) when I stop the string with it. It isn't anything I've noticed before, so there may be some laziness creeping in. The middle knuckle isn't bent as much as it should be. It's never given me any pain, and the stopped notes are solid as those stopped with the index and middle, but I'd like to deal with it before it causes trouble down the road.

    Anyone haev any exercises to help keep the arch over all four LH fingers? Thanks in advance.
  2. Good topic. I notice that this happens a lot to me, maybe because I don't have huge hands. At least in the videos I've watched, Esperanza Spalding's hands seem to be much smaller than mine, but her technique appears fine in this area (and others...). So I figure I don't have any excuse to be lazy. I do my best to consciously correct the pinky failure as much as possible when it creeps into the practice room. I always use a mirror, which is a great help.

    Gigging is an entirely different story. Sorry I don't have any special techniques to share aside from practicing with alacrity and correcting unwanted form immediately. I look forward to hearing what some more experenced players have to say.
    RBrownBass likes this.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is a really common phenomenon and I think most bassists do this more often that you think. The length of the pinky is such that it can't be as curved as the other fingers when all fingers are set on a string together. On my hand, if the pinky were to have a a curve like the index and middle fingers, it would place the other fingers in an unnatural position to play where they almost had to "double back" at the smallest knuckle to reach the string; the most common solution for me and most of the bassists I know is to play with straighter pinky that is kind of "locked out" at the middle knuckle to allow the other longer fingers to have a natural curve.

    Check out Gary Karr's pinky at about the 3' mark of this video:

    Or Joel Quarrington at 5:45 of this video:

    At the school where I teach, I see this as just normal pinky technique based on the physiological make up of the hand in both classical and jazz players alike.
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  4. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Thoroughly Nice Guy Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    Thanks! My hand won't allow for it, either, which is why I posted. The Discover Double Bass vid with Geoff Chalmers was what piqued my interest.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    You'll hear a lot of different pedagogical ideas out there. Most of them are well meaning and probably came about either because that's what the person spreading them was taught, or because it's what they have always done. Some of these ideas contradict each other, and that's OK. Each person has to decide what works for them. I got to hang with Geoff at ISB this past summer - he's a super nice guy and he wants to help people. We come at technique in very different ways but neither of us was arguing about what the other one does or espouses. I see players all the time sounding great using techniques I am not a proponent of. When I do, I try to focus on the "sounds great" part and chalk it up to the musicianship of the player in question. All the rest is just pedagogical semantics if the player in question sounds good.
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  6. First, I suggest that you check out the shape of your hand. Hold your L palm up in front of you with fingers together and compare their lengths. For instance my index finger is shorter than my ring finger and the tip of my pinkie is past the last joint in my ring finger. This means that my palm is fairly square and it is relatively more easy to point my arched pinkie across the strings. BUT, I used to have a problem with that joint collapsing. If your index finger is as long or longer than your ring finger and your pinkie tip is shorter than the joint beside it then your palm is probably sloping down towards the base of your pinkie. Also there could be a difference between hand shapes in the placement and length of the thumb.

    Second, hold your hand out with palm down and fingers straight and together then spread and arch the fingers into their note spacing shapes. Observe that the index finger and pinkie roll outwards slightly as though the tips are forming a circle. Our calluses tend to form on the outside edges of the pads. The index finger is very strong and can hold its shape but the pinkie can roll sideways as it presses down the string.

    Third, how high is your action?

    In an ideal world nicely arched fingers 2, 3 and 4 will point across the strings and press down vertically when the palm is more square. The sloping palm with short pinkie will cause arched fingers, especially the pinkie, to point back up the strings unless other strategies are found. If possible it needs to come down more vertically on its pad. Then you have to figure out what to do with fingers 2 and 3. Some people allow them to collapse which has some risk of injury, especially if the action is higher. The index finger usually points up the string anyway.

    A big influence on LH shape and the pinkie is the height of the L elbow which itself can also be influenced by factors like the height and angle of the bass against your body and the distance between its neck and yours. In your case has something changed? I try to adjust everything so that I raise my hand from my side into playing position in the most natural way to land all four arched and spaced fingers on the string. This sets the height of my elbow. With the four fingers spaced in, say, First Position then raising my elbow will flatten out the arch of the pinkie and risk/cause its collapse. Dropping the elbow will arch the pinkie but roll its tip over and risk/cause its collapse sideways.

    So, check out the characteristics of your hand and the height of your elbow in relation to the way you sit or stand and see if something has changed. To exercise your entire hand find a soft rubber stress ball and wrap all your fingers and thumb around it then squeeze everything towards its center. Start with a few repetitions and gradually build up. I keep mine under my pillow. I also use my right thumb to hook my bent pinkie over and use as resistance to straighten and bend against.

    I can't recommend the final solution to my pinkie collapsing. I was demolishing the base of a chimney, rolling the heavy stones over when I lost control and trapped my pinkie between two stones that tore the ligaments. I had to wear a splint for 14 weeks and hope that I had not ended my career on bass. The good outcome was that the finger still worked but stiffened slightly and never collapsed since. I still can't form a complete fist but do I care?
  7. Thanks for the technical observations, David. This year I have been learning to relax more in my practice, resulting in somewhat lower angle in my left elbow, among other things. I have noticed that my left pinky is curving more often now (again, in practice), and also that the pinky when curved does have a tendency to roll downwards, as you mentioned. This necessitates some adjustments in order to regain an accurate pitch.

    I accept a locked pinky when it happens naturally as a result of my technique and especially during performance, but I do find it very satisfying to be able play in tune with a more relaxed left hand. Anyway, cheers.
  8. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Thoroughly Nice Guy Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    So sorry for not seeing this earlier, especially since you're giving advice freely.
    My index is almost as long as my ring (about 1mm difference) and my pinky doesn't quite reach the first joint of my ring (about 2/3mm difference)


    (it's weird looking at a photo of your own hand)

    Yep. My LH calluses (to the degree that they exist- I've never really had any LH calluses to speak of) are on the outside of the index and pinky, closer to the middle on the middle.

    My action ATM is 5-10mm with Spiro Mitts and a D'Addario Prelude G. To compensate for the action being so low, I'm pulling thru the string in such a way that the excursion (initially, and for the duration of most notes I play) runs parallel to the board's radius- for example, the A vibrates toward the E and then the D instead of toward and then away from the board. I know a guy who does a sort of pull away pizz, like old-time players. He's got a HUGE sound, but not much in the way of sustain.

    Wow! Be careful with tools! I think the stress ball is a good idea.
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