When practice won’t make perfect

If your kid is having a hard time at Suzuki School, it might not be his fault. Photo:  Scuddr/Flickr

If your kid is having a hard time at Suzuki School, it might not be his fault. Photo: Scuddr/Flickr

If you attempted to learn the violin as a kid but never could get the hang of it, it might not be  a personal ineptitude for music as you had suspected. It may have just been your muscles.

A new study in the UK published in the Journal of Hand Surgery investigates why some children just can’t seem to play as well as others, despite hours of earnest practice and a significant understanding of music. After examining kids who complained of limited mobility in their pinky and ring fingers and professional elite violinists and violists, the researchers narrowed the culprit down to the FDS, or the flexor digitorum superficialis muscle. People with complete function of this muscle can move their ring and pinky fingers independently and dexterously, specifically with independent movement of the proximal interphalangeal joint (otherwise known as PIPJ, that’s the joint on your finger immediately after your knuckle ). Those people would be the master violinists, the ones that wow you at the CSO.

According to the study, that kind of movement is something you’re born with, not something you acquire with practice or hand exercises. While it can be a bit of a downer for kids who genuinely wanted to be symphony violinists, at least it’s a consolation for those who put in the work and just couldn’t produce the results.

Since the violin is the second most popular instrument in the UK’s state schools, the authors recommend testing kids for this muscle function before they take up the instrument, or explaining the issue to those who have already started and can’t get those pesky fingers to obey.

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2 responses to “When practice won’t make perfect

  1. The researchers only recommended testing for kids in the UK who attend state-run schools. It’s my understanding that students have to take up an instrument at many schools, so it would be those kids who choose violin. As for the actual test, I’m not certain. It could be something as simple as a motor test; asking a child to flex their fingers in certain patterns.

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