To lift OR not to lift, that is the question...

October 5, 2014 at 05:24 AM · I have always been somewhat obsessed with violin/viola technique. I've studied with the best, but there is one thing that I have constantly gone back and forth with in regards to left hand finger action. As I get older I am so much happier with my teaching/playing as I have taken on certain beliefs about violin playing. After years of trial and error I still remain perplexed when it comes to whether or not the fingers should be lifted off the fingerboard individually (so that only one finger is on the fingerboard at all times) or kept down in the Patterns of the key and lifted one by one as you would do if you were descending down a scale. I've found pros and cons to both. thoughts?

Replies (23)

October 5, 2014 at 07:25 AM · I keep fingers down when it helps stability, reliable intonation etc., and I lift them when I need mobility.

Finger-patterns are vital to allow the fingers to "drop" on the notes rather than "grope" for them. But I will lift a finger that is about to change string, or to allow it to prepare for a new accidental.

I find children who lift for every note play in a slower, more laboured way.

Flutists keep their fingers down a lot..

October 5, 2014 at 08:20 AM · I've learnt that finger patterns for me at least are more useful in the mind and let me shape the hand for certain progression/passage. Generally i try to keep the hand free. I also tend now to push the fingers along rathet than lifting and possibly banging them down, which is echoing the thoughts of a certain famous player.

EDIT: I've just had a quick look at your website and I have to say that I personally disagree about your left hand position on the video, and the use of the device. I do think that making the wrist point out rather than coming a bit towards the kneck causes tension and spoils the finger relationship to the violin strings.

Read the literature written by a Mr R Ricci and you will see he disagrees with you as well, and he was quite an authority!

October 5, 2014 at 09:34 AM · My general rule of thumb is to place only 2 or 3 fingers down at a time. For example if you are going to play 4th finger it a healthy habit to lift 1st or 2nd fingers. To have all four fingers down is slow and unhealthy: the hand needs to move freely for 4th finger placement.

I consider the placing of only 'one finger down at a time' technique to be a very poor technique. First it is extremely unhealthy: too much unnecessary finger/hand movement. Second it slows you down tremendously: playing with speed is all about setting up for the next move or practice putting what lags, first.

October 5, 2014 at 01:39 PM · John, you quote re Heifetz -

"Pushing the wrist away would automatically tend to make the fingers spring downwards quicker to help in trills so the un-used fingers would settle lower naturally"

In my experience and also watching players do trills I think it's often the opposite. Bringing the inside of the wrist to the fingerboard actually relaxes and helps faster trills.

You may be right about Heifetz - but he was unique and almost a one off in certain areas. For most people, and that includes me, I would think that being influenced by players like Milstein, Kreisler, Szchering, Grumiaux, Oistrakh and others, may be more useful.

October 5, 2014 at 04:52 PM · I believe all fine violinists use a combination -- sometimes fingers down, sometimes only one finger down, sometimes 2 or 3 fingers down according to circumstances. Trying to do it always down or always up will severely limit you.

October 5, 2014 at 05:20 PM · I agree with Roy!

Here is a link for my "fingers down" lesson.

FYI, Violin for Band Teachers:

October 5, 2014 at 06:34 PM · I would also very much agree with Roy.

October 5, 2014 at 07:52 PM · No, I'm not saying that at all. Use the Heifetz method if it works. We should qualify this though. Are the trills just two or three seconds or 30-40 seconds in length? The longer trills may need the wrist up approach to avoid tension and fatigue.

But if the method you advocate works, then that's fine. But for some it won't work, and they may even be in the majority. How many pupils of yours have successfully achieved this sort of trill?

October 6, 2014 at 05:01 AM · I advocate "put as many fingers down in patterns as is reasonably possible for the given place in the music, all other things being equal."

The issue most younger students have is they play what I call "whack-a-mole" fingering, where every single note represents an individual target for quasi-independently-moving fingers. These players can't make it through the first two bars of Kreutzer No. 2 at any reasonable speed without tripping.

October 6, 2014 at 08:45 AM · John - I have known players who have made a special study of Heifetz and in particular his left hand. None have really made it and are still probably bashing away in some crummy UK band.

You can't just pick on something so specific and use it as the yardarm to measure how we should all play trills. Ricci for example does the most strange up bow staccato where his bow runs away everywhere and is often at a 45 degree angle. But it works brilliantly for him. I doubt if it would for anyone else though.

Good technique comes from persistant individual experimentation, along with sensible guidance from a teacher.

P S I know you are not advocating it, but many may be influenced, and the result could be more tension. (Heifetz may have been, and indeed was one of the greatest, but he was not the most relaxed player or person!)

October 6, 2014 at 10:42 AM · "You can't just pick on something so specific and use it as the yardarm to measure how we should all play"

I like the way this is said.

Paul, what are the pro's to keeping most fingers off the finger board at all\most times?

October 6, 2014 at 01:20 PM · It is possible to train one's fingers to do all sorts of unnatural things. Care is needed when viewing the best of the best.

IOW, before focusing on the cause, one should thoroughly understand the effect one is trying to achieve. I am reminded of a story told by a well-known cello teacher. One of his students struggled with basic tone production by bowing. Finally, the student said to the teacher, "When you bow like me, you sound like you. When I bow like you, I sound like me."

He then realized that the EFFECT, basic tone production, was much more than hold the bow like this and pull it across the strings. So he broke it down into the things that really matter, pressure feedback on the bow hand, and bow speed.

My perspective is of an adult beginner. So when I read various lessons on string placement, I noticed they ran the full gamut of "keep all fingers down" to "only keep finger down that are necessary". I could only make sense of all this pedagogy when I started to wonder about the EFFECT I wanted rather than the CAUSE.

Basically, if I have at least one finger down, it makes it easier to accurately intonate the next note, even if I have to cross strings to reach it.

Also, if I am focusing on 3 finger patterns with open strings to play a tune (0-1-2-3) I can keep my hand in a natural, relaxed position with all fingers down just about all the time.

But when I need to use the 4th finger, excitement of the bad kind ensues. I was not gifted with a freakishly long pinky, so stretching while keeping finger 1 or 2 down is unnatural and uncomfortable.

Conclusions? Here are the main effects I want from fingers down: accurately intonate the next note, comfortably place the 4th finger, and easily negotiate rapid ascending and descending note runs on a string.

For this, I found keeping as many fingers down as is comfortable pretty much gives me the effects I want to achieve.

October 6, 2014 at 01:27 PM · That all sounds pretty sensible to me. It's never all or nothing, but compromises. And lifting the first finger but keeping 2, 3 and 4 down may help vibrato on 4th finger. Or even just 3 and 4 down for 4th comfort.

October 7, 2014 at 04:34 PM · Of course I am of the opinion that the left hand fingers should do as little lifting and moving as possible, as this will facilitate fast passages. Maybe with some lyrical sections the hand may move a bit more and more vibrato may be required, but vibrato can easily be overdone and become out of control.

So yes, keep fingers down where necessary and where passages are difficult, remembering that a clear mental picture of finger patterns is also needed.

October 7, 2014 at 06:15 PM · Well that was the question the original poster was concerned about! Perhaps you would like to focus on something else? Bums, noses - perhaps I had better not go on ... (wink)

October 7, 2014 at 09:49 PM · Oh dear..

October 8, 2014 at 03:34 AM · Some of both, for the same reasons others gave. I like to loosen or float fingers when I want a big vibrato on the one in direct contact. I resist raising fingers high, since it takes that much more time to put 'em back down, they're likely to go off-pitch, and they can make noise on landing.

October 8, 2014 at 09:15 AM · This is all getting very silly - but I like your sense of humour John, or is it irony!?

Adrian, I can't get the gist of what you say ... you have to spell it out more ... (wink)

October 9, 2014 at 07:28 AM · hi John, yes, I do that too when trilling (pushing the wrist backwards), it is instinctive, never really was aware of it until I read your post here. glad to hear that Heifetz did it as well!

October 10, 2014 at 06:56 AM · "To lift OR not to lift, that is the question..."

I ask myself this every morning when I see my face in the mirror..

October 11, 2014 at 01:46 AM · My answer to the question: It depends on the situation. Sometimes letting fingers on the string will give security and fluidity for bow changes, sometimes it may hinder the vibrato or position change movements. Anyways, more important is to think about how little pressure a playing, not playing or shifting finger should apply. This to me is very important for relaxed and intuitive technique.

October 11, 2014 at 06:03 PM · Hi Some people here seem crazy about the Franco-Belgian bow-grip. Concerning the left hand this so-called Franco-Belgian school,which ignores vibrato,advocates to lift fingers only when necessary.Keeping the most of fingers down on strings releases tension in the hand and stabilizes the wrist. Concerning the wrist position I'd like to point out that gaining in velocity means losing in accuracy;so position depend on context; what is unhealthy is a fixed position which is getting a bad habit

October 14, 2014 at 04:17 AM · thanks for all the well thought out responses. I agree with many of the opinions mentioned and have only to conclude that I am right...haha. Seriously-there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat-which reminds me I'm' trying out Passiones (gut strings) not bad....

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