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Do the Spreadability and Finger Length of Cellists and Guitarists Change Due to Practice?

Renate Kloeppel
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 15 Number 1: Page 23 (March 2000)

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Abstract: It is a widely held opinion among musicians that extreme joint positions increase the flexibility in the corresponding joints. There are also occasional views that extensive use of the fingers starting in childhood may lead to increased finger length. These opinions have implications for teaching methods; however, in spite of extensive examinations of the shapes of musicians' hands, to date there have been almost no objective findings. There have been large-scale examinations of the angle of supination of the left elbow of violinists, with the finding that primarily genetic factors are responsible. In order to answer the question whether external factors can influence joint configurations of the hand as well as finger length, the active finger spreads and finger lengths of 210 subjects (cellists, guitarists, and control subjects) were measured. The working hypothesis was that there would be an increase in finger spread in the left hand fingers compared with the right if the frequent extreme positions taken on the fingerboard did in fact influence finger spread. The nonmusician control group, however, would not be expected to show this difference, or at least not to the same extent as in the musicians. Similar differences should apply to finger length, if this is influenced by long-term practicing on these instruments. A majority of the measurements of all three groups demonstrated a greater spreadability of the fingers of the left hand than of the right. In contrast to the comparison groups, there was a significantly greater span between the left hand index and small fingers of cellists. This span was not measured in the guitarists because it does not apply in their playing as it does for cellists. In addition, the measurements of the right-left differences in the finger lengths of the cellists when compared with the nonmusician group showed significantly longer fingers on the left than the right. This difference is probably caused by better-developed fingertips of the cellists. Further research is needed to discern whether the spreadability could be improved through specific training programs.

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