5th Position - F Arpeggio

Edited: July 29, 2019, 6:57 PM · My teacher is enjoying his vacation and is unavailable, so I am turning to the very knowledgeable people here.

Last week he assigned various arpeggios to work on while he is traveling, the beast of them is the F arpeggio in C. It starts in 2nd position and winds up in 5th. This week I'm focusing on slow scales/arpeggios/shifting/slurring practice and not so much on pieces - just the occasional piece when I need to break it up.

I am straining my 4th in 5th position reaching for the F and I can't for the life of me figure out how I am doing this - it is not a long reach from 1-4 in that part of the fingerboard. As some may remember I do have quite small, and arthritic, hands, but we've solved that problem in 1st, a bit unconventional perhaps, but it works and it's in tune.

Any tips on how not to strain my hand while reaching for F in 5th? It's the first time I've needed to deal with the body of my violin and I am sure it has to be related.

Replies (25)

July 29, 2019, 8:38 PM · Try bringing your left elbow slightly forward and/or bring your thumb slightly under the neck.
July 29, 2019, 9:26 PM · Is that a F maj or C maj. arpg.? For any arpeggio, in both exercises and real music, we don't want to gamble on our top notes by diving into them or stretching long distances. We get up into position early so the top note is safe. I am guessing that you want to have 1st finger on C before dropping in the 4th finger F. Also be aware of the interval distance between the positions. I find a shift across a perfect 4th to be hard to measure.
July 30, 2019, 12:56 AM · Thank you Ingrid and Joel. It is F in C Major. It is meant to help with a piece that hits E in C Major.

My 1st is on C before my 4th hits F, I will experiment more with elbow and thumb placement.

July 30, 2019, 5:11 AM · I am very confused Catherine. In 5th position on the E-string, your 1st is on C and your 4th on F, like you say yourself. Why would that be a stretch? The interval is a perfect fourth. Let's get back to first position, say again on the E-string, with your 1st on F and 4th on Bflat. That is also a perfect fourth. You said that you and your teacher had solved your hand position in first position. So I assume you do not find that F-to-Bflat in 1st position a huge stretch. Now the good news is that a perfect fourth in 5th position is much shorter than a perfect fourth in 1st position. So you should be able to do this! Make sure that your thumb is also in 5th position, that is, that is has shifted nicely along, so that you can "mimic" the situation in 1st position! Did you have a similar problem when you learned 3rd position, say?
Edited: July 30, 2019, 9:52 AM · No, 3rd position is fine (though the 1-4 stretch in 3rd was right at my limit until my hand adjusted), and I don't think it's really about the stretch in 5th because it's shorter than 3rd.

When I said that we solved the 4th finger in 1st position - I also said we found a non-traditional compensation for my small fingers. I physically cannot make the stretch from F to B on the E string, for example, not with both fingers down at the same time. So I compensate, but can do so very quickly and in tune - and for all 4 strings. My teacher and I worked for months on this but we finally had to accept that I have to compensate in order to effectively use my 4th. I don't even have to think about my 4th in 1st any longer - at least not up to/including 16th notes. Haven't gone beyond those yet.

As I think through this, and read the helpful comments, I wonder if my hand having to be against the body of the violin in order to reach for 5th position F is causing my hand or wrist to fall into an odd angle which then leads to the strain in my 4th from 1-4 in the 5th position?

So I will watch my thumb position and elbow angle. Back to the mirror to see if I'm doing something weird with my wrist. Thinking of Joel's comment I am also wondering if I'm trying to reach higher than I realize as the interval distance is different from 3rd to 5th.

July 30, 2019, 10:59 AM · Catherine following up on what you wrote at the end, I also think that may be the problem: you may be stretching for a note that is not F but something higher! Do you know how it should sound? Play it on a piano or keyboard (or virtualpiano.net if you need it).
Edited: July 30, 2019, 11:36 AM · I've a pretty good tuner with drone notes I use sometimes, and I've also a good ear. I'm pretty sure I'm hitting the right note - but it's entirely possible I'm reaching too far (over the string, not on it) before bringing my 4th back to where it belongs. I've been known to do this before, which could be the cause. Again, mirror work is called for.

Thanks for helping me think this through, it helps!

July 30, 2019, 1:10 PM · Catherine, you should never have to reach for a note, in the sense of it being an effort-full strain. If you are stretching in that way, something is wrong, and you are on the path to injury.

Try this:

Play your arpeggio upside down - I mean, starting with the top note, and working your way down. Only ever touch the string with one finger at a time - so no anchor fingers! It's the opposite of the way that your practice secure intonation in first position. When you go from one finger to the next it's a scissoring or walking kind of movement. Spend a little time on each note to find the hand position where your finger makes the strongest curve against the fingerboard. You can put the violin down and make a strong circle with that finger against your thumb to get an idea of how it should feel.

Then do the whole arpeggio again, the same way - top to bottom - except this time tap each finger for a long time before going on to the next one. It will feel like you're playing a trill between that finger and the open string below it.

The purpose is to establish a series of "targets" for when you really play your arpeggio right way up - both visually (you should watch your hand at each stage) and in your sense of touch (you should play with your eyes closed at each stage). It's like a row of snapshot photos that you will visit, one at a time, each in turn, when you start playing the arpeggio as-written.

The trilling is to make sure that your fingers are strong but elastic - if you can't pick a finger up and put it down again right away, quickly in the same place, there is some cross-wise tension that you need to find and eliminate.

If your palm is not very broad, you will probably find that you need to adjust your hand position more frequently than most people - that's OK! *However* - make sure you are getting the full range that you have by reaching back from the base knuckle of your first finger as well as forward with your fourth finger. As Simon Fischer says, we can almost always reach further than we think we can. :)

July 30, 2019, 7:23 PM · Nate - I tried this tonight and it was enlightening and I learned a few things, thank you.

The "upside down" F arpeggio in the way you described caused me to see a few things differently, never a bad thing. It's not mastered yet - your comment about the possible width of my palm is spot on (which is why my 4th in 1st had to be modified) but things have already improved a bit and there is much less strain apparent in my 4th at the high point of the arpeggio in 5th. It looks like my hand was trying to twist in an odd way to get my 4th there, and that just is not necessary.

July 31, 2019, 7:32 AM · Good that Nate emphasized it, as it is a general golden rule that your teacher perhaps has not yet really articulated to you: when the fourth finger is involved, it should always be given priority. What that means is, you *first* place your fourth finger in a nice rounded soft manner and add the lower finger afterwards. the natural hand position that results from that is something to remember. then when you play the phrase, you use that hand position. kind of convoluted explanation, it is very eloquently explained in the book by Simon Fischer "The Violin Lesson".
July 31, 2019, 9:00 AM · Catherine: Great! Glad it's helping! Last night I thought of something that might be slowing you down. Students typically run into this when they start working on extensions or long-distance shifts, but since your hands are small it might be giving you trouble now:

Make sure you're not clutching the violin's neck either between your thumb and the side of first finger *or* between your base knuckle of first finger and whatever finger you have down. To practice this, use a really big wide vibrato - even letting your finger slide a little - on every note. Your goal is to make sure that no part of your hand is touching the violin's neck on the E-string side. For big vibrato, fast shifts, and extensions (and also chord playing) you have to make space in your hand by supporting with just your thumb. (Menuhin suggests that we should play this way all the time, but giving up the touch point on the E-string side makes intonation a lot trickier!)

Jean: I think "The Violin Lesson" is my favorite of all of Simon Fischer's books. :D

Edited: July 31, 2019, 9:10 AM · Jean, I appreciate that, and so does my teacher. My hands are small enough, however, that in 1st position I physically cannot have both 1st and 4th down at the same time - regardless of the order.

Third and 5th positions have shorter intervals however, and after trying Nates suggestion last night I will experiment more with the reverse approach in my scales and arpeggios. 1-4 in third reaches my physical limit, but I try very hard to not modify there.

Fisher's book is great, isn't it? I think I want to add his Basics and eventually Scales to my little reference library.

July 31, 2019, 9:13 AM · Nate - we are not working on vibrato yet - but that's a good point. I've been trying to make certain my thumb isn't tense, it's between my 2nd and third fingers ideally. I hadn't considered that I may be gripping in other ways, thanks!
July 31, 2019, 10:23 AM · Catherine, it doesn't have to be a "real" vibrato. Just a waggle to get your flesh unstuck from the neck. Good luck! :)
Edited: July 31, 2019, 10:39 AM · Ahah! I get what you're saying now, thanks!
August 1, 2019, 7:22 AM · Nate - we won't discuss what my fake vibrato sounds like but that is not the purpose of this exercise. This, combined with your other suggestions has resulted in my 4th no longer feeling strained. I will discuss further with my teacher next week when he returns from vacation.

I will observe that the F arpeggio in C major is still a beast, but that will pass. All of this is, currently, to support one measure in Chinese Puzzle (Rebecca Clark) but it will certainly serve me well as I continue to move forward. Thank you again!

August 1, 2019, 7:50 AM · Excellent!
Edited: August 1, 2019, 2:54 PM · the "Milstein exercise" that was recently mentioned in another thread may also be interesting here:


August 1, 2019, 7:29 PM · I checked out the video Jean, and it was of interest, thank you! I think one of the harder things is to free my hand from the neck - and I suspect that this is a problem that we all have to overcome regardless of the size of our hand!
Edited: August 7, 2019, 6:40 PM · I wanted to report back and to thank everyone for the helpful suggestions. Between following your advice, and a small tweak from my teacher this week - the F arpeggio is no longer the beast that it was, as well as no more straining my 4th.
August 8, 2019, 9:50 AM · great to hear!
August 8, 2019, 11:33 AM · Yes, and now he is moving all of the notes he can in my non-Suzuki pieces into 3rd and some 5th positions as he can. To me this is a great milestone less than 9 months after returning to the violin from a 45 year break :) I am wondering what the combination of shifting and slurs will be like...
August 9, 2019, 9:29 AM · :)

If you want to get the jump on him, go back and play all your Suzuki Book 1 songs as 3rd position etude. Perpetual Motion is a particularly good one!

August 9, 2019, 1:58 PM · I'm puzzled by why your teacher is giving a beginner arpeggios that go into the 5th position at all, and why you are learning scales that don't use the traditional fingering pattern (Flesch or Galamian).
Edited: August 9, 2019, 7:18 PM · Lydia - it IS an interesting mix and he has developed his own method over 30+ years. We are going through Suzuki rep to rebuild my foundation, but we also use non-Suzuki pieces I pick (with his approval) to introduce/re-introduce new things. For example, Bach's Marche and Telemann's Sonata 1 (first section only) doesn't require the higher positions but he has chosen to reintroduce me to the 3rd position with those two pieces after I worked with them a bit.

As far as 5th position...Rebecca Clark wrote a lovely piece (Chinese Puzzle) that is actually quite easy - outside of one measure that goes into 5th - hence the C major arpeggios that are meant to help me with that one measure (and it has, both are much easier). His approach is working for me. I've come along much further in 9 months than I thought would be possible. I'm still a returning beginner - sometimes difficult things (to me) come much easier than the easier things do - but that's to be expected. He doesn't cut me any slack for either which is a good thing.

Nate - that's a good idea about Suz. 1 and Perpetual Motion in particular!

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