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Corwin Slack

Finger Patterns

June 17, 2007 at 4:52 AM

I recently started to learn Dont Opus 35 No. 2. At slow tempos it is hardly any more difficult than Kreutzer No. 2 but as the tempo moves up it is enormously difficult. This is an excellent etude for mastering finger patterns. But there are many patterns and it is hard to remember all of them. I am in my mid-fifties and the upstairs isn’t working any faster. I found myself looking for a way to master this etude faster.

Robert Gerle wrote a great book on practicing. In it he advocates analyzing and practicing finger patterns. He lists 21 finger patterns and numbers them from 1 to 21. My teacher encourages using finger patterns. His nomenclature for the patterns is a bit more logical than Gerle’s but it is still a catalog and we have only named 8 patterns so far.

Unfortunately there are a lot more than 8 or 21 finger patterns. In fact in a short afternoon of looking I found at least 9 patterns in etudes from Dont, Paganini and Wieniawski that are not included in Gerle’s catalog. I even found one pattern in the Dont No. 2 that Gerle didn’t catalog. Two of my teacher's eight patterns are not included in Gerle’s list and they each have a total span of 4 half steps (and I have examples in the etude literature of their use.)

In the span of a major 6th on one string (a major 10th over two strings) there are 54 possible 4 note patterns if we exclude any intervals (between adjacent fingers) greater than a major third. (The interval of a fourth between two fingers is like playing octaves across two strings between adjacent fingers. It is possible but rare.)

Then add the possibility that adjacent fingers could cover a fifth (e.g. first finger on A on the G string, second finger on E on the D string) and that is quite a few more patterns to name and remember.

It is just too many.

I have discovered (re-discovered?) another possible nomenclature for finger patterns that I think may have more value. Instead of a catalog of finger patterns that could never be retrieved from memory in any useful way I propose a descriptive nomenclature that includes useful information in the name itself.

My nomenclature would include three underlined digits. Each digit would represent the number of half steps between adjacent fingers. So the standard pattern of half-whole-whole (e, f, g and a) that Gerle calls pattern three I would name 122. Whole-half-whole would be 212, whole-whole-half would be 221 and whole-whole-whole would be 222.

Fingered octaves (whole step ) would be 232 and chromatic fingered octaves would be 141.

Covering a fifth with adjacent fingers would be notated as 0 (e.g. Paganini Op 1 No 4 measure 16 which would probably be notated 012 even though only two fingers are sounded). Of course if one were playing very virtuosic literature they might conceivably use intervals larger than 4 half steps (a major third) so they are free to notate using larger numbers. The famous Paganini pattern of 4 A's would be notated 555.

There are a lot of numbers on a typical page of edited music so my notational proposal is that interval patterns should be underlined. They shouldn’t be circled or boxed because that typically indicates a section number.

The disadvantage of this system is that it takes three numbers to write a finger pattern. Here are some advantages:

1. It is fully descriptive
2. Although the description is physical it does help a student discover the harmony.
3. In time the student will quickly start to grasp the number of half steps between adjacent fingers. The need for the notation will diminish.
4. Changes in finger patterns will be quicker to grasp. Szigeti said that in any shift focus on the finger that moves the whole step in a change of finger patterns. (I am paraphrasing and extending the notion. So forgive me.)
5. The system is complete and totally extensible for any situation. While many of the possible finger patterns are rare or impractical they can all be described in a completely logical way.

There are some possible extensions of the idea:

1. It may be advisable to notate shifts as a number of half steps. This could improve the accuracy of shifting.
2. In some passages notating a pattern of four fingers is not terribly helpful. In these cases a patterns of two and three fingers could be notated by describing the number of half steps between pairs or troikas of fingers.

I am putting this to work. I would appreciate thoughts or comments on this. If anyone has seen this before please provide a reference.


See my comment below.

I also think that you can notate patterns using letters to avoid confusion with fingerings.

h = 1 = half step
w = 2 = whole step
m = 3 = minor third
M = 4 = major third

so the standard pattern of two whole steps and a half step could be notated wwh etc.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 18, 2007 at 4:03 AM
Gingold used ot ask his stduents to play each group of four in Dont no 2 on one string using the fingering 1234. Now that generates some intersting finger patterns ....
From Corwin Slack
Posted on June 20, 2007 at 3:53 PM
I just thought of another alternative that will account for most situations:

h = 1 half step,
w = 2 whole step,
m = 3 minor third,
M = 4 major third

So Gerle's pattern 1 is wwh, pattern 2 is whw etc.

This accounts for at least 99% of the reasonable possibilities and it has the advantage of not causing one to think that they are looking at a fingering.

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