Blocked fingers transition to independent fingers (violin)

Kathleen Kono said: Dec 13, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Shelburne, VT
12 posts

Hi everyone, I was wondering if you would share with me when you generally prefer transistioning a student from blocked fingers to independent fingers. I read some old seminar notes of mine and it said around Lightly Row. Perhaps that is too soon. Perhaps it depends on whether the student is 3-4 years old or in my case for my beginning students 7. Thank you in advance for your thoughts:).

Rebecca said: Dec 13, 2011
Rebecca SchiblerViolin, Viola
24 posts

I learned this from my teacher trainer Marilyn OBoyle (who is fabulous btw!).

I switch my kids to independent fingering right around Long Bow Twinkle, sometimes during the Twinkles, sometimes a little later into Lightly Row. What I’m watching for is the fingers landing confidently when they’re placed “1, 2, 3″ ie the student is no longer searching for where their fingers go. Once the block position is fairly well set, they have no problems switching to independent fingers. In fact, the only student I’ve had who struggled with it was an older boy (12yrs). He still wants to use the block fingers. The younger they are, the easier it is. For most students it seems almost intuitive, and they switch very easily.

I make a big deal out of “Independence Day” and we spend a lesson and a week of practicing working on it, and the Lightly Row preview (last two measures) which we use as an example of independence with the C#.

Before I did my teacher training, I kept the students on block fingering through most of the Book 1 material, and it is one of the things that has made the biggest difference in my studio. Their fingers are so much more capable when they can move independently early.

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” -Dr. Suzuki

Diane said: Dec 13, 2011
Diane AllenViolin
245 posts

I start with independent fingers first. It’s much easier to transition to block from independent.

Smiles! Diane

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Paula Bird said: Dec 13, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I start with blocked fingers (Monkey Song, Var. A), but as soon as the student is able to use the third finger independently with enough strength, then we do that beginning in the Twinkles. Sometimes a student just has trouble in the beginning. The minute they can stand the ring finger on his own, then I make that independence day.

I want to be sure that everyone is clear that we do use block fingers when we play, usually when playing up a scale or ascending scale-like in passage. We use independent fingers when we are moving down a scale. And then there are the endless places when we have a “fence post” finger down to help us build the spatial relationship, e.g., measure 3 in Song of the Wind (hold down first finger).

There are places to use both fingerings. We just have to be vigilant that the student is doing the fingerings in the correct place.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Barb said: Dec 13, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Curious to hear from cello teachers on this one!

I have been introducing independents when the students are ready for working on vibrato—and it has been different for each student. Not sure that’s the best approach??

I can’t even remember transitioning on either violin or cello. I know I started with block fingers on violin, not sure about cello—probably not since I was already using independent fingers on violin. It wasn’t an issue for me at all. I started violin at age 9 (and cello at 11), so it may have been a very short time before I transitioned to use either as needed.

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Jennifer Visick said: Dec 15, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

At the moment I’m favoring starting with independent fingers, but if for some reason I don’t start them that way, we get to independent fingers before Twinkle variations and theme have been completely mastered, and at or before French Folk Song (or Lightly row) has begun.

Gretchen said: Dec 16, 2011
Gretchen Lee
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
State College, PA
28 posts

I also start with independent fingers.

Lauren said: Nov 29, 2012
Lauren Lamont
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Edmonds, WA
33 posts

I start with blocked fingers to set the “home” position of the left hand. Then I go to independent fingers starting with wind & then to Intelligent fingers (knowing when to use 4th over open) & then to Intuitive fingers (fingering more by intervals).
Lauren Lamont

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Wendy Caron Zohar said: Nov 29, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

The more I teach the more I learn. Plus, my teacher training w Ronda Cole has been eye-opening and entirely changed my thinking on this: Though I started as a child learning to keep fingers down, and used to teach that way, I agree now with teaching Independent Fingers right from the start! Of course in performance I use block fs. where it can’t be avoided (for double-stopped thirds, chord progressions, fast repeating notes, double trills etc.) and use independent fingering on most linear passages everywhere else, and of course for expressive vibrato. It depends on context.

But I have now come to believe that learning to use independent fingers at the very beginning is essential for the proper setup of the hand and flexibility of the fingers. It is not only a matter of independent vs. block fingers, it is more what is happening with the entire hand position on open strings, what ind. fings do to the position of the wrist, the knuckles, enabling the swinging elbow and unhampered hand, the open and down release of the 1st finger with a low knuckle when going up from 2 to 3 and 4. Perhaps there is a good demonstration of this kind of teaching posted online somewhere (if someone finds such a demonstration please let me know) and how it leads to a relaxed hand and good hand health (vs. tense position creating tendonitis, God forbid! later in life) and to independent, beautiful vibrato down the road. Why teach one way at first, let the student learn incorrect habits which stiffen the hand, and then struggle to get the student to change later?

We can still keep the anchor tone in the first finger, but it doesn’t have to stay lodged in place to keep the hand position organized. Each finger can know where it belongs in terms of a finger pattern, but the fingers should not stay lined up, stiff and stuck. With good methods of learning and hearing the right spots for each finger, the child can feel how the fingers move lightly and independently, finding rebalance in the hand as the fingers walk from one to the next, releasing the previous one just as our feet walk. The student should be always listening and adjusting for intonation.

I have had especially good luck teaching ind. fingers with my adult students who come to me with stiff hands and block fingering, stiff bow arms, necks and backs, who are in pain, arthritic, and cannot play well in tune. The moment they learn to play with independent fingers they are comfortable and love getting it right, and their comfort spreads to the rest of their body. They all wish they had learned to play this way from their youth. I am in the business of unlocking people.

Have I managed to express how enthusiastic I am about teaching independent fingers? :)

Wendy Caron Zohar

Amy said: Nov 30, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

In my initial teacher training, I learned the virtues of blocking the fingers, but I have discovered that it’s really hard to train hands to be well-balanced with blocking, because every finger and every hand position requires slightly different balance to facilitate playing well. Having said that, I generally teach blocking 2/3 together with the second finger snuggled up behind 3. Then, when we remove the 3rd finger, 2 happens to be in the perfect place for a high 2. After we can work with these two fingers both blocked and independently, I will introduce the 1st finger and the special balance of the hand necessary to play 1 in tune.

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