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Corwin Slack

Finger Patterns III

January 30, 2008 at 3:21 AM

Buri's post on speed got me to thinking. Some months ago I did two blog posts on finger patterns.

Finger Patterns

Finger Patterns II

It was quite a bit of overkill. But it boiled down to this: Almost all of the useful finger patterns on the violin are comprised of half steps, whole steps and minor thirds.(There are 27 possible patterns with those three interval combinations), A major third or higher between two fingers is quite rare and one could hardly be accountable to sight read such a finger pattern.

But even 27 patterns is a lot and notating the traditional patterns 1 2 and 3 has limited value to someone who hasn't memorized the pattern.

In my original posts I proposed two pattern notation schemes. The first used numbers to notate the patterns. Traditional pattern 1 would be notated 221 (two whole steps and a half step). Pattern 3 would be notated 122.

But the problem is that the page is already cluttered with fingerings and using numerals for finger patterns risks confusion. My alternate proposal was to use the letters h= half step, w= whole step and m = minor third. In this scheme pattern 1 is wwh and pattern 3 is hww.

Still a lot of clutter and a lot to grasp.

I have another proposal that takes advantage of existing conventions for notating intervals:

^ = half step
⨅(a flattened down bow symbol or bracket on its side) = whole step
x = minor third (i.e. extension)

The flattened down bow symbol isn't easily available on most html browsers. I tried to enter an approximation but it may not be visible to you.

The symbols should be written as a word just as the 221 or wwh symbol. ^^X = hhm=113

These are much quicker to grasp.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on January 30, 2008 at 5:47 AM

I read your previous blogs on patterns — you are correct about the high numbers. I have sometimes verbally given my students examples that show it is easy to hit 10,000 and then just keep going, but………:-)

I stick with intervals of Half, Whole and Minor 3rds/Augmented 2nds — they are identifying the finger spacings whether the Whole Step Space is a M2, M6, P4, 8va or 12th (8va + P5); also, M2, M6, M10 or M15 (8va + M7).

Descriptive terms are much easier to master, especially for the younger pupils, and me — things like BH (Beginning Hand Group: WHW or MmM; L2 (Low 2 Group: HWW or mMM), etc., etc.

By the way, the simplest way to achieve the extension for a Perfect 5th up the string, i.e., A1 on E to E4 on E is the A1O (Augmented 1 Open Hand Group): A1 C2 D3 E4 (actually pivot into the 4th position after the A1 or already be there and reach back for the A1 as it is always preferable to reach or extend back rather then up). Mendelssohn taught that one to me……… no, I am not quite that old, but he did teach it to me via his concerto.

Hope this helps —

From Corwin Slack
Posted on January 30, 2008 at 1:40 PM
Drew, I hope you will elaborate some time. I am afraid I don't get it.

One of the problems with using my letter notation is that it overlaps with interval descriptions that may not be correct. For example E to F# is a whole step and would be notated W. But E to C# (across strings) is a major 6th and would also be notated W. I think that using the bracket symbol indicates width without the confusion of a harmonic description.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 5:46 AM

I will try to get a blog together on the subject.
Until then…

From Kenny Butler
Posted on February 2, 2008 at 4:05 AM
Great posts Corwin. I like your ideas.

Finger pattern knowledge offers great advantages for the improvisational violinist. Visualizing patterns makes memorization of scales much easier. Here is a pdf that I created for my students:

Although these are in first position, I have found that when the student starts really grasping these scales in a visual way the higher positions are not nearly as challenging as they would otherwise be. (I have done the same for all the keys of the major scale as well as over twenty other scales including the Blues, Pentatonic, Bebop, etc. In the future I will post some of those as well.)

To create a good nomenclature for finger patterns we have to try to combine music theory with the idiomatic nature of the violin–that is, if we want to get a true understanding of the fingerboard and have a foundation for improvisation.

For music theory, I prefer the jazz nomenclature because most jazz players use it and its an established language. Most of the terms are identical to what you would find in a conservatory theory course. We pay particular attention to chord/scale relationships.

H = Half Step, W = Whole Step, -3 = Minor Third (3 half steps)
Major scale = W W H W W W H
Blues scales = -3 W H H -3 W

Also, the Blues scale can be looked at like this: 1 b3 4 #4 5 b7
which is derived from the Major Scale: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

From the Major Scale (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) we can easily see the construction of other scales:

Major Pentatonic - 1 2 3 5 6 (W W -3 W -3)
Diminished - 1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 6 7 (W H W H W H W H)
Dominant Seventh (Mixolydian or 5th Mode of Major Scale) - 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 (W W H W W H W)

I like Corwin’s idea of underlining numerals but when I combine theory and finger patterns I find it easier to use Roman numerals for the four basic patterns that Gerle used.

Pattern I = W W H

Pattern II = W H W

Pattern III = H W W

Pattern IV = W W W

This way, I can combine the patterns to make memorization of scales much easier.

If we start with a one octave fingered major scale played on two strings the pattern will be:
I / I (Your first finger will always be the root note.)

Now we have a new pattern we can easily remember. You can put your first finger on any string (other than the eing), in any position, and play I / I – a major scale will be heard. You can “Do Re Mi” all over the fingerboard. I have students do this as soon as they can play it in tune in first position. This is what I mean by combining music theory with finger patterns. I have taught advanced classical violinists, violists and cellists like this and they always make swift progress with chord/scale relationship using these patterns.

If you want to play a two octave major scale in one position across four strings the pattern will be: I / I / II / II

If you start on the G string in third position, put your first finger on a C and play this pattern, you will hear a two octave scale with a 9 on top when you get to your fourth finger on the eing. The 9 of C is a D. The 9 is the same as the 2. You can think of the major scale in two ways - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 or 1 3 5 7 9 11 13. The first being linear and the second non-linear, i.e. chords. It is much faster speaking and thinking in scale degrees than in steps. You can always figure out the steps from the patterns. However, finger patterns need to be remembered in steps.

Now we know that I / I / II / II is a major scale but we can learn more scales via finger patterns. Remember that your first finger will be the root note and you will start on the G string for each scale in order to play in two octaves. 

The modes are:

II / II / III / III = Minor (Dorian)

III / III / IV / I = Phrygian

IV / I / I / II = Lydian

I / II / II / III = Mixolydian

II / III / III / IV = Minor (Aeolian)

III / IV / I / I = Locrian

Using patterns for improvisation is great because you can move around the neck using patterns that you practice over chords. There are many other patterns that don’t use this I / II/ III / IV that I have incorporated into my playing, far more complex, integrating leaps, long shifts and non-linear approaches. Through massive repetition they have become imbedded in my playing which makes it possible for me to improvise at high tempos and stay on top of the fast-moving chords.



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