Block Fingering or Individual Fingerings for beginners?

January 8, 2008 at 10:42 PM · Adult beginner here, Yep, working on that Twinkle twinkle. Before I found a teacher, I was playing around with it using individual fingering, and going from F# to D is not a problem, but when I have to do block fingering, which my teacher insist I do, I'm like retarded, everytime i play to that point, I need to pause and put all 3 fingers down then continue... am I doing something wrong??

Did you learn block fingering or indivudal??

Replies (36)

January 8, 2008 at 10:45 PM · Greetings,

block fingerings are importnat but three at once can be ambitious. Try working independtly of the music and make up little exercises where you pracitc eputting down two or three fingers together in varied rythm patterns. You can do this work without the bow if you wish. Not much required, just enough for your brain to learn how to communicate with the finfers.

Cheers,

Buri

January 8, 2008 at 11:20 PM · Hi Buri,

Thanks for responding. No wonder it was so hard. My teacher did tell me to try to put first finger down first, then 2nd and 3rd, but this will make my music pause at that point.....

January 9, 2008 at 12:11 AM · My students have special exercises that build their finger strength, flexibility and most importantly "timing". They do what your teacher asked you to do without any major issues. 3 of my students are able to block without any pause and make it so seamless.

When students go downhill on a scale, they have to find ways to block their fingers simultaneously. For example,

when they have to go from G (2nd finger) on E string, to F# (1st finger) on the E string, to Open e string, to D (3rd finger)on the A string, (i.e. like in a scale), they're required to block simultaneously [321] in reverse order on the A string when coming down.

Also, if one is doing an 1 estring F# to 3 a string D, then they are required to treat it like a "double 3rd".

After my students get into this type of blocking habit, they're learning already how to form their hand into double note playing. So later when they learn double stops such as double 3rds, their hand frame is already used to this position and it comes so naturally.

They find blocking to be extremely efficient and increase virtuosity. So this is a good skill to have. It will come in real handy!!!

I might not be explaining it very well in writing but it really is a useful trick to know.

SDS

January 9, 2008 at 12:12 AM · Greetings,

as Mr Song says. I have found it very interesting to watch the reaction of studnets as I point out that there is no distinction between double stop and single note scales. The approach to the latter is based on the former.

Cheers,

Buri

January 9, 2008 at 12:52 AM · Block fingerings are very supportive of intonation, eventual speed and dexterity on the fingerboard. as a loose analogy, the separate note-separate finger is like playing melodies on the piano, but violin melody playing is more like playing chords on the piano. It is really not a problem if you need to stop and organize your fingers. I've seen beginners (tho usually kids), who not only had to stop, they had to take their right hands and set the left-hand fingers in place, then resume playing. The time gap disappears by itself pretty quickly. Sue

January 9, 2008 at 01:20 AM · Sung-Duk Song, very interesting. I think it may help me when i start learning scales and the descending part will prob help me with this.

I don't know if it's because I'm older, this is not second nature to me at all, and the pause i have to make to put down all three fingers (doesn't matter if I have to put them all at once or 1st, 2nd, then 3rd), the pause is making me mad. I just need re-assurance that this is gonna go away.

By the way, this is only my 2nd lesson, so i maybe a bit inpatient?

January 9, 2008 at 01:35 AM · PM Chu: Yes, you are being very impatient. Even if you had the best teacher in the world or if Perlman was your teacher, expecting things to happen quickly after only the 2nd lesson is being quite rough on yourself.

Keep up the good work!

Just do your honest best and be patient. I will assume that you have a very qualified teacher and if he/she is explaining it the way that it is supposed to be shown, then you will get it someday. It took my most gifted pupil (that started from very beginning) atleast 6 lessons before it started to come to him. Also, I've found that kids do sometimes learn technical things more quickly but adults can process and understand things more quickly of course.

January 9, 2008 at 01:30 AM · Sung-Duk, I'm curious. In those descending scales do you work them up to putting all three fingers down simultaneously or ask that they do it from the beginning?

This is something I'm working on myself. Usually in a descending scale I land 3 then 21 after starting to play 3. Is it better to work on getting all 3 simultaneous and then worry about how exactly right the notes are? I hope that makes sense.

My teacher doesn't seem to have a preference about this, although I notice she usually does simultaneous block fingering in these descending runs. I have a fear that if I try this the notes won't be anywhere near correct.

January 9, 2008 at 02:51 AM · Tim: What I use is Leopold Auer's Graded Course of Violin Book 2 and have the students go through each exercise. This book is laid out like this:

Book 2:

Part 1: 1st finger exercises on all 4 strings

Part 2: 1st + 2nd finger exercises on all 4 strings

Part 3: 1st + 2nd + 3rd finger exercises on all 4 strings.

Part 4: 1st + 2nd+ 3rd+ 4th finger exercises on all 4 strings.

As you can see, each exercise within each part is meant to systematically build the muscles, intonation and security of fingers in the 1st position. After going through these very exhaustive exercises (i.e. what i call boot camp), 1st position seems so easy for 99% of my students.

I literally have my students do this book first BEFORE Suzuki Book 1. If my students do Suzuki Book 1 after this book, they zip through the songs without ANY technical problems. So our focus can be learning songs and focusing on the artistic aspects even in the very beginning levels. Plus, the students will be equipped to do all 24 scales in major/minor keys in 2 octaves without no problem.

If you're willing to do the work, the outcome is possible. But it's not fun or easy. I swear by the Leopold Auer Method!!!!:)

January 9, 2008 at 02:37 AM · Thanks Sung-Duk, I'll get a copy of book 2 and see about incorporating it into lessons.

January 9, 2008 at 03:23 AM · Hey, on Twinkle, the string crossing is what makes one of my students pause. Do you find it difficult to place the fingers ahead of time because they get in the way of the open string? If the string crossing is making things complicated, practice placing the fingers down without crossing strings first.

January 9, 2008 at 03:29 AM · Emily, I don't have a big problem with string crossing, but if I have to put my fingers down ahead of time and bow an open E, it will interfere with my open E, I'm not sure why. I already tried to keep my finger nail as short as i possibly can cut it, fingers curved but it's frustrating!?

January 9, 2008 at 05:25 AM · There is a reason for having a beginner put down 1-2-3, stop, change strings, then pick up the fingers one by one. A beginner's fingers are not yet trained to go in the right places. This step-by-step approach helps in training the fingers for proper placement, so that when a student plays with independent fingers, those fingers are trained to go in the right place. Also, stopping for the string crossing is a good idea, because the string crossing is a separate motion, and the beginner tends to try to do too many things at once. Creating "stops" for proper placement of fingers and bow is actually a very good learning device. Do it many times with the stops, putting everything precisely in place; then gradually make the stops smaller and smaller, until they disappear.

January 9, 2008 at 10:16 AM · Laurie has a very good point!

January 9, 2008 at 02:10 PM · >I just need re-assurance that this is gonna go away.

Yup.

>...this is only my 2nd lesson, so i maybe a bit impatient?

Yup. : )

Picking up the violin as an adult beginner is one of the most fascinating, humbling, engrossing, frustrating, Zen-like hobbies you (and I, and all the other adult beginners here, as there are many) can choose. Enjoy - it will prove to be well worth your efforts. But be prepared to be very very patient. It's a long haul. (To prepare for my second lesson, my teacher didn't even let me use the bow. How frustrating was THAT?!)

January 9, 2008 at 02:15 PM · Oh, and by the way, hello, neighbor! I'm in the Santa Cruz Mountains (and used to live in San Carlos).

January 9, 2008 at 02:26 PM · actually being impatient in this case is a virtue:) for many young kids, they do what they are asked or told. it is good to know why, an advantage for adults.

pm, isn't it amazing that even though you play piano, when it comes to finger control on the violin, it is a different universe?

it will take some time to retrain your hand muscles. what i would emphasize is whatever hand shape you are in at any time, stop and ask yourself often if your hand and fingers (including the thumb) are relaxed. the hand shape/finger placement and relaxation have to go together. chances are that in the beginning they will not be, particularly since you are an adult and have developed strong muscles in your hands, but not necessarily those muscles for violin selectively. so, the "harder" you try, the longer it may take to get it right. imagine how some of your friends try to learn to use chopsticks for the first time...it is so tight that they can break the stick!

you can learn to "exercise" your left hand fingers even when not playing violin. develop some games yourself while watching tv, or even holding the steering wheel...

here is a visual aid...watch how milstein play this piece,,his hand shape, his finger placement on and off the fingerboard. the efficiency and accuracy go together.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waxat-_tRH8

January 9, 2008 at 03:32 PM · Terez, Hello neighbor!!! I live in Redwood Shores!!! :)

Al- Thank you for the link to the video, it seems so effortless on him!! BTW, that partita is the song that push me over the edge to decide to start taking lesson.

Everyone else, thanks for the encouragement and pointers, I'll update you all on my progress soon :)

January 10, 2008 at 05:35 AM · for some reason guitar hero doesn't let you do block fingerings...using the controller was really awkward and my hand got tired after just a couple of minutes, it was kind of an ergonomic eye opener

January 10, 2008 at 07:36 AM · I agree completely with Laurie. I start the block fingering early, at Twinkle. Most of my students complain that it takes too much time to put down all three fingers, and I tell them that it's not important to play fast; it is important to play correctly.

January 10, 2008 at 10:21 AM · If you look at the Dont etudes (both the preperatory ones for Kreutzer and the ones most people do after Krutzer) he has you holding down fingers and placing multiple fingers together all of the time...or at least the editor for my edition does. I think it's the same idea, to get you to shape your hand correctly so you can accurately place your fingers when you aren't forced to do this.

I.E. I think it's probably a good idea to practice block fingering...and always a good idea to do what your teacher says unless

a) you have a good reason not to

or

b) you're looking for a new teacher

January 10, 2008 at 04:46 PM · Pauline, i remember you having some adult students. Do you recall that they have more trouble than kids in this particular issue? (when placing the 3 fingers down it cause the pause)?

I'm actually quite content with my SLOW progress. last week, I wasn't able to put down 1, 2, and 3, because i've been doing independent fingering on my own, I tend to put 3 down first then 2 and 1 which defeats the purpose!! (even only for a week!!!), but I listened to my teacher, and practiced that way, now i see myself putting them down one by one, although slower than i want them to be. But if i play the piece slow enough, the pause is not noticable. :)

January 10, 2008 at 07:08 PM · Mr. Chu,

I was an adult beginner now getting beyond the first basics, so I can empathise with your concerns. When we started, we had a teacher who told us not to use block fingers because it was an advanced technique. She would not allow it on Twinkle. My kids naturally wanted to block their fingers. As an adult I was more confortable with independent fingers back when I started. Luckily, the new teacher went right to block fingers and it took me about a 1/2 year to switch over in my thinking and habits, but it really helps intonation and speed. He tells the children "have the next notes ready in your back pocket" instead of fishing around for them and trying to pull them out of the air. I make far fewer little adjustments now than I use to and overall intonation is greatly improved. As an adult beginner, maybe you should do some broken thirds and other interval studies in addition to scales. When you put down the block of fingers, you gradually will start seeing the patterns in the different keys and it makes things easier and more systematic. We think it is easier but does take a while to come down the fingerboard for instance. For example, if i put down my first and third without the second finger, very often I am sharp. The second finger, even though I don't play it, keeps my third from shooting too far up resulting in a note that is too sharp. I know this is not as technical as some of the other posts, but I could really understand why this would be confusing. Also if you put your fingers down and then slide them into position you won't need to do that with more block fingering because they will already be in position. Good luck to you.

January 12, 2008 at 06:11 PM · Mr. Kingston, Thank you so much for your input!!! I'm glad I'm not alone!! The phrase "have the next notes ready in your back pocket" has been stuck in my head everytime I practice!!!

However, I do have a question, and anyone can chime in please.

For example, playing twinkle twinkle, when I do the string crossing from E to D string (block fingering), when exactly do you put your fingers down? If I try to put them down while I'm still bowing on the E string, it will mess up my E coz my fingers will touch the E string sometimes!!

January 12, 2008 at 06:46 PM · ...and that's exactly what you should practice! You want your finger placement to be so precise that you never hit the E string when you're putting down your fingers on the A. Practice the left hand without the bow and try to feel exactly where the fingers fall on the A string - make sure they aren't touching the E. When you've built an awareness of this, then start using the bow. Play the open E string and practice putting various fingers onto the A. It doesn't matter too much if this coordinates with the bow stroke; right now you're working on sorting out how your hands work independently. Later, you'll find that the preparation isn't a matter of clamping the finger down on the string, but rather of bringing the hand gently into position and allowing bow and fingers to work together. But that's a whole different lesson...

January 13, 2008 at 03:24 AM · If the block fingerings feel awkward, practice them until you can do them. The time will come when they will facilitate difficult passages.

January 14, 2008 at 03:06 AM · I agree with the above post. Remember, practice can make perfect, but practice also makes habit!

Questionable habits are a drag to fix later. Do it right the first no matter how long it takes. When you start the block fingers and you are trying to have a few down, make sure you don't get all tense in your hand. Sometimes when you are trying to put down a few fingers, you stop curving your fingers. If you flatten them out, it is easier to hit the other strings and have a bad tone. If you curve your fingers over the fingerboard while you block your fingers instead of reaching across the strings, it is easier. The fingers will then drop down, not stretch over the other strings. I find this is difficult with 4th finger however and needs a lot of work. I only recommend this because it really helped me. This sounds easy, but is difficult. Remember not to let your hand get too tense or it gets more difficult. We like broken intervals (3rds, 5ths etc.) to work on these types of patterns. Maybe try some in the key of whatever song your working on already. Your teacher will give you some good ideas. Remember as an adult, we hold tensions in our bodies different than children.

January 14, 2008 at 04:00 AM · Yeah... i'm getting better now :) My teacher found out that I play everything by ear last week. The suzuki books melody is so familiar to me that I don't look at the book at all. She made me work on a scale book by William Starrs and it has alot of fingering exercise (feels like Czerny again!!!). It is helpign me alot!!

January 14, 2008 at 03:58 PM · Sorry double post.

January 15, 2008 at 05:23 AM · Sorry to reactivate this post again. My block fingering timing is getting much better! However, another issue/problem came up.

I find it almost impossible to place all three fingers on the A string without touching the E string at all. If i try really really hard, my fingers will be extremely tense and that's barely touching the E string... is it really possible??

January 15, 2008 at 05:44 AM · Greetings,

yes it`s possible. Keep in mind that anything you do physically on the violin that involves trying very hard is generally counterproductive. Very often we simply cannot get to where we want to be (in a stretch for example) so we nee dto just be patinet, have a clear mental image of what we are trying to do and then day by day, suddenly, a miracle happens...

January 15, 2008 at 06:01 AM · Buri, I'll take your word for it!! I'll ask my teacher how to make this happen next week! I know the frustration of trying hard and can be counter productive. I practiced for way too long today. Teacher has me working on a scale book by William Starr called Scales Plus, it has alot of fingering exercise that I really like , i know it's not flesch, (sp??), but it's a start! :)

January 15, 2008 at 06:21 AM · Greetings,

`Flesch` because it was written by the greta German pedagogue Carl Flesch to save time. He is probably laughing in his grave at the hours we violinist labour (or claim to) ove rthem, spawning the acronym HOPFNOR: hours of practice for no obvious reason...

Cheers,

Buri

January 15, 2008 at 09:04 AM · Hi PM,

Why don't you see what happens if you let your fingers touch the D and A strings, instead of the A and E? You don't need to play on the D string at the moment, so it won't compromise the sound - I think you'll probably find you have a lot of room in the other direction!

January 19, 2008 at 10:42 PM · I am a beginning adult student and, after reading this thread a few days ago, started trying to use "block fingereing."

This is unbelievably difficult! My fingers are all over the place--intefering with other strings, all out of position and generally just in the way of each other. Is this really learn-able?

My teacher (whom I see monthly) hasn't started on fingering yet; she has me concentrating on bowing.

But, I have been playing beginning pieces (Silent Night, Ode to Joy, Greensleeves, etc.) for enjoyment and, frankly, to make learning fun. It's really nice to actually hear a familiar tune come out of my violin!

But...trying to play those simple pieces using blocked fingering sounds worse than ever. Very discouraging when any little progress (a familiar sound, some smoothness) is otherwise so encouraging. It's horrid.

I ordered the book Sung-Duk Song suggested from a local music store but it will be several days before it arrives. Anyone have any suggestions for practicing until I can get the book?

January 19, 2008 at 11:36 PM · James, I want to tell you that is completely learnable (sorry i don't think it's a word!!) My teacher really wants me to do block fingering to help with intonation, also it's very helpful when there are times I have to play a phrase that has the descending scale passages, all you have to do is lift your fingers one at a time, without having to place them down individually risking being out of tune.

I started playing around with the violin for only a few days before starting lesson, and I already got used to independent fingerings, but it didn't take long to change or correct.

Before your book arrive, try doing the G major scale. As you go up the scale, keep the fingers down. When you do the descending portion, all you have to do is lift one finger at a time.

I've only had 4 lessons, so if I'm not making any sense, plese chime in and correct me!!

Good luck!

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