I bet every single cellist reading this has struggled with a mysteriously sharp second finger. Or perhaps you have been plagued with a third finger that constantly sounds flat?
Most likely you have had to deal with BOTH defiant digits!
You're not alone.
In my twenty years of teaching, I have never seen a beginner cellist with naturally accurate left-hand-spacing in the neck positions. I didn't have it either. Our fingers do not easily fall into the beautiful half-step intervals that are required there.
What causes Barbie Fingers?
As much as we hate to admit it, we cellists are human beings after all. And human hands have adapted to pick berries and fight, not manipulate the strings and bow of a cello.
Science Made Simple explains the mechanical connection between your middle two fingers:
The tendons in your fingers are independent from one another apart from the ones in your middle and ring finger. These tendons are connected.
In addition to the musculoskeletal connection between these fingers, some studies have revealed a neural linkage as well. No wonder scientists refer to the attachment between these two fingers as "enslaving." They are so bound together, how could they ever work independently?
To feel the power of this phenomenon, try this experiment:
- Place your left hand, palm down, on a flat surface.
- Tuck your middle finger under your palm.
- Try to raise your index finger
- Try to raise your pinky.
- Now try to raise your ring finger.
Three steps to halfsteps
Well, not entirely... But enough to make our fingers into the half step dancers we want them to be!
STEP ONE: Stretch!
Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat five times.
Do this daily and it will slowly loosen the physical connection between the two fingers. Who knows? You might also enjoy the added benefit of attracting Trekkies.
STEP TWO: Isolate
Slowly play each of the following exercises on your cello. Repeat each measure as many times as you need to. These might not be easy to execute at first, but keep trying. It will get better!
STEP THREE: Listen and adjust
Try the following musical example on your cello. Listen carefully to the intervals. Try to make the notes with the upward arrows higher and the ones with the downward arrows lower in pitch. This will help your hand get used to the bigger spacing required between the second and third fingers.
EXTRA HELP: Martha has an excellent book that helped me work through my Barbie finger issue. It is called, The Road to Secure Intonation in the Neck Positions and you can order it HERE. I highly recommend it, as most of my exercises here are based on what I learned from her.