Fourth finger or open string?

June 11, 2007 at 04:49 AM · When playing general music, is it preferable to grab a fourth finger instead of open string? I know that if it saves a string crossing, then one may wish to use f4, but what are everyone's general approaches to this when it's just an alternative?

Replies (32)

June 11, 2007 at 05:00 AM · A while back, I decided to use fourth finger as often as possible to strengthen it. Now, in my lessons, I often use fourth when an open is written in the music, and I get a little scolding. As to which is best, I think it depends on the tone desired.

June 11, 2007 at 05:03 AM · I don't use my 4th finger as much as I should.

June 11, 2007 at 05:41 AM · If there are short notes (such as 16th) and when cross strings, I believe the rule is to use the f4 when cross from the right to the left string (E-->A; A-->D, etc) and use open string the other way (from left to right) when crossing.

When I play a piece and if it’s a longer note, then I use fingers as much as possible. If the note is very long, I try to use other fingers than f4 to improve the quality of sound, as I have a very week f4. It often comes to a shift rather than the f4 to avoid cross strings.

When I do etudes, I use f4 as much as possible to strengthen it. It's good to have a useful f4:)

I found the sound of open strings is raw and pure therefore adds very strong color if used it properly. Sometimes I contrast the sound (such as the quarter notes in page 1 of Kreisler’s P&A) by using open string between emotional vibrato notes. When I play Bach, it’s a lot of fun just to listen and to experiment different effects of open strings and fingered notes, including the weakling f4.

June 11, 2007 at 05:59 AM · I was trained to avoid use of open strings. After playing a lot of folk music, which uses open strings frequently, I like their sound more and more. The resonances you get sound warm in their own way.

June 11, 2007 at 06:17 AM · Greetings,

there is a general trend towards using all fourth fingers in scales. Galamian suggested that -if- a stduent has intonation problems in scales then use a open string when ascending. The implication presumablty being that it is not the norm. However, the Russian scale system in the book by Gilels uses open stirngs ascending and f4ths descending.

These days I find more and more I use open strings even on long sustained notes where it is not considered the norm. One has to modify the vibrato so it doesn`t sound odd. There is a certain amount of increased resonance of the instrument going this route.

Cheers,

Buri

June 11, 2007 at 12:29 PM · I try to use f4 if it's listed as an alternative because otherwise I'll avoid it and when it really becomes necessary to use it, it's gonna be horridly weak.

Just to keep that in context, I'm just finishing Suzuki book 2 so I'm not really worrying much about tone color or vibrato at this point. ;)

June 11, 2007 at 04:09 PM · When possible, I play it fourth finger. However:

If it's in a fast section, and most of the notes leading up to and following it are higher than that note, I'll go ahead and do it open.

When double-stopping, opens are VERY appopriate. Especially in triple- and quadruple-stopping.

Sometimes in bluegrass, I play both simultaneously for a really cool effect that only violinists and guitarists seem to be able to pick up on.

In conclusion, when your string is sharp, never play it open until you have a chance to tune it. Flat is a little better, because you can do a first finger to fix it sometimes. This Sunday, my D string went flat in the middle of the Mass...so I was stuck with a flat string for the rest of the Mass.

June 11, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Albert - As you can see, the consensus answer is "It depends." I have a strong f4 so for me, the main criterion is what works best in a particular situation. I neither try to avoid f4 nor do I seek it out.

June 11, 2007 at 07:24 PM · I was always taught to use open strings when going up (such as from G-D, D-A, A-E, etc.) and fourth finger when going back down (E-A, A-D, etc.)

When I am using a mute I don't like the way that my 4th finger sounds so I typically use open almost always with a mute.

June 11, 2007 at 07:34 PM · generally-open string ascending and 4 descending.

If you want to keep something on one string, use 4. If you need the open string to maintain a string crossing in a piece, use open.

June 11, 2007 at 07:57 PM · The general rule works fairly well, although I suspect most of us use open string going downward a lot more than the rule would call for. Also, handling particular double and multiple stopping is usually fairly clear in context (there is really only one way to easily play most of the chords of the Bach Chaconne). In some sense, the real issue may whether you really want to be in first position at a particular point where you have an f4/open string choice. That issue arises fairly often for me.

June 12, 2007 at 01:02 AM · I use an open string when the rest of the phrase is on that string, fourth finger when the rest of the phrase is on its string.

I try to keep whole phrases together on a string, or at least split them so they make some timbral sense.

gc

June 12, 2007 at 01:25 AM · I think fourth finger should only be used when needed.

June 12, 2007 at 01:34 AM · Shnautz sez: "Sometimes in bluegrass, I play both simultaneously for a really cool effect that only violinists and guitarists seem to be able to pick up on."

My son does this too. And it *is* a cool effect.

What Graham says is interesting. Depending on your rig, one string may blend well--or not--with its neighbors. In my case, the blending changes with the weather, as I have plain gut. One day the D will be dry sounding, another it will be rather full and rich etc and the blend to the a will change.

June 12, 2007 at 02:32 AM · In an expressive passage, I think it's a judgement call, interpretively for effect. Generally, an open string would not be used. For that very reason, it can have a telling effect. I'm thinking of the opening of the Tchaikovsky, in m5-6 of the moderato assai, many choose to alternate the open and covered A, which can be charming.

When it comes to slow and moderate scales, and similar passage work in repertoire, it generally makes sense to say that if the next note is going to be on say, the A string, play open A - thus, open for ascending, covered for descending. However, I strongly feel that rhythmic groupings of notes trump the above rule. Let's say I begin a 3 octave scale in the key of Bb in triplets thus: [Bb-D-C] [Bb-C-D] Eb- etc. I would play both of those D's with the 4th finger. Let's say I play the scale in groups of 4 notes: [Bb-D-C-Bb] [C-D-Eb-F] etc. I'd play the 1st D 4, and the 2nd D open. I prefer to keep the same string color where I can, within the rythmic grouping. But when it comes to playing a passage fast, clarity and articulation prevail, and I would usually use open strings, unless that made for an awkward string-crossing.

June 12, 2007 at 12:06 PM · I'm going to apply the up 4th, down open + if open then back down use 4th (g-a(4)-g)....Thanks everyone-you drove this home for me very effectively. Also there's a note that brought this back to me, skipping to (a) from g-string then back to g-string, that really formed the question, which in case I think I'll grab the 4th on d... Thanks again.

June 12, 2007 at 01:30 PM · One exception to these rules is for the A-415 crowd. If you play baroque, you use open strings more often than you would playing modern, but, of course, open baroque gut strings sound different from the usual strings.

June 12, 2007 at 04:52 PM · Thanks for asking this question, Albert. I thought I knew my fourth finger stuff. I guess I didn't!

Raphael--Wow on the thought about the Tchaikovsky. I'm going to try that!

Couple of things I hope no one has mentioned yet: When ascending on a slurred passage and using a fourth finger, do not lift the fourth until you've crossed strings (that eliminates a "bumpy" quality and generally smoothes everything out). Depending on the accompaniment, an open string may be preferable because the resonance is larger--i.e. if you're playing with an orchestra and you've got the melody line which must soar over the orchestra, you might consider an open string. Love all the open strings in Lark Ascending. Opens are so lovely in that piece.

June 12, 2007 at 02:35 PM · Another reason you may wish to use a 4th finger is because of intonation.

For example, if you are a violinist in a string quartet (where everyone's strings are tuned to natural 5ths), playing in the key of C major, your open A and E strings may be harmonically too sharp if you're intonating to the viola and cello C strings. Therefore you might choose to substitue the open string with a fourth finger in order to play those notes at a slightly lower pitch.

June 12, 2007 at 07:00 PM · Again, thank you all for yet another education. While I'm in the house of basics for the foreseeable future, I want to get as close as I can to good technique.

I have been able to make myself minimize string crossings to some extent, and when I really focus on it can 'not' use opens, but was wondering, and somewhat refreshing 4th-iquette.

I've also been able to fairly consistently shift to grab a vibrato instead of open--fairly well and so forth.

I'll have to re-read all this a few times to ingrain it. Thanks again.

p.s. Kimberlee, that holding the note until the string crossing has been one of the things I've struggled with since the beginning if feels--in general.

June 12, 2007 at 11:44 PM · Kimberlee brought up the important point about what I call 'retained fingering'. I'd like to also mention what I call 'advanced fingering' to really cover your bases. In my approach ( - well, hardly just mine. It's been advocated by such greats as David Nadien -) when we put our 4th finger down in an ascending scale (in any key or position, not just when we have the open or 4th option) place the 1st finger on the next string up simultaneously with the 4th. When descending, reverse the process. In some situations it can be a lttle awkward. But it's worth the effort.

June 13, 2007 at 12:45 AM · Thanks Raphael very much. Later tonight when I get into my official practice (just taming my soul at the moment), I'm going to compile 'all' these into a summary.

I was going to ask what if the next note up or down on the next string were actually f2, but I think the goal of your suggestion is more of a leverage thing, a string crossing and string calming thing rather than a note focused thing so I won't confuse the issue?

I'm going through a basics revival/festival and these things are going to be very useful. I'm also working on an issue of not having the right reverse arching dynamic as outlined in Simon Fischer's video shared by Laurie Niles, and a question we tore to shreds here as part of this festival related ironically to exactly that, as well as just simple relaxed posture.

Oddly and unrelated, two of my former teachers hammered me for the reverse arching, so as I restrengthen my left wrist after overuse, it's just a real good time to slow down, review, revamp, and renew my programs so when I get back into my program I will be the better for it.

Anyway, thanks again; and, as always,

just rambling,

al

June 13, 2007 at 01:49 AM · Ha, I'd use open string if I had it MY way. But it depends on the style of the song, and how the other notes are in relation to the f4/O note

June 13, 2007 at 01:58 AM · Greetings,

Raphael ha smentioned a really importnat tehcnique. Just to add a little, not only shoudl one do as he advocates but actually play these two notes as double stops during some aprt of ones scale practice. That`s why I often tell my studnets there is no such thing as a single note scale. They are all double stops...

Cheers,

Buri

Cheer

June 13, 2007 at 02:02 AM · THE SUMMARY:

...make sure your f4 is at least strong and competent (many)

...ascending (o) descending (f4) (some, the convention)

...different styles have different conventions (some)

...shift for effect if necessary (some)

...if it is written (f4), don't avoid it.

...watch your string crossings when (4), and carry over your next finger to the next string (another convention), before releasing (4).

Summa: be flexible but competent with f4.

June 14, 2007 at 04:34 AM · A thought: The phrasing is a big consideration.

As a beginner an open string in the middle of a run is hard to control and tends to get louder than a 4th might be, unless you are good enough to control things at that level.

June 14, 2007 at 11:32 AM · It's just up to the music and sensibility of the player. What's more beautiful than the conclusive D open string in the Sarabande in second partita by Bach?

June 15, 2007 at 07:46 AM · Thanks J, Antonio--point taken....

June 15, 2007 at 07:53 AM · THE SUMMARY: v.1 (A wikipeak)

...make sure your f4 is at least strong and competent (many)

...ascending (o) descending (f4) (some, the convention)

...different styles have different conventions (some)

...shift for effect if necessary (some)

...if it is written (f4), don't avoid it.

...watch your string crossings when (4), and carry over your next finger to the next string (another convention), before releasing (4).

...phrasing and sensitivity would be an upper goal.

...don't devalue opens--even in classical (same as flexible I guess)

Summa: be flexible but competent with f4.

August 10, 2007 at 03:29 AM · Here are my teaching thoughts on 4th finger:

1) If your 4th finger is weak, then you should "train" it so it gets stronger and more comfortable so when you need it, you have it!

2) Sometimes, it is easier to use 4th finger (to avoid a string crossing) in a fast passage. But at other times, it is easier to use open strings instead of 4th finger. Depends on the passage that you're playing.

3) I'm very picky to my students when it comes to "tone color". If you want to maintain a certain long line in a beautiful cantilena passage or would like to have a similar "tone color", then changing unexpectedly to an open string can make it artistically bland and uninteresting. So when incorporating fingerings, I also take into big consideration the artistic concept that I'd like to achieve. Often, I ask a student what their artistic concept is? They would experiment with different fingerings and sometimes realize open string might be better or sometimes 4th finger might be better. Also sometimes we found other fingers in place of the 4th finger is better too.

So there is no formula -- it all depends!

August 10, 2007 at 04:50 PM · Here are my teaching thoughts on 4th finger:

1) If your 4th finger is weak, then you should "train" it so it gets stronger and more comfortable so when you need it, you have it!

That would be my ultimate goal, surely

2) Sometimes, it is easier to use 4th finger (to avoid a string crossing) in a fast passage. But at other times, it is easier to use open strings instead of 4th finger. Depends on the passage that you're playing.

Sheesh--shaping passages--I'm actually sacrificing goats to get there at this point ;). Not a pretty picture.

3) I'm very picky to my students when it comes to "tone color". If you want to maintain a certain long line in a beautiful cantilena passage or would like to have a similar "tone color", then changing unexpectedly to an open string can make it artistically bland and uninteresting. So when incorporating fingerings, I also take into big consideration the artistic concept that I'd like to achieve. Often, I ask a student what their artistic concept is? They would experiment with different fingerings and sometimes realize open string might be better or sometimes 4th finger might be better. Also sometimes we found other fingers in place of the 4th finger is better too.

Thanks--this perspective sums it up I think.

I think therefore, it will be a long time before I have the discretionary sophistication to apply the shaped context elegantly I'm sure. But now I know how to think about it anyway.

I can say in my defense, that I am starting to listen for the 'affect' of the choice. And that generally, I can do clean short vibrations with f4 on D/A/E, so strength will not be an issue as much as competency probably. This waiting!

So there is no formula -- it all depends!

August 10, 2007 at 11:54 PM · Hi, I don't see that anybody gave one of the standard responses about 4th finger, to "cover up" a screechy E, etc. Using 4th by design to help phrasing, keep bow on 1 string, etc., are all good. Using 4th to cover up an inability to bow a beautiful tone on any (every) open string is not so good. If we can't get a great open sound, then I think the tone of every fingered pitch is also compromised. Also, in Cajun we use a lot of unisons between 4 and open, including sliding into or off of the 4. Very funky, bluesy possibilities. Sue

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