Teaching quick finger placement

January 7, 2005 at 04:00 AM · I have noticed several of my beginning students struggling with going from open E to D (3rd finger on A). Despite all the etudes I have invented to try to speed-up finger placement, there is always a long pause once the student tries to apply the skill to a song. Any suggestions on how to help them with this skill?

Replies (13)

January 7, 2005 at 04:40 AM · Keri, how do you teach placing 3rd finger (I mean the very beginners): by placing independent finger, or by preparation, or place 1st, 2nd, 3rd-play?

It is better to practice separate bow's technique (on open strings only) and left hand technique (pizzicato). Sometimes the reason of slow finger placement lays in difficulties of coordination bow and violin hands (notice: there is string crossing! Can your student do it easy on open strings?)

January 7, 2005 at 03:21 PM · I'd echo Rita's comments and ask how are you teaching them to place the finger and if they are up to speed on open string crossing?

If I understand your students' problem as you have described it, and they can cross on open strings,as well as place the third finger in the correct note on the fingerboard;

it may help you to approach the problem as you would octaves, 7ths, etc. by having the student play the passage with the consecutive problem notes played together. Then, broken and sounded together then moving onto playing them as written – not moving from one form to the next until the student can play the note combination correctly.

The idea that these types of exercises illustrate is "anticipation of movement.”

January 7, 2005 at 03:59 PM · Thanks for the tips. The students I am referring to are all very good at string crossings on open strings. They can also go very quickly from E to D or E to C# when I islotate the problem (i.e. just playing EDEDEDED, etc.) It is only when they go back to the song that the problem rears its ugly head again. I like the pizzicato idea. I have not tried that yet. I am seeing one of said students today and I will see how it goes!

I guess I teach placement of the third finger by doing block fingerings, as I was taught to do in my pedagogy courses. I have always had mixed feelings about it, but it seems to help with intonation and hand shaping, and give a frame of reference for the left hand. What are your opinions about this? I should mention that the students I am having this problem with are all about 4 years old.


January 7, 2005 at 05:17 PM · I'm assuming you're saying going from open E to A with the third finger on the D string.

If they can do it open E to open D with no problem like you said, then something about the combination feels awkward. If they can do it with 1st finger E on the D string, or 2nd finger A on the D string, etc., look at the difference in body position. You said it only happens in a tune they're playing - it doesn't have to do with rhythm does it? Can they do it at a very slow tempo?

They all do the same thing. Do you teach them together so they hear each other? Maybe they've taught each other that's the right way :)

January 7, 2005 at 05:03 PM · If it's a known melody (song) would knowing which one it is help the teachers in this forum figure out the source of the problem?

January 7, 2005 at 05:30 PM · This happens when the kids play Twinkle. I think the main problem might be the block fingering. I noticed that one boy carefully but accurately) places 1st, 2nd then 3rd finger before playing the notes. He is prefectly in tune, which is great, and I am afraid to tell him not to place his fingers this way after all his hard work. Will the intonation go out the window? I have kind of been hoping the problem would go away with time, but that is a silly thing for a teacher to think.

January 7, 2005 at 05:38 PM · I'd guess a couple of things might be happening (now that you mention they are in the 4 year old range). First, if you are using tapes then it takes a four year olds' eyes a long time to move from the music (if indeed they are reading), or the bow or another place on the violin to the tape of third finger on the lower string. So now they have to move their eyes, then their fingers, then their bow. That takes a long time for a four year old.

Basically, a four year old isn't developed enough in fine motor skills to do this easily. They have to learn all the little steps for this task separately until they are very easy and then put them together. (That is why pizz is so important in learning songs - it takes the other hand out of the picture.)

I don't use the Suzuki books because I think they combine too many things at once. I like the Adventures in Violinland books because they separate all the elements and use many age appropriate songs to learn those instead of one song ad nauseum.

I teach songs that do not extend past the fifth (or "so") until a very firm grasp of all four fingers moving up and down in simple rhythms has been obtained. Then I do string crossings, then the problem of going up past "so" and down to "fa" (third finger). By the time a teeny person does all this, their fine motor skills and brain development has gotten to a place where they understand what they are doing and how to do it. Even then, it takes a lot of practice! (Going down a scale is hard!)

So, when they finally get to that point, I teach to stop before playing the third finger (just as your students are doing). The first step is to stop on the E string, then play a scale up to the D on the A, then continue the song. Then stop on E string, then play A,B, and put C#D down together, then continue with the song. Then stop on E string, and play the scale on A silently to third finger (sing it first) and then play it to see if it matched your goal, then play the rest of the song. Gradually (and you can see how gradually) the reinforcement of that finger block gets very great. As the student gets more proficient at this, then we start to try to perform the "block" without making a gap at a very slow speed. Then we do it faster and faster. Eventually the programming for putting all those fingers down in place in a block is very deep and then the only problem you have is bow coordination! :0)


PS Just read your post above. If your little four year old is doing that in tune, then great!! He just needs time and practice and positive support to eventually get that motion faster and smoother. He's doing the best his little four year old fingers can do - and obviously trying to do exactly as you've taught him. Don't worry. It'll come!

January 7, 2005 at 05:46 PM · Thanks for the support and the advice! I love how much I can learn from the other teachers on this forum--what a valuable tool!

I was kind of thinking that motor skills might be the central issue here--I was feeling a little pressure from the moms, who were concerned about the pause in the music. I will check into the method books you mentioned. I think I might have a copy in my studio to look at. Perhaps I can supplement the Suzuki books with some other materials.

Thanks, everyone!


January 7, 2005 at 05:52 PM · Hey Keri:

You sound like you might be just starting as a teacher... (don't take that wrong, but I'm "old" ;-) and everyone else seems young to me! lol) so NEVER let the parents pressure you into something that you as a teacher know isn't right. Just smile and hold your ground. You sound like you're doing a good job.

The Adventures in Violinland books are a three year series with six books in each year written by Shirley Givens (Juilliard Prep, Mannes College of Music, Peabody Conservatory). They are, in my opinion, the best material for young children and are wonderful for separating the learning steps. There are hundreds of two line to one page songs that they accumulate week by week - all with words, pictures and fun characters to teach the music. It is basically Galamian technique written for very young children (although I will use them all the way up to 11 or 12 years old and I use the songs with my adult students also because they teach the beginning skills so methodically).


January 7, 2005 at 06:51 PM · Actually, I am fairly new to the teaching realm, but not too new--I have been teaching since 1999. This is, however, my first experience with kids this young!

January 9, 2005 at 12:58 AM · Hi all,

I'm following this thread with interest as I've never taken them younger than five. Keri, you say 'beginner'; how long exactly have they been learning? I agree fine motor skills can be a problem; I have a student who's challenged in this department, and he's still getting to grips with first finger after a year. I like your systematic approach, Lisa. Breaking things down is a great way to deal with technical problems.

January 9, 2005 at 02:17 AM · Thanks, Sue.

Yeah, I just had a little four year old begin to learn his first two fingers this week. The first step is just a simple (well, not simple for little ones) co-ordination game. Let's put one finger down on a string, then two, then three, then four. Now take four off, then three off, then two off, then the last one off and play no fingers again. (This is done pizz.)

Little ones have trouble getting the message from their brains to their fingers. Often I'll lightly tap on the finger that needs to go down (or come off) so they can actually FEEL that finger - it helps their brains give directions for the fingers to move.

I always explain to the parents that this is just a coordination game - it is not supposed to look or sound great - it is ONLY to get the fingers practice touching the strings. The concept that putting a finger down on a string and making a note come out is difficult for a four year old brain to grasp. If you look at the difference between a four year old trying this and a five year old, you will see a big change in developmental understanding and co-ordination.

So then the next step is matching pictures. In Violinland there are three pictures (lifesize for a little hand). The first of no fingers touching is called DO. The second of one finger touching is called RE and the third of two fingers touching is called MI. So, we spend some time learning the pictures and mixing them up. I'll point to a picture and ask which finger number it is, or which "note" (do, re, or mi) it is. Or I'll point to one of their fingers and ask the same questions. Gradually the little light bulb turns on that their hand can match the pictures and each finger has a name.

Then we'll try putting the fingers on the string and calling them their names. That takes several times also before the lightbulb goes on that when the finger goes down, it makes a different sound than the other finger and has a different name.

The next step is picture songs (row, row, row your boat = do, do, do, re, mi) where they look at the picture and put the right finger on the string.

Then they learn that they can look at the note heads on the staff and they have the same names. We read the note heads starting on the G string (because you can do that first with no staff) and then we play them. Again, there is a connection in a little person's brain that needs to happen to realize that a dot on a page means to put a finger down on the string and the different dots mean different fingers.

All this is done with songs with words. We sing the words, then we sing the do-re-mis, then we play them pizz. Going over and over the associations cements idea with practice - something that is difficult for a child of four.

I learned all this by pushing children too fast and having to go back and figure out steps to make everything comprehensible.

I'm also working with a little three year old now (she started when she was still two!!). We started with 10 minutes every day and now I can't get her to stop and let me leave (ahhh!) until 45 minutes have gone by. I am amazed by that. She is the daughter of a friend that I see everyday so she is getting something that most kids don't when they take lessons.

But with her, we are just touching note heads and singing word patterns. For one younger than four it is a difficult thing to clap once with every syllable, or to touch note heads of words that have more than one syllable (like: thump, thump, dribble, dribble where thump is a quarter note (easy for a three year old to touch and co-ordinate with a word), but dribble is two eighth notes (very hard for them to touch and co-ordinate with their voice).

You will see children this young clapping three or four times when they say a word with two syllables and it takes quite a long time for them to get their claps with their pronunciation (this is the first step for them realizing that their finger can pluck the string together with singing words - the beginning of rhythmic movement in the hands).

She knows the names of her strings (associated with the human voice: grandpa is the lowest voice, daddy is medium low - nice and mellow, mommy is bright and cheerful, and baby is high and chirpy). We play little talking and marching rhymes on the strings pizz. She knows high and low sounds and makes up stories with characters that need certain strings to make their voices sound right. We talk to each other with our violins and the goal is to make one pizz for every syllable spoken. It is really fun!

It is all so fascinating to me. I never get tired of seeing little brains develop and understand things. And, as a teacher, it makes me really search for the beginnings of technique, and then the tiny progressive steps to pulling something together. Kids can only learn in simple steps (well, adults too, but we always try to go too fast).

I'm always happy to hear of someone else willing to teach children so young. They are so formative and so deeply impressionable. I'm struck by that over and over with the little three year old when I'll hear her playing by herself in another room and repeating things to the word that I've taught her in a lesson. It makes me realize the awesome responsibility of programming such a tiny person.


January 9, 2005 at 07:10 AM · Separate the problems: the string crossing and the finger placement.

Have the student play the "motorcycle stop-stop" rhythm on the open E string. Then STOP. Place 1-2-3. STOP. Rock the bow to the A string in a quick motion. STOP. Then play the D.

It is important to put the stops in, then work on making the stops shorter and shorter. Ultimately, if you untangle all these different issues, your student will learn faster finger placement down the road.

Once the child has done the 1-2-3 placement and can get all those fingers on the tapes or in the right place, then he/she can handle blocking the fingers, but don't skip that step. They need to learn, in a tactile way, where those fingers go.

Also, for string crossings, I have the little ones do something called "Booms," one of those Suzuki things. Anyway, when I yell, "BOOM!" they rock from E to A, when I yell it again, from A to D, etc. then back. They are to do it with a very fast motion, making the string change without playing a note. It is strictly rocking the bow from string to string. This simply separates out that motion, then gives you a vocabulary for later, ie. "You need to boom to the A string first."

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