phenomenology of 1st position

May 17, 2020, 5:16 AM · If only we could just put the fingers down! I feel like finger 3 on the D is a little stretched, finger 2 on the C a little pulled back and finger 3 on the G just a touch stretched. Oh my. Is this just a late starter thing?

Replies (26)

May 17, 2020, 6:07 AM · Maybe it's the ontology of your thumb that's the problem?
May 17, 2020, 6:30 AM · No musically instrument is ergonomic enough to feel good playing it, just a matter of extent. I think guitar, violin and viola are among the worst.
May 17, 2020, 6:35 AM · The flute is amazingly awkward after the oboe.
May 17, 2020, 6:59 AM · Horace I think your just lacking in proper training. People that study Alexander technique or feldenkrais or body mapping or even violists who sfudy Karen tuttle’s methods all tend to find joy and comfort playing.
Edited: May 17, 2020, 7:23 AM · If I am interpreting you correctly, you are saying that the places where the fingers must fall don't seem quite natural. Unfortunately, the violin has the last word on where the notes are, and everyone's hand is a little different. One thing that might be helpful to train your hand to the right form are the Schradieck excercises (see Excercise I, Excercises on One String). They are written on the A string, but the same finger patterns can be used on all strings. Be sure to practice alternating between sharps flats and naturals (e.g. C and C# on A) for your hand to memorize where they are. A few thousand repetitions, and all will be comfortable, quick, and in tune.

https://imslp.org/wiki/School_of_Violin_Technics_(Schradieck,_Henry)

Edited: May 17, 2020, 8:04 AM · Charles, I can't say I'm complaining and I certainly know about Schradieck. It's an interesting phenomenon of violin playing that I think requies consideration. On the Schradiek on different strings issue - the fingers will be felt to fall on different places for different strings. Sometimes it's the physiology but other times the physical nature of the string.
May 17, 2020, 8:04 AM · Stumbled across this the other day, and it's making out to be a great excercise:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9f6EZMt_bo

Just don't carried away—play slowly and make sure all the notes are in tune.

May 17, 2020, 8:20 AM · Bud, as a pianist you are used to whole-tone steps being equidistant. With string string instruments the step size going up each string gets progressively shorter. Once you get to the 2nd octave of each string the steps are half the length of the lower octave.

As you move your hand up the fingerboard changing positions the step size for each pair of fingers changes in direct proportion to the change in the elbow's angle between upper arm and forearm.

With experience (i.e. practice) these things become automatic.

May 17, 2020, 8:21 AM · Bud,

Welcome to the world of "Late Starters." My guess is that you are looking at Suzuki. The linguistic approach developed by Suzuki works well with children and some adults. I'm a product of Doflein which is a bio-mechanical approach instead of linguistic.

Eric and Emma Doflein were the "go-to" pedagogues of the violin in the late 1800's into the mid 1900's. Their approach is that there are four ways that a violinist arranges their fingers. The translation from the German to English is to call them "Attitudes." There are basic rules about each attitude.

First is where the half-step is between the second and third finger and it is used when the note of the string is the same as the key signature of the piece and the first attitude is used on that string and the next higher pitched string. If the key is G (one #) then first attitude on the G and D strings. Second attitude is where the half-step is between the third and fourth fingers where the first finger note is the same as the key signature and, like first attitude it is used on that string and the next higher pitched string. Third attitude is where the half step is between the first and second fingers and the third finger is the same as the key signature. This is used in combination with first attitude. For example start a G-major scale on the G-string, first attitude on the G and D-strings, then third attitude on the A and E-strings. Fourth attitude is where the half step is between the nut and first finger where the second finger is the same as key signature.

Reading your opening I would guess that a big part of your problem is hand position. I have the feeling that your palm is under the neck and your wrist bent backwards. That is not correct. Your thumb needs to be along side the neck in about the same position as where your first finger is placed, your wrist must be straight in line with your forearm and the palm turned to almost parallel with the fingerboard. Your fingers should curve over the strings so that your fingertips contact the strings not the finger pads.

I hope this helps. Doeflein books are still in print and available.

FWIW: Fiddlers hold the violin differently than classically trained violinists often with their palms under the neck.

Edited: May 17, 2020, 8:38 AM · Can't stand Suzuki and I don't pancake (not that that is as irrational a technique as you'd think - see Ruggiero Ricci). No, if I was to complain, which I'm not, it's how illogical to the body (vs the brain) the violin is.
Edited: May 17, 2020, 10:19 AM · There are at least two issues that contribute to the need to slightly change finger stretch between strings: 1) differences among the strings, and 2) differences in hand position when playing on different strings.

Standard practice is to cut a bridge so the E string and the G string start at different distances above the end of the fingerboard. So when you play a C on the G string from first position, and an A on the E string from first position, the stretch of the third finger to get the string to the fingerboard and still be in-tune is slightly different on many violins. The distance one is pressing the string is different between the G and E, and the mechanical properties (stiffness) are different too.

The same can occur for the D and A strings, especially if one uses different brands of strings.

I tend to keep my left elbow quiet when shifting to different strings, while others tend to swing the elbow when they move to a different string. You can see videos of pro players doing it both ways. If your elbow remains fairly calm, then you will have to extend your fingers a little more outward on the G and D string than on the A and E string. The point on the fingers that strikes the string will shift to compensate. It is basic geometry.

One of the issues with placing finger tapes on a violin to help a new player is that they are usually placed straight across the fingerboard and may not represent a good sounding position for the finger across all strings. Depending on the quality of setup, violin and strings, an unacceptable intonation can be obvious even when the finger is precisely placed on the tape when playing on each string.

May 17, 2020, 10:26 AM · Thanks Carmen. I suppose players just Schradieck-out the problem and never give it further consideration. My body complains though! It doesn't fit its logic.
May 17, 2020, 11:44 AM · Try this;- Re-calibrate the first position. Place third finger on C , on the G string, so that it is curved and comfortable. Release the thumb. Put the thumb back where it is most comfortable. It will probably move forward , and a little under the neck, from where it was. The second and first fingers will feel pulled back from the third finger, and this might look like second position. Let the left elbow and thumb move when changing strings. For my hand, the major third between the second and fourth fingers has always felt like a stretch; the fourth pushed out and the second pulled back.
May 17, 2020, 3:17 PM · Bud if it can be of any consolation, Leopold Auer writes in his book that he never was able to become comfortable in first position!
May 17, 2020, 3:46 PM · Lots of good advice.
But the 3rd-finger stretch, the 2nd-finger "curl", and the 1st finger "lean-back" (all to ensure a curved 4th) I still feel half a century later, though they get easier. They are part of the sensations enabling us to play in tune!
Edited: May 17, 2020, 4:35 PM · Thanks Adrian. Is any of that written down anywhere?
Edited: May 17, 2020, 5:06 PM · I have a hunch that Schradieck may be especially useful for adult learners, in that children have less of an ingrained neural map to overcome in terms of learning a new motor skills in a relaxed way. But my truthy blather is a hunch.
May 17, 2020, 5:31 PM · If you thought first position was awkward on the violin, try the viola.

Andy makes a good point that as you move up the fingerboard, your hand frame will become narrower. But it's worse than that, because (again using his comparison to the piano) the width of the intervals depends on the key that you're playing in. Fortunately, in my experience -- and I think this is widely shared among violinists -- your ability to play the correct pitches will improve in parallel with your ability to hear when they are wrong.

May 17, 2020, 6:30 PM · Regarding what Paul said about the width of the intervals depending on the key, it's even worse! My teacher is taking me on a deep dive into intonation, and I'm finding that the fingers have to fall in slightly different places on the different strings, depending on if I'm playing a melody vs. a chord. I'm finding it very challenging, if not frustrating.
Edited: May 18, 2020, 1:16 AM · Make sure your fingernails are not pointed directly towards the fingerboard(like digging into it). Also wrist has to not be bending outwards past the plane of your fingers(idk how to explain this). You know what... just go practice, it really does solve all your problems.
@Kilseen You’re not your
Edited: May 18, 2020, 2:47 AM · I'm going to experiment with some Beringer (after Tausig) starting on A - less mind numbing! beringer
Edited: May 18, 2020, 5:22 PM · That is of course piano music, with piano-style finger numbers.
If you want to do 5-note groups like that on the same string, look for the half-steps, and use the same finger on a half-step pair of notes.
May 18, 2020, 10:43 PM · Thanks for that, I will. Maybe even double stop?
May 19, 2020, 6:47 AM · If you focus all your attention on intonation then maybe you'll find that a little stretched there and a little pulled back here will be of little significance....
Edited: May 19, 2020, 7:42 AM · I would start by confirming your wrist and elbow position are correct.

1) You want to make sure your wrist is not bent. Think of a straight line from you elbow all the way to your knuckles.
2) You should move your elbow down and under your instrument towards your belly button so that the elbow is pointing straight down or just slightly to your right.
3) Consider your left hand thumb position on the fingerboard. The tip of your thumb should be about a quarter inch above the top of the fingerboard. Make sure it is positioned exactly across from where your first finger is placed on the fingerboard.

Then I would encourage you that comfort should come with familiarity. Our bodies have amazing adaptive qualities to them and will soon normalize what we do on a regular basis. Hope that helps. Good luck with your violin journey. You can do this!

May 19, 2020, 9:19 AM · Thanks for the advice. I have spent years (and teachers) on finding how I wish to accommodate this fiendish of instruments. For me it's the journey so I'm happy to take on board any advice but I may already have been there, done that.


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