Advanced violinist needs help memorizing complete arpeggio sequences

January 17, 2014 at 01:43 AM · Advanced violinist needs advice on how to memorize complete arpeggio sequences.

I have a very good ability to memorize music i.e. Etudes, Paganini, full major concerti and others. But for the life of me I have never been able to memorize complete arpeggios

or unaccompanied Bach. I've had a new fantastic teacher for a year now and usually he let's me use my scale book (Fischer). This week he informed me that he wants me to memorize my arpeggios in the Flesch format - which I have previously studied.

My music theory has always been weak, and he uses theory to explain everything. Diminished this, and augmented that and my brain freezes up. It's like I have musical dyslexia... Musically he's really good for me and my playing has increased amazingly... although he's made it clear I still have a ways to go. I am willing to learn more theory but I don't know how to do this.

I have two issues with arpeggios. 1. I can't remember the sequence from one to the next and 2. I get lost on 3 octave arpeggios after going up, and when coming down I can't remember what fingers I used going up.

Any help is much appreciated as I'm not sure how to accomplish this


January 17, 2014 at 02:20 AM · .

Imaging also helps speed memory times.

Memory Master Techniques

January 17, 2014 at 03:46 AM · It helps if you know what it will sound like, so if you can sing the arpeggio (sing it in your head). With that, remember the fingering pattern. Learn one arpeggio at a time and then group the minor to the major of that arpeggio, because the fingering should be the same.

For me, starting on the first finger, what I think is, the first two arpeggios are 1314, then the two of the first inversion are 1324 and of the third are 1424, so each time you move one finger. Also, learn where your intervals are, especially your perfect intervals - In the first inversion the 3 and 2 fingers form a 4th, which I check my intonation on. The diminished 7th is kind of its own beast, and the dominant 7th is just a major arpeggio with an extra finger right below the octave.

For me it took time, but practice in small chunks. Practice each shift up and down, so that you play an octave, shift, and then come back down the octave on the same fingers. The more ways you think about them - sound, feeling on the fingerboard, sung/visual interval, and name of notes - the more secure it will all get.

My problem is trying to memorize etudes, but I think patience is really the biggest thing, and connecting to the information by as many methods as possible is key. I hope that made sense and is of some use. I always like to think that I can get the most learning out of the stuff I find the hardest. You are at a high level with your playing and you know how hard you need to work for every little bit, but if your theory is weak, then think of it as some low-hanging fruit (I've got A LOT of theory work to do myself, but I have other priorities at the moment).

January 17, 2014 at 05:38 AM · Hello all, this is my first time writing a post here, although I've been a member and a reader for a long time. I wanted to throw in my two cents' worth because I've been practicing the Flesch system of scales and arpeggios for quite some time already, and I feel like I know it well enough that I might share my way of thinking about the arpeggios.

First, just a tiny bit of theory: without getting too deep into it, an arpeggio consists of two intervals of thirds and one interval of a fourth, and spans an octave (ex. C-E, E-G, G-C). There are, of course, exceptions to this, which we'll deal with later. In violinistic terms, the sequence of those intervals determines what fingering to use.

The first two arpeggios (tonic minor, major in root position) have an intervallic sequence of 3rd-3rd-4th and are fingered:

2-4-2 |1-1-3 |2-1-3|4-3-1|4-1-3|1-2-4|2

The third arpeggio (relative minor in 1st inversion) has an intervallic sequence of 3rd-4th-3rd and is fingered:


The fourth and fifth arpeggios (subdominant major, minor in 2nd inversion) have an intervallic sequence of 4th-3rd-3rd and are fingered:


Looking at the fingering sequences, several patterns emerge:

A. Starting on 2, the first upward shift is always 1-1 on the A string.

B. The second shift on the E is always to 1-3-4.

C. From the top note, the fingering for the descent is always 4-3-1, and the downward shift always lands on 4.

A special case is the diminished seventh arpeggio, which consists only of minor third intervals. It is fingered as such:


Here you still shift up using 1-1 on A, but on E going up to the final octave, you have a 1-2-3-4 fingering where each finger stretches to reach a minor third up.

The dominant seventh arpeggio, in terms of fingering, is like a hybrid of the major and diminished seventh arpeggio, and is fingered thus:


When practicing these arpeggios I like to group my fingerings into logical sets, e.g odd and even numbers, or 1-2-3-4, and feel a rhythmic impulse in my finger action when playing those groupings. If I'm slurring the notes together I might even hear a syncopated rhythm created by the percussive articulation of the fingers on the strings, and for me that helps preserve and memorize the finger patterns.

There are a few more patterns embedded in the fingerings that jump out at me, but I think what I've mentioned above are enough to get you on your way! I hope this helps, somewhat. Have fun!

January 17, 2014 at 05:42 AM · Try recording yourself playing them correctly and then listen to it many times!

January 17, 2014 at 07:44 PM · Thanks for your suggestions. Some of them I haven't tried yet, and I look forward to seeing if I can move forward with this. I suppose that I should also make learning theory a priority as well.

January 18, 2014 at 12:18 AM · If you're advanced enough that you're playing entire Flesch Scale Studies, then I think you should be able to handle minor, major, relative minor, triad inversions, etc. It's not that complicated as far as theory goes. If you're a young person planning for music college (your bio does not say much about you) then you will have to learn this stuff eventually anyway. I can't imagine memorizing the Flesch arpeggio sequence without that basic structural guide in my head.

C major is a good one to start with because it's free of open strings so the logic of the fingers, which another reply has laid out nicely for you, can shine through, plus the keys of the different arpeggios are easy to understand, and it's not the highest on the finger board.

Pretty soon your brain will be figuring out the relative minor of any key by where your fingers go in the Flesch arpeggio sequence.

The disadvantage of Flesch is that there is no augmented arpeggio (all major thirds) which I think is good for the brain. I noticed that the ad showing on this page was for "Lumosity" brain training. Honestly, why a violinist would ever need that, when you've got Bach, I'll never know.

Regarding solo Bach, I feel your pain. It's just hard to memorize, not sure why. Maybe it's for the same reason that the music stays fresh even after you listen to it 100 times. Themes recur, but in a way that aren't quite predictable.

January 18, 2014 at 01:04 AM · If it helps: a lot of the theory you can think about in terms of distances. Augmented, major, minor, diminished intervals are all labels for particular distances, which you can measure by the sound of the pitch, the space between your fingers, or what it looks like on the staff. Then those terms are aapplied to the full arpeggios to describe their characteristics as a whole, if that makes sense---the combination of individual distances that makes the full sound-pattern. When you think about it that way, it can become a little more logical and less abstract, both for memory and finger associations, hopefully?

January 18, 2014 at 06:46 AM · Greetings,

at risk of contributing nothing, I have to say I found the OP a little odd in some respects. How is it that one can remember Paginini Caprice no1, the Mendelssohn cadenza, the Sibelius etc and not be able to memorize something as simple as the Carl Flesch sequence?

I would guess the answer lies in the mental conditioning of the past since you apparently already studied Flesch anyway.

You are thinking about this relatively small chunk of notes as 'scales' rather than a delightful and musical aspect of the violin and whatever screwed you up in the past is kicking in and you are already defeated.

The only thing you cando is stop flogging a dead horse and reframe your concept of scales . How do you absorb all those difficult concertos? That's how you should approach Flesch.

Personally I liked Laurie's approach but non of us can guess what your actual learning style is....

The other possibility is you are simply not doing enough work where you are engaged mentally. Actually that is a fact in my opinion. I don't mean complex thinking of theoretical patterns but running through the sequence in your head without the violin knowing and visualizing precisely where the fingers go, preferably last thing before you go to sleep.

Bach is another story but the same principle applies.

You will have yo dig deeper to find what your story is.



January 18, 2014 at 09:07 AM · I find three problems with arpeggios:

- only one or two notes per string, where the ear-to-finger association lacks the logic of scales;

- frequent "diagonal" intervals across the strings, needing carefully devised strategies to stay in tune;

- wider one-finger shifts.

So I spend more time on "basics"(v.slow to

- slurred pairs: e.g. C-E, E-G, G-C' etc.

- slurred "waves": e.g. C-E-C, E-G-E, etc.

- slurred "scans": e.g. C-E-G, E-G-C', G-C'-E' etc.

- always paying attention to hand and elbow orientations and movements; and memorising all physical sensations.

A fairly succint post, but implying hours of practice.....

January 18, 2014 at 04:17 PM · Buri, you said, I would guess the answer lies in the mental conditioning of the past since you apparently already studied Flesch anyway.

You are thinking about this relatively small chunk of notes as 'scales' rather than a delightful and musical aspect of the violin and whatever screwed you up in the past is kicking in and you are already defeated.

The only thing you cando is stop flogging a dead horse and reframe your concept of scales .

You nailed a sad part of my early training. My first teacher believed in using actual pieces to work on technique instead of scale and etude books. So until just before college I had never worked on scales in a formal way. Since my introduction to them, I have never liked them. They don't seem like music to me, even though I know music is created directly from them. One of my musical weaknesses is that I have to hear how music fits has to make sense to me for me to memorize. That's why pieces are easier for me to memorize; I can hear myself going somewhere with all those progressions.

To answer a few inquiries, I am 36 years old and have been playing since I was 6. The teacher I have now is helping me address some of these type issues and our goal is for me break through to a higher level of quality playing that I've never been able to reach.

Thanks again for everyones help.

January 18, 2014 at 07:05 PM · Hey Bev,

I think you just said it. I think it will be tough to get much out of scales and arpeggios unless you think of them as music. If you don't, then you are already kind of admitting that you aren't interested, and you won't imbue them with enough attention, emotion and direction to be able to translate them to other things. I think that even Schradieck can have a certain amount of atmosphere if you are putting that into the exercises.

This is all philosophical on my part, but I think it's better to imbue technical work with meaning than to simply break repertoire into technical exercises (though that kind of implies a false choice). Every time you play a scale in a work, it has some directional, rhythmical and emotional elements. I think that bringing these sorts of things into your scale and arpeggio work will make them more enjoyable.

For me, if I can connect emotions and relaxation in my technical work, then I can hopefully bring emotion out in clean playing without overfurrowing my brow. And I'm very similar on needing to connect with music to memorize. I think that if you can reframe your perspective to find the beautiful and meditative aspects of scales, then you will be able to connect with them, and will look forward to practicing them.

January 18, 2014 at 07:34 PM · Solfege.

January 18, 2014 at 10:37 PM · Helen, this "solfege" rings a bell!

If it means full musical awareness, to help the mind dominate the matter, all well and good.

But while my own inner ear is pretty complete and efficient, my hands remain clumsier than my mind, and need their own special training. I even refer to my my teaching methods as "audio-gestural" (by analogy with "audio-visual"). My fingers do a kind of minature ballet over the fingerboard, and need their own "muscle memory" if they are to release the marvelous sounds going round in my head.

So, solfege wins, but is only half the story!

January 19, 2014 at 12:54 AM · I have never quite understood solfege. Could someone be so kind as to explain it in more detail?

January 19, 2014 at 02:06 AM · Oh, those are the lessons you hate and dread to attend as a kid, only to find after many years that you have no problems with rhythm, intonation and sight-reading!

Bev, if practiced properly, with a lots of rhythmic variations and different bowing, scales are probably an investment in violin technique with the biggest and fastest return.

Here is Hilary Hahn's interesting interview with Kala Ramnath, an Indian violin player:

Compared to 4,000+ scales in India, our petty 24 are easy to digest!

January 19, 2014 at 03:00 PM · Bev - I read this topic with a lot of resemblance, as the joke goes. And I have the same background (only more scanty) than you - starting at age 6 but never studying scales or etudes. Actually I never studied anything but the music is its own reward. I find (maybe you are the same) that when I improve my technique through music then my scales improve, rather than the other way round. But then its only somewhat and I have to go over and over the scale to make it run each time.

I am getting some access into arpeggios though but here through finger patterns rather than sound and to date only and major/minor. Perhaps if I take the time to try to understand the theory my mind will engage in those patters too.

I feel your pain and remain to be unconvinced by Rocky and other's commitments as they simply have not worked for me. I think the biggest reason is that my mind likes to learn notes in context - I can play a scale near perfectly but then screw up intonation in the next piece. The intonation is best fixed (for me) by listening to the note in the context of its neighbours and gradually my mind is building up a library that covers the fingerboard and crosses over to other pieces.

I also find the fingerings used repetitively in scales to be of very limited practical value for real pieces - occasionally I will see the same shifts but usually I can find much better was of getting from A to B; if you will excuse the phrase....

January 19, 2014 at 04:49 PM · "[Scales] don't seem like music to me."

As you play a major scale, does your seventh lead to the tonic? It will if it's in tune! Does the major third sound bright? The minor third dark or sad? They will if they're in tune! This is why I enjoy slow scale practice, because it is fun to experiment with the musical effects of very small changes in intonation. I was kind of gratified that some of my "discoveries" were consistent with the general advice in Fischer, but wishing that I had had studied Fischer in the first place.

January 19, 2014 at 05:17 PM · It's maddening, all my tricks and discoveries are in Simon Fischer's books! And a host of new ones..

Too late to copyright them now!

No, scales are not music, just as syntax is not language.

January 20, 2014 at 10:06 AM · "No, scales are not music, just as syntax is not language"

Maybe that's my problem with them. I didn't learn my alphabet until I was in my late teens - (and no, I don't have a learning disability, at least not what we usually think of); the way I finally did it was by putting it to a song. Perhaps if I could make a scale a song I would learn them easily.

I am going to try to prove you wrong ;)

January 20, 2014 at 03:42 PM · My book, Arpeggios, Rhythms, and Scales will help you. It has all the 3 octave 7th arpeggios in all major and minor keys with multiple fingering choices for each - going both up and down. The fingerings are built to be remembered. They use repeating patterns that can transfer from one chord to another or they stay in one position as long as possible and then use repeating patterns to go higher. Typically, you get 4 or 5 choices for each arpeggio and you can find the 1 or 2 that work best for you. The order of the keys is the same as the Flesch book.

The book contains numerous exercises to build technique for improvising on the violin. Chords and chord changes are pretty important, but the book also goes into rhythm improvising, blues etudes, modal and jazz scales in every key, and more. And the price is less than a violin lesson. You can get it at my publisher's site (above), at, or through most book sellers on order.

I use it daily and play not only the arpeggio, but inversions, random note order, and changing rhythm patterns. Do something similar and you won't have problems with arpeggios.

January 21, 2014 at 02:06 AM · You may Google: AUDIATION ASSISTANT. For $40 you will be able to start to fill some of the gaps in your training. (You are not alone: almost everyone has gaps!) AUDIATION ASSISTANT and Google will also help with "diminished" and "augmented" chords. Understanding chords tends to move students away from playing one note at a time. Something like reading words instead of letters.

January 23, 2014 at 01:19 AM · Do you have any piano/keyboard experience? My understanding of theory concepts such as diminished chords initially came via piano lessons. I think seeing the intervals spaced out on the keyboard was helpful for me.

January 27, 2014 at 01:36 PM · Flesch sequence refers to a standard scale textbook for violin by Carl Flesch, wherein several different types of scales and arpeggios for a given key are provided in a certain order (minor, major, relative minor, etc.).

January 27, 2014 at 02:48 PM · A few terms:

Major triad: e.g. CEG

Minor triad: e.g. CEbG, or ACE

Diminished triad: e.g. CEbGb or BDF

Augmented triad: e.g. CEG#

Diminished 7th chord: e.g. BDF#Ab

Augmented 6th chord: e.g. Ab to F# with various "fillings"

Neapolitan Sixth: e.g. Db to B, with various "fillings" too

Semi-diminished ("Tristan") chord: e.g. BDFA

So I like to give my students a more varied diet than the usual scale books do,(including whole-tone scales and other "modes of limited transposition")..

March 7, 2015 at 09:14 PM · This is really helpful thanks especially Lorenzo -- great answer to some questions I've been thinking about!

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