16

This is depressing.

I have/had a young (around 8 years old) violin student who lost his left index finger in a freak accident over the holiday. He is a beginner, about ABRSM grade 2.

I know of people play different instruments in unconventional ways in order to accomodate for missing fingers. E.G: Jean “Django” Reinhardt).

He really loves the violin. Does anybody have any experience in this area? Can anybody point to some resources or is there, even better, a similar violin player?

  • Which hand? If the left, I might recommend trying to play a mirrored instrument. The best answer depends on how rich his parents are as well as a lot of luck, but a cadaverous finger transplant would be ideal. – Carl Witthoft Jan 9 '17 at 12:18
  • Oh my. I don't think his parents are rich. Also finger transplants are not a thing in my country as far as I know. I'm thinking of trying a mirrored instrument. He is quite young so maybe he could make the switch. – xerotolerant Jan 9 '17 at 14:18
  • @xerotolerant - "quite young" -- can you tell us his approximate age, please? And his level? – aparente001 Jan 12 '17 at 8:38
  • Edited. He is 8 or 9. – xerotolerant Jan 12 '17 at 14:14
  • Another place to ask would be www.fiddlehangout.com. I haven't spent much time there in a couple of years, but there are some experienced teachers who post there, a lot of older casual players who deal with minor disabilities, and if he's still around, a one handed player. – Karen Jan 12 '17 at 14:48
6

I'm a cellist and I have been parent coach for Suzuki viola. I don't have specific experience with this, but will use my imagination.

Let's renumber the fingers. What used to be "2" will now be "1" and so on. Your student will be working with fingers 1, 2 and 3. Think of a beginning student who doesn't use the fourth finger yet.

Now, let's think about how to play a scale that doesn't use open strings, for example A flat major. When the violinist has four fingers available, it is possible to play the whole thing in one position, without shifting. That's not going to work now. Here are some possible approaches ("change" will mean "change strings"):

A: 1 - 1 2 3 change 1 - 1 2 3

B: 1 2 - 2 3 change 1 2 - 2 3

C: 1 2 3 - 3 change 1 2 3 - 3

D: Always play six notes on one string before shifting to a lower position.

I think I like B the best of the first three.

C has the advantage that it's similar to a pretty common fingering I've seen for three-octave scales, where one repeats 4 at the top of the scale.

The challenge with D will be to maintain a solid tone in the higher register of each string.

I think you could simulate what your student will experience by putting a bulky bandaid on your left index finger, so as to avoid using it. This will make it easier for you to try things out yourself before you suggest them to your student.

While your student is getting the hang of this new way of playing, I think he should avoid doing anything on the G string. Reason: the center of gravity is going to be more towards the new third finger than before, and this will require swinging the elbow around more than normal. Playing on the G string already requires one to bring the elbow around, which is unnatural, so let's not overdo it at the beginning.

I think the thing that will be the hardest to adjust (and sometimes not possible to play, as written) will be certain chords (triple stops). I would not hesitate to do a little rewriting of pieces, such as Bach, that have some triple stops that aren't working. For example, you could omit the middle note, and play the lower note as a grace note before the main note. When saxophonists play Bach cello suites, this is how they interpret triple and quadruple stops.

In terms of inspiration, even though the anatomy and mechanics are different, it might be inspiring to take a look at Jessica Cox, born with no arms. She explained in a short documentary (2 minutes in) that for her, a turning point was to see another woman with no arms caring for her baby, picking up the baby, changing the baby's diaper. Cox is very upbeat.

You and your student may also want to think about a prosthetic.

Edit:

I haven't found a video of Cox playing piano with the audio, but I did find a short one that shows her playing, visually. It also shows her doing a variety of daily living activities, such as brushing her hair, eating dinner, typing on her computer. This is a good video for you, I think, because she explains how helpful her parents' can-do attitude was -- right from birth.

I think the other key thing for Cox's development, in terms of self-esteem and creative problem solving, must have been watching the mother caring for her baby. Cox has made a point of making herself available to children with her disability, realizing, I think, how important it is to make that connection.

I myself have seen how helpful that connection with others with the same disability can be. My son has Tourette Syndrome and OCD. He has found the following hugely helpful:

  • watch videos of Tim Howard (famous soccer goalie with Tourette and OCD), both playing soccer and being interviewed about his disability; and read Howard's autobiography

  • meet other young people with Tourette Syndrome at conferences and family retreats

  • Thanks for your response. It is still to early to talk prosthetics since his hand is still healing from the surgery. I haven't seen his hand so I can't yet envision how that would work. I was thinking about what you described above before. I'll try playing without my index finger for a bit to see how it goes. What do you think about switching to a 'left-handed' violin? The student is left handed so perhaps this would work. – xerotolerant Jan 9 '17 at 11:28
  • @xerotolerant - I thought about that. I read that the instrument set-up needs to be altered by a luthier. I have some doubts about this. If your student were starting from scratch, maybe this would be a good idea. At least for now, maybe it would be best not to muddy the waters by mentioning this possibility to him. He would have to relearn so many muscle things. // I had another idea. Had you ever done "one finger scales" with him? By the way, what's his level? – aparente001 Jan 9 '17 at 16:07
  • He is a late beginner. He can play almost any song that he can sing on the violin but not really advanced in much else. He did grade 1 trinity a year ago. I am sure I can find mirror instruments. I'll discuss the recommendations with his parents. Once he recovers from the surgery. – xerotolerant Jan 10 '17 at 11:41
3

In addition to the above, consider he may be also able to fall in love with a brass instrument that does not require all the fingers on the left hand. Trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium, tuba, none of those require four fingers on the left hand, and all are beautiful instruments. It depends on his capability and desire to play professionally....there may be famous disabled people playing violin out there, but they are very likely not in the ranks of professional orchestras. It depends on his goals, and it is going to take time for him to adjust his goals after this terrible loss. Meanwhile he obviously has your support in whatever he wants to do, and that is wonderful.

2

Rudolf Kolisch, an excellent musician known for his association with Schoenberg, played the violin left-handed due to an injury.

There's also Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed

  • This seems to be exactly like my students case. It would be a little while before I could mark one as correct though since I have to actually try the recommendations. – xerotolerant Jan 10 '17 at 11:37
  • @xerotolerant - I suppose the key to figuring out how applicable this case would be to your student would be to compare the age and the level when injury occurred. How old, and how far along, is your student? I haven't yet figured this out for Kolisch yet. The closest I've gotten so far: (1) keyofstrawberry.com/gibbsy, and (2) archive.spectator.co.uk/article/24th-july-1976/28/… -- the latter worth reading if only for the priceless comment about Ševčík's "boring exercises": "few of us will deny the beneficial effect of his toxic substances in small dosages." – aparente001 Jan 10 '17 at 18:26
1

Adrian Anantawan is a one-handed violinist. I assume the index finger you're referring to though is on his fingering hand and not his bow hand?

Anantawan is one of the world's most accomplished young violinists. He has performed at the White House, at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, for Pope John Paul II, for Christopher Reeve and most recently for the Dalai Lama during an event at MIT. Anantawan played a piece by Bach, and when he finished, the Tibetan Buddhist leader approached him. Anantawan's disability has been with him since birth. http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/15/tech/innovation/adrian-anantawan-violinist/

This list is somewhat specific to guitar but, might be useful in motivating/inspiring:

Jerome John Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) Better known as Jerry to legions of Deadheads, Garcia, an avid folk and bluegrass enthusiast, was best known for his singing, songwriting, and lead guitar playing with the Grateful Dead for three decades.

Garcia was also know to play banjo and other stringed instruments. He attributed his stellar fingering style to the missing finger.

Jean “Django” Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 – May 16, 1953) Django Reinhardt was a virtuoso jazz guitarist and composer who began his career in France at the age of 13. Music critic Thom Jurek calls Reinhardt’s jazz group Quintette du Hot Club de France, “one of the most original bands in the history of recorded jazz.”

When Reinhardt was 18, he and his wife Florine “Bella” Mayer were extremely poor. To supplement their income, Bella made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper. One night after a performance, Django came home and knocked over a candle in the their caravan that was full of the highly flammable material. He received serious burns over half his body and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were so badly burned that doctors believed he would never play guitar again.

After the injury, Reinhardt developed a new technique to compensate for his paralyzed fingers. He would go on to become an international jazz superstar and inspire generations of guitar players. Many guitar players have cited Reinhardt as an influence including Jeff Beck, who has described Reinhardt as “by far the most astonishing guitar player ever” and “quite superhuman.”

Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr. (November 21, 1940 -) Known by his stage name, Dr. John, Rebennack is a Grammy-award winning pianist, singer, and songwriter; and purveyor of all things New Orleans.

Rebennack began his musical career in the 1950s playing guitar because he didn’t believe he could make a living playing piano. However, his career as a guitarist would come to an end around 1960. Rebennack’s friend and band mate, Ronnie Barron, was being pistol whipped before a performance one evening. Rebennack interceded, placing his hand over the attacker’s gun. The gun discharged, severely injuring Rebennack’s left ring finger. The injury would lead Rebennack to concentrate on piano.

After shifting his focus from guitar to piano, Rebennack would become a highly sought after session musician working with the likes of James Taylor, Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin. Eventually he launched his solo career and developed the persona of Dr. John. He has collaborated with artists including Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, and Ani DiFranco, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Anthony Frank “Tony” Iommi Iommi, an English guitar player and songwriter, was one of the founding members of pioneering heavy metal band, Black Sabbath.

When Iommi was 17 he was employed as a machinist at a sheet metal factory. On his last day working at the factory, he was involved in an industrial accident and lost the tips of his ring and middle finger on his right hand. Discouraged by the accident, he almost abandoned music. However, his boss at the factory encouraged Iommi by playing a Django Reinhardt album to motivate Iommi to continue with music.

After the injury Iommi attempted to learn to play right-handed. Unsuccessful in that attempt, he then strung his guitar with banjo strings and fashioned prosthetic finger tips out of plastic liquid soap bottles. These changes led to a unique sound and style of play that would become Black Sabbath’s signature sound.

I'd also mention Rick Allen, the drummer from Def Leppard.

An overarching theme with all of these musicians is that they embrace their 'disabilities' and end up changing the game, so to speak. So, what might be seen as tragic for the young student may very well end up being a blessing; and his or her greatest strength.

  • Thanks for your answer. Took me a while to get through all the info. Yes the missing finger is on his fingering hand. It hasn't healed and such yet so i don't yet know how much he has to work with. All these examples suggest to me that I should just recommend he learn guitar. – xerotolerant Jan 9 '17 at 11:23
  • 1
    @xerotolerant - "I should just recommend he learn guitar." I couldn't disagree more. If your student chooses to branch out to guitar, and then later on make a complete switch, fine. But I don't think he should be steered in that direction. In my experience, the thing that has the greatest effect on how much and how far a student advances with music is allowing him to choose the instrument he wants to play. I've seen a fourth grader's interest in music die when given a trumpet instead of the requested violin (because his ... – aparente001 Jan 9 '17 at 16:17
  • ... family couldn't afford to rent an instrument, and the school was out of violins when he transferred in, but it did happen to have an extra trumpet). If your student is highly motivated to play violin, it is important to respect that and work with that. – aparente001 Jan 9 '17 at 16:20
1

I have a missing index finger on my left hand. Due to that, along with other problems, I play violin left-handed. I started playing violin in my fifties, right-handed. It was difficult, but not as difficult as you might think. And you can find instruments specifically made for left-handed violinists. There is no need to alter a right-handed one.

  • Thanks for your answer. I recently heard of an Australian soloist who broke one of his fingers close to a big concert. He was able to adjust and play his pieces three fingered. Now that I play the cello, I think just doing violin three fingered is not a show stopping limitation. – xerotolerant May 25 '18 at 2:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.