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Drew Lecher

“GPS” — 1.3 Open & Closed

February 3, 2008 at 9:04 PM

Open & Closed Hand Groups / Finger Patterns


How do you think of, view and order your fingers?

Plan actions > Accuracy, Fluidity > MASTERY

This is a continuation in the series of blogs dealing with:

1. Left Hand
2. Shifting
3. Right Arm
4. Right Hand
5. Bow

They will be kept under the heading of ”GPS” for those who wish to follow the articles. I hope they are of benefit to you.

Intonation is one of the primary areas of focus in all we do. This applies to the intervallic measurements set about for the left hand fingers and also the contact variables of the bow hair to the string — the 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number are brought together in order to accomplish the desired dynamics and character of the music.

Your Global Positioning Satellite/Mental Positioning Satellite is all-important in all of the above.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the numerous variables — they will free you to maneuver, easily flowing into and out of the various settings/posturings for the left hand to accomplish the passage.


Everything affects everything.

Open & Close via the palm and knuckles.


With the knowledge and hearing of a note/tone and the knowledge of interval/distance to the next, we set up the measure of distance for the left hand’s fingers.

It is always a proportional measurement, i.e., in various positions and on different strings the measurement changes, but the ratio remains. I mention the strings, as the rotational aspects of the hand and forearm combined with the pendulum movement of the left arm for string-crossings in a given position and the varied width of the fingerboard traversed do require modifications of measurement, e.g., the whole step (‘Open’ interval) of E-1 on the Ding to F#-2 is quite different than E-1 to C#-2 on A or E-1 to B-2 on G. Similarly, the half step (‘Closed’ interval) shows markedly different measurements in the hand and finger relationship.

With a ruler, all measurements across the strings are the same, i.e., that E-1 to F#-2 on D is the same as B-1 to C#-2 on A, but not under actual playing conditions, as we measure from the moving base of our hand and knuckles.


This brings me to my terminology of “Open & Closed Hand Groups.” I am sure another name would work, but found it to be the most descriptive due to the type of action the left hand must accomplish for the various intervallic measurements.

The pianist sets up their hands for various chord and arpeggio sequences and we must do likewise.

Whether a short melodic passage, scale or arpeggio sequence and chords — in any combination — we need to plan ahead. Playing notes/fingers on an individual basis without relation to surrounding notes/fingers does not work technically and certainly not musically.

Here is my method:

OPEN & CLOSED HAND GROUPS – “Words/Vocabulary” of the Left Hand

I use basically 3 measurements:

Open = Whole-step measurement.
Closed = Half-step measurement.
Augmented = One and one-half (3 half steps) measurement.
(The Augmented can be Doubly Augmented as appropriate to the given passage.)

BH = Beginning Hand Group, M2/m2/M2 (whole/half/whole).

L2 = Low 2 Hand Group, m2/M2/M2 (half/whole/whole).

OH = Open Hand Group, M2/M2/M2 (whole/whole/whole).

H3 = High 3 Hand Group, M2/M2/m2 (whole/whole/half).

The above are your primary Hand Groups from which all others are derived. They are, in fact, the only ones used in a Major key — only changing as the composer modulates to other minor keys or chromatic passages. The choice of ‘Beginning Hand Group’ name was selected, as it is the most natural to the hand and rightly used with beginning students.

Examples of Augmented Hand Groups:

A1B = Augmented 1 BH, A2/m2/M2 and could be a m3(minor3rd)/m2/M2.

A1O = Augmented 1 OH, A2(m3)/M2/M2.
This is the best proportion/distribution for the left hand when wanting to extend up the Perfect 5th on the same string. I would only use another permutation if more appropriate for the left hand technique due to the given passage and setting of intervals.

In A1O make sure your hand is pivoted from the 1st finger up to the higher position setting of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers (1st is reaching back). Do not simply stretch up, especially 4th finger, virtually always pivot the hand to avoid undue stress and thereby retain ease of finger action from the knuckles.

I have included 20 Hand Groups in my books, but there are quite a few more if one goes into the Doubly Augmented variety, etc. These are rarely used and can certainly be quickly identified and applied when needed.


It is a shorthand format that assists in the mastery and memorization of the repertoire. The patterns truly are the words/vocabulary of the left hand. It is the difference of reading this sentence by individual letter or by the letters grouped into words and they, in turn, into sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books — repertoire.

A given Hand Group can be for a few notes or several lines, including position shifts. As Buri pointed out, the opening of the Bach E Major Partita can be the H3 Group for several lines, depending on the fingering selected — this is one of my favorite examples, as well.

The Hand Group names go way beyond a scale pattern on a given string or two, e.g., the 3-8va A Major Triad Arpeggio (D Major on viola) can be accomplished with the H3 Group if one always shifts up to the Tonic (root name of arpeggio) from the Dominant (5th): IV 13, III 1 shift 13, II 1 shift 13, I 14. The Roman Numerals in this case indicate the string with IV representing the lower string, etc.

This is one of the reasons I do not use numbers or Roman Numerals for Hand Groups. They already represent chords and note positioning in a given key, strings on the instrument and even position numbers (especially with younger players — I am not fond of this, as I feel it to be unnecessary).

Hand Group names are descriptive and cannot be confused with anything else.

Additional examples:

BH can represent:

1. Major Scale beginning on the open string and lasting for 2 strings before changing to the L2.

2. BH can also be used for a Major Chord with 1 playing a 5th on the bottom 2 strings, 2nd finger on the II string and 3rd finger on the I string, such as, A Major on the violin and D Major on the viola — both in first positon.

3. Violin: A-1 on G shift to A-2 on D over to F-3 on A and over to A-1, D-4, C-3, A-1, with the last 4 notes all on the Eing.

4. Viola: D-1 on C shift to D-2 on G over to B-flat 3 on D and over to D-1, G-4, F-3, D-1 with the last 4 notes all on the Aing.

Note that I say the note, finger, string as this equation leads to the position number, which can also be said, especially by a new student of the instrument. The terminology must become instantaneous, as it is the language of technique to maneuver knowledgeably around the instrument.

Here is further information from a few excerpts.

Hand Groups
Interval patterns of measurement.
See pages 6-9.

They are the “words” – the language of notes and intervals as translated from the page to the violin fingerboard.

A combination of interval spacing between fingers, as in, open/closed/open or whole/half/whole, steps or tones which is the “Beginning Hand Group” – BH. (Note that pitch intervals change with varied string combinations, but the Hand Group can remain the same.) See Intervals, 2.

Notes and Fingers

Distance in pitch between notes (1) and the distance between fingers (2).
(Note particularly the Open & Closed Hand Groups, pages 6-9.)

1. The distance between notes, e.g., 1/2 step/tone equals a minor 2nd such as B to C and a whole step/tone equals a Major 2nd as with B to C#.

2. The distance between fingers, e.g., 1/2 step equals a closed space and a whole step equals an open space. See Open /Closed Hand Groups, pgs. 6-9.

a. The 1/2 step space will sound a minor 6th/Augmented 5th (not the same) when a finger plays on one string and the neighboring higher finger plays on the neighboring higher string, such as, m6 = E-1 on D to C-2 on A whereas the A5 = E-1 on D to B#-2 on Aing.

b. The 1/2 step space will also intone the Augmented 4th (Tritone–3 whole steps) or diminished 5th (not the same) when the left-hand plays Bb-2 on G with E-1 on D (A4) whereas d5 = A#-2 on G with E-1 on D.

1) Within a given position playing whole steps, the left-hand is proportioned, as each interval higher is measured smaller, in other words, large, medium & small.
2) Similarly, in higher positions the left-hand is proportionally smaller, that is, an 8va up on the same string is half the size of the lower 8va.
3) In Pure Pitch, or Natural Pitch, the 1/2 steps will vary as “sharps lead up” – C# is tight to D, whereas, “flats lead down,” with Db tight to C; therefore C# is above Db. Pure/Natural Pitch is not tempered.
4) EXTRA TIP – if 1/2 steps change letter names of notes, they are tight or close – same letter name is loose or open.

NOTE: Odd numbered intervals are always line-to-line or space-to-space, such as 3rds and 5ths, etc.

Even numbered intervals are always line-to-space or space-to-line, as with 2nds and 4ths, etc.

Achievement of:

The ears are the caboose – by the time it is out there, it is too late.
Pitches and interval relationships must first be heard in the Inner Ear – the mind – then measured by the hand.

1. Best accomplished with the use of Perfect 8vas, Perfect 5ths, Perfect 4ths and/or the previous note on the neighboring string.

2. Also assisted by the use of the open string below or above the string being played.

3. In Pure/Natural Pitch, the 1/2 steps will vary as “sharps lead up” – C# is tight to D, whereas, “flats lead down,” with Db tight to C; therefore C# is above Db. Pure/Natural Pitch is not tempered.

4. EXTRA TIP – if 1/2 steps change letter names of notes, they are tight or close – same letter is loose or open.

5. Apply the use of rhythmic Repetition Hits (RH).

NOTE: You must actually feel the intervals’ sizes and proportions relative to the position being played as you hear them in your inner ear – visualize their measurement.

Open and close the palm/knuckles/fingers in measuring intervals – be elastic, pliable and formed – ALWAYS balance to fingerboard.

Do not lift fingers. Rhythmically release them and they will precisely leave the string adding clarity and diction to the note. This is why it is of paramount importance to practice in various rhythms, bowings and dynamics. It develops knowledge of the technique required to achieve the passage and opens the mind and ears to harmonic structure that will guide your intonation and musical interpretation.

Pivot, Rotate, Extend, Contract, Raise up, Lower down, Modify — subtly adjust as needed and when needed, programming all those moves’ actions and feelings into your GPS/MPS.

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.

Hope this helps…

Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

From Corwin Slack
Posted on February 4, 2008 at 6:58 PM
My first attempts at a notational system for patterns were very unsatisfying. Although I like the completeness of the system (using h, w m or M, or numerals 1, 2 , 3 or 4 for number of half steps) I was very frustrated by the alternate meanings that these symbols have and the potential for confusion.

For example, one can notate an interval as w for a whole step and it can mean a major second, a perfect 4th or a major sixth. If you allow for two strings it can also mean a major 16th or something else incalculable [think Bflat on the G string (2nd finger) and f on the e string (1st finger)]

This bothered me to the point of recalling the common notation of ^, (sideways bracket or flattened down bow), and x. These symbols can have the meaning half step whole step or minor third but they are most commonly used to signify width, not harmonic function. This makes them somewhat more direct.

One of the problems of any system of symbols is the potential for saturation. When we say major and minor many things come to mind. Major could mean bigger, wider, larger but in fact on the violin a major third sounded simultaneously requires a narrower pattern than a minor third. (I almost wrote narrower interval but interval is saturated and pattern seemed more appropriate.)

I am not a teacher so I can't say what the long term impacts are of one system of pattern notation vs. another. Certainly violinists that master the ambiguity of linear relationships in a discontinuous environment of 4 strings tuned in fifths) are commendable indeed. But some of us probably need a bit more direct help.

For now I will stick with my Finger Patterns III system of symbols to denote patterns.

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