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Help with Navigating the fingerboard

Technique and Practicing: I would like help with finding my way around.

From Kheenan Walkins
Posted January 3, 2013 at 06:27 AM

Hello all. I am an intermediate violin student, hoping to be ready for grade 8 this year. I have a few technical problems and I would like some recommendations on one of them.
I have no idea how to navigate the higher positions. I play things up there as sort of a guessing game. After practicing for while I could get things with reasonable accuracy, but if I'm stopped at any point and asked "what note is that?" I have no clue. I would have to fiddle around and think really hard to figure out what note it is.

Is there any course of exercises that someone could recommend that I can go through to sort of build a mental map of the fingerboard?

I have Carl Flesh's scale book, but I play those exercises by "ear" and not very well. I just sort of know what the third octave would sound like based on the first 2 but I have no idea really what note I'm playing at any given time.

From Eugenia Fielding
Posted on January 3, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Hi, I had the same problem, but I didn't fix it as early as you! First, don't play scales by ear. Mark the shifts and positions on your music. Know exactly what finger you're using and where you will shift. Before you play the scale, think, shift to e with first finger. Be in 7th position, shift on c to first finger, be in 5th position, etc.

Also, get suzuki book 1 and play all the songs in 2nd position. Then in 4th, 5th, 6th. Then an octave higher.

That's what helped me. Hope it helps you!

From Rocky Milankov
Posted on January 3, 2013 at 04:27 PM
scales, scales & scales
From Gene Wie
Posted on January 3, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Have you tried mapping the distance that your fingers travel in half and whole steps?

From a purely technical standpoint, playing the next note is "simply" a matter of knowing how far away it is from the current one. This is the justification for knowing your intervals!

From Lydia Leong
Posted on January 3, 2013 at 09:25 PM
Sounds like part of your problem is actually your ear -- you mentioned not being able to identify the note. Can you easily sing octaves in your head? i.e., can you take the note that you're playing, move it down an octave, and identify what it is?

You can also try actually playing the octave -- move your fourth finger to where the note is, then put down the first finger on the lower string, and sound the octave, and see if that helps your note identification.

You might find playing one-finger scales, both in the various keys and chromatic, to be helpful. Watch the fingerboard when you do it, so you have a visual reference, too.

From Brian Kelly
Posted on January 4, 2013 at 03:03 AM
I agree with the above post about the Suzuki books. Simply play them in the higher positions until the pieces are as easy for you to play as they are in the first position. I try to play as many of Suzuki pieces from books 1 to 5 in as many positions as I can.
From steven su
Posted on January 4, 2013 at 08:34 AM
One good thing to know is that all shifts are from 1st finger to 1st finger. Just know where your first finger should land and the rest will be simpler for you. and there is also the hand position but work on your scales slowly and work with a good teacher if you have one :)
From Michael Pijoan
Posted on January 4, 2013 at 09:51 AM
Sevcik Op. 8. If you get stuck you can play it in first position to remind yourself what it's supposed to sound like and then go back to doing it as written with the shifts. It's an amazing book.
From Kheenan Walkins
Posted on January 4, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Thanks for all the replies. That suzuki idea sounds like a really good idea. I'll get right on that. Part of my problem is that before last month I could not sight read at ALL. I spent most of my time playing alone and because of that sight reading skills were never really all that important. That changed however and I could sight read about the grade 5 level.

As for the comment about my ear being the problem I highly doubt that. I can play octaves and scales and all that. It is just that when I move out of first and third positions I have pretty much no idea what the note names are. They are however in tune for the most part, and when they're not I can tell.

The idea about one finger scales seem like they might be useful for my issue as well so i'll add that.

I started trying hard to say the note names in my head when I play the scale exercises from the flesch book so I think I'll combine all that.

Thanks for all the suggestions :). Even more would be appreciated.

From Eugenia Fielding
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 12:08 AM
I would probably not recommend doing one finger scales. If your hand position isn't perfectly relaxed, you will only teach yourself to play with tension. Also, if you aren't exactly sure where you are, you'll end up sliding around the finger board. I think one finger scales are almost always a useless exercise because you don't really use it in repertoire until you're pretty advanced. Stick with regular scales and arpeggios but always know where you are. I had a teacher once who would tell me to stop at a random place in the scale and i had to tell him what note i was on. Do that.
From Kheenan Walkins
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 04:34 AM
@Eugenia
I think I'll take you advice. I already started saying the note names in my head as I ascend (without accidentals, case the extra syllable breaks my rhythm).


What do you think about this?
What if I play "scales" in this fashion
on the A string

ABC#D, BC#DE, C#DEF#, DEF#G# etc with my first finger on the first note of each group?

I'll try it anyway, but if the people before me tried it before me and have a more developed method I'm all ears. I'm only now starting to attack this problem specifically, and I'd hate to be beating at the air. All the advice I got so fare was really helpful though.

EDIT: I just realised that it was you who recommended playing basic material in higher positions. I tried that this evening with some hymns in third and for the first time I knew where I was putting my fingers and could pick notes on demand. Thanks a lot for that suggestion! :D

From Eugenia Fielding
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 05:05 AM
Glad it helped. There's nothing that's going to help you overnight, but keep practicing and it will come.

Here are the things you are thinking about, in addition to all the other violin things. You learned this when you learned first position, and again in 3rd and second. Now do it again, up high.
1.Where the notes are-spacing is closer up there
2.Which fingers play which notes
3.Tone production-the bow behaves differently up there
4.Which note is the one seven lines above the staff

Did I leave out anything? Feel free to add.

Playing easy songs up high takes care of #1 and #3, Scales and arpeggios take care of #2. When you've got a solid foundation of 1, 2, and 3, get out some etudes (Kreutzer) and play only the high parts. Or get one of the books of orchestral excerpts from Shar. Work on connecting 1,2,3 with 4. Then you're good to go.

From Eugenia Fielding
Posted on January 5, 2013 at 05:09 AM
I think your ascending scale idea sounds good. It's sort of like Sevcik shifting exercises. Just be careful to remember where you are.

(BTW, Sevcik never worked for me because I would just play by ear and have no idea what notes I was playing. And it sounded ugly too. Whistler Introducing the Positions was more helpful, but it doesn't go up very high and it doesn't move around between positions enough.)

From Jo Parker
Posted on January 6, 2013 at 06:03 AM
One of the things which help me (amongst the other suggestions so far) is the Galamian exercise of 'scales in one position'

ie: take any scale and play its notes ONLY in that one position (ascending and descending) then move to the next position.

thanks for this thread very good.

amongst all things: don't worry, it will come, I am at around same level as you and felt the same until not very long ago and I just kept doing the exercises my teacher told me to do, now I am a whole lot better and confident with this.

From Adrian Heath
Posted on January 6, 2013 at 11:57 PM
For elementary students, a one octave scale (major and both minors) on two strings (1234/1234), then arpeggios: tonic (1-3/1-4), subdominant (1-4/1-3), dominant 7th 1st inversion (2-4/1-3), replaced by diminished 7th in the minor.

All this tranposed by semitones (all the half positions).

Later, 4-note patterns (1234321, 1324312, etc) up one string staying in the chosen key.

From Mike Laird
Posted on January 9, 2013 at 06:53 PM
Here are 2 thoughts.

1. As you practice 2 or 3 octave scales in Flesch, say the name of the notes as you play each one. If you play scales slowly, then faster, start by saying the notes, and when you repeat at a faster tempo, think the note clearly in your mind. If you can't think of it, stop and work on it.

2. I published a music exercise book called, Arpeggios, Rhythms and Scales. Among other things, it contains arpeggio exercises with several fingerings that can be repeatedly used in all 12 keys - major and minor. As a simple example, in the 1-3-1-3 fingering pattern, 1 is the root, 3 is the third (major or minor), 1 on the next string is the fifth, and 3 is the 7th (major or minor) of the scale. Other interval relations are also systematic. You need more than one fingering pattern to know where you are on the fingerboard because the first finger may not be on the root. The book has 5 or 6 patterns that can be used in any key. Once you know 3 or 4 of the patterns, it is much easier to know where you are and where you are going on the fingerboard. The book costs less than one violin lesson. Its available at Amazon and other book stores.

From John Cadd
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 09:18 PM
It may not be a rigid rule but if you are galloping up and down from G to high E string a good method is to shift up and across the strings in stages (diagonally )and come down the E string in a straight line down to first position. Then run down to G in first .That may simplify some things you are trying . The upward glissando sounds as you shift are acceptable if you have good taste .
When you play high on the fingerboard the shape of your hand and the length of each finger can disrupt the way you reach the notes. If you have hands like Nigel Kennedy they all look fairly even lengths. If you have some long and some short fingers the "normal" running order might need to be changed . Second or third might reach further than 4th finger . That mix up is not so likely to happen in first position. Don`t worry though.Hands can cope with these complications .
Your question seeks to have a one size fits all answer but coming down to the way music is written you will find that violinists only have four fingers and they need to fit the fingers to the musical phrases. Positions will have to get out of the way for that .Often a stretched finger playing one or two notes out of the position will fill in the gaps . That continuous learning process will last a lifetime. Impossible combinations of notes will be unplayable and the composer will not be too successful . Given that basic restriction it`s amazing what is possible .
To give you a decent boost into orbit get hold of the very thick,heavy books by Carl Flesch and you can see how much work has been done on the subject already. Most concertos have been analysed to death in minute bar by bar detail with optional fingerings.Fill your boots .

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