Should I be worried if I stare at my fingerings too often?

November 12, 2013 at 05:22 AM · I've been playing the violin for six months already and I feel a bit awkward when I practice, or even perform. I have this habit to stare where I'm fingering when I play. When I do this, I feel quite limited to look and keep track on where I am in the sheet music, since I'm almost always looking at my left hand. I'm wondering if it's normal to this, looking at my fingerings. If so, should I glance occasionally to make sure my fingers are in the right position? Should I try to practice without looking at my fingerings more often?

Replies (48)

November 12, 2013 at 07:24 AM · It's important to be able to look at your fingering patterns (whole/half steps) in your left hand.

Visual information is very useful, and since light is much faster than sound, it is far easier to correct something that you see is out of place before it becomes sound, than to adjust after it's already out of tune (or the wrong note).

The solution here is to memorize your music, then you can concentrate on the physical challenges of playing the instrument!

November 12, 2013 at 08:27 AM · I think you need to be able to play with or without vision eventually but when you are starting its quite natural to look at your fingers.

Perhaps you should try simple one-octave scales - G major or D major but with your eyes closed. I find that really helps me to focus on the sound and not the placement - and that has to be your long term goal. You can't position a finger accurately enough to create a note in tune, you have to use your ear. But it takes a lot of work to build up your confidence to the point where your ear is dominant in the exact placement of your finger.

November 12, 2013 at 08:55 AM · As you have already discovered yourself, looking at your left hand constantly or very often will hinder your ability to read the sheet music. You also want to be able to look somewhere else in general... Thus I recommend you to not rely on your sight very much. Why does visual confirmation help you so much? I assume that it's harder for you to hear the tone than it is to just look at the position of your fingers.

What can you do to change that? First, try to sing what you are going to play. If you know the tone you want to produce and you hear it in your head, then you can find it on the fingerboard more easily.

Other things to do would be: Listen to classical music and when you feel like it, try to sing/hum along. That only works for music you have heard a number of times before, of course.

You can correct your own intonation by playing another string as a reference sound. Play d,e,f,g on the d string and then compare it to the g string. Everybody needs orientation on the fingerboard to not get lost... what you can also do is play an additional string always, so you always have a string to compare your own playing to. I hope I explained it alright, my english is not the best.

>since light is much faster than sound, it is far easier to correct something that you see is out of place

With that small distance one cannot differ between the speed of light and sound. Technically, there might be a difference in the order of microseconds between the two.

November 12, 2013 at 11:15 AM · Looking at your fingers for finger placement is a really, really BAD habit which slows you down in many ways.

When we play the violin with eyes closed or not looking at the fingerboard we use our proprioception sense and our auditory memory. That's basically it; the good thing is it's easy for the mind to process this information.

When you look at your fingers for placement you use: visual memory, visual motor memory and you MAY(?) use you auditory memory, and your bow hand will use your proprioception sense and maybe visual memory. That's a lot of information for the brain to process, definitely a major learning curve. As you can see, when we use our vision for placement we ARE NOT using our proprioception sense, the very thing we are trying to train.

November 12, 2013 at 12:54 PM ·

"Visual information is very useful, and since light is much faster than sound, it is far easier to correct something that you see is out of place before it becomes sound, than to adjust after it's already out of tune (or the wrong note)."

Gene this has to be one of the silliest things I've have read on this forum. If this is a belief of yours, fine, but for the love of God don't teach it to others.

November 12, 2013 at 02:51 PM · I find it useful to practice sometimes in the dark, using only ears and to receive information. We tend to be so visually dependent that this tactic provides an entirely different perspective.

In the long term, looking at fingers is going to hold you back--you'll need your eyes for music, conductors, others in your chamber group. But not *having* eyes for a few minutes can change your entire relationship to your playing -- for the better, I mean.

November 12, 2013 at 04:04 PM · Marjory, I agree with you on practicing in the dark. Years ago when I was a young student at a summer music session, my teacher the late Joe Knitzer had us practice at least one hour at night in our practice room with the lights completely out.

He wanted the student to be totally familiar with the finger board by feel and not having to rely on finding different positions by sight hereby finding the correct notes by both feel and ear coordination.

Carter

November 12, 2013 at 04:16 PM · Out of curiosity I ask these questions:

Those of you proposing to NOT look at the fingering, did you learn violin as a child or as an adult?

I understand the importance of learning to HEAR where you are as opposed to SEEING where you are. But there are a thousand wrong places to put your finger for a particular note, and only ONE proper location to hit the note correctly.

As a beginner doesn't one need to become accustomed to where these particular locations are? After practicing for a period of time you become habituated to where they are from muscle memory and basic familiarity, and then become able to play without looking all the time at your fingerboard.

I am an adult beginner, playing for about a year so far. I use finger tapes (I know that is a matter of contention as well...), but I have now got to the point where I can go for periods of time not having to stare at my fingerboard for correct placement. If I had not started with the finger tapes as a guide I think I may have been quite frustrated by the horribly off-key sounds emanating from my violin. There is plenty of other things to pay attention to when first learning besides finger placement alone.

Perhaps if one starts learning violin as a child under the philosophy of no looking and no tapes they will be fine, as the expectations for a child beginner are rather low for tone quality. Eventually they will get the hang if it and all will be well. But as an adult beginner I know that I would give up rather quickly if I could not even manage a decently recognizable "Twinkle" as I started out.

Anyhow, any feedback on those aspects?

November 12, 2013 at 06:13 PM · I have heard multiple teachers (including my own) say that one should look at where the bow is on the strings during performance (I used to not looking at anything).

November 12, 2013 at 06:48 PM · I don't look at my fingers when playing, but what I do occasionally is a quick glance at the bow on the string to check it is in the bowing "lane" I want it to be in. Listening to intonation doesn't help on that one, and there may be too much ambient sound for me to hear the note quality properly.

When you're playing in an orchestra you'll be too busy paying attention to the printed music and keeping an eye on your section leader and conductor to be watching your left hand fingers. This is where developing your proprioception sense comes into the picture, as Charles pointed out.

November 12, 2013 at 07:05 PM · Continuing from points by previous posters:

I started as a kid, playing by ear before I had a teacher -- though I was reading the sheet music before my first lessons, thanks to prior piano lessons. I had a keen ear and could tell if something was off. Never used finger tapes, but that's another discussion.

As a kid -- and still today -- I had a flair for practicing in the dark or near darkness. I didn't do this all the time by any means, but it's valuable experience. In the 4-day blackout from the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011, I had to play the evening sessions in near darkness those 4 days. The earlier years of ear training, interval recognition, and drills in shifting and and bow control really paid off.

I'm not saying that you should never look at your fingers. I do it, but it's just an occasional quick glance, not something I rely on. If I look at anything, it's more often the bow position on the strings. Even then, it's just a quick glance now and then.

November 12, 2013 at 07:37 PM · Hearing and touch are more reliable than sight (finger tapes or no) for left-hand work. I, too, look occasionally to see what my bow is up to, but only a glance now and then.

I learned as a child. Started in a school program; when I started private lessons (very soon), first thing the teacher did was remove the school-installed tapes, and had me start playing in the dark. The ONLY time in my entire learning when I was expected to look at my left hand was a short time when I began playing with a collapsed first-knuckle on the first finger. Because I wasn't aware I was doing it, my teacher had me look, but once I conquered that, looking was no longer an acceptable strategy.

If your string is a little out of tune, seeing where your finger 'should' be is of no help--to offer only one example of why eyes are less than useful here.

November 12, 2013 at 08:37 PM · This thread is inspiring me to give it a try!

November 12, 2013 at 08:47 PM · RE: playing without looking

I know you can find the correct positions utilizing the resonance on the open strings for certain positions (such as D on the A string resonating with the open D).

But for an untrained ear such as my own, what do you do to assure proper pitch for say the B or C on the A string? Or is it simply a matter of suffering through it until you learn what sounds "right"?

November 12, 2013 at 09:00 PM · We'll, Seraphim since you asked - I started learning at 44 and I only rarely lookat my fingerboard. Like about twice a year. Actually if I do I get quite disoriented, didn't have tapes though, I don't think any of the teachers I saw ever considered them useful since none of their adult students use them.

November 12, 2013 at 09:42 PM · Sharrelle, so how was it introduced to you where to place your fingers?

How to determine if you had it "right" or not?

I certainly would like to join the ranks of the "do not lookers", sooner rather than later, so I don't become too habitualized...

November 13, 2013 at 06:04 AM · THANK YOU V.Com!

Inspired by this thread I tried this evening's practice with (minimal) looking. It was a whole new experience. Instead of focusing on the fingerboard with the occasional glance at the music it was totally the other way around. I hit a few sour notes, but a quick glance allowed me to quickly correct, which I hope will soon build into an innate feel for where my fingers need to be without my eyeballs guiding them there.

I'm just starting Suzuki book 2, it was refreshing to be able to work through Judas Macabees without having yet memorized it.

And then as a challenge I doodled around with Mussette as a sight reading exercise for the first line or two. Fantastic! Well, maybe it didn't sound fantastic yet, but the feeling of freedom was fantastic.

Sure, this is going to take some further trail and error, but overall I was quite surprised by how the interaction with the written notes was experienced in this manner. Previously I had used the music notation as a reference guide to help me memorize the notes and built up my familiarity with each song in that manner. Tonight it was more of a feeling of the music flowing directly off the page into my violin.

I'm under no illusion that it flowed effortlessly, or sounded perfect. But as a beginner every new step along the path feels so rewarding. And this certainly was a new vista for me.

Thanks for the push!

:^)

November 13, 2013 at 06:35 AM · Greetings,

I agree Charles. One can I think look at the point of contact of the bow to some extent in my opinion though. Can prevent accidents when playing next to the bridges

Cheers,

Buri

November 13, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Hi Seraphim. I really can't fully remember how I knew where to put my fingers. I can remember the teacher saying that the first note i wwas to play was first finger on the d string and it sounded like 'this', and I did it. More or less. And so on and so forth :) I guess that means by imitation, but I was also introduced to reading music in the first lesson as well.

I have decent relative pitch when tthere is a good model right there for me to compare to - I do drift a bit when left to my own devices at home for too long, and dhave to be reminded, mostly the with a sharpened leading note or very flattened third type of tuning, rather than a completely out of tune note although i have been known to practise and repeat one of them obliviously.

November 13, 2013 at 10:51 AM · I started at age 49 two years ago and was explicitly told by my teacher never to look at my left hand while playing. He also tells me a million times to think about the note I want to play before I hit it with my left hand. (It is not that I forget he said that, but I am usually too busy with many other instructions to be able to do everything at once :-/ ).

It seems like magic, but every time I do think about the tone in advance it is more in tune than when I don't. It has nothing to do with looking at my hand. Obviously there are many secret connections made in our brain. In this case, imagined sound guiding finger placement seems to work better than vision guiding finger placement.

November 13, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Great!

We've got a few of us 40+ club beginners here! (I started last year at 45)

:^)

November 13, 2013 at 11:40 AM · Just little something interesting, most likely you can't really hear your violin when you look at your fingers because your face is toward your violin fingerboard. If you turn your ears to the sound board, you will be able to hear your violin loud and clear. I know it because I used to look at my fingers too, and still am trying to correct it.

November 13, 2013 at 12:58 PM · Hilary Hahn ... didnt she say she watches her bow contact point constantly?

I thought Elise's advice was the best. Just play a couple of one octave scales or a few of your earlier, memorized book one pieces without peeking at your fingers. You'll surprise yourself by how little peeking helps. Play your book one pieces starting on a different string too.

November 13, 2013 at 02:20 PM · Paul that must explain why Ms Hahn (who I adore by the way) is slighty crosseyed :-)

November 13, 2013 at 11:13 PM · > Gene this has to be one of the silliest

> things I've have read on this forum. If this

> is a belief of yours, fine, but for the love

> of God don't teach it to others.

First of all, you're certainly welcome to your opinion, but it's not shared by me or a large number of my colleagues.

Secondly, I don't choose to "believe" that someone can see the arrangement of tetrachords in their left hand prior to placing it on the string. It's plainly observable fact, and it has been a valuable tool for many a student. Aside from looking at the tetrachords, it isn't too far away from looking at the point of contact (where the bow touches the string).

I think part of the confusion here is that a lot of posters are assuming that I'm talking about using sight to identify a specific location on the instrument itself (like tapes), when what I'm actually referring to is the frame of the hand so that the intonation is consistent regardless of where your hand actually is. This is how it is entirely possible for someone to be playing entirely in tune with themselves, but out of tune relative to another player. Does that make more sense now?

Lastly, if you can come up with a rational argument supported by some sort of logical premise why a performer shouldn't use this sort of visual information, I would be happy to hear it. You might be able to form a more compelling argument without the insults, okay?

This is a diverse community of players and teachers from the world over, and your own local, personal, experience may or may not be similar to others. If you can play solo Bach and Ysaye perfectly in tune without ever looking at your hand, then that's wonderful. However, in working with thousands of students over the past two decades, I have had to pursue solutions for players who were unable to do it by aural and tactile information alone, and who were able to experience much more success by integrating the visual component into their practice and performance.

November 13, 2013 at 11:13 PM · > most likely you can't really hear your violin when

> you look at your fingers because your face is

> toward your violin fingerboard.

No, you move your eyes, not your head. :)

November 14, 2013 at 01:35 PM · For developing what we now call proprioception, my cello teacher gave me this exercise almost every lesson all those many years ago:

Step 1: I sit at my cello with my eyes closed and let my left arm and bowing arm hang loose;

Step 2: my teacher Arthur Alexander says something like "play F natural in the second octave on the D string with the first finger";

Step 3: I play it and immediately discover whether or not it was a real F natural;

Steps 1 to 3 were repeated but with a different random selection by the teacher of note, string, shift position, and finger.

Before the exercise started Arthur Alexander told me to think the note in my head before I played it.

A few weeks of that exercise worked wonders, not only for intonation over the entire length of the fingerboard but for the positioning of the bow in the correct "lane" on the string.

I recommend the exercise for any stringed or keyboard instrument.

November 14, 2013 at 06:36 PM · Putting some numbers into the discussion, the speed of sound at sea level for the International Standard Atmosphere is 1116 ft/sec, which means sound takes about 0.0005 seconds to travel from the violin's f-holes to the player's ear.

The speed of light in vacuo is known internationally among scientists as a convenient 1.8 terafurlongs per fortnight. Light therefore takes about 0.0000000005 seconds to get from the f-holes to the player.

Both these times are of orders of magnitude smaller than the minimum acquisition time necessary for a human to realise that an event has taken place, and means we shall never be able to see or hear all the notes that Roman Kim plays.

November 14, 2013 at 06:51 PM · The light doesn't have to travel from the F-holes, it will be travelling from the fingerboard (for when you are peeking at where your fingers are going), so i say you could triple your time of flight estimate for light.

November 14, 2013 at 06:56 PM · True, but even so, the playing of Roman Kim will, I think, forever be a mystery.

November 14, 2013 at 08:23 PM · The quality of reaction time only matters if you can hit the target.

So while it's certainly possible to hit a tennis ball, chop onions, and type with your eyes closed, you don't become proficient and accurate by not looking in the first place...these skills come from having created a mental image of movement which may or may not have been drawn on visual information...but very likely, the visual component was a large part of it.

Again, the problem here is the numbers of people who advocate extremist positions on topics like this one. It's never that drastic...there has to be a balance in approaches to learning and it's not useful to simply dismiss things without supporting evidence.

November 15, 2013 at 01:24 AM · Got the opposite problem... I can't look at my fingers and not get confused! Not certain if it is good or bad.

November 15, 2013 at 05:31 AM ·

Gene, here's the thing. There are only 2 ways to control muscle movement: first is by Vision and second is by Proprioception. Some think 'muscle memory' controls muscle movements, but that is a myth and I will believe in the Easter Bunny before I believe in muscle memory.

When you are CONSTANTLY looking at your fingers to learn something new your mind processes this information as a visual motor memory. When you look away and try to do this movement again you may not be able to do it because your proprioception sense wasn't trained. You therefore need to learn the movement twice if you want to look away.

This rule doesn't apply to a Proprioception memory. If we learn a muscle movement without looking, the mind is easily able to use this information when you do look. Therefore, when you don't look when learning muscle movements you only need to learn the movement once.

I tell my students to only look once; then repeat at least 3 times without looking. They learn a lot faster and accurately this way.

When it comes to bowing. Students who constantly look at the bow are less likely to learn the FEEL of the bow or where it is position. Getting students to alternate from straight, crescent, round and angled bowings without looking teaches them the FEEL. Getting students to play close to the bridge, and then move close to the finger board with out looking teaches them positioning.

Proprioception techniques work extremely well, and in my opinion the only REAL way to teach the violin. Eye hand coordination techniques dull the auditory and tactile senses instead of heightening them.

Thanks Helen for posting that link it helps to prove my point.

November 15, 2013 at 06:16 AM · Does this argument assist the original poster in any way?

November 15, 2013 at 09:43 AM · Again, you're assuming an extremist position, that just because someone advocates using visual information to assist in the development of playing skills, that it is an all-or-nothing sort of proposition, and that couldn't be any further from the truth. Never once in this thread have I argued that visual processing should be used to the exclusion of everything else. Playing the violin requires a combination of sensory inputs, including the aural, tactile, and visual. Different people acquire their playing skills through unique combinations of those three senses, and what is efficient for one player will be completely different for another.

This DOES help the OP with his question, because there's a whole lot of people essentially claiming that a player should almost never look at the fingers while playing. I disagree, and wish to offer a supported argument in favor of using visual information, without insisting that it is the only solution to dealing with intonation issues. As I've already mentioned, visual confirmation of the tetrachord patterns in the left hand prior to physical placement can be extremely helpful. For example, students I have worked with have found it effective in works like the solo Bach fugues and the Chaconne, the Ysaye sonatas, Dont 35-1, numerous Paganini Caprices, etc., where rapid changes in fingering patterns to play sequential chord structures are necessary.

> in my opinion the only REAL way to teach the violin

A really fantastic mentor once shared with me this thought: "The success of others does not diminish us." I can believe that your approach is the exact right one for the students you see. I can also believe that the approach I use, or the ones my colleagues use, are appropriate for those students who experience success with them as well. We're all working with evidence of what our students are achieving, right?

So in this way, saying "the only REAL way to teach the violin" is probably more accurately stated, "the way I am most effective at teaching the violin."

November 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM · I've not taught anywhere near the number of students Gene has, especially beginners (young or mature.) But of those I have observed, I've encountered a wide variety of skill sets. Some seem hard wired to hear tonality. Some seem to have a keen sense of body space. Some seem to feel the beat and rhythm innately. Others seem to be quite unaware of pitch, proprioception, coordination, or rhythm when it comes to navigating their instruments. Some are confident, others insecure. Some just do, others want to please. Some are focussed others daydream. Some are only aware of the task at hand, others are only aware of their surroundings.

Studies suggest those who excel tend to lead with their strengths and manage their weaknesses. Should a teacher rob a

November 15, 2013 at 12:29 PM · [cont. from above]

...rob visual thinkers of their greatest asset or create strategy to use it to achieve the goal at hand, make them worry about it, or help them incorporate it?

~~~

Short answer for Ray: don't worry be happy... use it to develop better proprioception and hearing, in this case, your feel for and the sound of where your fingers go. Don't just look at the same things over and over but build your repertoire of visual information. For example look at: the shapes of your fingers as they play a 'low' fingering or a 'high' one, where the fingers make contact with each other as they play different patterns (see and feel their 'closeness' or 'farness',) the angles at which they fall on the string both 'sideways' and along the string. Use a mirror to look further afield the fingers (look at the thumb, the crook between thumb and forefinger, the contact your hand makes with the neck of the violin, the alignment of hand and forearm, the frame of your hand (the general shape when it plays a 1-4 octave across strings.)) Strong visual sense is a great skill to have for sight reading. As in speed reading, grab large chunks of information and try to see patterns. Read ahead so you don't get lost when you look at your fingers. Before you start working on a piece think the key, visualize scale patterns (on the staff or a piano keyboard or violin fingerboard) and how they relate to finger patterns. Make constant reference to such visual aids as you're playing. Mark your music in anyway it helps.

November 15, 2013 at 07:23 PM · I have enjoyed this discussion although I think it's been needlessly heated. I'm probably what you would call a "visual learner", but I've just never been able to get anything into better tune by looking at where my finger goes down on the finger board. To begin with the angle of observation is so grazing that I can't really see where my finger is pressing down anyway. I was taught to do things "by feel" (how you do it) and, of course, "by ear" (how you know if you've got it right). Tapes should only be used at the very start and then only to jump-start the process of developing a crude level of muscle memory. I worry that focusing on the music and then on your hands, back and forth, very many times during a page of music, will give you a headache.

November 15, 2013 at 08:31 PM · Interesting description of propriception on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

Of particular interest in regards to this discussion:

"Learning new skills

Proprioception is what allows someone to learn to walk in complete darkness without losing balance. During the learning of any new skill, sport, or art, it is usually necessary to become familiar with some proprioceptive tasks specific to that activity. Without the appropriate integration of proprioceptive input, an artist would not be able to brush paint onto a canvas without looking at the hand as it moved the brush over the canvas; it would be impossible to drive an automobile because a motorist would not be able to steer or use the pedals while looking at the road ahead; a person could not touch type or perform ballet; and people would not even be able to walk without watching where they put their feet."

So, this first part seems to back up completely Charles' theorem that propriception is the way to go, right?

However, the article continues as follows, which strongly supports Gene's position as well on the importance of using vision as a way to train propioception.

"Oliver Sacks once reported the case of a young woman who lost her proprioception due to a viral infection of her spinal cord.[25] At first she could not move properly at all or even control her tone of voice (as voice modulation is >primarily proprioceptive). Later she relearned by using her sight (watching her feet) and inner ear only for movement while using hearing to judge voice modulation. She eventually acquired a stiff and slow movement and nearly normal speech, which is believed to be the best possible in the absence of this sense. She could not judge effort involved in picking up objects and would grip them painfully to be sure she did not drop them.

November 15, 2013 at 08:50 PM · The key concept being, "appropriate integration of proprioceptive input." How can we best integrate? What is most appropriate given our propensities?

November 15, 2013 at 09:15 PM · I will interject my personal experience here:

These past few days have been quite enlightening in trying to forgo looking at fingerboard and focus either on the sheet music, or by watching my tuner app on my iphone to help train me as to whether my tone is low or high for a particular note.

It has been going fairly well, and I'm thankful for this discussion causing me to re-evaluate my dependence on LOOKING as opposed to feeling or hearing. I don't know if I could have begun my violin experience by forgoing looking and finger tapes altogether, but I do feel that now is a good time to transition to a much less visually dependent modus operundi.

November 15, 2013 at 09:38 PM · I don't think it's ever an exclusive either/or. Unless we have the misfortune of losing one of our senses we use all of them all the time. Even if we do lose a sense, research in neuroplasticity has shown how the brain remaps itself, allowing another sense to take over for the map of the lost sense. Moreover our senses affect one another.

We perceive and act on the world via brain maps. And though ultimately we want to hone and refine the sounds we hear and produce, I'm not sure we need to suppress any of our senses (aside from doing a temporary exercise like playing in the dark to heighten another sense) or whether we can. Because even if we remove the visual object, we can recall it at any time in our imagination, especially if we are highly visual, as Charles recommended (look once, repeat without looking.)

To quote Gene, "I have had to pursue solutions for players who were unable to do it by aural and tactile information alone, and who were able to experience much more success by integrating the visual component into their practice and performance."

Perhaps more than what senses are actually used to learn, we're talking about how we pay attention to our different sense in our efforts to integrate them.

November 17, 2013 at 08:23 PM · Yes our senses can effect other senses in a negative or positive way.

go to 4:20 of this vid

A have a teaching trick for my beginner guitar students. I teach them a simple picking pattern; they off coarse are looking at the pick hand the whole time. After they kind of get it I tell them to do it with their eyes close, and off coarse they wine about it and say they can't do it. When they finally do the pick pattern with eyes closed they play it with more speed and accuracy. They got their lesson on how Looking slows them down.

I have a similar technique for my beginner violin students. I have them

do this test first with their eyes open looking at keeping the bow straight during those parts, and then with the eyes close. Just about every student will have excellent straight bowing with eyes closed than open.

A lot a teachers have there students look into a mirror as an aid for straight bowing, but this doesn't teach them the FEEL of straight bowing. The above mention video teaches the feel of straight bowing quite quickly.

I've developed several proprioception techniques over the years and they are superior teaching tools to all students compared to visual aids.

November 17, 2013 at 10:34 PM · Charles, that's a good video illustrating the interdependence of the senses to make decisions, but in some circumstances that interdependence can cause problems.

A while ago I took part in a regional workshop on playing for Playford dancing (that's "Pride & Prejudice" country dancing, with music from the period and before), the workshop to be followed by playing live for dancers. Books of the music were sent to all the workshop participants, and on glancing through my fiddle copy I noticed that I knew well about 75% of the 90 or so tunes we were going to play.

At the workshop the music on my stand and during the playing I realized I was making silly mistakes in tunes I already knew like the back of my hand. I guessed what was happening was that my fingers do the playing were receiving signals from two different sources - one straight from memory of the tune, and the other from the printed copy via the eyes and then to be processed by the brain before going to the fingers. The second source would therefore have been slightly out of synch with the primary source (memory), and this asynchronicity was causing the problems.

The solution was obvious - to use the printed copy only for the music I didn't know, and to play everything else from what I already had in my head without looking at the music.

November 17, 2013 at 10:38 PM · Using vision has helped me solve some problems, but I have had very bad luck with trying to play well while using it extensively. Actually, I find looking at the sheet music to be debilitating too. Quick glances are fine, but my attention needs to be on the sound and the feel.

November 18, 2013 at 04:11 AM · Hi Charles, I'm in complete agreement with you regarding the importance of proprioception and developing technique through feel. I've written about it at length in past threads. I only disagree with your characterization of 'looking at your fingers' as a 'really, really BAD habit,' especially if the OP is a visual learner. I think it's more productive to help students integrate visual cues with feel and sound than to stigmatize what might be their strongest sense.

The problem with proprioception is what feels right is what we're used to. Also our brains will prevent us from moving in ways which it thinks are harmful. Unless hard wired to hear tonally, I think most beginners find it difficult to navigate the fingerboard by feel and sound alone. Having said that I am by no means suggesting they learn by sight alone. I don't have enough experience with beginners to speak with authority, but based on my experience with intermediate to advanced students I think I'd help develop each of the senses separately and seek ways to connect them. Namely ear training exercises to develop tonality, range of motion exercises (e.g. chromatic motion for the fingers), visual cues (e.g. identifying shapes of fingers, finger patterns.)

An example of a visual cue for the bow arm would be small triangle, square, large triangle for arm shape at frog, square elbow, tip. I'm not saying this alone would suffice to play a straight bow, just that it's a visual cue for the concept of straight bowing.

November 18, 2013 at 07:19 PM · I think the general consensus is its okay to look at your fingers when your starting out but when the time comes, (even if you think you aren't ready) you need to start learning by ear.

I cannot recall if OP said you were using tape lines but it may be time to give those up to! I gave up my tape lines when I got my new violin, even though my teacher was a bit skeptical at first and even warned me its going to be rough couple of months of her saying intonation, intonation, INTONATION. After getting my ear trained fairly well (and having a super resonant fiddle helps) I dont see any real reason to look at my fingerings. I know where they should be and what it should sound like, so even if I miss the note the first time, the second time around, I can usually get it very close to in tune if it isnt in tune.

Recently I gave up looking at my pinkie finger as it was my most inconsistent and weakest of all my fingers. Looking at my pinkie does not help at all since even if its dead on, its still lacking the strength to stretch and press down hard enough. [Thank you Gavotte for working out my pinke so much]

Finally for bowing, I gave up awhile ago on looking at it to see if its straight. Looking dead on at the bow its only going [at least to me] LOOK straight when its in the middle, otherwise you need to FEEL your wrist adjusting to keep your bow and hand straight.

When I practice, its more useful to me, to feel everything out rather than rely on eyesight. Even feeling the vibrations and overtones can be more useful. I love it when even my violin can feel the right note when my teacher plays.

November 18, 2013 at 09:29 PM · > still lacking the strength to stretch

> and press down hard enough

You really should talk to your teacher about a solution for this. If you position your hand properly, you won't need to stretch the fourth finger, and exerting a lot of force is not beneficial in the long run.

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