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J R Soc Med. 1992 December; 85(12): 740–743.
PMCID: PMC1293762

The role of the fifth digit in music: discussion paper.


The increasing digital skill made manifest in the development of instrumental music is reviewed and supports the hypothesis that the fifth digit was belatedly used even when a suitable instrument had already become established. With notable exceptions, such as the harp, it appears that progressive improvements in instrument design was influenced by the need to utilize the fifth digits. Its greater use was accomplished in overlapping stages of increasing dexterity, of which the highest is exemplified by the left hand of the violinist. The apparent evolutional background of these observations is discussed. It is proposed that man has an inherent atavistic tendency to ignore the fifth digit and this view agrees with its neglect in gesture and sign language.

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  • Hochberg FH, Leffert RD, Heller MD, Merriman L. Hand difficulties among musicians. JAMA. 1983 Apr 8;249(14):1869–1872. [PubMed]

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