How firm should the finger press be on the violin?

Edited: June 11, 2021, 4:59 PM · Please give me your opinion on whether my "scratch and squeak" sound on the fingered stopped notes may result from insufficient pressing of the strings down the fingerboard.

I press violin strings down no more harder than I do on my electric guitar.

The problem is this: when I play open strings my sound is nice and full. Once I start fingering (stopping) notes on any of the 4 strings I get exactly that - "scratch and squeak" sound that is very unstable.
The perceived audio effect is that of a bow without or maybe too little rosin.
However you already know - my open strings sound nice, so rosin is there and it's just the right amount of it.

I searched YouTube and in one of the videos prof. Fitzpatrick suggests just the opposite of what I'm worried about - he says the violin strings have NOT to be pressed all the way down to the fingerboard.

I insert the YT references below. Not sure if the embedding codes will be accepted here but I also insert the direct link (first).

Prof. Fitzpatrick suggests that a piece of paper should be easily removed from under the stopped finger for proper violin sound.

Replies (22)

June 11, 2021, 6:06 PM · Greetings,
the answer isn’t really a prescription. Rather, it is a good idea to sensitize your fingertips to the degree of weight you are placing on the string. One of the best ways to do this is an excellent exercises in Simon Fischer’s ‘Warming Up’ in which one divided the degree of pressure into five levels and practice switching between them.
In the sam ebook one also practice going back and forth from harmonic to stopped on the same note and scales played with no weight, a little weight and exactly the right amount.
In all of these kinds of exercises the ear is the final arbiter (or whatever that word should be)
June 11, 2021, 6:31 PM · when I started violin, my teacher made me quit playing guitar. It just messed up my violin playing so badly, and he could always tell when I came to lessons if I'd been playing guitar that week. The whole sound production and physics is totally different from guitar. In violin, you should use the minimum pressure needed to play the note the way you want to. The post above gives ways to find that. There could also be a number of other factors affecting tone- a lot more goes on in violin. In guitar, you just need to get the string moving. In violin, you need to get the wood moving.
Edited: June 11, 2021, 6:54 PM · Sergio, that video's advice will work if you're using a nice violin, but it's less likely to work if you're using something very cheap. What type of violin are you currently using? (a very cheap violin could have multiple issues leading to the sound you're describing, but the main ones that tend to be a problem are: a warped/poorly planed fingerboard, an overly high nut -- it's called an action on a guitar -- or an overly high bridge.

*NOTE*: I'm not saying that your violin is necessarily the problem, but it's the easiest variable to start with, just so we're not diagnosing a bunch of things that aren't really the issue.

The other thing to keep in mind: electric guitars require almost zero finger pressure to get a full sound. Even the best violin will require more pressure than an electric guitar in order to get a full sound.

I have more suggestions, and of course I'm sure someone will suggest the exercise where you start by barely pressing, then pressing a bit harder, and gradually increasing the finger pressure until you get a "full sound." That's a great exercise, but once again won't be of tremendous use if your violin is super out of adjustment or poorly made.

PS: I'm assuming you are brand new to the violin, and are starting by self-teaching, correct?

Edited: June 11, 2021, 7:11 PM · Basically as firm as necessary and as light as possible. You should experiment with the effect of finger pressure on tone, and you should realize that you don't actually need that much pressure to get a solid tone. This will then allow you to always seek as much lightness and relaxation as possible.

I heard Augustin Hadelich explain that the faster you play, the lighter the finger pressure needed, meaning you don't need as much pressure to get the sound, and at the same time, the lightness helps us with our dexterity.

EDIT: It sounds like maybe that advice is a little premature for you. If you aren't sure whether your poor tone is coming from the left or right hand, one very preliminary thing you can do is that compare the tone of an open string to a stopped note.

June 11, 2021, 8:27 PM · On the violin your finger is the fret so contact needs to be solid enough to produce the sound you want.
June 11, 2021, 9:37 PM · Greetings,
it is a good idea to practice this kind of stuff with a full sound. If you don’t you won’t learn the amount of finger weight required to stop the string when playing forte.
The relationship between the hands should always be kept in mind.
Edited: June 12, 2021, 12:34 AM · My 2 cents: I suspect the issue is not with the finger pressure at all but with the right hand/bow. There could be several issues here, bow pressure, tension in the right hand (even very subtle tension in the right hand can mess up the sound!), contact point with the string, sound point, bow speed, bow tilt etc. In my experience, problems with sound or tone, especially with a beginner, are usually due to a whole variety of issues with the right hand/bowing. In 99% of the cases, it's the bowing, not the fingering. (Though tension in the left hand might come into play later, e.g. when adding vibrato).
The sound effect you describe is often due to lateral movement of the bow, i.e. you not bowing straight/the bow not staying on a consistent sound point. It might work well enough with open strings but coordination between left and right hand might be off as soon as the added difficulty of fingering comes into play. If you're learning on your own/with youtube, you might want to check in a mirror what your bow is doing when you're playing.
And if at all possible, try to find a teacher (some teach via zoom now, so location is not much of an issue)! If you're just starting out, there are so, so, so many things that can go wrong (sooo many!), you might not even be aware of them, and once you've formed a bad habit it's very difficult to break it and it'll prevent you from progressing further. Really, I can't stress enough how crucial I think individual tutoring is when starting out on the violin!
Edited: June 12, 2021, 4:13 AM · It depends on how much of a beginner you are and on how difficult the left hand fingerings are. If they are complex for your skill level, then your right hand will be thrown and won't be bowing properly for good sound, because the brain can only control one hand at a time until you have had more experience.
June 12, 2021, 6:03 AM · As above - enough to get a clear sound.

What you must also practice, however, is finger-release. Thus, try pressing firmly and then quickly release each finger. Finger release is essential for many aspects of playing including giving you the confidence to press 'enough' (and playing fast, amongst others).

Edited: June 12, 2021, 6:08 AM · "finger-release". Yes, it's really not a skill you can learn from playing the piano! In theory woodwind will teach you.
June 12, 2021, 7:39 AM · Gordon, if ever we meet I am going to be very disappointed if you don't look like your icon...
June 12, 2021, 9:02 AM · It can also be effective to "pop" the finger down rather than "pushing" on the string; the speed of the finger-fall will provide the clarity of the new note, and the release to a minimum pressure will be faster.
This motion can also initiate a "quiver" vibrato, on very short notes.
Edited: June 12, 2021, 9:49 AM · Dear Jasper Diedrichsen: Thank you a BUNCH for your insightful reply. I feel your advice is right on topic without additional guesses.
Everyone: thank you also.

Jasper - I know what you mean about a teacher and the self-instruction. Unfortunately due to a number of reasons and my circumstances I have no chance to get the paid tuition.

So far I've been mostly focused on the left hand for quite awhile (several past years). I was getting down common finger patterns so far.
If I started fingering and bowing at the same time (with self instruction) I would go nowhere right from the start. BECAUSE:...

... I'm a VERY slow learner in music - where most people get to some progress point for 1 year I need 5 to 10 years and it's not an exaggeration - it's a fact of life.
Yes - normally I learn 5 to 10 times slower than the majority of AVERAGE people. I accept it for what it is. I've learned to do that and live with it.

Knowing my "extra slow learning curve" limitations, I started to learn violin fingerings a few years ago (with pizzicato) and by NOW I can finally more or less make my way through the scales in the 1st position.

What I said above is NORMAL for me: where many people would already quit learning a musical instrument because they would feel they had no progress in the course of a few months I accept my very slow progress in the course of a few years.

How do I know this? - From my past experience with other musical instruments. My past guitar teachers were very frustrated that I could hardly get any patterns and chords down after a few lessons - and the majority of their AVERAGE students could already play fairly well after couple of months. I was always labelled "talentless" in music.

You can imagine how frustrated was I!
BUT - instead of quitting after those couple months I proceeded with self-learning those guitar patterns and chords for next few years AND - imagine!!! - After couple of years it gradually started to pay back: I very slowly began playing those patterns and chords and after around 10 years I finally got them down!
YES - 10 years - I was not mistaken. That's where the majority would already be after 1 to 2 years of the same diligent practice.
Life is what it is and this World doesn't owe us anything. - Right?

By this time (10 years) those AVERAGE people could already be on stage and consider themselves professionals but for me - you can already see from my story I just got the basics down.
That's how slow I am and that's how dedicated I am for what it's worth.

Getting back to the violin: over past few years I was making sure my left hand is straight while playing all the stopped notes in the first position for all common patterns.
Please also understand that I have pretty good knowledge of Harmony (both Jazz and Classical) that I gradually acquired over past 15 years. I know almost everything about scales (down to the very exotic Jazz modes), arpeggios, hip chords and so on.

So, by this time I can do acceptably separate fingering and bowing on the open strings.
I now need to put them together. You can already see it can take me another couple years...

June 12, 2021, 9:57 AM · Gordon: "...then your right hand will be thrown and won't be bowing properly for good sound, because the brain can only control one hand at a time until you have had more experience."

It also sounds familiar to me from my piano playing. For instance, I can get a piece down with 'Hands Separately' relatively fast (in my terms) but once I begin to play 'Hands Together' everything "falls apart" - NOT "comes together".

June 12, 2021, 10:03 AM · Maybe it would be helpful to practice some harmonics.

I came across a video yesterday of tennis star Novak Djokovic playing the violin for the very first time. Interestingly, he plays harmonics and doesn't try to press down on the string initially. He is simply applying the weight of his fingers.

Here is the video:

June 12, 2021, 10:26 AM · Sergio: When playing the piano, practise hands separately as the exception, not the rule!
Edited: June 12, 2021, 11:40 AM · Gordon: There is absolutely no agreement on this in the piano circles. Often I see just the opposite as an advice.
"Always practice hand separately first and once you know both parts perfectly put them together".

I feel there are these two major somewhat conflicting (or complementary?) approaches with various amounts of mixed ingredients in between.

I'm sure you know this is a much debated subject. I see on which side you are. No problem.
I reckon there are people out there (contrary to my personal experience) who can sight-read almost any new piece (within reason) hands together.

June 12, 2021, 11:50 AM · If the comment (which I really appreciate and readily accept) on deficient bowing technique (read: once starting to add bowing to the stopped notes) is 100% correct than I think there is a sure way to check that:
- Finger the note, make it "permanent" (not taking away any attention) and bow as it would be the open string and in that case it should establish itself into a good tone once everything is "equalized" and properly adjusted.
Once that's done it could be extrapolated further, gradually and in very small consecutive steps.
June 12, 2021, 3:57 PM · Sergio, what type of violin are you using?
June 12, 2021, 4:17 PM · In a hypothetical world where people didn't suffer from fatigue and hand injury, you'd ideally press the finger down as hard as possible. This is why open strings sound so resonant, because instead of a soft mushy finger, it is stopped by a solid piece of ebony. Of course we don't have unlimited energy and we are likely to get injured by pressing too hard, so as dumb as this sounds, the objective answer is to press as hard as you can without injuring yourself. Now obviously I'm aware that especially for newer players, this is much easier said than done. It is probably not possible for most people to follow this kind of advice and for anything fruitful to come out of it... but I do believe it is the scientific truth and it's good for people to be aware of it.

One scenario where you definitely SHOULD be attempting to press down quite hard is during pizzicato, because the increased resonance will be much more apparent with pizz compared to bowed notes.

June 13, 2021, 11:45 AM · Press the string hard enough to be in firm contact with the wood of the fingerboard, no more. We tend to press too hard when playing loud. Also: How high you raise the fingers between the notes makes a difference. Too low; not enough force, the notes sound mushy. Too high; the fingers land too hard, you can hear popping sounds from some players. And it takes a little longer for the fingers to get there. For me a lift of about 1/2 inch, one cm., is about right.
June 13, 2021, 7:39 PM · In practice, what Professor Fitzpatrick describes is more pronounced and observable in the higher positions, although the ability to move a piece of paper underneath the finger can be done on the whole length of the fingerboard. Ideally, since the finger stops the string given the projection of the modern fingerboard, there is a threshold where we exert just enough force to stop the string, but not so much that it is crushed against the fingerboard.

This is only one part of the equation though! The manner in which the fingers fall onto the string, and the manner in which they are released, have implications for how effectively this concept can be applied.

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