Fourth finger

November 25, 2017, 7:05 AM · Hi everyone!

I am an intermediate violinist and I have an audition excerpt that is not too difficult; it is all in first position and there are no tricky rhythms, but it is a little fast. There is one section in particular where I have to play a B on the e string (using fourth finger) a few times in a row. I have found that when I play it, I sometimes play the B in tune but sometimes I don't. I also find myself trying extremely hard to play that fourth finger and reaching for it. I don't really know what to do, but I really have to get it in tune since my audition is in 2 days. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Replies (20)

November 25, 2017, 7:25 AM · My guess is that you are practicing in tempo. If this is the case, slow down! You need many slow repetitions in which you have enough time to be conscious of what must happen for your fourth finger to land in the correct spot every time.
November 25, 2017, 7:27 AM · Fourth finger rules!
If it is not usually curved, it is for the other three to make room: middle finger curled under itself for "low"2", index finger leaning back for "low 1".
However, for 1st finger vibrato, we may want to do a semitone shift into half position, maybe leaving the thumb in 1st position.
November 25, 2017, 8:29 AM · Thank you!
November 25, 2017, 8:39 AM · Ms. Goree: Since I have just been practicing at tempo, will it be difficult to fix my mistakes? I have not been learning the music for too long (2 days) but will I be able to get it in tune if I slow down and do a lot of slow repetition?
November 25, 2017, 9:51 AM · I had a lesson with my teacher today, and he found the solution to my chronic intonation problem was 4th finger position.
Here is a few things I learned:
1: Your hand position should be centered towards the 4th finger. When it is pressed down, the 4th finger should always feel comfortable and be nicely curved. My problem was that my left hand position was centered more on the lower strings, and therefore my fourth finger was always flying somewhere away from the string, and when I pressed it, especially in extensions, it had an flat shape, hence the inconsistent intonation. So if you focus on always keeping the ‘octave’ position when playing, and you make sure your fourth finger is always in position and ready to play, it could help you.
2.Another thing which helps is thumb placement. My teacher had Philip Hirschorn as one of his teachers, and Hirschorn was a great violinist himself, and taught some really good players like Janine Jansen. Hirschorn believed the fourth finger was the strongest of all fingers, and doing a sort of backward movement with the thumb and using the whole hand to place the fourth finger could add a lot of strength to the 4th finger.

So in your case, maybe the issue is one of movement efficiency, as it was for me.

Hope it helps!

November 25, 2017, 9:58 AM · DONT, Op. 35, No. 6 !
Edited: November 25, 2017, 11:20 AM · Mahika, yes, you can fix these, but the number of slow repetitions required will have been increased by the number of too-fast repetitions you did incorrectly before you were ready. However, two days is not a long time and I think you can fix this without too much trouble.

Never, never, never "practice" something at speed before you have gone through it slowly (more than once) to be sure you know where everything is. And even then, speed it up gradually, never increasing the speed beyond what you can play in tune. But congratulations, you are completely normal. :-) My students do the same thing all too often. I have to tell them that when I ask them to practice slowly, I mean "Mrs. Goree slowly" and not what they think of as slow (which is always too fast).

Andrew, the OP describes herself as an "intermediate" violinist. Dont is far in the future.

November 25, 2017, 2:29 PM · Andrew,

Perhaps Op. 38 might be more apt as it is famous for being a: "DONT Duet." (You may now groan)

Edited: November 25, 2017, 8:12 PM · Mahika, try the following (but don't overdo it!)

~from Progressive Graded Technics for the Violin, by Pavel L. Bytovetzski, Book 1: Development of Finger Strength and Independence in All Positions (whew! long title.)

Edit: we might be able to give you more specific advice if you gave us the exact passage and name of piece...

November 26, 2017, 10:33 AM · Lots of exczllent advice here.
But none of it will work if the hand is not well set up. My opening post was mainly for narrow hands and/or short fingers, but I see similar shapes in many videos.
November 26, 2017, 2:42 PM · Mahika,

All of the advice above is good. As one who struggled with the fourth finger because mine is short, I empathize.

I get the impression that you are still playing the notes D, A and E with open strings. While usual for a beginner learning how to place the fourth finger is important.

Where your thumb is makes a big difference. My teacher taught me that my thumb should be in the same place my first finger should be. I see a lot of young musicians in the Youth Orchestra where I volunteer playing in first position but their thumb is in half position making the reach for the fourth finger longer. Of course most of the young musicians in our orchestra are still playing open strings for D, A and E and with their thumbs too far back have a difficult time hitting the fourth finger notes. FWIW: Some young musicians have teachers that glue corn-pads on the neck where the thumb belongs for first position.

Have a good audition.

November 27, 2017, 10:51 AM · Sometimes I think we should teach the fourth finger first, comfortable, curved, matching the adjacent open string. The other fingers are then pulled back from there, the thumb placed wherever it is most comfortable. This version of first position looks slightly higher on the neck then what we usually do.
Edited: November 27, 2017, 11:24 AM · I could hardly disagree more with the idea of teaching the fourth finger first. It is the weakest finger and the hardest to learn to keep curved with a correct hand position. Much better to teach the first three fingers first and introduce the fourth finger only after a correct hand shape has been solidly learned.

As per usual on v dot com, this discussion has delved deeply into theories and arcane suggestions (not necessarily incorrect ones, but still to my mind a little bit like going after a fly with a flamethrower), but I remain convinced that the OP's fundamental problem was that she was practicing too fast, and I wonder how she is doing now after (hopefully) quite a bit of slow practice.

November 27, 2017, 11:46 AM · I actually second Joel’s view.
The fourth finger can be the weakest or the strongest, depending on how you look at it but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that students learn to put the fourth finger down in a round and comfortable shape as soon as possible.
As I see it, the foundation of a good hand shape is a curved 4th finger. If one learns to place the 4th finger in a comfortable way right away, then the hand naturally takes its shape and the remaining fingers effortlessly fall into place.
The risk with only teaching the first 3 fingers first, and only then adding the fourth finger, is that curved index, middle and ring finger don’t neccesarily translate into curved little finger.
You can place your first 3 fingers correctly, but place the 4th finger incorrectly.

And anyway, I don’t see why someone would teach ‘fingers’.
Just teach the student to correctly place their hands first, and the fingers will be ‘taught’.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 12:13 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen. You can do fourth-finger studies like the Bytovetski study Jeewon showed. Likewise some of the lines of Schradieck No. 1 are fourth-finger heavy. But please know that you can also really hurt yourself (all the way up into your forearm) if you do too much of that stuff at once, especially if you try to take the tempo too fast. I suggest you just focus on your audition excerpt for now. (The first piece in the Suzuki sequence that has a serious workout for the fourth finger is at the end of Book 7).

I would say that if you find that you are having a hard time finding the B when you're going slowly, then you should have a teacher have a look at your hand position before trying to get too stretchy-and-reachy with it. Strain is unwelcome. A famous pedagogue once said, "The purpose of hand position is to reach the notes." Try just bringing your left elbow a little farther toward the right, for example, and your fourth finger might rotate in a little closer to the target -- that kind of thing is what you can explore. At some point in the future you will encounter music wherein you have to reach not only B but also C with the same finger. You're laying the foundation for that now, but you have to be patient with yourself.

I don't know what tempo "Mrs. Goree slowly" is, but "Mr. Sassmannshaus slowly" is every note played as a quarter note at a metronome marking of 40, with every other note being a rest! Now that's slowly. See link:

Sassmannshaus is a very experienced teacher with former students who have become fine professional violinists including Brittany McWilliams (she's the woman in the video), and Tessa Lark. He would not recommend that method to his students if it didn't work.

November 27, 2017, 1:58 PM · Thanks, Mary Ellen, et al, What I actually do is start with the third finger at the octave above the open string, then 2, 1, 4th finger last. If we start with 1st finger the wrist often collapses and the 4th finger lands flat. ~jq
Edited: November 27, 2017, 11:00 PM · Really, arcane? Balancing left hand and finger exercises are pretty basic solutions to the problem of developing an accurate, fast pinky. Nothing mysterious there.

"Much better to teach the first three fingers first and introduce the fourth finger only after a correct hand shape has been solidly learned."

A solid(ified) frame minus the pinky is often the problem, when the stronger fingers don't know how to yield to the position needed for the pinky, especially for those with a shorter pinky. So you can't get to 'correct' without adjusting for the pinky.

November 27, 2017, 11:43 PM · My point is that all the exercises in the world aren't going to do any good if the OP doesn't slow down.
November 28, 2017, 12:21 PM · When I wrote "Fourth Finger Rules" in the first post, I was referring to a hand placement which, as joel suggests, allows a curved fourth finger. When the other three are placed to allow this, we will of course use their strength as a base for patient work on the fourth.

I find the indspesnsible slow work gives more lasting results if the hand is set up to allow speeding up when appropriate, with fingers that will drop on the notes rather than grope for them.

All my present violin students have small hands. (As are mine on the viola.)

Edited: November 28, 2017, 12:32 PM ·



Also, Adrian is right. I couldn't breeze through Kreutzer 2 until I had changed my setup to reach back with my first finger so my fourth could be in a nice comfortable curved position.

Now, if your setup is good already, then slow practice is the solution. If your setup is bad, changing your setup and using slow practice to solidify it is the solution=)

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