Sevcik beginner advice

August 28, 2019, 11:15 AM · I've been playing for about two years but mainly fiddle music, and I've just started looking at Sevcik Op.1. The very first page has me a bit stumped... a simple series of notes on the A string, but the 3rd bar wants me to leave my 2nd and 3rd fingers down and then hit an E with the 4th, and I just cannot do it. I've been trying for nearly three weeks now!

I have small hands anyway but my pinky finger is tiny, it stops about halfway up my second finger so getting my hand into this position feels incredibly uncomfortable and the E isn't in tune even if I do hit it. Hitting it also results in my pinky either being completely flat (bad) or crooked at the end knuckle (also bad). I can hit it fine if I lift the second finger but obviously that's not the point.

I don't want to give up but I'm really stuck as to how to approach this. My teacher is away at the moment so if anyone's had a similar issue I'd really appreciate any input, I'm loathe to carry on just in case I'm ironing in a bad habit.

Hand rotation issue? Posture problem? Some other thing I've not yet identified?

Replies (14)

August 28, 2019, 11:34 AM · Very likely a hand rotation issue and a posture problem ...... :)
August 28, 2019, 11:47 AM · I'm male violist, but with short fingers, especially the pinky, so I sympathise!

Fourth finger rules! The others must make way...
- To place the hand, I start withe pinky, which must curved (to allow sufficient pressure on the string.
- My middle finger will be fairly square (high-2) or even curled a little under itself (low-2) (short fingernails!)
- My index will lean back, with string contact on the corner of the fingertip rather than its end. I need to raise and drop it from the middle joint more than the base joint.

However, I may allow the hand to shift its weight from one finger to another in a flexible manner once the notes are "mapped out".

Look for YouTube videos of Midoori or Kyung Wha Chung to see confirmation of my advice..

August 28, 2019, 11:52 AM · Try it with your thumb opposite your 2nd finger.
August 28, 2019, 12:03 PM · Marco - any tips on how to correct it? Trying to get my base joints parallel to the fingerboard is very difficult and makes my arm very tense, even if I rotate at the shoulder.

Adrian - I usually do a similar thing, sort of shift up or down (depending on what I'm playing) but I'm nervous of ignoring Sevcik... ;)

Gordon - my thumb sits opposite my second finger in the F natural position on the D string, sometimes slightly higher

August 28, 2019, 1:01 PM · "I... sort of shift up or down"

All my slender-handed female friends do this,
But for rapid passages, (..or Sevcik), the fingers must "drop", rather than "roll", onto the notes.

Edited: August 29, 2019, 9:10 AM · Hi Emmy! I remember being in your position. (Edited to add that I've not done this Sevcik book - I work out of Schradieck and my teachers have had me leave the fingers down when not in use until the fingering patterns were in my hands, then I was allowed to raise the unused fingers.)

It took a while to learn to swing the elbow just a bit to get the hand/arm into the best position for all fingers to be able to lay on the string in tune, and a ton of patience. You're basically asking your hand to do something totally new, and to do the entire exercise at once is asking a lot of your body.

For example: start with just two lines, then when you get comfortable add a third, and so on.

Piggybacking on what others have posted...

Finding the ideal thumb position for the hand is important. I think I was between the first and second finger for a while, my thumb position has since changed as I've gotten more dexterous. You might want to move your thumb up to F# if need be?

You also need to find the right angle of your hand, favoring your pinky/4th finger above all others and "reach" back with the remaining three as what Adrian describes. Then, you will likely have a better handframe position/angle for the exercise. Make sure your thumb is not gripping the neck of the violin, and that it is relaxed.

You might consider where the violin is in relation to your body. Is it more "out" (to your left) or more "in" towards your chest? If you are straining, you might want to adjust your violin position. I've found that finding the ideal position of the violin relating to my body helps my left hand a lot.

Not that you asked, but... my teacher always told me that if I could not figure it out within a certain timeframe, to set that exercise/phrase aside and we'd tackle it in lesson.

Looking forward to hearing what others share.

August 28, 2019, 2:20 PM · Emmy for such exercises also allow the wrist to ease inwards a little bit, that helps to do what Adrian prescribes. At any rate make sure you are not pushing the wrist away from you because that makes your fingers only shorter, so to speak.
Edited: August 28, 2019, 7:53 PM · That Leaving Fingers Down instruction is overdone. It's OK for beginners as they are learning the interval distances between the fingers. But after that, leaving fingers down causes muscle fatigue, cramping, and worse intonation. Lift the fingers you are not using. Then they will be free to start doing prepared fingerings, which is a different topic.
Sevcik exercises are good in small doses, like medicine or vitamins, but doing a lot of them causes physical and aesthetic tightness. I don't use about half of the Sevcik series.
Edited: August 29, 2019, 3:12 AM · In agreement with Joel, the impression I got was that Sevcik just uses the maths of combinations and permutations to generate miles of (un)musical spam.
You're better off with basic Wohlfahrt or Shradieck or, better still, a compiler of the most useful of each, such as O'Leary or Cohen or Whistler. Whistler goes at it too hard sometimes, though. His Prep for Kreutzer reminds me of training for the marathon by running 25 miles.
Edited: August 29, 2019, 5:04 AM · Emmy, I've quite small hands with a short fourth (and arthritis). I returned to the violin 9 months ago. At first the only way I could use my 4th was with a major shift of my entire hand with no other fingers down. This does interesting things to intonation for a returning beginner :-)

I'm still working on my 4th in 1st position - it was even a stretch in 3rd position at first, that's no longer a problem. I do not think I will ever be able to do a 1-4 stretch in first position although my teacher isn't entirely convinced of that - and he has been right with everything else for the last 9 months. A low-1 to 4 IS physically impossible for me, that's a huge interval. For me at least.

The others here have far more experience than I do, I just wanted to say something about what has been working for me. My thumb is between my 2nd and 3rd fingers - as close to my 3rd as I can physically do it (remember the arthritis). As I move to the 4th finger my elbow comes in just a bit, and I try to move my hand /fingers up over the fingerboard to provide a better angle/room for my fingers as others have mentioned. Tension is always a problem when we struggle with this I suspect.

Finally I've found it really does help to have my violin pointing more toward the front, more centered. That makes it much easier to use my 4th - and I understand a lot of us with small hands do prefer chinrests entered over the tailpiece for that reason. Sadly my neck hates that so it isn't an option for me. Hoping that all of this will be automatic by the 1st anniversary of my return and my 4th will be as set as my other fingers.

August 29, 2019, 5:53 PM · A few comments--I'm far from professional.
I find that the "leave the fingers down" bit can be overstated--but it's a really useful tool when there's a fingering problem. Sometimes it's the solution. Exercises are good for adding tools to your toolkit--you may only use a certain tool infrequently, like a torx screwdriver, but when you need it you really, really need it. It's either know the tool exists and have it, or you just look at say, "What the ...?"
Sevcik (and others) produced a lot of rote memorization. However, note that good sight readers and music memorizers don't just read notes. They "chunk." They know that a sequence of 4 notes gets played a certain way, and that's a "thing". Instead of memorizing 8 notes, struggling with 8 notes, they know the two "things" that the 8 notes form. Better sight readers have larger chunks "under their fingers." Small doses, but all those routine, "musical gibberish" build this kind of strength, but some bits are more useful than others. Sevcik avoids true musical gibberish.
That said, they're tools. If your body can't accommodate the fingerings and notes by an Alaskan-king-crab-fingered editor, make the tools serve you. But get help, from somebody who can correct easy-to-fix mistakes you might be making and advise as to what's really, really necessary.
August 30, 2019, 5:59 AM · good reply Tim!
August 31, 2019, 8:17 AM · Thank you all so much for the replies. I’ll leave it alone and speak to my teacher!
August 31, 2019, 10:39 PM · continued-- The only Sevcik that I have ever used, or assign, are: Op. 1, part 3 (scales and arpeggios), Op. 8,(shifting over all intervals), and Op. 3, (40 bowing variations).
-Tim B., by "chunks", I assume you mean finger patterns, which I also call half-scales, or (in Greek), tetrachords. There only 3 standard patterns, one extended (all whole-steps) pattern, and then later on in the advanced class, extended and contracted patterns. It's easier to learn them from any scale book; major, harmonic minor, and the chromatic scale (there's only one!). Almost all fingering problems can be solved by finding the right position and finger pattern.

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