Fingerings as a to help kids ditch the crutch??!?!

September 22, 2007 at 07:32 PM · So I'm teaching some students, beginners up to people who have played for 1-9 years, with varying issues of reading notes.

They've relied on the fingerings way too heavily, and need to write in something like D-3 to mean G on the D string.

It's like dealing with a guitar student who relies strictly on tabs.

Any ideas of how to still help them progress while helping them to learn the notes, without it being too frustrating for them?

I'm thinking flash cards might work for some students. Others, maybe like a "lightning" round of asking them various notes and seeing how well they do (which I could probably use with the flashcards also).

I've also come up with a flow chart about how we can think of a note, and how the string and position are two of the last items on the list (we need to know how it sounds and what it looks like, along with the name, be it alpha, or some type of do).

::sigh:: Anything that has worked for anyone else? I have limited time with these students, so I kind of want to give them something they can continue to practice when I am done working there.

Replies (24)

September 22, 2007 at 07:56 PM · Replacing an effective habit might be a little challenging; but, approach it not from present methods, but as a new approach.

I started memorizing note names in relation to the fingerings one at a time--here and there, and it's coming together ok. Many songs start on d on a string for example; and there are four open strings to fill in with. E-flat and a-flat are pretty obvious as are e octaves, then g notes and g-octaves. So employ octaves maybe as well...

Also, encourage them to read 'just a little' in the spirit of note names finger positions on easy things as a 'layer' of their development.

You may also wish to have them call out note names in arpeggios I think.

I don't think you are likely to persuade anyone to start over in more traditional approaches from what it sounds like, so I'd start filling in the gaps as best as possible.

September 22, 2007 at 09:21 PM · Use one of the current method books for school programs, and if possible settle on one that has a workbook with it. Gets at reading minus fingerings from two angles at once.Sue

September 23, 2007 at 06:15 AM · I don't know if this would work for you and your students, but it worked fine for me.

My instructor showed me how the fingers are placed in certain patterns on certain strings, especially when playing scales.

For example, on the G and D strings, when playing a G major scale, the first finger is down on A or E by itself, while the second and third fingers are on B/C and F#/G right next to each other, even touching each other in my case.

Then, when you switch over to the A and E strings, this finger pattern switches. The first and second fingers are next to each other on B/C and F#/G, while the third finger is farther apart, all by itself, on D on the A string (and would be by itself on A on the E string were I to keep going into a third-octave scale).

Once I got this down, he showed me how you can start a song in any position on the same string on which it normally starts (excluding any songs that are played entirely on the same string, or any songs that would require you to go below open G if you begin on a lower note than the original piece calls for). Using the same "know your finger patterns" technique, I found that one can play the same song perfectly by using the exact same finger patters when starting on the exact same string on which you originally started the song. You can even start on different strings, as long as you have the notes both up and down available on the instrument to play it, by simply switching your finger patterns around.

As I did this, he had me…er…take note of which note I started on with my first, second, third or fourth finger, then I had to transpose the song in my head as I went along. Using the various "whole-half-etc." patterns of note steps in the various scales, this, too, helped me to learn some of the more complicated scales while I was at it. It was quite a challenge to do this (and it was time-consuming, to be sure), but it actually helped me learn where every single note is on the fingerboard (sans harmonics), and to learn to use any fingerings I felt like using for various notes, rather than being trapped in the standard "positions."

I think it was an almost overwhelming approach, but when I accepted that it would take some time, and I forced myself to stick to it, regardless of how frustrating it could be at times, everything sort of fell together.

Just making all these various finger patterns a matter of habit, coupled with knowing where the various notes are, and how they relate to each other in correlation with all the finger patterns, made the idea of finger/hand positions sort of obsolete for me. It also helped me learn to sight read better, as well as to transpose on the fly if I need to, though it will still take some time to master that! :)

I think it took me about two months to really get all this stuff down. I just used simple pieces to learn, but they worked, nonetheless. I dare say others will be able to get it even faster than that. They just need to approach it the way they have to everything else in learning to play an instrument: stick with it. ;)

September 22, 2007 at 11:58 PM · Just take away the crutch. When someone doesn't need the crutch they take it away. A student should never be put in the position where he or she depends on finger numbers. Take the numbers away and start over again and teach the actual reading of music. I know some people who don't know what notes are on the staff all they know is 2 on D or 3 on A and these people are in they're 7th year of playing.

September 23, 2007 at 12:43 AM · show some tough love and send them to a chinese language school to try to memorize characters. in one week, they will come back and say, let me try something easier and give the music score,,,even without any fingerings,,,:)

September 23, 2007 at 04:21 AM · Here's an observ. based on experience. Start small!. ;-)

Seriously. I'm finding that any difficulty I encounter is because I haven't started small enough in maturing the technic that is required.

I want to do grande multi tempo phrases to learn legato, when I should start with two notes--not a real example. I want to 'BOUNCE' my spiccato when I should be controlling lightly all motion--again an example derived from my rock'n days..

And if you are serious expect a lot of individual work. Nearly every student may respond differently.

Also teach as Theodore Spiering suggests, and 'physically show them' to think before acting in adding these new skills, so that they may do as I have learned and generalize phrases later.

I personally focus most intently on learning the sound and the progression of notes and rhythms without any physical annotation. Then I focus on memorizing this mess. Only then do I start refining anything I've forced myself to learn to do with written material.

I've had to alter this progression with violin, piano mostly being the earlier example. Now because of my goals, I recently learned to

'truly' learn phrase by phrase note by note as written, turning challenges into exercises. A top-down generalist approach with violin will only go so far unless 'true' genius is indicated.

So it feels obvious that these students have not been thinking as technicians but as just players at worst; and, perhaps as interpreters at best. You will have to judge each one accordingly. There will likely be patterns and generalizations but keep your ear to the wall.

You've inspired me to heavy-duty read and play 5-10 minutes a day.

September 23, 2007 at 05:17 AM · Thanks for the great suggestions!

I agree that it would be too frustrating to let them feel like they were starting all over.

I did try having some think of a the notes go up it, it's kind of like putting our fingers down (G is next to F#, which is next to F, which is next to E, which is next to D, etc.) Some seemed to understand that.

Sue, the book most of them are using is All For Strings. I'm thinking I might go back and check out the Elements book that was like a theory workbook in that and see if there are any examples I can borrow.

Thanks again!

September 23, 2007 at 06:14 AM · What about getting them each to do a little work at home, draw in the note on the staff, work out its name, just do it for one string and however many positions they can cope to start. My son had to do this, using a highliter to draw in the note (just like a face or cirle shape), and he used a different colour for each string, and wrote the note name in the coloured circle. Later he wrote the finger used for that note, and each week it was just the three main positions on each string, then two strings, then he had to make up a little piece using say two notes on each string. Still used the colours, it looked really nice actually, and he and I played it together. I think its a bit like spelling, part of it has to be learnt by practising it, and it did work to help him learn the notes on the staff. Once he saw the pattern that going up and down the staff = going up and down the alphabet, he was able to work it out independently.

September 23, 2007 at 07:16 AM · For me it was a huge jump going from 1-B 2-C 3-D to playing pieces with no fingerings at all, and I'm just starting to grasp ways to come up with good fingerings and not resort back to the first position I'm so comfortable with. And certainly tackling pieces with no fingering is a very daunting task. But I found forcing myself playing through the Kreutzer etudes(I braced for 10/day) not caring so much for the melody and trying to find fingerings helped me gain confidence and attempt better fingerings(eventually the first position just wasn't good enough :) )

September 23, 2007 at 02:37 PM · It came to mind that: as distasteful as some find it that Suzuki provides fingering instead of reading:

'that this does provide instinctive fingering irregardless of the position'.

'makes some (me) take control of f4 early'.

I'm all about wanting to read better like most, but....

September 23, 2007 at 04:57 PM · There are two basic concepts that a student needs to master before they become musiclly literate.One is to recognise the sound that goes with the note.It is doubtful that A1 will produce the sound of b in the students brain before they play it so recognising the sound that should be produced by the printed note before it is played is very important.The second is to know where the tones and semitones fall.It is very difficult to encourage children who are used to using fingerings to do without them and if you have beginners never use fingerings except maybe to highlight ther use of 4th fingers or changes of position.For those inherited with this problem you'll need to go back and start recognising the notes slowly.Start excercises from the open strings and build up from there and do lots of singing.However do this as a seperate excercise at first give them an easy unfingered piece to play but maintain something on their level using less fingerings each week.

September 24, 2007 at 01:28 PM · To get my children to recognize note namesi etc., I devised a game which I called "money penny music". I draw a large staff with clef and use pennies for notes. Place a pennny (randomly) somewhere and ask what note/finger is this? A correct anwwer wins the penny and an incorrect answer takes a previously won penny back. With an incentive like this progress seems rapid. You can add a time limit for answers as proficiency increases. A teacher could create and photo copy a blank and one with answers so that a parent could help train without musical knowledge.

I have considered creating a suite of web-based training applications such as recognizing note names, fingerings (in various positions), keys etc. for such "games" as web site free material. It could easily print "certificates" showing a count of correct answers etc. Does anyone have interest or suggestions?

September 24, 2007 at 02:22 PM · ted, i think your line of thinking is awesome.

for your online game, besides having pennies, you may allow the players to choose among different age appropriate symbols. so how many teddies can you keep at the end of the game?:)

good luck!

September 24, 2007 at 08:56 PM · ted, i see what you mean. i may do that, the only thing is, i'm working between 6 schools in an urban setting.

it does remind me of a teacher who did a similar game with learning all 50 states. if you got the one he randomly pointed to right, you got a tootsie roll. if you got it wrong, he promised we'd never forget it.

12 years later, i still remember the one i got wrong was kansas and it was pink on that map! hah.

i think i may try flashcards and the penny thing with some of the classes.

September 25, 2007 at 01:14 PM · Hi,again, If your students are using All for Strings, are they writing in fingerings themselves, or do you have to do that for them? If they can do it themselves, they actually can read! they're just choosing the easy way out by only reading it once while using a pencil. Maybe you can convince them of the truths here. 1)They can already read. 2) A little frustration of going w/o numbering will transfer the skill they have to a skill of playing at sight. Maybe allow some numbers and designate some for reading practice. There's a book called Note Speller you might investigate. Obsessive, but fun, especially for those who like puzzles, etc. Sue

September 26, 2007 at 02:17 PM · I've found that using flashcards is really useful. My students are required to be able to say the note name and finger number of each card while being timed. (About 1 second per card). To download free flashcards, visit

Be sure to emphasize to the students that they must know the note name AND the finger number. I also practice having students place the note on their violin when I hold up a flashcard to further reinforce the connection.

September 26, 2007 at 05:08 PM · Some books like the Suzuki Book 4, Bach II has many more fingerings than the international edition has. Both parts. Maybe use the cleaner edition, and then put your own marks in where it really matters. The children then have to stop and think. All those fingerings I am convinced are for the unison playing, to keep everyone coordinated on the bows. But it is a crutch. We find this made the kids less dependent on the finger numbers and more into reading the notes.

The finger numbers are just used to indicate when a shift is recommended.

It takes them a while but it is easier to read than all those little numbers all over.

September 26, 2007 at 08:44 PM · So fsharp on d is always played by the 2nd finger and the g always by the 3rd? Maybe it would be better to concentrate on the sound of the note rather than a finger.Have pupils experiment playing in different positions.

September 26, 2007 at 09:01 PM · Galamian one-finger, two-finger and three-finger scales? :)

September 27, 2007 at 01:46 AM · Hey, thanks for keeping the good ideas coming.

I'm going to write these down on my folder I take to school.

Today went a little better with second year students. I used the chalk board, and wrote the notes D, E, F, F#, and G on the staff. I pointed to them and instead of calling out the answer of the note name and the fingering, they had to just play it. Then for closure, I took volunteers who'd come up, pick a note, and tell the class how to play it. Then they would sit back down and play it with the class.

Here's the flow chart I had made that I've been using with most of the students...

............Note Name

Notation (on the staff)---------Sound

............ String

............ Position

............ Fingering

So I made this chart to show we need to know what we call the note (be it alpha, or one of the do's), then equally important are the notation/icon/visual and the sound (solfege could fall into this category too, I think, and ear training).

After that, we have to decide on which string, in what position, and using which finger, in that order, that we want to play the note, or can.

This way, as students advance, it might help them think of fingerings in other positions.

Hopefully the spacing worked...I should try and draw it and then post it, it makes more sense! (I just got a new computer and am transferring files and programs still, and I don't have a paint program).

September 30, 2007 at 04:40 AM · For the sub-two year kids, just teach them scales. They should be able to say the names of the notes they play as they play them. Once they know the names of the notes on each string as they play, they can easily transfer that to written music. Also, I play a little game in which I put the letter name of the note under the first instance of that note in the piece. After that, if they forget how to read it anywhere else, there is the built-in penalty of having to go find that first instance and re-read it. I also explain that as unfamiliar as the written notes are at first, pretty soon they will be "like old friends. Now you wouldn't confuse sophie with bob, right?" They seem to get this and, at most, I might have to point out a distinguishing feature of the note such as being on the lowest line etc. e.g."THAT's not D, D is on the BOTTOM space!" That sort of thing.

Oh, and I never do the whole "FACE" or Every Good Boy Does fine" stuff until they can recognize a few notes already at sight. That's because I don't want them to have to "caculate" the note. So, instead of something like "let's see, gotta count up from E... every good boy does.. DOES , yeah it's a D", instead you get a process more like, "You know those open string notes D and A and E? Well they fit into this system..."

Good luck!


October 1, 2007 at 08:14 PM · An aside:

I misread this topic as "Fingers as a to help kids ditch the crutch??!?!"


October 1, 2007 at 09:02 PM · If they have a computer, you can try this site as well:

October 1, 2007 at 10:41 PM · Howard...

I do really like the open string "recognition" system. I found that's what worked for me really well when I first learned viola (was seated into a just for fun quartet sight reading Eine Kleine, showed where middle c was on the staff and the instrument and off I went!!)

I found I was able to learn everything quicker when I understood where the open strings were on the staff and how the fingered notes fell on there.

Some students get it, some students don't.

One of the tough things about the older students is that scheduling does not permit private lessons, so I only have like 40 minutes of rehearsal time with them in an auditorium (no chalk board).

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