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Fingered Octaves

Edited: August 16, 2022, 8:05 PM · Ah yes, the infamous fingering technique among violinists. My apologies if this topic has come up recently!

Question: do you like to use fingered octaves when possible, or do you prefer regular ones most/all of the time? If you ever use fingered, what prompts you to make that choice?

I prefer to use fingered octaves most of the time for the cleaner sound (less shifting/sliding required).

Replies (30)

August 16, 2022, 8:29 PM · I hate fingered octaves. Too much strain on the hand.
August 16, 2022, 8:45 PM · With few exceptions, only in very upper positions, and only on violin (I play both violin and viola as an amateur). However, both my kids with their big, long stretchy fingers use them a lot. Often in upper positions, and frequently in pieces with quick octaves in a row.
August 16, 2022, 9:18 PM · Thanks, I have large hands, and I know how to play fingered octaves. I would just rather not. Fortunately the percentage of orchestral music requiring fingered octaves is zero. I teach them in the first movement of Wieniawski #2; that’s it.
August 16, 2022, 9:43 PM · You'll be glad you did. Excellent prep work for fingered tenths.
August 16, 2022, 10:09 PM · I have really wide hands, so it makes fingered octaves easy on the hand, but I’m sure terrible to the ear.
Edited: August 16, 2022, 10:16 PM · I think they are good, but if they are not practiced properly, they may damage some hands. I have long, bony fingers, and needed to train for a bit for them to feel natural. Nowadays I do not feel they are too difficult nor hard on the hand, because a)long, bony fingers, b)I conditioned my hand so it's always relaxed while doing fingered octaves.

Much like thirds, they inadvertently help the whole technique by teaching the brain things that go above and beyond what it will use in actual music. I work on intonation and speed right now-they are no longer a tense exercise for my playing. *But I wasn't born with this skill*-everyone must develop it very carefully, especially at the beginning when both brains and hand muscles are not used to them.

As an exercise, I often try to use them in repertoire clearly intended for 1-4, as a fun challenge to self, and to see if I can do them cleanly.

Do not be afraid to study them with care. The Dounis exercises on these are nice, but do follow his advice if you feel something is off with your hand. Practicing these as a mindless drill and while your hand is in actual pain is very bad for you.

August 16, 2022, 10:23 PM · I love 1-3 fingered octaves, possibly because I've spent significant time practicing them in the past, but am decidedly less keen on 2-4 fingered octaves. If I'm playing octave double-stops, I will generally switch from 1-4 to 1-3 around fifth position.

However, I use the 1-3 reach all the time as a way of incrementally stretching into the next position (or reaching back to go down), extending in order to be able to vibrate, etc.

Note that my hands are small.

August 16, 2022, 10:24 PM · I only use them when I have to like in higher positions due to my bigger hand and even then it's only 1 and 3. However, I'm finding that it's quite difficult for me to do regular octaves clean and fast and I don't know how people do it. When I learned Wieniawski 2 the first time I did regular octaves which was probably a mistake. Next time I'll do fingered octaves. Now if only I could figure out how to get those upbow staccato passages faster...
August 16, 2022, 11:31 PM · Like Lydia, I'm far more comfy with 1-3 fingered octaves probably because my index finger can extend quite far back, and even then, I'd only use them in high positions if needed. Note: I have narrow palms and long, skinny fingers.
August 16, 2022, 11:58 PM · I have a hunch that the real benefit to practicing fingered octaves is in getting used to stretched handframes and the like that you see in certain Rode and Dont caprices.
Edited: August 17, 2022, 8:41 AM · For all the time I've spent learning fingered octaves, I've never once had to use them.
If I want to play octaves, 1-4 is always a more reliable bet because my hand is already naturally that shape.
August 17, 2022, 11:08 AM · I use, sometimes prefer, 1-3 octaves in the higher positions. I don't do 2-4.
Most violinists spend most of their time in orchestras where fingered octaves are just not needed. I can do the minor 10th, but not the major 10th.
I make a distinction between an extension and a stretch. A stretch involves a real stress and discomfort. For me a stretch is highly likely to be out of tune when it counts, in the performance.
August 17, 2022, 11:14 AM · When the OP says he does not like "normal" octaves because of the sliding: Composers who put octaves in their music expect them to slide. It is part of the intended effect.
Edited: August 17, 2022, 1:13 PM · I think there is some confusion here.

Playing octaves 1/3 in the higher positions is completely sensible and normal, and I do it all the time, 1/3 - 1/3 - 1/3 etc. That is not what is meant by “fingered octaves.”

Fingered octaves are playing a series of octaves 1/3 - 2/4 - 1/3 - 2/4 etc.

August 17, 2022, 2:46 PM · I think of 1/3 2/4 alternating combos as sequential paired fingered octaves. In my opinion they only make sense when you're doing sequences of octaves that are fast enough that not switching fingers is likely to result in a lack of clarity to the notes.

In general it's easier not to do open strings during an octave sequence, because you're not forced to maintain the frame of the hand and the tactile feel of both fingers on the string (feeding your brain distance info), and oftentimes you're disrupting a pattern. Patterns are key to speed.

Edited: August 17, 2022, 3:27 PM · 0-2 make sense to start or end a sequence on, but I don't think they make as much sense in the middle of a run. Could be a matter of taste, or some musical factor that is particular to that section to use them otherwise. Of course, I start 0-2 in the keys of G or D (but in the key of G, I practice the notes D as 2-4).
August 17, 2022, 3:42 PM · Yes, the more you practice your mind/hand will "choose for you" when open strings are appropriate or not. Generally fingered is more efficient and faster than trying to use every possible open string opportunity.

I think it's quite worthwhile to practice them most days at least. Just avoid working with tension and pain! Thirds are more difficult once your brain is used to the proper extension of the hand's frame. They are basically like very extended thirds, but you do not have to think about the third intervals (octaves are simpler-though of course not necessarily easy to play in perfect tune.)

(Descending fingered octaves are always harder. Be patient-just avoid hurting yourself.)

Edited: August 17, 2022, 4:11 PM · Bruce, I generally start my fingered octaves so that I'm ending 2-4 before moving up a string, if that makes sense (if I'm playing three notes on the string before moving to the next, I start 2-4, otherwise I start 1-3). There's a little bit of room for variation and personal taste. I find moving to the next string in half-position and then following with a half-step to be pretty uncomfortable, and since my hands aren't huge, half position isn't my favorite in general, so I may play one more note on the previous strings before moving.

This all may be gobbledygook the way I've written it out, but depending on your hand size and your particular preference, you may find that you are naturally a bit more comfortable in lower or in higher positions, so you have some small choices in which you will emphasize.

You can always just grab the Gilels scale book, which has all the double stops, but there isn't all that much room for variation in playing fingered octaves, and it isn't worth taking your focus off other stuff in order to focus on them. Simple octaves are a much better use of time.

August 17, 2022, 8:16 PM · Flesch also used fingered octaves as a warmup, but there are many ways to warm up, like Schradieck, or even some exercises where you don't touch the violin.
August 17, 2022, 8:44 PM · If you were going to survive in the USC Heifetz master class you would have to playy all the scales in all possible double stops and finger octaves and tenths. But if you are an average mortal playing violin as an avocation being able to stretch a a 1-3 and 2-4 in higher positions, from time to time, and for expressive reasons - that might be sufficient to get you through most of the literature.

That's what I think. I think I gave some of those stretches a shot in my late 30s.

Story of my life!

August 17, 2022, 9:58 PM · Lots of intriguing comments here! As for 1-3 octaves, I would choose those in passages that involve extensive shifts. A good example would be the leaping octave figures near the end of the Sibelius concerto (a concerto I have not officially learned yet).

Albrecht, I agree that composers can intend slides between octaves when writing them. However, I don't think this is true all the time. Beethoven probably did not expressly desire slides between the octaves in the solo opening of his Violin Concerto. Using 1-4 for those is conventional and perfectly acceptable, but it doesn't fit the style to add a gooey glissando for each shift. As for later-era repertoire, I agree with you about the composers often expecting/intending audible scoops when writing octaves. Nonetheless, sliding is never required unless there is an explicit specification on the page. That's why I regularly choose fingered octaves; for me, they can sometimes afford heightened technical facility for my hand.

August 17, 2022, 11:12 PM · Anything difficult to master on the violin will make "easier" technique much more simple. I should not have said "most days", but at least some days throughout the week (one day on and off, every two days, etc.) I bet some players do them daily. Nothing wrong with it as long as done properly (i.e. avoiding injury-fingered octaves are not practical anyway if not worked on in a completely relaxed manner, as otherwise they will never be fast and all sort of muscle/nerve issues may arise.)

Carefully practicing part of the repertoire that actually uses them can also be useful, lest the whole thing become too "geeky"/academic. A certain "No. 17" comes to mind. Some oppose this on principle-I do not, so much, as long as done intelligently, as a truly practical exercise.

Less important than fingered octaves are left hand pizz, and double harmonics-and those still deserve some attention depending on a player's needs.

Regular scales and thirds are the most important to me. Octaves 1-4 indeed have more priority over sequences 1-3,2-4, but I feel one's technique will be more rounded and obtain even better LH facility by attempting to master fingered octaves.

(Not entirely related, but I also love practicing one position scales throughout the fingerboard, as prescribed in Mr. Fischer's huge scale book. Out of everything in that exhaustive book, which is fine, those simple exercises are great for everything! Love and do them every time for each scale of the day.)

Edited: August 18, 2022, 12:16 AM · Oh, I must respectfully disagree that left-hand pizzicato is less important than fingered octaves! It’s not all that unusual in orchestral playing to have a transition from arco to pizz or the reverse that is so fast that using a left hand pizzicato is the only way to play every note. Fingered octaves are never, ever required in orchestral playing.
August 18, 2022, 1:03 AM · IMHO, it's a matter of a player's needs. Perhaps it does not make sense to you for practical reasons, and that is fine. Why work on something you will never use? It's a valid view.

But for me, I would still practice them due to the effect of them on the whole of the LH technique; the LH pizz is more practical, but also easier to grasp and master. I love them myself. But if I had 5 minutes open for practice, I will 100% of the time cover fingered octaves if I had not yet gone through them, than work on LH pizz. For another player it may be the opposite. Most is valid, as long as we never hurt our fingers/hands/arms/nerves during practice.

Similar concept with the aforementioned one position scales-very rarely will we ever need to play F# scales starting on the G string at the highest positions. But by doing so, everything else becomes easier in comparison. Intentionally overshooting in order to keep on target.

My apologies, it is always fine to disagree, as always. I do definitely agree one can use LH pizz in orchestral rep way more than fingered octaves, for which "zero chance" may be more likely. Still, some players do play pieces with these sort of octaves, and it is always good to be "ready"-though perhaps I am wrong and being overly academic.

Best wishes.

August 18, 2022, 7:45 AM · @Adalaberto - fingered octaves have always been purely academic for me. I even avoid the unfingered sort whenever I can. Nobody ever complains, and I wince less often.
August 24, 2022, 9:29 AM · I feel this discussion would not be complete without someone mentioning the d'- d' - d'' - d '' (1 - 2 - 3 - 4) chord reportedly played by Paganini at a party. The hosts had invited Paganini and expected him to play, but he would not play without being paid. So they put an exquisite Guarneri violin on the piano, expecting that Paganini would be unable to resist the temptation to play on it. Paganini picked up the violin, played this chord, in tune of course, and left. (try this at your own risk)
Edited: August 24, 2022, 5:13 PM · Re ~ Fingered Octaves Practise ... {#40}

As an original artist-pupil of Jascha Heifetz, & if any have viewed my Film in the Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class - Khachaturian, JH-7, Elisabeth Matesky, (Rus. Version. Library of Master Performers) on YouTube and now on other websites: (Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class - Khachaturian, JH-7, Elisabeth Matesky), etc., you will see a very interesting part of my lesson with Mr. Heifetz when he calls serious attention to a passage in the 1st Mvt of the Khachaturian Violin Concerto which Must be navigated via Fingered Octaves, which at the time, (prior to private studies with JH Friend/Auer Classmate in London, Sascha Lasserson, via my Fulbright Grant Fellowship) & following later w/Nathan Milstein, privately in advanced bowing at his Chester Square London home, and by then happy w/fingered octaves), Mr. 'H', does make a vitally important comment re my working on all keys fingered octaves, which as a teenager, I dreaded managing to avoid Until ... Heifetz!!!!!!!!

There may be many here who possibly haven't had any need to practice these dreaded fingered octaves if playing happily with friends in String Chamber Music Groups/String Quartets, et al, or a community orchestra, or even some professional orchestra's, but as an internationally by now recognized solo violinist, fingered octaves are A Must Have 'Tool' to be able to navigate Great Violin Concerti concert repertoire and for major public recording performance!! I know no other way to describe its importance other than to say, if missing, one cannot really navigate nor present the glorious vital musical-spiritual messages in the Violin Concerti of Sibelius; Tchaikovsky; Korngold; Shostakovich VC #1 in a; Khachaturian; Prokofiev's #1 & #2: the Mozart Cadenza's depending on which version's one chooses; Alban Berg; Saint Saens Violin Concerto #3 in b minor; Dvorak; Goldmark; golly & even the Brahms in a few spots; and I'm sure others, I'm (in a rush), omitting right now, but let us also include all Paganini Caprices, plus Violin Concerti of Nicola Paganini; Schumann Violin Concerto; Bartok's I & II; Vieuxtemps 5 & 4; and again, many other vital works for the Violin in pieces, Ravel's Tzigane and Chausson's 'Poeme', as the List of Favored Violin Works is Endless ...

I will return later or mañana, to see if anyone has added to my rushed List, yet respectfully offer a little tip: Do Not Worry if you don't practice fingered octaves
and/or if you never encounter them in orchestral Violin parts or given Chamber Music Ensembles ... And if you are over age 45 or thereabouts, truly do Not give these Fingered Octaves fretful Thoughts ... It's Okay Not practicing Fingered Octaves, if not concertizing as a Concert Soloist on the Violin or Viola & one would think the Violoncello or Double Bass, but I will email Gary Karr, GOAT Bass Virtuoso, and an old LA friend, to ask The Master, {Gifted by Koussevitsky as admired inherited Owner of his famed Double Bass!!!}

Consider this Reply a 'First Draft' of my Reply, after working on a Reply for 'The
Ages'}, aka, a mighty long Reply re ASTA Student Chapters being newly formed and needed at this time. If interested, read Kyle Champion's Good ASTA Article on this Subject, although not accepting Replies, but mine I think may be a bit of American String Education History to know of or learn a bit about!! **Andrew Victor, You're So Right about Survival in our Heifetz Violin Master Classes! em

... Respectfully submitted, I remain ...

~ Your Musically from Chicago ~

........... Elisabeth Matesky ...........


{Photo: Gift from Potus Carter: The White House, EM French Musicale Violin Recital, honouring French Premier, Raymond Barre, Guest of Potus/State DR, includes a portion of Potus Carter TY Note to myself, hand signed ~ 'Jimmy' ~ September 16, 1977}

Bio: (listed Performer/Teacher Chicago, IL)

Fwd dg

August 24, 2022, 4:17 PM · Elisabeth, you are absolutely right! Fingered octaves can prove helpful in the solo repertoire (if one doesn't injure oneself trying to do them). Given all the octave runs in concerti and whatnot, using 1-4 won't be better everywhere! Besides, one really can't get by with only 1-4 octaves in Paganini, especially in the 3rd Caprice.
August 24, 2022, 4:24 PM · I think they are not essential for many, but since I still find them useful, I do work on them. Once you learn that framing of the hand with complete relaxation, it allows you to use more efficient fingerings in "non-fingered-octaves" works. I remember the Faure Sonata having a passage that works better with
the fingered octaves hand frame-it is not a fingered octaves runs work, to be sure. You will find them useful the more repertoire you learn. As long as you do not hurt yourself, they are better than OK to learn and practice, in my very humble opinion.

It is not about ego-if you deem them utterly unnecessary, so be it, but I feel it's worth it to learn them well, not giving up just because they are the most daunting when you first try to practice them.

Edited: August 24, 2022, 6:59 PM · @Bruce Hardy ... OMG!!! What a watchful Cat you have!! {#44}

I'm sorry I mentioned an Age of when to not fret over these Fingered Octaves, especially as you happened to see a Rode Caprice #10 fall to an open page on the Floor! Please, don't take words I wrote, vis a vie 'aged 45, or thereabouts', for I usually try to never say "Never" to any of my pupil's, so as to build their confidence and not pronounce or forecast 'You Can't Do's',and in this regard,
I apologise, especially if practicing fingered octaves and for just 10 to 15 minutes during a bit of time, which isn't going to injure your left hand/arm in
so doing. It sounds to me you are quite violin physique savvy and not reckless with your hands, so (gosh, I sound like a Mom!) go forth with smart confidence and if any hint of strain, Stop!! In the just happened in filmed interlude 'As Was'
w/Heifetz, after trying to emulate his exquisite ease with fingered octaves a first time, I falter, and finally the Great Jascha Heifetz, eager to help, tells me to 'go slowly, possibly, Liz! Yes!'

Suffice to say, no one knows All answers to All Questions posed by sincere violin lovers/violin aficionados or colleagues, but we all learn something from each other, whether good or not so good!!! I do like the Reply about the hand frame upon practicing fingered octaves & would add, I do a certain left hand self-made exercise of stretching and in relaxed fashion to Open my left hand and to 'feel' my palm/s which help players to relax when a string of difficult
often in double stop passages are encountered in violin concerti or some Unaccompanied Violin repertoire ... The important tip I can offer is to Think Relaxation after Tension and deliberate Tension created by the left hand then letting the muscle (palm) gradually relax back into a quiet state ... It is truly difficult to describe technical ideas in writing, so maybe best to Stop Now!!! Try your fingered octaves after a soak of the left hand in warmed water which in
colder climate's helps cold hands & certainly, in Helsinki, FI, below 25 degree zero Fahrenheit! I actually experienced this Finnish frozen Cold and yet was warmed in the Finnish Family owned Hotel Helka, on main drag so do keep this for reference if ever in Helsinki in Winter!!!

..... Nice Chatting to some of You .....

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky/Chicago

Regards to Gabriel Leu, Author, Fingered Octaves!!

Fwd dg

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