Fingered Octaves and Tenths

January 9, 2021, 11:10 PM · Hi, Everyone.

As I've mentioned before, I took up the violin again after a break in college. I have smaller hands and struggled with fingered octaves and tenths back then, but I got them to a decent level. Now, the stretches are extremely difficult and are sometimes painful for me. Is it just a matter of time? Would appreciate any insight. Thank you so much.


Vish S

Replies (17)

January 9, 2021, 11:21 PM · I think it's a combination of both time and hand positioning. I think finger length and joint flexibility are factors here as well. Which finger hurts more when stretching? Your index or your pinky?
January 9, 2021, 11:26 PM · the pinkie. The tenths are somewhat manageable and I think they'll get better with time. It's the fingered octaves that are the real problem.
January 10, 2021, 1:19 AM · Greetings,
the most fundamental principle here, which I am sure you know, is that stretching always goes backwards from the little finger balanced on the string (in tenths) and from the upper fingers backwards in fingered octaves. Stretching forward from the first finger is not only limiting but liable to cause injury.
The moment you feel any pain you should stop. One of the ways to instantly increase stretch by as much as a tone in some cases is simple massage of the small bones at the base of the hand/wrist while you are practicing I found this exercise in Simon Fischer’s book ‘The Violin Lesson’ and was astonished by its effect. It’s incredibly simple and it does bring home the reality that many of us store up tension in our joints without realizing it and that is what is preventing a hand of virtually any size making the maximum possible stretch. (In general, the Violin Lesson’ is one of the most useful books any violinist should own)
The other stretching exercises that work well are in Simon’s book called ‘Warming Up’ which I do everyday. Once you begin maximizing the space between the little finger band fourth finger base joint then these stretches will be no longer. a problem. I think it is a little dangerous to assume that if you just keep practicing tenths and fingered octaves they will automatically get better. They might do, but it is more likely that one is just practicing in tension and frustration which is actually blocking the solution which can be found in the kind of areas I mention.
January 10, 2021, 1:41 AM · Welcome back, Buri!
Edited: January 10, 2021, 6:09 PM · Greetings,
BTW I recall once coaching a teenage violinist who was auditioning for music college with the 3rd movement of the Bruch. To be honest, she was barely up to it but she had worked hard, had a good teacher and did, I think deserve a chance in the fairly minor college she was aiming for. The one passage she simply couldn’t get a handle on wa the tenths flourish that ends one of the sections. I asked her how she had been taught it and hw she practiced it and everything ewas absolutely correct. Both teacher and student had done what was necessary and it was still beyond her. In such cases I always say its better to just forget about it. Rather than worry about the notes adopt an Alexander Techniqwue approach and think about something completely different. Not fudge brownies, but rather be theatrical. That is just pretend you are the greatest soloist on the planet and act out like you are playing this flourish with such brilliance that the whole audience emits a collective gasp of admiration. The eye is quite happy to deceive the mind on occasion. It worked quite well actually and she graduated a few years ago. hah!
January 10, 2021, 6:11 PM · May I add that the repertoire that does not require fingered octaves or tenths is humongous. I doubt you could play every piece on this list even once before your life ends.

I, taking advantage of my amateur status, simply don't bother.

Edited: January 10, 2021, 6:53 PM · I suppose one could play some compound intervals in the higher positions to shorten the stretch. Might work better with an electric violin (as opposed to an acoustic) in terms of sound quality/volume.
January 10, 2021, 7:02 PM · +1 to Albrecht. I can't do fingered octaves at all, and tenths only a little. However I would have to say that all of the work I have put into double-stops generally (and the harder the better from this vantage) has improved the rest of my playing, probably by improving not only my intonation but also the general strength and flexibility of my hands and fingers. That doesn't really help Vish though.
January 10, 2021, 8:20 PM · Thank you all for the replies. I will definitely try the massage Buri mentioned. I have tightness all over my body in general, so I'm sure that would definitely make for a good start.
January 10, 2021, 11:05 PM · I find that with small hands, tenths require a lot of 4th finger strength because you are having to hold down the string with a tiny sliver of your 4th finger.

I'd do Schradieck to strengthen your left hand overall, and 3rd/4th finger trill exercises until you really have full strength in the 4th finger, before trying to do 4th finger big extensions.

January 11, 2021, 3:14 AM · Just wanted to complement Albrecht's comment about fingered octaves and "normal" violin playing. Lydia has pointed this out many times already. The kind of extensions involved for fingered octaves are actually very common in normal violin playing, but then executed on the same string. Bridging a fourth between the 1st and 3rd finger, or 2nd and 4th, both upwards and downwards, is something one needs to do very regularly to nail fast runs cleanly, or to stay on the same string for tonal reasons. Of course this is not quite the same as really playing a double-stopped fingered octave. But practicing the latter will improve your commend of the former, so to speak.
January 11, 2021, 6:50 PM · Don't stretch your fingers more than you have to. Cheat, and find a way to manipulate your hand and wrist to reach that tenth without wringing out your tendons.
January 11, 2021, 8:05 PM · Greetings,
also keep in mind that which combination of fingere doctaves you use depends where you are on the fingerboard rather than an arbitrary 1/3 2/4 1/3 2/4
If we call the set 13/24 a fingered octave, then a lot of the time you will only be using 'half afingered octave' . For example, Heifet often used 13 instead of 14 playing octaves higher up the fingerboard since its often more comfortable and better in tune for a lot of people.
One of the most notorious passages for finger4ed octaves is the dreaded first page run of tyhe Wieniawski 2nd concerto. I suspect that a lot of editions in my day were rehashings of the Wilhelmj edition. Wilhelmj had huge hands and could play Fingere doctaves effortlessly. I reject his prosaic , standard fingered octaves and usually recommend the following:

13 13 13 24 13 24 24

Although it's generally true that fingerings vary from person to person I belive this is very close to the best for most people. The reasoing behind it is simply that it is quite easy to set up and play the 13s at the beginning and they set up hand quite nicely to play 'full fingered octaves' from third postion when the amount of stretching require dis significantly less,

January 11, 2021, 11:38 PM · Don't try to fight your anatomy. Some players should not do fingered octaves and tenths for the same reason that pianists with small hands should not do Rachmaninoff and Gershwin. Paganini and Wilhelmj had huge hands. More recently, Szigeti had very long and flexible fingers, and would often play a perfect fifth between 1st and fourth fingers. If the strain is severe, it will probably be out of tune in performance, when it counts. Most of these stretches should be done with the 1st finger, not the fourth, like a cellist or guitarist. For me, I can do the 1-3 octave, but not the 2-4 octave. The minor 10th is a half-step extension of the fourth finger with a whole step extension of the first finger. The major 10th is one step too much for me. Very gradually expand the hand by first doing the harmonic minor scales, which place a minor third between the adjacent fingers, and start in higher positions, gradually working lower.
Edited: January 12, 2021, 4:50 AM · What Cotton wrote is very important. Don't forget to position you wrist, hand, to allow the downward extensions in the first place. For example you may be unwittingly pushing away your wrist while trying to reach for the tenth. That will be impossible. Instead, easy *in* the wrist a bit.

(Vish: are you still here?)

January 12, 2021, 6:44 AM · That's 'fingered-octaves and tenths' I presume - not 'fingered octaves-and-tenths' ;)

Its not just a joke actually - it could be confusing for beginners and it I believe it IS possible to do fingered 10ths high on the fingerboard.

January 12, 2021, 10:17 AM · For 10ths, it helps quite a bit to slide your thumb under the violin neck, so that your fingers come up a tiny bit more over the fingerboard. Your thumb in that case would roughly be pointing towards the scroll. I haven't found this to quite be necessary for fingered octaves, but you might find that adjusting the thumb somewhat is part of finding the most comfortable position. Of course, your scale practice needs to be slow and relaxed and with as much stretching as possible in the first finger, and as Jean mentioned, with a straight wrist.

If you are straining, a mirror should be helpful.

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