let your fingers do the walking?

August 16, 2012 at 05:26 AM · To clarify: does anyone move around the finger board by the fingers acting like spider legs and pulling the hand into a new position?

I noticed I could do this when running down a four-finger scale (for simplicity at the nut) from the E string, after the fourth finger struck it could actually help in subtly assisting the hand to go over the fingerboard. Likewise, when doing a scale up the string the fingers can be engaged actively to help move the hand up.

Or maybe I've discovered the obvious! (typical, last to know...)

Replies (55)

August 16, 2012 at 06:05 AM · The answer is definitely yes, but the adjustments of wrist and elbow must accompany the finger "choreography" at all times.

In spider-like movements across the fingerboard, as well as along the string, there will often be a finger-tip acting as a pivot for a slight elbow swing.

August 16, 2012 at 07:13 AM · Ha, I was just talking about this to Michael. I had this one teacher, just for a semester--can't even remember her name. She was insignificant as a teacher, except that she taught me how to use creepy-crawly fingerings. Her hands were small, and she chose instead of making large leaping shifts to adjust in half-step increments wherever possible. You just reach for the note and then adjust the hand.

Milstein loved to play scales using the half-steps as shifting points. Try it. You can creep up the fingerboard this way and never even feel the shifts.

Playing Tchaikovsky and Dvorak on the viola taught me how to become better at extending the fingers beyond their usual frame to reach notes. Necessity is the mother of invention.

August 16, 2012 at 11:22 AM · I use that sometimes for small shifts,between half and one position...maybe two positions(if it is high up on the E string for example)

That is a useful technique when playing rapid sequence that uses the same pattern (up or down the fingerboard)

August 16, 2012 at 09:26 PM · I hope I was clear that this is more than extending the fingers, its about using them to move the hand rather than driving it from the elbow or wrist. One hazzard is that by pulling the hand you run the danger of distorting the note - which is why its a bit safer to use it for string to string shifts rather than up and down the fingerboard.

August 16, 2012 at 10:25 PM · This is a technique that comes with age and experience. You need to learn where third position is and where the notes are there, but then there's a passage in Db that kind of fits in 2 1/2 position, which no one ever taught you, so you reach down for the flat and stay there for the Ab in the next bar, and then you're clear up on the E in positions you can't even name and if you extend the 4th finger, then the next note is a fifth lower, etc. It's one of things that is wonderfully pragmatic, if maybe not by-the-book, especially in chromatic passages.

August 17, 2012 at 12:26 AM · This comes in really handy in fast chromatic runs.

Example: measures 14 & 15 of the Glazunov concerto (not counting the pickup as measure 1). When you're ripping things out really fast, big position jumps get in the way.

And it helps with extensions, too. if you can extend the 4th on E to C or C#, you are now set for 2nd position. In some pieces I've seen, you can "ratchet" up to higher positions really quickly.

August 17, 2012 at 01:02 AM · This technique became apparent when I discarded the Shoulder Rest..

August 17, 2012 at 09:48 AM · Stanley Ritchie's new book "Before the Chinrest" has some very useful tips. Try Amazon for a Kindle download.

August 17, 2012 at 12:01 PM · John Cadd is right... its the core of the paganini inspired technique described in ruggiero riccis book. One example for simple crawling fingers is to play a whole tone scale using the fingerin 1234 on g 1234 on d and so on.

My first teacher didn't teach me the positions very well so I did not always know were my hand position is. I know people who are always aware of the postion. But position on the fingerboard is, as one mentioned a relative thing and thinking in positions will get you in trouble with some keys. Thinking in Intervals is much better and being able to reach a third between two fingers is a good thing for changing position without the disturbance of a position change. Many soloists, especially with bigger hands ose alot of crawling fingerings. Its a very good thing to have this kind of technique in the repertoire. Still it is not easy to execute this kind of shifts cleanly and change the finger position back to the quart range after the shift.

August 17, 2012 at 01:09 PM · I just read Ricci's book and started doing this crawling things too. I was quite blown away by his method cause I've never heard of it before. but it works well with my big hands and really improves my accuracy compared to shifting around/jumping positions

August 17, 2012 at 09:33 PM · I did look at his book but had forgotten the crawling part (least consciously); the other part I remember was the flipping the hand up and down from a fixed point. Thats not crawling though since its positioning the hand for the fingers, just another way to do it other than keeping the hand as a unit and moving up through the positions.

The whole notion of positions is a bit weird though - the only real positions are in 1/2 note steps - else you end up eventually having to make a 'position' switch that is only a half note. To this way of thinking the hand in 1st is really in 2nd and 3rd is 5th. Has anyone taught in that way?

August 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM · Elise, thats a fair idea, but then you will get in trouble with string crossings again, because the fingers, in this case problematic is the first finger, changes sometimes its position. take for example c-major: on g&d&a you have then another "position" as on e string with the first finger.

But I think thinking chromatically and being flexible between the positions is very important, but its always good to be able to tell from the classic position system where you are. This makes finding notes in high positions a lot easier.

August 17, 2012 at 11:51 PM · Elise, on viola you have to learn half position- what's called low first finger or whatever on violin. It was an odd concept for me, but it is indeed necessary.

August 18, 2012 at 12:10 AM · If you use the Galamian editions of the Kreutzer and Mazas Etudes, especially the Mazas, you will notice that he uses the creeping fingering constantly, for the one position shifts (3rd to 4th, 4th to 5th, etc.) It would seem to be a guiding principle for him, even though he did not specifically articulate that issue in his book. I would regard that as one of his important contributions to violin pedagogy.

Also we find countless instances of this type of fingering in his Bach edition.

August 18, 2012 at 12:50 AM ·

August 18, 2012 at 07:17 AM · No you cant do that. people do Im sure, but its counterproductive to what should be your goal and that is a relaxed left hand that allows freedom of movement of the fingers so that you play on the tippy tips and not the pads. Now any spider crawling that drags the palm would prohibit in my opinion the arching of the fingertips and the playing on the tips. I think it would create tension in the hand as well. just sayin.

August 18, 2012 at 06:10 PM · you keep drinking that kool-aide! If it was so desireable ballerinas would all dance flat footed! ha ha!

August 18, 2012 at 06:15 PM · My fingers aren't ballerinas. They're not feet. They're fingers.

August 18, 2012 at 07:29 PM · Robert - you need to read what Ricci says in his book. And others too have said the same thing.

Tips of fingers - yes - use them, amateurs often do - professionals do not.

August 18, 2012 at 08:05 PM · i read somewhere about Elman explaining that his reknown tone was due to his playing using finger tips, very close to the finger nails. this would also be more conducive to a finger vibrato as well, no?

August 18, 2012 at 10:35 PM · I don't think so Tamuz - to a impulse vibrato (rapid oscillation of pressure not position) perhaps , but not a finger one - that works with the same (pads) principle as the others.

August 18, 2012 at 11:54 PM · Peter: "Tips of fingers - yes - use them, amateurs often do - professionals do not"

Is that entirely true? I would have thought that tips would have a particular function - for example for chromatic scales (in particular at high positions) or for fast passages... I kinda assumed the shift from amateur to professional was the use of more of one's capacity.

August 19, 2012 at 12:29 AM · how do you do vibrato unless you are on your finger tips? how do you accurately finger a string without causing it to sound flat unless you are on your tips? How do you quickly move from string to string unless you are on your tips? No thanks, I will stick with being unprofessional thank you. I like my tips.

August 19, 2012 at 01:44 AM · It works fine on your tips - but the amount of vibrato (read amplitude of the 'wave') depends directly on how much movement you can make up and down the string - and most people can make a lot more with the pad.

I know what you mean about intonation, intuitively it would seem more difficult to hit the note with a flat surfact than with a point. But intonation is a feedback system between your finger and your ear - and somehow the two of them figure it out! Take a look at a youtube of Anne-Sophie Mutter playing - her vibrato is enormous - and her fingers are almost flat along the string. I use her as an example because she has skinny fingers - but there is nothing skinny about her vibrato.

Here is a quick example, Thais:


But we all make our own choices :)

August 19, 2012 at 03:18 AM · Ricci advocated an advanced technique which involved extreme extensions backwards and forwards, which works very well. A contemporary violinist who uses this is Itzakh Perlman, but I doubt that he is aware of what he is doing.

I have found this to work very well in a lot of Paganini Caprices and therefore in violin technique in general. One can actually do a run in 3rds without shifting by moving the forearm back and forth. There are numerous examples in the caprices and in the general violin repertoire that this technique makes velocity much faster and easier and accuracy much better.

August 19, 2012 at 05:27 AM · hi elise;

i've also read many people use the terms "impulse vibrato" and "finger vibrato" interchangeably. see what's written here (especially by Mattias Eklund) http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=19896

thinking about it, please correct me if i'm wrong, when you're using wrist or arm vibrato,the location of fingers is lower , the finger pad is on the strings...

with finger/impulse vibrato, the finger is more raised above the strings to free up the finger joint to act as an oscillating fulcrum activated through rapid tapping into the strings. i think this is an opportune position for the fingertip to be in on the string which then, with each on-string tap, turns to the upper part of the pad/lower part of the fingertip. i've been practcing this to free up my finger joint.

August 19, 2012 at 06:47 AM · hi Tammuz, indeed Elman is notable for that, sometimes over the edge though. on the DVD "The Art of Violin" he seems to play really on his nails while doing vibrato. ever time he comes forward with the finger joint, the nail touches the string, which produces a "yeng-yeng-yeng-yeng" sound!

August 19, 2012 at 10:39 AM · Bruce: "Ricci advocated an advanced technique which involved extreme extensions backwards and forwards, which works very well. A contemporary violinist who uses this is Itzakh Perlman, but I doubt that he is aware of what he is doing."

:))) I doubt very much that he is not! I watched him first hand recently and you are right, with his big hands he doesn't have to shift very often. The big hands also (to get back on point too) makes crawlingparticularly effective.

August 19, 2012 at 01:36 PM · So John - do you know of anyother source than Ricci's book on the 'correct' crawling technique? I bet a number of us would be interested....

August 19, 2012 at 01:46 PM · I thought Elman's fingers were flatter than usual and that's how he produced the tone? Isn't that what Hahn said in the "Art of violin" It's been a while since I watched tat film so yea my memory is a little vague

I use the extensive stretching too but not cause I was aware of it but cause I am lazy. I rather reach than shift around. lol

August 19, 2012 at 08:04 PM · which begs the question - where do you find Kreisler's fingers. Oops I mean fingering :) I think I know where his fingers are...

August 19, 2012 at 09:02 PM · I'm not sure that having a book would help your "Spidey Fingers." Maybe, though. A few months ago, our own Peter Charles (What, ho! Peter) mentioned a radical (for me) concept: thinking of the note and just putting a finger down for that note.

I started out with first harmonics, practicing hitting it with any finger, out of the blue, from all sorts of starting places. I didn't think position: just from thinking the note to playing the note. It worked great.

I expanded from there to playing just about every note by think-play. And again, it worked.

What I found was that my playing got a lot faster. I had not noticed it before, but I had inserted a mental decision before every note, which took time to process: what position is this? Which finger? As someone else mentioned, it's thinking more in intervals, than positions.

Now, it became think-play in one instant. Pretty soon I realized that that I had been doing the "crawling" thing for quite a while, without realizing it.

So I'd just say work it out on your own, and it will come. Besides, you will own your own learning, if you do. You're a smart person, and you should have no trouble coming up with your own approach. :-)

August 20, 2012 at 08:01 PM · Hi John Pierce. I'm pleased my ideas may have helped you. I try to pass on things I had learnt from others, or things I've discovered myself.

But sometimes passing on ideas finds a lot of opposition from some people, who tend to dismiss things out of hand, before even trying them. So I'm a bit cautious about giving out advice on this forum these days.

August 21, 2012 at 02:53 PM · In this :


...there is a lot of "spidering" going on. The standard shifts are obvious, but watch the extensions he makes with his 1st and 4th finger. Or should that be "5th" finger :)

It's not that easy to follow, because of the speed of the whole thing, but I can still see lots of navigation without hand shifting.

August 21, 2012 at 04:11 PM · Look at where his thumb is on the neck, and where the thumb is in relation to the other fingers - it varies a lot. There is at least one instance where his fingers go scampering into the upper reaches but his thumb does not follow instantly. I'll have to run it in slo-mo on my desktop (can't do it on my iPad) in order to get a more accurate assessment.

August 21, 2012 at 04:22 PM · I think we just coined a new term: 'spider shifting' - and its shifting that goes both up and down the fingerboard and accross it!

August 21, 2012 at 05:23 PM · I've just had a quick look at the Minsky video in slo-mo (80% of speed, but retaining the pitch). In several places what he is doing appears to be close to what Stanley Ritchie teaches in his book "Before the Chinrest", except that Minsky is using a chinrest.

For example, in the final measures with the rapid descending passages from altissimo to the first position, Minsky's finger reaches the bottom note and then his thumb leaves the crook between the neck and body and returns to what seems more like a 2 or 2-1/2 position. This location of the thumb gives the 3rd and 4th fingers extra reach upwards and allows the 1st finger to reach back to the nut. Verily, we still have with us a Baroque technique that does not distinguish between 1st and 2nd positions!

I think the underlying rationale of spidering is that is quicker for the fingers to move and the thumb and arm to follow than for the whole mass of the arm, hand and fingers to move as a unit. What is also of paramount importance in this shifting technique is the subtle lateral elbow swing that is involved. See Ritchie, op. cit., for more details.

Note that I like to use "reach" instead of "stretch" - the latter has an implication of forcing a movement slightly its beyond natural limits.

August 22, 2012 at 02:45 PM · John, I must say I prefer 'reach' in this context too: 'stretching' implies to me staying in one place while extending for a distant target. However, spider shifting is to reach (without the inference of staying) with the option of moving the hand to a new location.

August 23, 2012 at 06:38 PM · Whatever we decide to call it (I like 'pivot shift' v. 'arm shift' or simply, shift) the stretch or reach is always only in one direction. The pinky is limited by it's length as it extends away from it's normal curve, but the lower fingers are capable of folding underneath the higher fingers, such that it's possible to play a semitone between 1 and 4, as well as extending down, a tenth or more in the case of the first finger. Except for the higher positions, the arm must move wherever the pinky goes (limited by the pinky's length.) So when we extend a lower finger from a higher one, we reach back with the lower finger. But when we 'reach' up with the pinky, we're actually shifting up with the whole arm while leaving the lower finger in place. It's useful to distinguish between the two actions, to measure intervals by reaching down with the lower fingers, or shifting higher fingers up with 'anchored' lower fingers, or a mixture of both to organize and coordinate the various motions. When extending a higher finger away from a lower finger it helps to lead with the elbow, as if to drag the finger by the motion of the upper arm. When we contract the lower fingers into higher, they 'underlap' so to speak; when we 'contract' higher fingers into lower fingers, again the arm must accompany, especially for the pinky.

Of course it's also possible to 'throw' the hand into higher positions by flexing the hand forward at the wrist, or into lower positions by extending at the wrist, (though this action changes the shape of the frame and relative shapes of fingers.) The arm 'snaps' into the new position after the 'throw' from the wrist (unless we're moving back and forth between positions.)

Re. Galamian; from pp 23-24; Special Technical Problems - Shifting

“There are two main categories of shifts; they will be termed the complete shift and the half shift. In the complete shift, both the hand and the thumb move into the new position. In the half shift, the thumb does not change its place of contact with the neck of the violin. Instead it remains anchored, and by bending and stretching permits the hand and fingers to move up or down into other positions. This type of motion, the half shift, can be used in many instances where the fingers have to move into another position for a few notes only. Properly applied, it can greatly promote facility and security in passages that would otherwise be very cumbersome.

...when speaking of "shifts" without further qualification, it is always the complete shift that is meant.

The shift is an action of the entire arm and hand, including all of the fingers and thumb.”

Unless a student has a strong connection between left hand motion and pitch memory, a solid foundation in complete shift exercises, carefully observing all guiding notes, is advantageous, before learning other types. And even then, being able to think in positions helps to organize the fingerboard, to find 'anchor positions' from which to pivot.

August 24, 2012 at 12:52 PM · Hi John, it depends...

August 24, 2012 at 02:35 PM · Terrific post Jeewon - very informative. It pertains to shifts and half shifts. However, it does not touch on the other part of 'spider shifting' that was in my opening post.

That relates to where the power for shifting comes from; in 'regular' shifts, be they full or half the hand is positioned (before or after the finger) to achieve the new position. In spider shifts (at least as conceived above) the finger itself drives or contributes to the action. Thus: reach, contact, play-and-pull. There is little contribution by the wrist/arm muscles.

Which is why its particularly effective for lateral 'shifts' (string to string).

August 24, 2012 at 05:05 PM · Besides spider fingerings, you should try caterpilar shifs as well. Its just as good. I think elman used it.

Dont limit yourself to just one insect shifts.

August 24, 2012 at 05:33 PM · Kitty: inchworm? So all the fingers bunch up and loop forward as one? For those dreaded pattern chords that work their way up the keyboard? :)

August 24, 2012 at 06:51 PM · Hi Elise, sorry I didn't read previous posts very carefully.

I see your point about what drives the action, fingers vs. arm &/or hand. And I totally agree that it's important to feel the 'pull' and 'push' of the fingers, especially in rapid scales and arpeggios. I think when we speak of the strength necessary for the left hand it really boils down to expansion and contraction of the hand. In the end, after we've learnt the various functions of the hand, and the motions of the arm, I think what matters most is timing and coordination between the two.

I'm not quite certain what you mean by lateral 'shifts'. In string crossing I always anticipate with an in/out motion from the arm. Do you mean a string cross + a shift? I can also see how pulling and pushing from the fingers can help with changes of posture of the hand, especially for quick double stops and chord changes. But because of my proportions I always need to coordinate with my arm; sometimes it helps to choreograph a passage as Adrian said at the beginning.


Hi John, what's 'elbow shifting?'

August 24, 2012 at 08:11 PM · the lateral example I came accross is running down a scale where the pinky reaches over to the next string. You can help move the alignment of the fingers to the next string by a little pinky tug...(the hand stays were it is of course). Its sort of a crab action.

Now I've done it, spider crabs!!! :)))

August 24, 2012 at 08:26 PM · As I understand it, the lateral left elbow swing, which I referred to earlier as being identified as very important by Stanley Ritchie, works by pushing the fingers up the fingerboard as you move the elbow inwards (to the player's right); and, conversely, as you swing the elbow outwards it pulls the fingers back down the fingerboard. This arises from the geometry of the violinist's left hand not being laterally at a right angle to the fingerboard, as it is with the cello.

For the lateral elbow movement to work the left thumb slides round the neck as the elbow moves; it won't work properly, or even at all, with a tight thumb grip.

August 25, 2012 at 12:36 AM · I see Elise. My gut reaction would be to advise against it, but that's my bias. To me it makes sense to preserve the shape of the fingers across strings for similar patterns, or when there's minimal change, which is why I get students to guide the hand across the strings from the whole arm, in the same way right arm levels are important for much of bowing technique. In a fast descending scale pattern I would anticipate the string cross by preparing the arm for the 'level' of the new string with the pinky hovering over it's place as I place the first finger on the old string. Granted people with longer arms, or longer fingers, or less difference in length between pinky and middle finger need less in/out motion from the arm. I've taught students of all proportions and sizes and some of them have been quite natural at left hand technique. But even for them, preparation from the arm makes a difference in how efficiently they can resolve tricky passages. In the end I don't really care how the student ends up finding the notes as long as they're accurate. But to improve accuracy I still work on whole arm motions (including the shoulder girdle) because it helps train final positions (proprioceptively) so the arm doesn't get in the way of the fingers.

I know there are those who think the arm shouldn't do much but hang loosely below the fiddle, and some even advocate changing finger shapes across strings, but I'd guess they have longer arms and fingers. In my experience awareness of left arm function only serves to speed progress, for those who need it, but even for the 'naturals.' As others have suggested already I think coordinating hand and fingers, crabs and spiders and all, with the arm is the key to higher left hand technique as well.

August 25, 2012 at 11:36 AM · Hi John, sounds like you already have good coordination between hand and arm. You've noticed you already use elbow motions. I'm just wondering what you meant when you said they'll "never catch on."

You use crawling to make the phrase work better by keeping notes on the same string for consistent tone (instead of, I'm assuming, crossing strings or complete shifting.) So, if I'm reading you correctly, were you advocating for crawling and asking for a statement about it's main benefits?

August 27, 2012 at 12:55 AM · I don't think I saw it in Fischer either... but I could have missed it.

August 27, 2012 at 03:34 AM · Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification John. I don't know why but 'elbow shifting' reminds me of the silly factoid: 'you can't touch your ear with your elbow.'

In "Art of Violin Playing," Flesch mentions it in passing on p. 108 in Part II Section C.1 'Fingerings in general,' after an example from Paganini, Caprice No. 11. "One could describe this type of shift as "position-creeping" or "slinking" from one position to another." In this section he opens with a discussion about enharmonic substitutions and the arbitrariness of positions. On p. 110 he gives some examples of passages which use two positions simultaneously. These examples illustrate how contractions in chord playing can carry over to melodic passages and is a natural step toward creeping into a new position by expanding and contracting the fingers and adjusting for the new frame.

He goes into more detail in his "Violin Fingering: Its Theory and Practice." In Part I - Positions, he discusses enharmonic changes on p. 39 and mixed positions on p. 44, where he writes, "[e]nharmonic changes often lead to a mixing of Position, successively in one-part passages, simultaneously in polyphonic passages.

Such a mixing of Positions is the first step towards the emancipation from the system of traditional Positions. Most often it occurs in connection with enharmonic changes but it may also be used for the purpose of avoiding oblique crossing of the same finger. This ability can properly be regarded as an indication of a violinist's accomplishment."

He goes on to give examples of enharmonic changes and mixed positions with contractions, "narrowing of the spaces in the various intervals," and extensions of a semitone, "stretching" forward and backward. He discusses extensions more generally in Part II - Shift of Positions. He writes in the introduction, "[s]ince the arm does not change its place, stretches do not--properly speaking--belong in the chapter on shifting. They are mentioned here, nevertheless, because the player is frequently compelled to choose between shifting and stretching." On p. 80, "Stretching has the purpose of avoiding change of Position, either because it is unnecessary, or because we wish to eliminate the accompanying glissandi. ... The choice between change of Position and stretching is of great importance. It depends on many sometimes contradictory factors, and it influences decisively not only the technical execution, but also the interpretation itself."

He outlines three phases of development in the history of violin playing:

I. Before Sevcik the technique of shifting Positions had definitely lagged behind other branches of violin technique. For this reason, violinists of that period were inclined to avoid changes of Position by means of stretching.

II. After becoming familiar with Sevcik's studies, the violinists acquired far greater skill in the change of Position; stretches were more rarely used. A contributory factor in the partial elimination of stretches was the circumstances that stretching lessens the vibrato which was used with increasing intensity.

III. In recent times, encouraged by the higher level of general skill, players have come to use stretching more extensively, mainly with the intention of reducing the number of audible glissandi as much as possible. The tendency, however, to regard forced and unnatural stretches as short cuts to virtuosity is, in my opinion, a dangerous illusion, which has done great harm to many a violinist.

Which brings us to p. 96. "There is a type of change of Position which, without glissando or stretching, is produced by having the fingers alone move into the new Position first, and by having the arm follow later. This is called "creeping into Position." I do not remember who coined this phrase--it may well have been myself. At any rate, it aptly describes a certain way of furtively sneaking into a new Position in decided contrast to the deliberate arm-movement of an ordinary change of Position. Mechanically this movement is primarily carried out by the finger itself. Arm and hand "creep" behind, a procedure mainly applied between neighbouring Positions. The great advantage of "Creeping into Positions" rests in the possibility of eliminating audible glissandi."

So Flesch's creeping involves a change of position by contracting, a natural progression from mixed positions (he does give examples of creeping by stretching, but repeatedly writes about his reservation for stretches, using them only when comfortable to do so.) Galamian's description on p. 34 of Principles: "in the creeping fingering the finger places itself by stretching (or contracting) and then acts as a pivot for the establishment of a new hand position, a new frame. The hand follows the finger into the new position by a caterpillar-like crawling motion of adjustment."

In short, we creep when we don't want to slide. But in application we creep and crawl and stretch and contract for greater freedom and creativity, to be able to play a passage cleanly and thereby bring greater emphasis to glissandi when we really mean it (a distinction Flesch draws between glissandi, technical slides, and portamenti, expressive slides.)

In my original post I suppose I was visualizing pivot shifts bigger than a maj. 2nd which probably shouldn't be described as creeping or crawling, terms more descriptive of changes of position of a tone or a semitone, or even a replacement on a parallel position. So in consideration of the aforementioned I retract my previous answer to you John, and hereby agree with you unequivocally, forthwith... but not evermore... it depends... on whether I get what your sayin'... so not unequivocally exactly... well except for the afore-y'know... I hate that word, factoid... I retract factoid... ANCHOR... but not anchor... rhymes with rancor... ooh was that my left arm? Nah. How's that arm bent like that?

August 27, 2012 at 11:15 AM · Jeewon - that was spectacular. I think you've made a real contribution to the V.com hard-core information, in particular by contrasting these earlier works.

Stretching a semi-tone or a full one is, of course, routinely taught as part of learning scales and positions. However, using it (or what is now I think reaching) to shift is, from my much more limited knowledge, rarely mentioned until you actually see it in a piece of music. My first exposure was in a nicely fingered published version of the Brahms sonatas (I don't have it on hand right now) where stretches and reaching shifts were differentiated by a circle or a box surrounding the note in question.

As I read the Flesch quote it seems that the power for reach-shifts comes, however, from the arm - there was no mention of using the finger muscles to achieve the shift. I suppose that remains the unanswered question.

August 27, 2012 at 02:14 PM · Thanks John. Fully fledged or dredged; or kedged; at least pledged; i like kedged -- we should add 'kedge shifting' to the vocab.

Funny you mention it, I think finger substitution is a key to both fluid left hand technique as well as expression, vis a vis, portamenti.

If Sevcik is the father of modern technique (modern in it's most loose sense) I think Flesch is the father of our modern aesthetic, or at least its champion in violin pedagogy.

"The conscentious artist must forgo any beautiful tone effect, any portamento, no matter how flattering to the ear, if it does not conform to the mood and character of the composition. The player's own predilections, even his personality, are subordinated to the requirements of the work." VF, p. 280

I think Flesch would have considered Ricci's ideas anachronistic. If there are those who bemoan the loss of a "golden era" of violin playing, who complain of a pervading generic sound, I think we can safely attribute it to the 'success' of 'pedagogical' pedagogy.

On the other hand,

"If, sixty years ago [about 128 years ago to us], a daring student of a musical academy had formed the habit of using L-portamenti [romantic shifts] instead of B-portamenti [classical shifts]... he certainly would have been expelled for perversion of musical taste. On the other hand today a violinist who rejected L-portamenti on principle would be ridiculed as a fossil surviving from a period long past." VF,p. 329

How to be tasteful without becoming a fossil? I guess, one way would be to study VF.

I'm not one to categorize for the sake of it. I like to define where it will help to specify, for the sake of drawing a more differentiated brain map--almost too pragmatic I've been told. There are obvious reasons why the penchant for cleanliness and accuracy in our training. But I think the missing information in pedagogical texts, the part that can help a student develop her voice early on, a classification of finger action and shifting that was probably assumed in Flesch's day has to do with finger pressure and finger substitution. Call me crazy.

It might seem obvious at first. If you press too hard you can't slide. But developing subtle pressure control is a difficult task and can't be over-emphasized. Mimi Zweig has her 'elevator' exercise, wherein you count the pressing and releasing of each finger. No matter what kind of slide, or how it's executed, pressing and releasing must be carefully timed with the motion along the string: release before the slide; release to launch the slide; press-release/slide-press; vary the timing and pressure to vary the audible portion of the slide.

Of course timing pressure (also timing with bow changes, but that's another topic) is at the heart of both hiding slides and making them audible. And the timing of pressure in a romantic slide can make it sound clunky or imbue it with elan. But the execution of both hidden and audible slides can be better controlled with the addition of expansion and contraction motions of the fingers themselves.

So in a romantic shift, to make the slide elegant, it helps to slide by extending the new finger into the higher note, like sliding into base (or hockey-stopping for us Canucks.) During the shift the new finger stretches out of frame to slide into the new note; the rest of the hand and arm catch up and snap back into frame in the new position. To train this action it helps to practice shifting by leading with the wrist in lower positions, as the inward bending of the wrist allows for a more flexibly curled finger (inward bending at the wrist also flattens the fingers, so the tips are flatter while the finger is curled--it's easier to slide on flat fingers without tripping); in higher positions the finger still contracts before it extends into the new note. Many teachers talk about decelerating into the target pitch for big shifts; i.e. aim for the semi-tone below the target, then slide up at a slower pace. But, as with finger substitutions, that last bit of sliding is controlled much more easily with the finger than the arm. Perhaps that's assumed if not spelled out.

Both Flesch and Galamian emphasize shifting on the semitone to hide glissandi during shifts with different fingers. It's because of the closeness of the fingers that it's easy to simply release pressure and carry the next finger to the new note. In books we're taught to practice such shifts classically, i.e. by playing the same-finger shift on the old finger, gradually shortening and finally just 'ghosting' the same-finger shift as the new finger gets placed. Of course this step is indispensable, as are all classical-shift exercises, as it trains the range and quality of arm motion.

But if we add the flexibility of our contracting and extending fingers, it makes the shift that much smoother, and if we apply the same principles we can make different-finger whole-tone shifts just as clean. That's because as the fingers do their thing, the arm can continue it's motion evenly and smoothly through the shift, instead of accelerating through the slide when the fingers are static. When the arm accelerates it promotes braking at the new note, which in turn causes bumps in a run or arpeggio. That's another reason why it's so important for the arm to know it's full range of motion over the whole passage, so it doesn't stick on intermediary positions.

The way to develop this finger control is with substitution, but instead of arm-shift substitution, which we've seen before, we need to develop creepy-crawly substitution: the old finger contracts and pulls the lower finger toward it as the new finger extends to substitute the old finger in ascending substitutions, and the old finger pushes and extends as the new finger contracts in descending substitutions. So in general, the lower finger extends and pushes through the higher finger in an ascending shift, and the higher finger contracts and pushes through the lower finger in a descending shift, whether shifting semitones or whole-tones, or larger intervals.

To do this requires pliability in the hand and fingers, and also between thumb and fingers, and great sensitivity to pressure. At first isolate the motion to the fingers and wrist to train them (set to i) move forward, then ii) move backward,) then combine arm to execute rapid scales and arpeggios with ease, not to mention Kreisler's elegant same note substitutions. Such flexibility of the hand and fingers, along with Elise's reaches, can aid with all types of motion along the string.

So, again, unequivocal agreement from me.


Thanks Elise. Your topic triggered something I guess. (Apologies to those who don't like to sift through the verbiage.) It must be a Galamian edition; I think he is the first (and only?) one to use circles and boxes to indicate specific finger reaching action. When Flesch said, "mechanically this movement is primarily carried out by the finger itself," I took it to mean what you're advocating. But I agree that the 'how' of it is largely missing in the text. I think partly it's because it's hard to describe in words so it probably gets passed down in our oral tradition, master to student. In texts it usually falls under the blanket admonition to keep the fingers and wrist flexible. But you might be right about it being largely absent in today's technical bag of tricks, though the 'naturals' seem to do it innately. But also, Flesch considered the arm shift and preservation of the perfect fourth frame to be of the utmost importance. His main aim in writing was not to establish another school of violin playing, but rather to establish general principles of pedagogy. Perhaps he would have considered what I've written above an overemphasis, and idiosyncratic, dangerous even, to the preservation of pure intonation. And perhaps he was right to prioritize as he did, since, as we all quickly discover, the need to get creative, to be "emancipated" from the tyranny of traditional positions, becomes more and more apparent as we go through the standard rep. case by case, individual by individual, in the higher realm of violin fingering. When teaching flexibility of the fingers and hand, I explicitly get my students to feel the pull and push of the fingers themselves. But after our fingers learn those motions they blend into the whole motions of the fingers/hand/arm complex and fade into the background, just as isolated arm motions fade, as we focus on the sound itself, of intervals, colour, portamenti, expression, etc.

August 27, 2012 at 08:42 PM · Love the posts, Jeewon!

August 27, 2012 at 11:26 PM · Thanks Emily!

August 29, 2012 at 06:30 PM · John - if you have to do finger crawling to avoid chin gripping then you really should step back and learn how to hold the violin first!

I keep reading about shoulder rests and chin gripping - but I think its an unfortunate association. Its more likely that one chooses to have a shoulder rest because there IS a chin gripping problem and chin gripping really doesn't work that well rest-less. The solution to not gripping is to, wait for it, not grip! From what little I know, the chin can be a useful tool in shifts to steady the violin but otherwise the connection there should be soft. finger crawling only really works if you have a relaxed arm - and thats not possible with a chin/shoulder in rigor... :-\

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