A 'violin fingering thesaurus'

August 4, 2011 at 02:14 PM ·

Replies (35)

August 4, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

There are several systems like this for guitar,especially in jazz.  Mickey Baker, eg. Rock guitarists play out of "boxes".   They're not as necessary in violin, as tonal color, setting up for next phrase, easier intonation, better location for double stops, and other considerations are major factors, not just analytical location on the fingerboard.  There are many, many fingering conventions in violin world that a good teacher could show you.  Also, it might be better long-term to play more and have fingering connected to your ear, not to a visual picture, as hearing is the more important sense for playing music.

August 4, 2011 at 05:41 PM ·

 Carl Flesch wrote a book about fingering. I have seen it in music libraries but I don't suppose it is in print.

August 4, 2011 at 05:42 PM ·


August 4, 2011 at 09:00 PM ·

 As attractive as an algorithm for fingers is, it is ultimately doomed to failure. Fingering choices are one of the fundamental musical choices that a string player makes, and different passages call for different fingerings, and they call for different strings. It depends entirely on the music itself. For example, on some fast ascending scales, one may opt for brilliance, such in a concerto, or one may wish to ascend as quickly as possible (instead of staying on the E-string as long as possible).  

August 5, 2011 at 12:33 PM ·

August 5, 2011 at 12:53 PM ·

 I still own a copy of "THE PRINCIPLES OF VIOLIN FINGERING" by I.M.Yampolsky. © Oxford University Press 1967. It has a wise and concise preface by David Oistrakh, and was translated by Alan Lumsden.

As a practical day-by-day orchestral fiddler I found little need to consult it, and I derived little by way of personal benefit. It would be more useful as a source of information for musicologists and scholars who don't play the violin. It reminded me of a book I once saw, entitled "Thesaurus of Orchestral Devices". Such "crib-sheets" have a certain academic function, but there's no substitute for rolling up the sleeves and getting your hands dirty !! (IMHO).

August 5, 2011 at 05:20 PM ·

Flesch was a personal friend of Kreisler, and he mentions Kreisler as the "top dog" of violinists everywhere in his "Memoirs". He also mentions Kreisler in "The Art of Violin Playing" and in "Problems with Tone Production". But none of the three gices more information on how Kreisler played than you can figure out by listening to him for just a few minutes...

August 6, 2011 at 12:55 AM ·

August 6, 2011 at 05:26 AM ·

@ Eric, Buying the road atlas (or sat-nav) doesn't automatically qualify you to drive ......

Open any dictionary or encyclopedia and you will see lots of stuff you know already. Much of the content of Yampolsky's book deals with techniques I and most players will have tackled already in student days.  Had I been involved in teaching I would have referred to this excellent & scholarly work more than I did. I am sure that if you do read this work you will not be disappointed.

August 6, 2011 at 11:34 AM ·

 John - In the Art vol 1, he mentions that Kreisler used cloth under his violin, thet Kreisler's technique was unique and only worked for him (little bow, strong pressure, fast intesive continious vibrato). He also shows a few examples oh his fingerings.

In his memoirs he mentions Kreisler's short bows, that he rather used bow length than soundpoint to alter sound. He also mentions "his strangely seductive tone, powerful rhythmic force and natural musicianship" and ..."the unique beauty of his tone, which breathed out his inner feeling as a flower breathes of its scent. The quality of his tone was unmistakable, iincomparable and unequalled."

His conclution is "Kreisler has been the most important figure for us violinists since Ysaye's decline; he has fundamentally influenced the developement of our art as no other violinist of our time has done. In the history of violin playing he will live not only as an artist whose genius stimulated and expanded the art, but also as a most valuble symbol of an whole epoch"

He also writes in the Heifetz passage "Heifetz is now (1940) forty years old and at his zenith; he will no doubt hold the office of the high priest in our profession for many years to come. He fully deserves the position; there has probably never been a violinist who has approached the summit of perfection more closely (.......) ..his name, like Kreisler's, will become the landmark in the histury of violinplaying,...

August 7, 2011 at 12:02 AM ·

August 7, 2011 at 05:01 AM ·

@Eric Rowe

Were I composing in an exotic scale for the violin, years of orchestral experience (the player has to invent fingerings pdq) would be providing me with a range of fingering possibilites as I progressed. But I have had to write quite a bit of material for the recorder. In that instance, I have fingering charts, which prevent me doing anything too stupid - however the player for whom I write finds alternatives I cannot dream of. Indeed, some passages I had thought destined for a rewrite have been played convincingly, no problem, to my surprise.

It occurs to me that folk learn to converse and read before ever using dictionaries and that a thesaurus is a somewhat "wise after the event" thing. I admire your aim, but feel it might take a lot longer than you imagine to "get there". Best of luck, however.

August 10, 2011 at 05:23 PM ·


I have given a lot of thought, research, and work on the subject of fingering patterns. Here are three summary comments.

First, the Carl Flesch book, Scale System, does indeed have fingering patterns spread throughout the exercises.  They are useful for learning several techniques, which is the purpose of his book. For example, the same arpeggio fingering is used in all keys. This teaches shifting, playing in high positions, etc. They are less useful in real performance, though many are OK. For example, some arpeggios start in 4th position on the G string - not exactly friendly. Flesch covers most of the classical triad arpeggios, though he does not include all the common tone arpeggios in his exercises.  He does not have any 7th arpeggios or altered arpeggios - so the exercises are of little benefit if your interest is 20th and 21st century music. He has fingerings for a variety of scales, but they are hidden.  For example his fingerings for harmonic minor scales are in the octaves exercise. Bottom line: Flesch is a useful starting point.

Second, a Finnish professor of violin wrote an academic study of violin fingerings for his doctoral thesis.  It is now a book called Stringprovisation by Ari Poutiainen.  I have not seen it, but violin professor friends say it is excellent.  It is wildly expensive - over $120 the last time I looked.

Third, in my development as a jazz violinist, I found that repeatable fingerings for 7th arpeggios and a variety of scales are essential. Since the literature did not exist, I developed these over 5 years of work and wrote an exercise book, called Arpeggios, Rhythms and Scales. It covers all the common tone 7th arpeggios in all 12 keys, including altered arpeggios. Each 7th arpeggio exercise has 4 to 7 fingerings over 3 octaves - for example, in 1st position, in 2d position, using several repeating patterns with shifts, etc. You can find out more about it at my publisher's web site.


The book was reviewed by American String Teacher magazine in August, 2010, and they embarrassed my with all the kind things that they said about it.

If in your project, you are interested in 7th arpeggios, don't waste time reinventing "the wheel." Believe me, it takes a huge amount of time to discover, screen out, and document useful,  playable fingerings. Best of luck.

August 11, 2011 at 12:23 AM ·

August 11, 2011 at 01:34 AM ·


It sounds like you have a systematic approach, so you will end up with something.

I started out with a similar idea about the importance of hand shapes because, of course, that is the way jazz pianists do their thing.  The violin is different.  Hand shapes are part of useful fingerings, but I have found that positions, shifting intervals, and fit with scales are also important considerations in finding really useful patterns, i.e., easy to remember, easy to play.  So for example, a nice hand pattern with shifting in 5ths doesn't cut it.  On the other hand, a less than regular hand pattern in first position that matches the scale is worth knowing because we're going to play some scale-like passages mixed with the arpeggios, aren't we.  In short, there is math, and then there is the stuff that works for the mind and hand when you really have to play something on short notice, or even better in improvisation.

The math and the pattern regularity has interest to a few people, but I suggest you figure out your target performer.  Performers are the user.  In my case, it was myself and other jazz violinists who by necessity have to memorize the fundamentals we use to improvise, and then be able to recall and use that 'muscle / mental memory' instantaneously to play a response to the lick the saxophone just played.  There are limits to the number and kinds of patterns that can be memorized and used successfully, because of course, we have other things we have to learn and know also.  If your target performer is some other genre',  you will probably discover different criteria for "useful fingerings".

Lastly, you might think about whether major scales, and melodic and harmonic minor scales are sufficient.  The blues scale does not fit in those. Its pretty commonly used. Do all the modals fit? Pentatonics? Hexatonics? Major and dominant bebop scales?  Sharp 9 ascending and descending scales?  Whole tone? Half / whole tone alternating scales?  A lot of tonalities are in use by performers in today's music.  I'm just raising the question about target performer in a different way.

August 11, 2011 at 02:55 AM ·

August 11, 2011 at 03:35 AM ·

 Eric - just to clarify :)

The book seem great for Jazz playing! I'll probably buy it later!

If one is interested in more moderna classical music, there are almost 10 million combinations of the 12 tone row to experiment with... And if we add the half tones, the patterns becomes endless. 

Oh, and the "Arabic" scale is actually about 100 different scales, where about conform with our western intonation system :)

August 11, 2011 at 05:56 AM ·

August 11, 2011 at 11:17 AM ·

 Eric - that comment was about Mike's book. Sorry for not making that clearer.


This on the other hand is adressed to you :)


"There are only 351 distinct interval patterns possible within a twelve semitone octave system."

But there are a lot more scales, and each scale has it's own charactar and function, and in my view, a special fingering that get that message through. 

Let me take one example. The normal C-major scale. The notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B is not unique to that scale. If I play it as a C-Major scale, I might use open strings when possible, but as a Dorian scale I perhaps choose to play it in third position so that the base note is not an open string. So just that single tone row might need 12 different fingerings depending on the context.

The reason I argue that there are more than that number of scales is because you said:

"This is mathematically provable fact."

And the reason I included the sentence about arabic scales is because I probably misunderstood this sentence:

"So yes I do include every possible scale, in particular blues, arabian, hungarian, japanese, wholetone etc etc. "

I thought that meant _every_possible_

August 11, 2011 at 11:28 AM ·

 Oh, and Eric



August 11, 2011 at 12:37 PM ·

August 11, 2011 at 01:27 PM ·

 Eric - I don't have a PhD in theoretical physics, if that is what you ask, but I can play the crap out of my violin :) 

August 12, 2011 at 05:03 AM ·

Mike, your book is on my list to order, can't wait to get it!

August 12, 2011 at 05:55 AM ·

August 12, 2011 at 07:31 AM ·

Eric, why don't you include some of what you have already in the "thesaurus" form, maybe in your blog for others to look at.

August 12, 2011 at 04:08 PM ·

John, I agree, having a "go to" for Bach chords would be good.

I am thinking this idea would work best as interactive software, searchable database where one could enter one or more fields, like how many octaves, type of scale, "show all positions" or choose one or multiple positions, etc. Also have the chart, maybe animation showing the hand/fingering, and of course audio to hear the chord, scale, whatever.  Chords are a must though for sure. Could be a teaching aid and more.

I have a free app on my tablet where one can choose key and different scales and chords showing a keyboard, lists the notes and formula and then hear it, which is fun.

August 12, 2011 at 08:06 PM ·

 Eric - first please let me apologise, I definitly did not intend anything that I wrote to be interpreted as "mock", and I had no intention of mocking anything you wrote, or your opinions.

My standpoint is that there are more scales than you mention, one reason is because echa scale is more complex than it's mathematical function. That is the reason I took the example of C-major and the dorian mode. To add that futher, Aolian and Natural A-minor have the same notes, but functions very differently in the way they where/are applied in music and that is one reason that they might need different fingerings, and so on.

Regarding ehtnic scales, you are forgetting that in many of those modes the same note can be used more than once in the same key, a scale is not always linear like our western scales. So there are scales that use only 8-9 different pitches but the entire scale consists of more than 20 different notes.

And quarter tones are not necessarily the note between two half notes. Bartok used 2 different quartertones between two chromatic tones and if we add the arabic and swedish variants we are up to a whole lot more. And that is just what I am familiar with. For example the 7'th pitch in many types of svedish folk music in the minor mode (often similar to harmonic minor) has 3 different pitches depending on the function of that note. If it is a passing note, a leading note or a harmonic note.  Quarter tones is most often used as a term to tell that the notes are between other notes, not what note it is.

I hope that I made myself somewhat clearer?

August 13, 2011 at 12:41 PM ·

August 13, 2011 at 01:52 PM ·

 Oh, now I see! You are looking for fingerpatterns and not modes and their functions and fingerings conserning that?

In that case, would it not be easier just look for intervalls? The fingerboard consists of roughly 4 octaves, X 12 chromatic notes. And you have 4 fingers to choose from when you're going to play the next note. You have 2 distinct different movments, up/down the fingerboard, and left/right, and the combinations.

August 13, 2011 at 11:59 PM ·

August 14, 2011 at 04:40 AM ·

 Nice, Eric! I hope that you get more use of the language :)

And I hope that you'll share some of your efforts in the scale department online when you're done?

August 17, 2011 at 02:00 AM ·

August 18, 2011 at 12:40 AM ·

I am far from being one of the well educated and accomplished violinists on this site but even for me, looking at a piece of music, the possible fingerings already spring to mind, play it through once or twice, find that it's better somehow with a change in position here, or there etc.

I can only imagine those with much more experience would also feel that a reference book for the possibilities that already spring to mind from all the different technique building work, exposure to playing, etc, would be unnecessary for almost all situations.

I don't mean to be negative, and it is certainly possible I am wrong, but wanted to share my thinking. Part of learning is that there are fewer and fewer steps to playing what you are to play, and a reference book is another step away from the instrument. Best of luck though, and I look forward to seeing what you create.

August 18, 2011 at 06:31 AM ·

August 18, 2011 at 08:20 AM ·

 Well, first, your book isn't finished, secondly, several of us asked to see the result, and thirdly, you are the only one that claims some sort of completeness, which makes yours very interesting to discuss :)

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