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 Post subject: Finger Training
PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2007 11:02 am 

Joined: Thu May 25, 2006 1:10 pm
Posts: 215
Location: Toronto, Ont.
Here is an excerpt from the September 2 2006 issue of New Scientist magazine, from the "The Last Word" section. My apologies to New Scientist for copying this without asking for permission first, but I thought this was so informative and funny that I should share it on this forum:

My 8-year-old niece went for her first guitar lesson recently, and her music teacher suggested an exercise in which she was to lay her hands palm down on a flat surface and wiggle each finger in turn. When I tried it, I found that my ring finger on both hands was much less able than any of my other digits; I could barely lift it off the surface, let alone wiggle. When I put my knuckles on the surface in the form of a fist and extended each finger in turn, the ring finger was the only one I could not lift from the surface at all. Why is this? Presumably if I'm ever tortured and about to lose a finger, I should request that it be my ring finger...

The human hand is an extremely complicated bit of machinery. Extension of a single digit requires the simultaneous contraction of the extensor muscle for the appropriate digit, the relaxation of the flexors for that digit and the contraction of the flexors for all of the other digits - to make them stay put. This happens fairly easily in the thumb, index and small fingers, as they all have their own designated extensor muscles.
Extension in the middle and ring fingers uses the common extensor muscle, which supplies extension to all fingers except the thumb. When attempting to extend the ring finger, the middle finger flexor contracts, effectively "pinning down" the middle finger, which the common extensor then pulls against to no avail. Try lifting the middle and fourth [ring] finger as a unit and see how easy this becomes when the middle finger flexor no longer acts as a tether.
Some people have aberrant connections between tendons and others have extensors dedicated to the ring finger, but the third and ring finger linkage is almost universal.
Steve Ballinger, Nacogdoches, Texas, US

The hand evolved primarily for grasping, so playing a musical instrument can push its design specifications to the limit. I have a particular interest in this as I run a course on the biology of musical performance at Cardiff University.
Music teachers need to be aware of the high incidence of variability in the muscles and tendons of the hand. As a result, not everyone can make the same finger movements. For example, in about 20 per cent of hands, curling up the thumb causes the index finger to bend because of an anomalous link between flexor tendons. This renders some piano fingerings impossible and barring on the guitar more difficult.
Alan Watson, Cardiff, UK

I'm a touch-typist with a top speed of 60 words per minute. I have typed five days a week, for the past 25 years. Over this time, I've developed quite flexible fingers. I had no difficulty with the exercises your correspondent spoke of: all fingers were capable of wiggling independently. I asked another touch-typist to try the same. She had no problems in lifting both ring fingers and moving them independently of the others either.
However, when I asked my sister, who has never typed, to try it, she experienced a great deal of difficulty, and could not lift the left ring finger at all from the prone position.
My teenage daughter found her most flexible digits to be both thumbs, presumably because she spends hours using them to send text messages from her mobile phone.
Alison Venugoban, Ngunnawal, ACT, Australia

The ring finger has the least dexterity because it is used least. The index finger is used for pointing, the little finger is extended while drinking tea and the middle finger is used when driving. The ring finger is used only once, shortly before marriage.
Conor Nugent, Alexandria, Virginia, US"
From issue 2567 of New Scientist magazine, 02 September 2006, page 85

By the way, I am in the 20% for whom curling up the thumb also causes the index finger to bend. This is more pronounced when the other fingers are flexed. Maybe I need to use my middle finger more when driving! :D


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