Block Fingering for speed

June 13, 2018, 12:50 PM · My teacher told me that I need to start using block fingering for descending scales in order to play faster. Block fingering going up the scale is obviously easy, but on the way down it is very difficult for me to place 2nd and 3rd finger a half-step apart with my pinkie a whole step from 3rd at the same time. The only success I've had is placing 4th down first, then simultaneously lifting 4 and place 2 and 3 as a group. If I try to do it all at once, then my hand gets very tense. I've tried changing my hand position, bring my elbow in, all sorts of things, but the problem still remains.

Replies (12)

June 13, 2018, 2:08 PM · I suspect you're clenching your hand when you block-finger.

Have you done the first Schradieck exercise? It's useful for remembering to keep fingers down where possible in order to get fast execution of the entire pattern. Can you do that without your hand getting tense?

June 13, 2018, 2:34 PM · I use schradiek 1 as a warm up and have for quite a while now and I don’t run into this problem because I never have to simultaneously place 2-3-4. The problem only occurs, for example in a g-major scale in first position, after I lift my first finger from from B on a string and then try to place my fingers in blocked pattern on D string, my hand either gets very tense or if I try to place them without tension, then my second finger is closer to f natural than f#. I have no problem doing scales with independent fingerings, it’s just descending scales with block fingering in this one pattern
June 14, 2018, 11:49 AM · When shifting down,practice shifting with your first finger so it lands in approximately the right place, then put 432 down together. The only finger that needs to land in the right place is your 4. Now the important part: The other fingers only need to be in the PROXIMITY of where they eventually will be. If you have a good ear, they will adjust themselves to be in tune. The reason your hand gets stiff is that you are trying to force your fingers into an unnatural pattern. If you email me, I'll send you an exercise to develop finger blocking.
Edited: June 14, 2018, 6:55 PM · This might not be helpful... In martial arts I was always taught that the muscles are faster than the brain. My teacher in violin says the same: If you try to keep up with your fingers with your eyes and brain, you will be slow. If your intonation is good and the motions are learned, let the body do its thing...
June 14, 2018, 8:40 PM · Might also be that block fingering isn't for you, or that you're not ready for it to be useful yet.

I think there are also a lot of very small details regarding block fingerings that some teachers might not even realize they're doing. You may want to record his hand doing it up close and then watch the video in slow motion afterwards to see the micro-adjustments that are happening, and to see if all 4 of his fingers are ACTUALLY landing at the same time. I have my own theories on things like this, but I think it might illuminate things if you record and then watch in slow motion.

June 15, 2018, 4:02 AM · It's also easier to accomplish when your fingers don't have to travel very far. Consider the height of your fingers!
June 15, 2018, 6:19 AM · My teacher has been pressing me about lifting my fingers too much. And I can manage if I let my fingers correct themselves after placement. I emailed her and she said just worry about putting 2-3 down instead of the whole frame for now.
June 15, 2018, 7:33 AM · For the fingers to "drop" onto their notes, as opposed to grope for them, the fourth finger must be able to hover, curved, over its note, even if we don't over-work it. I set up the third & fourth fingers first, curl the second and lean back the first as required. Slow, patient stretching is needed by some students more than others.
Edited: June 15, 2018, 10:13 AM · I've read that one should keep the least number of fingers possible on the strings (except those needed for fluent continuity). I think the source book is Gary Ronkin Technical Fundamentals of Soviet Masters. This would go against the demands of block fingering. Any who agree or disagree with this?
June 15, 2018, 10:12 AM · I use block fingering to "tune" my hands, and to anticipate the many different finger groupings. Then I usually play one finger at a time (I think..)
Using a finger as a "pivot" in arpeggios and chords is another matter.
June 15, 2018, 3:53 PM · Tammuz, I think that in general, concepts like block fingering (or anything that involves keeping extra fingers on) are made more as a training tool than as an end goal.

I would think that eventually, our goal is to have the least fingers on at any given time (since this causes problems with intonation correction and immediate vibrato response).

June 16, 2018, 4:46 AM · I agree with Carlos, you don’t need to do special exercises to play faster. You just need to make your motions more efficient and effortless, and then let the learned reflexes do the work.

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