Scale Fingering

April 20, 2004 at 05:02 AM · Greetings,

I have a question a little oriented towards out Russian Colleagues. Apologies for the long winded lead in. What do you expect from me?

When I started on 3 octave scales all those years ago we always started them on the 2nd finger. That way is even approved by the Associated Board exam books.

Then as time went on I became aware of starting on the first finger and I recall that Yampolsky recommended that this procedure was superior because the semitones are on one string and the shifts tend to be bigger leading to overall cleaner playing. This was how I was then taught at college.

The idea of not string crossing on semitones has always been important to me since reading about it in Szigeti`s books so I had never questioned this as an improvement.

Yet, I have recently began to feel some value in the old fingering which was, after all , endorsed by Flesch, Auer and later in Applebaum`s books. So I have relearnt all my scales. I did this according to the Gilels scale manual which is presumably representative of the best soviet technical thinking (endorsed by Kogan) and there is very little emphasis placed on this first finger start.

What then are Russian players generally taught these days? First or 2nd finger start?

What does everyone else think or do?



Replies (32)

April 20, 2004 at 06:23 AM · I know I'm not Russian, but my teacher's teacher was, and the fingering I'm taught (which might indeed not be Russian at all!) doesn't always start on a particular finger in three 8ve scales (eg. A maj starts on first, F maj on second.) but mostly it's first. I think the main differences in fingering actually happen in the third octave.


April 20, 2004 at 06:46 AM · Greetings,

Carl, you have no excuses for not being Russian! (Trying to pick a fight with you again...)

I was not not actually referring to the scales which have to (more or less)start with first finger though.

There are, some pretty major differences bettwen these two fingering patterns and strating with a first is in a real sense easier , so why hasn`t it been picked up on universally? Why do so many great players and eachers strat with 2nd finger?

I am less puritanical than i used to be about this semitone string crossing these days and I actually like to use it as an aspect of the musical line.

What I am wondering is if it is a case of the most akward route actually being the more commonly encountered in music and therefore, of necessity, given preference?



April 20, 2004 at 06:46 PM · Which scales do you refer to when you say some people prefer 2nd? I start on a 2nd finger on B, Bflat, D and F. The rest I would start on 1st (except G of course).


April 20, 2004 at 08:44 PM · Reetings,

from Bflat up wards I think people usually use either al first finger or all second finger. I have not seen the two mixed so often,



April 20, 2004 at 11:36 PM · Hmmm. My former teacher, Rimma Sushanskaya, who was the only teacher who ever seriously did scales with me, gave me a fingering for 4 octave scales that started with 1st finger, and with 2nd finger for 3 octaves. I have mindlessly used it ever since, which is terrible (the mindless bit).

May I ask what it is that Szigeti said about string crossings and semitones? I'm a big fan of Szigeti's writings, and very curious!

April 20, 2004 at 11:49 PM · Hey Buri,

I was talking to my teacher about this yesterday, and she advocates the 2nd finger system for Bb onwards that I was taught previously - so perhaps not all the music colleges teach the same system? As to why it's popular, forgive me for sounding simplistic, but isn't it just that you're using the same fingering across the board, so to speak? But then I've never heard any theories about semitones etc, so what would I know...

April 20, 2004 at 11:59 PM · Greetings,

Cora, Szigeti wrote an extensive chapter on this in `Szigeti on the violin.` He argues tha semitone crossing, especially on theleaidng note are extremely ugly and then quotes innumerable examples which make absolute sense. The alternative he proposes tens to be either a bacward exension of the first finger or use of te an adjacent position. When you realy start to pukk this aspect of fingering apart in your pieces it can make an awful lot of difference to the clarity and musical line. In essence a change of color between the mot important harmonic notes of a scale.

Sue, either type of scale is consitent as a pattern. The one starting on the 2nd fingering is often referred to as the Paginin fingering . If you consider the relationship between the fourth finger and first on the nex string it is actually in a slightly difficult position. On the other hand, if you sue 1234 it is all relaxed and that little bit of exra effort is removed,

Plus the aformentioned slight fuzziness as you change tibre on notes which are close together,



April 21, 2004 at 12:07 AM · Pukk?



April 21, 2004 at 12:08 AM · Ah, gotcha... and you lose the 4th extension at the top, right?

April 21, 2004 at 01:09 AM · Greetings,

temporarily mislay perhaps... This is the system in the Galamian scale manual, But it is interesting tha such a good player as the one who teaches you starts with the 2nd finger,



April 21, 2004 at 01:24 AM · Very, very interesting, what you posted about Szigeti. I will have to dig out "Szigeti On the Violin" again and read it more closely.

I think I may be avoiding semitone string crossings instinctively. In fact in my present main project, the Bartók solo sonata, there's one bit where it's very convenient and comfortable to do a semitone crossing but I somehow hate the sound every time I do it like that. I just never analysed why. Perhaps I should analyse why I am so lazy as to try to do something comfortable in Bartók...!

April 21, 2004 at 02:18 AM · greetings,

I would not be at all surpried if you were avoiding them at the behest of your ear without thinking about it.

Where they sound really bad is in orchestra when twenty violnist do one at the same time (string crossing I mean...)

I heard a interestng example in a rehearsal the other day. Sotto Voce opening of the Brahms Tragic Overture. Long legato slur edc bflat agf. As usual the conducter whines about the sound but doesn`t know the cause. Concermaster hums and haws and waffles....

But one simply plays it in second posiiton and bobs yer uncle,


Buri the advocate of prunes and two positions

April 21, 2004 at 05:55 AM · I personally do a combination of starting with the 1st and second fingers. If you want to get even more interesting and in depth, I also do scales completely using 1,2,3. 1,2. 2,3. 2,3,4. 3,4. Basicly any combination you can come up with. It gives you more versatility I find.

April 21, 2004 at 06:37 AM · Greetings,

Kelsey, I think you are right about using diffenrt combnations of fingers and so. 3,4 is espcially important for building up the fourth finger, also one string.

The only slight caveat I have is that you are an advanced player. I think it is important to get one specific system firmly inculcated in the beginning stages. The idea is that this becomes a kind of automatic, failsafe device that kicks in and leaves one free to take care of the bigger picture , plan ahead or think about lunch. In fact, I am wondering if these days there is a little bit too much talk about spontenaiety and flexiblity without taking care to see what this implies?

Just my opinion, but I not ony belive this to be the case, but also that it stems in part from a misinterpretation of Galamian`s ideas. The great man spoke of ever increasing complexity to increase correlation (the mind hand connection) but a great deal of this is referring rather to waht the right hand is doing on top of a fairly constant left (in terms of fingering). he is actually quite explicit about the need for a well learnt and systematic scale base before one thinks about any alternatives and the next options he offers are starting on differnt notes of the same scale while retaining the fingering. In the same way, players who have tended to specialize in virtuouso repertoire such as Derek Collier (see the way they play14)and even Robert Gerlse (art of practicing)stress the need for a fundanetal pattern. There attitude often tends to be that the greatest technical freedom lies in the ability to operate within consistent parameters.



April 21, 2004 at 06:28 AM · Heifetz absolutely disregarded Szigeti's advocation about string crossing on semi tone .To my knowledge to one else recommend to avoid string crossing on semitone although I agree it's easier for intonation. For scales we often use the Raoul Daniel book that start the two and three octaves scales with first the second finger eve 3 finger for some scles such E flat Maj. Four octaves sales start in first position use different shifting .

April 21, 2004 at 07:47 AM · When I first learned 3 octave scales, I did it in this order:

G, A,

Bb starting with 2

D starting with 2

C starting with one

and so forth, always staying in odd positions.

But I had to re-learn according to Varga Klasse that starts all with 2.

Now I regrett that whatever methode, I should have pracised more... :-(

April 21, 2004 at 08:10 AM · I have to admit that I've been blindly following the Galamian finger 2 scale method. Never even gave a thought to another fingering...

I just experimented starting on the first finger, and now it seems more natural to me. Now that I think about it, in most scale passages of the pieces I play, I have usually have not used the Galamian fingering. Weird that I have never noticed this before. If one starts a scale with a second finger, playing a one octave scale required 2 string crossings, which is not as efficient as if you play 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.

Buri, does Yampolsky offer another explanation in his treatise on fingering?

Back to experimenting....

April 21, 2004 at 05:04 PM · for me it depends somewhat on the bowing as well, triplets seem easier starting on 2 whereas 4 to a bow is much easier on 1, although i generally try to mix these two up, my teacher is a big advocate of doing scales in weird ways.

April 21, 2004 at 05:22 PM · I completely agree, Buri. It is not something I would suggest or do with a student just learning the three octave scales. I started using several fingerings once I was well established with the three octave concept and the intonation in those higher positions.

When learning the three octave scales my teacher focused mainly on starting with 1, then afterwards introduced starting on finger 2. So I would switch back and forth and get good at starting on either.

April 22, 2004 at 12:15 AM · Greetings,

I have bene surprise dby the number of times I am now coming across the bflat scale starting on second finger and then c major on first. This seems irrational to me and I venture ot suggets that it may be some kind of throw back to the bad old days when 2nd position (the well known carrier of Hepatatis b) was to be avoided at all costs. What do you think?



April 22, 2004 at 01:01 AM · The fingerings I teach all my students for three octave scales are one of two options. There are the "templates" and there are the "individual" patterns.

The "templates" are how I warm up for speed and evenness. The fingering, for EVERY scale, starting from A major and minor is 2, 1 (leading tone), 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3 (shift), 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, (shift), 1, 2, 3, 4, (4), and down with the same fingering in reverse, shifting both times on the E string. With this fingering, I go through all major scales - and the ones in minor, if I feel like it and have the time - starting on A, then B flat, then B and so forth until I'm starting on A flat up in 6th position on the G string. This usually takes about five to ten minutes if I'm warming up from not having touched the fiddle for days.

The "individual" fingerings I've always played (to warm up the bow arm, vibrato, tone production, bow changes, cole, and any other little tricks I feel need attention) have started on whatever finger I would use to play that note in first position. So a D major scale in "individual" fingering would, for me, start with the 4th finger on the G string. E flat would start with the first finger on the D string and so on.

April 22, 2004 at 04:21 AM · ive never seen that fingering before, it works pretty well actually...

April 22, 2004 at 04:27 AM · I start my C major scale in second position... and I start my f Major in fifth (on the G string) position starting with my second finger.

April 22, 2004 at 03:08 PM · Buri I was also just reading the chapter you were talking about in the book Szigeti on the violin, it makes alot of sense to me too. I tried his theory on Nardini's Larghetto. I was playing in 3rd. position 1st. finger on d on the a string then 4th finger on c on the d string then 3rd finger on b natural on d string. I found it smoother playing d c b b a b all on the d string starting in the 4 th position with 4th. finger on the d!!. Going from the 1st finger d on A string to c 4th finger d string is a little tuff for me.... probably because of the weak 4 th. and the string crossing... I 'm still practicing the old way too.

April 22, 2004 at 03:36 PM · " I have been surprised by the number of times I am now coming across the bflat scale starting on second finger and then c major on first."

I played the b-flat scale for warm-up in my lesson yesterday. My teacher (Russian trained) had me start on 2... can't say I'm wild about it. Prior to that I was doing c, I was starting on 2 but my teacher had me change to 1.

April 22, 2004 at 03:59 PM · Persinger fingerings use 2nd. finger to start out the scale. He said 2nd finger on b flat and up.

April 22, 2004 at 06:54 PM · I have a question. Why would anyone choose to teach various fingerings simultaneously for scales (2nd finger for B-flat, 1st for C)? The scales, regardless of what note you start on (past B) all consist of the same whole and half-step sequence; the only difference is the name and the starting point on the fingerboard. I'm sure there is a reason, but I can't think of it. Except perhaps flexibility, but by this, I only mean that it is good to be able to play the scale more than one way. But to say that C starts on 1st finger and B-flat starts on 2nd... why?

April 22, 2004 at 07:41 PM · Well, for one thing, the finger spacing will depend on what finger you use to start. So, for example, starting with the second finger means a larger stretch between the 4th finger on a lower string and a 1st finger on the next higher string (a half step), while starting with the first is probably better for students at an earlier stage of development since the 4-1 stretch is a whole step and thus a smaller stretch.

As for why I start on different fingers for different scale types, there are two reasons. First, in encountering scales in musical works, one may well find a situation where a rapid scale must, because of what preceded it, begin in a given position, on a given finger. Thus, being able to begin any scale with any finger is definitely an asset when thinking about rapid passagework. Second, because I use scales in place of etudes and thus each scale or set of scales I play is meant to develop different elements of technique (e.g. "tuning" the ears for intonation, bow techniques like cole, vibrato warm-up, etc.)

April 23, 2004 at 03:59 AM · its traditional in the russian school to play scales through open strings on the way up and all fingered on the way down. And also russian school usually teaches 4 octave scales and arpeggios

April 27, 2004 at 12:11 PM · Dan I was taught open strings on the way up too, and 4th finger all the way down. I think we need a basis to start with to fall back onto if things get out of hand and then we can experiment with fingerings once we have the fundamental foundation.

April 28, 2004 at 08:26 AM · my teacher's russian and does the open on the way up and 4th on the way down thing...i used to do all my scales with 1st finger and now i'm having to relearn them, but i'm not actually sure what the benefits are. any ideas?!

April 28, 2004 at 10:03 AM · Greetings,

you mean the benifits of strating on 2, right?

I find it interesting that both Heifetz and Oistrakh were , according to their editions, quite happy to playsemitones across thestrings in melodic lines and so on. Indeed, I have a feleing there modus operandi was slightly different on this. In the former"s case I get a feeling he actually liked the effect and deliberately used it. In Oistrakh"s case I often think his editions are quite simple and uncomplicated because he was so damn good that anything he did sounded fine and it might not even have occured to him to question this...

Thus, if thiskind of slighly stretched finger position isging tooccure frequently in music (which it does- Szigeti was not denying this- juts arguing about avoiding where possible) then one had better be able to do it.



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