Early finger placement

August 9, 2017, 2:37 PM · I recently had a violin lesson recently where I am working on Kreutzer 10. There are many string crossings and arpeggios in this piece. My teacher suggested using early finger placement, which basically means putting the fingers down much earlier on the strings not currently being played. Has anyone else come across this? It's supposed to make playing smoother and quicker but I'm finding it makes me more hesitant. Perhaps it's a question of breaking old habits and learning new, but the process is not as simple as it first sounds. You basically have to scan ahead (whilst playing the previous notes in tune, tempo, articulation etc ) to a fingered note and placing the finger, however if you have an open string between the note your playing and the one your fingering then you can't put the finger down! So it seems like lots of thought and analysis going on that just slows things down rather than speed things up.

Anyone used this method? How did you find it?

Thank you

Replies (14)

August 9, 2017, 3:35 PM · Often, slowing down and analysing speeds up progress considerably.

I reckon that two thirds of technique is before or between the notes, and needs as much preparation as the notes themselves.

Once a piece, or study, has been read through, we are often lead to mark anticipated fingerings, as well as the precise moment when a finger leaves the string

Edited: August 9, 2017, 7:05 PM · This is common on other instruments and I try very hard to do it here too. In guitar we call it planting and I call it the same thing here.

It doesn't just help you play faster, it gives your hand a solid frame of reference for where everything is and helps intonation. If you have 3 on the C on the G string, then you know pretty much where A on the D string is without having to risk a guess - it's behind your third finger and over a string, as a quick example.

It's a very similar concept to putting down all the fingers on a string even though you only need X note (E.g placing 1 & 2 on the A and B even though you just want the C)

That said I personally have a hell of a time with it, but that just means I always know what I can work on during practice ;)

August 9, 2017, 8:12 PM · You have to learn to choreograph your hands, which means doing things in a VERY SLOW TEMPO, so you have plenty of time to think. Don't play through the whole etude. Look at the specific places where you want to place ahead, and then practice the placement.

Eventually some of this will be instinctive even when you sight-read. By the way, when you sight-read, you shouldn't be going note-by-note. You should be seeing ahead of where you're actually playing so you can anticipate what you will do, making your left hand more organized.

Edited: August 9, 2017, 8:40 PM · Hi Sonia,

It is indeed a good exercise to do. It essentially helps you to see patterns, and preform them in your hand. Eventually you should be able to think a key, an arpeggio, a scale fragment and feel the finger patterns in all the positions you could possibly play them in. Once you internalize that connection between note patterns and finger patterns things will indeed be quicker and smoother. You'll be able to sight read better, and learn notes quickly and accurately. You'll become more efficient.

Looking to the future, you should be scanning ahead and seeing what's coming as you play. You should put lots of thought and analysis into everything before playing anything, especially the more complex the piece. There's no harm in marking all that you want to notice with a pencil beforehand, before you play a single note (you can always erase it later.)

Here's an example of the kind of thinking you can plan ahead: http://ks.imslp.net/files/imglnks/usimg/3/37/IMSLP90456-PMLP185599-Dont_-_24_Preparatory_Exercises_Op37_for_violin.pdf

As for K10, as you say, you can't actually place a finger while playing an open string. But you can feel it, whether it's a sequential note, or a shift; hear it and feel it while you play the open string. E.g. in m6 you'd feel a whole step to F#; in m17 you'd feel a half step to Bb; you feel the interval in the shape of the finger in the air (half step is curled and the profile of the finger looks more like a square; whole step is more extended and the profile looks more like a triangle.) But more than just the feeling of the shape of individual fingers, you want to feel patterns between fingers, and indeed all four fingers all the time, and eventually even intervals of shifts and the changing patterns from position to position. E.g. in m6, it's actually more useful to feel the relationship between C on the A-string and F# on the E-string, and so rather than play melodically, play as many double stops as you can; you can turn all passages into double stops. In m2 you're shifting from 3rd to 1st position; in 3rd your pattern is high 2, in 1st low 2--feel the shift from high 2 to low 2 and finger the G-D perfect fourth as you play open D, etc.

What might seem daunting and frustrating at first becomes the way you see-hear-feel note patterns all the time. (Later still, you learn to look beyond finger patterns to note groupings which form the skeleton of phrasing itself.)

August 9, 2017, 11:26 PM · Yes, it is called prepared fingering, and it has been around for a long time. At first it seems impossible, then it becomes almost automatic. It trains the fingers to move more efficiently, instead of arriving a little too late. For every piece, spend at least one practice session very slowly, focusing on when to place the fingers, when to lift them, and the interval distance for the shifts. If needed, you can mark prepared fingerings as open diamonds, like a harmonic. Sometimes I mark lifting a finger by writing a diagonal line through the finger number. The instrument that uses prepared fingering for every note is; the harp. The instrument that never does that is the piano. Ditto on Adrian's comment; most of our technical problems happen between the notes.
August 10, 2017, 8:08 AM · What Jeewon said is what is highly emphasized with my teacher in everything I'm working on now. It's great.

Prepared/early fingering makes playing so much more consistent and actually less complex. It's slow going at first (learning it), but gets easier with time as far as I can tell. I'm still in the finger/note pattern stage and starting to early/prepare finger without putting in much mental effort.

With preparing your finger and an open string, you can keep the finger that needs to be played as close to the string as possible so the lag time between playing the open string and the next note is shrunk considerably.

August 10, 2017, 9:54 AM · Hi Sonia,

I initially thought you were talking about placing two fingers down as for a double stop when you have string crossings, which is something that should be done. It sounds like you are talking about shifting to a stopped note from an open string. In that case, you can practice those shifts using a finger from first position and gliding up to that note. You can also practice hearing that note in your head and placing your finger starting from no position in particular - You might miss, but you can try it a number of times and see if you get closer. Remember the feeling of your hand, arm and fingers in the correct position, and try to "feel" and hear that in your head when you go for the actual shift.

Basically practice the shifts slowly like normal shifts from say first finger first position to the target note until you get that, then practice like how you will have to play it VERY SLOWLY, and than try and bring it up to speed. So yeah, you will have to slow down to eventually play it in tune at speed, but that's true for most any practicing.

Edited: August 10, 2017, 1:03 PM · Yes, it's a very standard procedure although different players might apply specifics of it in different ways. Before beginning m1, I would already have my 2nd finger G on the E string together with the 1st finger B on the A string - ready to play a basic G major chord.

It may seem to slow things down at first but it will lead to more clean and solid playing and what we call a quieter hand.

BTW, this etude also lends itself to a staccato study (if you're ready for it) - i.e play the first 1/8 note down-bow, the remaining 6 1/16th notes in one up-bow, staccato. Also, try the 1/16ths in one up-bow legato, for smooth string crossing work.

August 10, 2017, 1:42 PM · You might want to check Kayser. He suggests early finger placement since the very first etude. In order to simplify the work for the student, Kayser notes when preparatory fingers should be placed.
Edited: August 10, 2017, 2:39 PM · Wow thanks so much for your expansive replies. I will certainly work through them all and I feel very encouraged that it will improve my playing.

I'm not "late" in putting the fingers down currently, I don't get any distortion of the sound or out of sync with the bow, but my teacher is encouraging earlier placement, ie before I've started to move my bow to a new string, so the fingers are in place and ready.

Thanks again, you guys are awesome :)

August 12, 2017, 5:02 AM · There are also instances of late fingers: when sluuring from a fingered note onto an adjacent string (fingered or not).
August 12, 2017, 3:03 PM · I just played through the Kreutzer #10, that Sonia mentioned, and for that specific Etude I think that lifting the fingers is more important than prepared fingering; so that each finger can get to it's next spot sooner. The goal is; only one finger down at a time. Also, you don't have to use the editor's fingerings, even if they are famous teachers like Galamian or Flesch. jq
Edited: August 12, 2017, 5:51 PM · I think Sonia's teacher might be wanting her to anticipate the next action during the current one. Since this etude has a lot of open strings, not only can you feel the placement of the notes and finger patterns, you can anticipate the string cross with the rest of the arm (or hand, however you cross strings) during the open string. The bow arm can also anticipate by the elbow crossing slightly ahead of the hand. On a shift, the feel of the shift motion can begin during the previous note. Similarly, all 'new' notes can be anticipated while playing 'old' notes. In the end I don't think I would actually place fingers ahead in performance for this piece; too cumbersome. But by training that way the feeling of anticipations can by ingrained.

All of that is thoroughly covered in Dont Op. 37, which was written as a preparation for Kreutzer and Rode.

August 14, 2017, 10:44 AM · Following - up on Jeewon's comment re: "scanning ahead". It's yet another difficult technique that seems impossible at first. It is a mental reflex that can be trained. If your eyes are slightly ahead of notes you are playing, the mind will follow the eyes, think ahead, and the fingers will move a little sooner. This is especially useful in fast passages, where the conscious mind simply can't keep up with the music. jq

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