Fingerboard Fluency

December 19, 2020, 10:18 AM · Hello! I’ve been a lurker for some time, and I’ve come up with a question that I can’t figure out by searching the Internet. Maybe someone could offer advice? It would be greatly appreciated as I don’t have a teacher =) And I don’t know what this particular skill is called...

When I am in low positions (1st-3rd), I can place a finger anywhere and know where any other note is from there. For example - If I place my 1st finger on the D string, I know that if I place a low 4th finger say on the G string, that this is a D flat. I know this without even thinking about it.

However, once I’m in 4th position or higher, I have to “count” my way up. If I place my 1st finger in 4th position on A string, I can’t find any other notes without counting. While my 1st finger is on that E (on the A string) and I place my 3rd finger on the E string from there, I don’t instinctively know what that note is. I have to take time to figure it out. How do I develop this skill of knowing my way around instinctively?

Any advice would be extremely appreciated! I feel that this is holding me back from moving up in skill.

Replies (25)

December 19, 2020, 10:39 AM · It sounds like you are a fluent reader in the lower positions, but not yet in the higher positions. This is where the etude books help. Try Doflein book 5 and/or Whistler, Introducing the Positions, book 2.
December 19, 2020, 11:32 AM · I don't know when most teachers introduce 3 octave scales, but scales are an important part of internalizing the fingerboard. You can start E, F or F# on the G-string, starting on the second finger, which starts you in either 4th or 5th position.
December 19, 2020, 11:57 AM · You will have to spend as many hours in each position as you have already spent in the first position!

In fact, not quite so many, since the brain has already been "wired" to the violin :)

You should end up knowing where every note is played, so you can use any finger you like.. Eventually.

December 20, 2020, 7:52 AM · hi Heather that skill is called "knowing your positions" :-) it takes practice just like everything else. you can also benefit from the analogy with other positions. for example you give the example of 4th position, well in a sense the notes are the same as in 1st position, but one string up and one octave up. you find such similarities across all positions.
Edited: December 20, 2020, 10:29 AM · Thank you, everyone, for your advice =)

Joel: I do have that Whistler book. I was so excited to blast through & “graduate” from it that I probably didn’t give it enough time to sink in & for my brain to wire to 4th & above.

Christian: That’s a great idea, and I’m going to start that in my practice today.

Adrian: I had a feeling it was going to be an issue of spending more time in higher positions. I was hoping I could check off some box in my practice so that the information would click, but I might just have to get it down to grueling hours in higher positions. No way around it, I guess! It’ll be worth spending so much time though.

Jean: I wasn’t sure if I can rely on that translation of positions or not? Maybe I can think that way at first until I get used to higher positions, and then I won’t need to translate from a lower position eventually.

Thank you all for your helpful advice!!

December 20, 2020, 12:25 PM · I think thinking in terms of positions is more of an established, didactical approach. Knowing them well is a bonus but not an imposition to master the instrument. The more important positions to learn as an earlier student would be 1st, 3rd, 2nd, then all others (traditionally, "seven" positions) including playing the so called half-position. But in practice, I think in terms of note and finger patterns accross the fingerboard, using important notes as a mental reference (natural harmonics, all GDAE notes, etc.) This is all reinforced by years of scale studies, as Mr. Lesniak alluded to above.

2, 3, 4 octave scales, same position scales, and Flesch 1-4 are very helpful as well. Once the brain and hand is familiar with all of it, the much slower learning-by-counting stops, and it all becomes automatic and relatively "easy".

However, I am not saying playing exercises on one position isn't helpful at all. Those exercises all in the 7th etc. have their purpose and ultimately help make everything feel easier later on. Do what you must, but do not be intimated-just practice intelligently letting your brain and body adapt to all this wealth of new violin playing knowledge.

Edited: December 20, 2020, 2:47 PM · continued,- Above 5th position I usually do not think in terms of position numbers. Instead I think of the interval distance between the notes, and also most important, the shifting interval between the positions. What can throw us off up there: extensions and contractions can accidentally move the hand a half-step off. Insisting on keeping the Perfect 4th between 1st and 4th finger cramps the hand. And our numbering system is flawed, an illogical system inherited from history.
Example: A string, 1st finger on C, 4th finger on F. Everyone agrees that that is 2nd position. But what about 1st finger on C#, 4th on F# ? What do you call that? Or, 1st finger on Db, 4th finger on Gb ? I mentally label both of those as 2&1/2 position.
Edited: December 21, 2020, 9:12 AM · The violin fingerboard is quite logical, as the strings are all tuned in 5ths. The same system you have in navigating the first three positions will apply to all the higher positions. Consider:

1. The relationship of 3rd position to 1st position is the same for 4th position to 2nd position, or 5th position to 3rd position, etc.

2. The same finger patterns appear on all strings in different positions. For example: E-F-G-A in 1st position on the D string can be found in 5th position on the G string, 4th position on the A string, and 7th position on the E string.

3. Knowing the finger pattern on one string and position allows you to determine the finger patterns on the neighboring strings in the same position. So E-F-G-A in 5th position on the A string means you get B-C-D-E on the E string, and so on.

4. Intervals are fingered the same way between two strings in all positions.
For intervals smaller than a fifth, higher numbered fingers are on the lower string and lower numbered fingers on the upper string. Thus seconds are 4-1, thirds are 3-1 and 4-2, fourths are 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3. For intervals larger than a fifth, lower numbered fingers on the lower string and higher numbered fingers on the upper string. Thus sixths are 1-2 etc., sevenths are 1-3 etc. and octaves are 1-4 or 1-3 for fingered octaves.

5. If you start a one-octave scale on one finger, you end the scale on a particular finger. open string scales end on 3rd finger, 1st finger scales end on 4th finger; 2nd finger scales end on 1st finger, etc. This works on all strings, in all positions.

6. Adjacent positions can blend into each other, depending on how the notes are spelled. For instance, C#-D#-E#-F# in 2nd position can also be thought of as Db-Eb-F-Gb in 3rd position. This is particularly helpful in bridging or shortening the distances of shifts. A useful example is mm. 135-139 of the 1st movement of Bach's A minor Concerto - the famous passage in A-flat with 32nd notes. In this case there isn't even a shift at all - you want to feel the hand staying in the same place as 1st and 2nd position, and later 2nd and 3rd position, blend together.

7. I would suggest working on one-octave and two-octave scales in different positions. Simon Fischer's Scales book is quite comprehensive, offering study in scales, arpeggios, broken thirds and broken fourths. I would start with this to develop a strong sense of fingerboard geography in all strings and positions.

8. I would also suggest working on double stops, particularly thirds, sixths and octaves. Josephine Trott's Melodious Double Stops book is invaluable, but also if you're up for a challenge, I would look at nos. 6 to 12 of each key in the Carl Flesch Scale System.

9. I would also look at reading as much music as you can in the upper positions. The Kayser, Rode and Kreutzer etudes are particularly useful, and just crack open any book of violin solos, and enjoy reading through as much of them as you can.

Finally, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking time to think and count, per se, in fact that's precisely what you should be doing. It simply takes time at first. But knowing the underlying principles helps speed up the process. With proper study and practice, knowing and applying the principles of how the violin fingerboard works, you'll eventually be able to navigate the upper positions as instinctively as you do the lower positions.

December 21, 2020, 4:26 PM · Great reply Lorenzo, thanks! We should hear more from you!
December 22, 2020, 1:47 AM · Greetings,
get your hands on Simon Fischer's Scale manual and study it diligently for the rest of your life... You might consider working on one octave scales in all positions (as mentioned above). In the same way, anytime you are working ona musical phrase play it in any number of postions all over the finger board even if it is an octave or two higher or lower. This is a real help for intonation.
For finger pattern practice in all keys try Dounis OPus 32 which you can download for free from IMSLP.
One of the major weaknesses of violinists is we get to obbsessed with the more violnistic aspects of learnign a new work before thinking about the music itself. It is better to be able to sing a new work in your head or learn it on the piano before picking up the violin and figuring out the technical means to achieve the ends you have al\ready decided. If you already have the sounds in your head the fingerboards is no longer such a mystery. The computational model is less efficacious in my opinion. Incidentally, ASM leans all her piece son the piano first not the violin.
Merry Christnmas to all,
Buri
December 22, 2020, 1:48 AM · Greetings,
get your hands on Simon Fischer's Scale manual and study it diligently for the rest of your life... You might consider working on one octave scales in all positions (as mentioned above). In the same way, anytime you are working ona musical phrase play it in any number of postions all over the finger board even if it is an octave or two higher or lower. This is a real help for intonation.
For finger pattern practice in all keys try Dounis OPus 32 which you can download for free from IMSLP.
One of the major weaknesses of violinists is we get to obbsessed with the more violnistic aspects of learnign a new work before thinking about the music itself. It is better to be able to sing a new work in your head or learn it on the piano before picking up the violin and figuring out the technical means to achieve the ends you have al\ready decided. If you already have the sounds in your head the fingerboards is no longer such a mystery. The computational model is less efficacious in my opinion. Incidentally, ASM leans all her piece son the piano first not the violin.
Merry Christnmas to all,
Buri
December 22, 2020, 1:51 AM · Ps
as usual I forgot what I) wanted to say. One octave scales =on one finger= on one string in all keys are , in my opinion, generall introduced much too late, if at all. They have enormous benifits for relative newbies .
Cheers,
Thingummy
December 22, 2020, 5:44 AM · Stephen what a great christmas present to see you back on this forum!
December 22, 2020, 3:04 PM · Welcome back, Buri!
December 22, 2020, 3:12 PM · Greetings to all and sundry,
As usual I got the opus number wrong. Dounis opus 23: fundamental exercises.
Cheers,
Buri
December 22, 2020, 3:25 PM · Welcome back Buri. May your posts be fruitful and multiply.
Edited: December 22, 2020, 11:29 PM · Wow I sure am glad to see Buri here again!

For the OP: Studies, studies and more studies. I personally found studies like Dont and Kreutzer the best for general facility among the positions. For scales I also found Fischer's book very helpful because he shows you how to approach scales so that you get more benefit from them in less time.

December 23, 2020, 9:20 AM · I took my beginner book and played everything in weird positions for the lower strings. For the e string, I did high parts of orchestral excerpts and Introducing the Positions. Arpeggios helped me a lot as well.
December 23, 2020, 8:28 PM · "I took my beginner book and played everything in weird positions." Buri recommended to me once that I try playing the entirety of Kreutzer No. 2 in second position. It's very awkward but instructive.
December 23, 2020, 9:27 PM · Yikes!
Do it in fourth too...
Warmest Regards,
Buri
December 24, 2020, 2:48 AM · Joel you say our numbering scheme for positions is "flawed", but (1) as you well know C# and D flat are ideally not really the same note; and (2) even if they are exactly the same note, what is the problem that a certain fingering qualifies both for second and third position, say? For a position naming scheme the most important is that if someone tells you "play it in Nth position" that you know the fingering they mean. And that property is still satisfied. It seems less important to have a classification that puts fingerings in strictly disjoint categories. That's something for taxonomists I would say...
December 24, 2020, 3:00 AM ·
Edited: December 24, 2020, 3:22 AM · Exactly! An interesting case of Christmas stuffing...oh, not taxidermists.
December 24, 2020, 11:49 AM · continued--, Thanks J.D., Yes, C# and Db can be slightly different, but that is a very small (~1mm?) adjustment by the finger. By positions I think of the position of the thumb, with the shifting motion made by the arm. When the thumb gets to that saddle point there is so much overlap in the upper positions that the system starts to break down. An analogy: for the fretted instruments, guitar, electric bass, banjo, etc. they use a separate whole number for each 1/2- step fret. For chord diagrams in upper position they write the fret number on the side as the starting point. We can't switch to that system because of centuries of tradition. Also: I use the 1/2 position concept a lot more often than what we see in the instruction books. For me, 1/2 position is whenever the 1st finger is next to the nut, And, the 4th finger is a half-step below the adjacent open string. The thumb is also low. This version of the 1/2 position immediately makes All of the flat keys easy.
December 24, 2020, 8:30 PM · Greetings,
interesting that you mention half @ostion. In the Dounis book I noted above the student is required to practice the patterns with the hand in the normal position, half position (the thumb remains in normal place) and raised positiion IE if there were a heck of a lot of sharps or whatever.... I think this approach is extremely useful. It certainly isnt stadard where I am from. Hald position is just something that cropped in a piece and if you were lucky the teacher explaied how to do it. Much better to be systematic with the left hand, stuufing and all.
Cheers,
Buri

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