Basic Left hand violin finger patterns

File version 3 Feb 2001 © WPS

Above : An animation of the left hand ( please wait for it to load ), demonstrating how semitones really imply touching fingers. Where the semitones lie will depend on the key one is playing in, and the position one is playing in. The above animation frames correspond to the following finger patterns scored below : A B C B A D.

We could also call finger pattern A number 1 ( because 1st lies close to 2nd ) and finger pattern B would be number 2 ( because 2 lies next to 3 ). C would be 3 ( yes ; semitone lies after the 3 ) and finally D would be 4 ( there would probably be a semitone after the 4 ). Originally, violin studies and tutors began with pattern 1 (A), because that is the pattern used in first position on the A string playing in C major. Then teachers soon began to realize that pattern 2 (B) was more comfortable and easier for beginners to adapt to. So instead of C major, most beginner pieces were then written in D major. In fact one could say that the violin is in D major or G major, because these keys, having open strings on the tonic (1st) or dominant (5th) of the scale makes them resonate and helps to simplify chords.

Above : Finger pattern 1 ( or A ). The first finger lies next to the second. Kreutzer's détaché study n2 in C major starts off with this finger pattern. So do Wohlfahrt and Kayser's études start off in this pattern. The hand and thumb must be positioned so that the 3rd and 4th fingers are comfortable and placed in a rounded fashion. If the hand is small it is preferable to reach back, or stretch the first back a little, rather than stretch the 3rd and 4th fingers up.

Above : Finger pattern 2 (B). Some teachers insist that placing the fingers on the G string gives the hand a good natural shape, though the Suzuki school favors placing the fingers on the E string because it is nearer the hand and therefore more relaxing for the hand to reach. Unfortunately the E string does not have an approachable tone for a beginner, and I suggest placing the hand on the A string as a compromise. Pieces on the D string will have the most forgiving register for intonation and tonal deficiencies, so I start many beginner pieces on the D string. Markov's "The little violinist" is an excellent example of all 4 finger patterns depicted here.

Above : Finger patter 3 (C). Here it is in First position, and is perfect for the key of E major. Bach's 3rd Partita uses this most comfortable of patterns. In half position, one may play very comfortably in the keys of E flat and B flat major. Mozart's 1st Violin Concerto is a good example.

Above : Finger pattern 4 (D) has a whole tone ( or gap ) in between each note / finger ! Such a pattern is used in C major 1st position on the E string. For small hands one must remember that all extensions must be balanced. So, while stretching back with the first finger one simultaneously stretches forward with the 4th finger. The interval between 1st and 4th finger in this pattern is an augmented 4th, and is quite a large distance in 1st position. In fact Kreisler, the great violinist, said that he felt comfortable in every position except the 1st ! This is probably because as one plays in higher positions the distances between the fingers become proportionately smaller and smaller. Though not immediately apparent through observation, I would think that the distance between 1st and 2nd finger is probably slightly larger than that between 3rd and 4th finger because the latter are placed nearer the bridge ( or further up the fingerboard ). Certainly the distance between tones / fingers is considerably smaller in 3rd position than in 1st position.

Do other patterns exist ? Yes ! You can get 3 semitones in a row, there by having 3 touching fingers. In Mazas étude number 4 in the second bar we get the notes E-F-Dsharp-E. The 3rd and 1st fingers must be placed extremely closely to the 2nd finger. When striving for the most expressive intonation, it will become desirable to place semitones so that the leading (7th note of the scale) notes lead up, pushing towards the resolving tonic, and minor seconds, like the F in the Mazas example lead downwards, resolving on the tonic.

Unlike an equally tempered modern pianoforte, string players have the power to place these semitones in such a way that they enhance the beauty of a melody, although to do so a good understanding of the powers of harmony is required.


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Last modified: February 06, 2001