For years I struggled with vibrato. The two types of vibrato I could accomplish were uneven, tight, and narrow, and uneven, wide, and slow. Basically I sounded like an unfortunate church choir. It wasn’t until my last year of my Bachelor’s degree I finally realized why. My fingers were double-jointed! At the lowest part of the oscillation my finger would lock in place and then snap back up, creating a vibrato that limped along instead of enriching the music. Since then I have slowly gathered exercises to strengthen double-jointed fingers and allow me to play the way I wanted.
These three exercises are my favorites. I have used them on very young Pre-Twinklers, students preparing for college auditions, and myself. They all take consistency but can make a huge difference in intonation and tone.
Tapping each finger on their thumb helps the typical Pre-Twinkler prepare to hold down the strings effectively. For my double jointed students, they need more resistance. Placing an elastic band underneath the thumb and on top of the “table-top,” slowly tap each finger 10 times maintaining the curve of the finger.
Based on the Simon Fischer exercise that triggered my double jointed epiphany and changed my life (slight hyperbole.) Although it’s in the vibrato section of the book, I find it helpful for all students.
Placing your fingertip on your thumb or on the string, slowly flatten the finger from middle joint to the tip. If you’re hypermobile, make sure to only bring it halfway, not far enough that it “locks” in place. Bring it back to round. Repeat several times and with each finger. Read #256 and 257 in Basics by Simon Fischer for more explanation.
I recommend Play-doh or modeling clay to all of my hypermobile students. Manipulating the clay mostly with their fingertips helps their brain identify the muscles they need to use to protect those joints, and subsequently will strengthen their fingers. Many other activities that promote fine motor skills will also help.
Becoming more aware of my hypermobile joints has helped me with aspects of my life as varied as intonation and knee pain while exercising. The awareness has been helpful, but to quote Dr. Suzuki, “Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus 10,000 times is skill.” I had practiced for years with collapsing fingers before I became more careful. It will take many repetitions to change my habit.
What difficulties have you had with hypermobile or double-jointed students? What have you done that has helped?
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