Invitation to participate in a study on violin/viola pedagogy

June 12, 2016 at 09:56 AM · Dear Colleague,

As a part of my research project, entitled “The use of the third position as a home position for beginners in violin/viola education”, I am contacting you to ask you kindly for your collaboration.

As Associate Professor at Yildiz Technical University, in Istanbul, I have been confronted with remarkable debates regarding whether third position can be used as a home position for beginners, and under which conditions. As I see the discussions on this question to be based on unsatisfactory documentation, I decided to address the problem in question empirically.

To this aim, we prepared a short questionnaire, and have sent it to you and to your colleagues who are violin/viola teachers/pedagogues. The analysis of this short questionnaire (approximately 10-15 minutes to fill in) might give deeper insight into this issue. We therefore kindly ask your help to fill in this survey. Your participation in this project is completely voluntary. Your responses will remain confidential and anonymous.

Take The Survey:

If you feel like sharing your opinions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you in advance.

Best Regards.

Eylem Arica

Associate Professor

Department of Music and Performing Arts

Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul,Turkey.


Address: Yildiz Teknik Üniversitesi, Sanat ve Tasarim Fakültesi

Davutpasa Mah. Davutpasa caddesi 34220 Esenler-Istanbul-Turkey

Replies (25)

June 12, 2016 at 10:35 AM · For quite a while now I have been of the opinion that it would be best to start off beginners in 4th or 5th position as it takes away a lot of the problems with holding the instrument and it means concentration can be directed towards the bow arm to get the sound and articulation right from day one.

It is also possible to start more advanced players to concentrate on 4th and 5th position to enable them to correct left hand and bowing and re-learn how to play.

June 12, 2016 at 11:08 AM · I am always surprised to read that the heel of the hand touches the upper right bout in third position: this tells me that the violin or viola is too big for the player. So I agree with Peter.

June 12, 2016 at 11:26 AM · Yes, Adrian, I was also surprised by that statement, and especially with children there is no way they will touch the body in 3rd position. In my opinion, I think first pos is the hardest, followed by 2nd and 3rd. I find that to be so even after over 50 years of playing. The most natural and easiest are 4th and particularly 5th. But then I'm a bit weird anyway.

Also, Ricci talks about the violinist becoming good at measuring distances and shifts, but this only comes after being in a stable position for a while. Then the great journey of exploration follows where you can forget about positions and treat the fingerboard as one position. The fingerboard is only approximately 11 inches long, after all.

June 12, 2016 at 01:25 PM · I have wondered about this. Granted I am a beginner but the notes, hand shapes and finger SEEM more intuitive than first and second certainly, but it also is in the middle of nowhere so to speak. And getting and finding good intonation is difficult as you have to KNOW where you are landing already. Perhaps an argument could be made that by starting there you are giving yourself or a student an advantage in knowing where the position is relative to other positions.

Still, though I now KNOW third position better than 4th and now nearly as well as third I suspect that it will not be long before I am more comfortable in 4th and 5th as they feel so much more natural, require less gross motor movement for shifts and the fingering is closer.

But for saying all of that I really have no idea and that, to me is part of the fun of the violin.


June 12, 2016 at 02:17 PM · " ...but it also is in the middle of nowhere so to speak. And getting and finding good intonation is difficult as you have to KNOW where you are landing already. "

It's not as difficult as you think - 5th pos

your first finger on A string is E - same as open E

your first finger D string is A - same note as open A

your first finger on G string is D - same note as open D

If you get the E in tune on A string - same note when crossing to E string first finger is B - second finger c or C sharp - next D (or D sharp)- then 4th finger E (same as harmonic)

It's all dead simple. Do a scale starting on E on A string (E major) 1-2-3-4 then E string 1-2-3-4.

Now you are a virtuoso and can impress the kids!!

P S Hope that's not too simplistic.

Also - if you have the pitch of the note in your head or ear, the finger will find it dead in tune.

June 12, 2016 at 03:28 PM · I suspect that the problem with the survey is that, while there seems to be much speculation about the method, I haven't heard of anyone actually using it. There is no published method that I know of. So let's turn the question around: let's say that the reasons for starting in first position are not simply rooted only in tradition (or even pedagogical inertia or simple laziness),

what are the disadvantages of starting in 3rd position?

The most obvious disadvantage is that finger spacing, when learning 1st position later, will be too narrow. We teachers already know what happens when students get to 3rd position: finger spacing is too wide, especially from first to second finger, and the fourth finger is typically too sharp, especially on the upper strings. However, correcting this wide spacing isn't generally uncomfortable.

However, what happens when the student learns a narrower spacing first, and then has to learn first position? This may be a more difficult transition, and the narrower hand position may be too deeply ingrained, leading to chronic flat pitch. Is initial note reading easier, or more difficult in 3rd position?

The topic leads to other questions about pedagogy: why not teach flat keys first? After all, the lowered 4th finger is easier to reach. Why not start with 16notes instead of whole and half notes? Should there be different approaches for large school classes versus private instruction?

Physically, it may not matter which route is taken, because each method has its pros and cons. When learning tennis, is it better to start with the forehand or backhand? In golf, should putting or driving come first?

However, there is one very large repertoire problem: the entire world of string education is predicated on learning first position first. It's true in both the orchestra and in etudes and solo repertoire. What happens when you start a student in 3rd position and they can't yet read first position in their 5th grade orchestra? Learning to simply read a new position takes much time. It's like having to suddenly learn a new clef. Even if we suddenly had an entire new repertoire based on learning 3rd position first, how could you possibly make a switch and combine kids who are still on one or the other? It would be chaos. Some kids may learn very quickly and go on to first position, but we know those are the outliers. It generally takes even good private students a couple of years at least to transition to 3rd position. The same would be true for the reverse.

So while it may work for the student to learn a different position order in isolation, they will be unable to play in a group for years.

June 12, 2016 at 03:30 PM · I agree with Peter (again!), if I'm at a loss about what to practice (!) I play the same familiar passage at different octaves, or on different strings, or in different keys.

June 12, 2016 at 03:31 PM · Oops!

June 12, 2016 at 03:56 PM · Scott's questions are valid. Whichever method you use (I know there is no method published for 3rd,4th, or 5th) - there are advantages and disadvantages. I would certainly agree with that.

Maybe the answer would be to start absolute beginners off on 4th or 5th (I'm not too keen on 3rd) but after only a few weeks get them into first position as well. This would possibly work if they have a clear understanding that spacings are wider in first, and less so as you go up the fingerboard. In the end their ear must guide them.

It would be an interesting experiment - but who know, it might work, or it might not. Or maybe, work for some, but not for others.

June 12, 2016 at 08:00 PM · I know a rather forgettable French method (Massau) which starts in 3rd position. One proposed extra advantage is that it's easy to play in tune in C major!

I have also seen photos of a small gipsy boy playing high up because he couldn't reach ther lower positions on his full sized violin.

If, in first postion, the 4th finger is not curved, and the 1st part of the index is not in line with the back of the hand, then the violin (or viola) has too long a string length.

I see violists (and young violinists with slender hands) doing a kind of mini-shift on each note, but speed and articulation are somewhat compromised.

June 13, 2016 at 08:04 PM · I agree with Scott's points, and would also like to add the obvious advantage of the open strings in first position. I prefer a student to develop a good hand position using only the first three fingers before we add the usually weaker fourth finger; it's been my observation that students who are asked to use their fourth finger before their hand position has stabilized can end up doing all sorts of awful things with their hand position in order to compensate for the weakness of their little finger.

My wrist never touches the bout of the violin in third didn't when I was a child, either. I scold my students when they either lead with their wrist or allow it to collapse and "bump" the bout in third.

June 13, 2016 at 08:26 PM · I agree. But I like them to place the fourth finger, gently, before playing, so that the other fingers don't get used to a too rounded shape with th hand nearer half position than first.

June 14, 2016 at 05:54 AM · I agree with Mary about the open strings, BUT even when using 4th/5th position the student can play the open string and then judge a 4th and/or 5th from the open strings. Good ear training? Tell me I'm talking rubbish if you think I am! It would not be the first time!

June 14, 2016 at 07:14 AM · Different strokes for different folks. Interesting enough, for some of us who do not use a shoulder rest, the wrist begins contacting the bout of the instrument starting in third position. We call it the "touch point" and that gentle contact is part of the tactile feedback that helps indicate where the hand is. This is particularly useful because one can pivot the entire hand rotationally around a chosen contact point (it can be other positions besides third) and hit large interval jumps very quickly without having to shift...Paganini Caprice No. 19 middle section comes to mind.

June 14, 2016 at 01:50 PM · Well, that last post leaves me wondering!?!

If you take advanced repertoire then statistically I would think more notes are played in the higher positions, even if the notes are still low on the stave. Example, playing high on the G string (and D and A) to get different effects and colours.

It does not matter what fiddle you play on, the sounding point should be correct, and the bow should be straight! I'm wondering what violin manual or treatise you are quoting here?

June 14, 2016 at 08:14 PM · Jenny, yes of course I agree that in the early years a student will play more in first position. I think I misinterpreted what you said, as I was thinking of an advanced player, who would of course probably spend more time up in the frostbite region!

I have no experience of four year olds, as violinists, but I know how they can be outside of that - quite demanding, as grandchildren. Need I say more! It's OK as long as I have the dog to take for a walk, or the whiskey bottle handy ...

June 14, 2016 at 09:07 PM · I think, unless you intend to start in the stratosphere, the decision of which position to learn first is rather arbitrary, assuming appropriate repertoire can be made available before it comes time to start shifting. If one wishes to stick to the easily available standard beginner material, then first position would be easiest to start with.

June 16, 2016 at 03:17 PM · "It's not as difficult as you think - 5th pos

your first finger on A string is E - same as open E

your first finger D string is A - same note as open A

your first finger on G string is D - same note as open D"

FYI this is 4th position.

June 16, 2016 at 07:23 PM · Just testing to see if anyone noticed! Yes I meant 4th position. A senior moment. Go up a semitone though and its 5th. I chose 4th (which I called 5th) because it corresponds with the open strings with 1st finger.

I've been reading too much Ricci where he talks about the whole fingerboard being one position.

June 16, 2016 at 07:47 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen about the essential value of the open strings, and I don't think it's really the same think in an upper position. Yes you use upper positions and open strings when you play bariolage passages in Bach and Vivaldi and such. The point of using the open strings is not to compare unisons (open string vs. 4th finger) but rather to train the ear to hear a diatonic scale -- which starts with the whole step between the open string and the first finger. When I started playing viola the difficulty of recalibrating that interval was more than I ever anticipated. My mind really wanted my first finger to be in a certain spot!

Scott asked why not teach flat keys first. I see his point about the fourth finger, but I think the controlling factor, again, is the first finger. Students might not be ready to make the extention toward the nut because that will throw off everything else. Scott also asked why we don't start with 16th notes. Again, you do if you follow the Suzuki method. The Twinkle variations have 16th notes.

June 16, 2016 at 10:16 PM · As a violist I play flat keys in half position, anyway. In fact I use all the half positions.

June 17, 2016 at 08:13 PM · With viola I find that I do have to rethink fingerings a little, and I use more half position. On the violin, a B-flat, for example, is often just as easily reached with 4 as it is with a 1. It's really hard to reach that on the viola without moving one's thumb.

June 17, 2016 at 08:34 PM · "With viola I find that I do have to rethink fingerings a little, and I use more half position. On the violin, a B-flat, for example, is often just as easily reached with 4 as it is with a 1. It's really hard to reach that on the viola without moving one's thumb."

That tells me that your thumb may be gripping, possibly!

June 21, 2016 at 02:36 PM · How come this thread keeps going to the top or near the top when there have been no new posts?

June 21, 2016 at 07:46 PM · Normal!

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