Inquiry re
Holding fingers down

Connie Sunday said: Oct 1, 2015
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

IIRC from my Suzuki training at UNC-CH nearly 20 years ago, it is recommended by Suzuki trainers that students keep the fingers down, under the top finger. In other words, if they’re playing a third finger, the first and second fingers should be held down. Likewise, if they play the second finger, the first finger should be held down.

I think when I initially heard this (if I’m remembering correctly), I didn’t make much of it; I have my students hover their fingers, always, but have not insisted on the ‘hold the fingers down’ rule.

Can someone speak to the history and pedagogy of this practice? What are the recommendations of teachers, prior to Suzuki, and do most teachers conform to this?

Also, as adult players and/or teachers, what are your recommendations, regarding this, and what were you taught?


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Ira Gutzeit said: Oct 1, 2015
Ira Gutzeit
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Weston, FL
3 posts

Wolfhart said “keep fingers down”
Practicality is no extra movement expedites playing speed capability

Connie Sunday said: Oct 1, 2015
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Well, there is always the rule of keep fingers down as much as possible, i.e., if you return to previously played notes, the finger(s) should still be down, if possible. But the rule to do that on one string, etc., this is a different issue.

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Marian Goss said: Oct 1, 2015
Marian Goss
Suzuki Association Member
26 posts

I think the idea is to prevent unnecessary lifting of fingers when possible. I do start with three fingers down in twinkle simply so that the students can feel the frame and shape of the A major hand position. When they get to songs like Song of the Wind or Perpetual motion, I tell them to keep fingers down because they don’t need to lift them when playing scales. But as soon as we hit songs that are not in the key of A, such as a Etude or the minuets, I spend most of my efforts teaching them about independence fingering. I actually start teaching independent fingering as soon as lightly row on the C sharp and in O come little children. We call it “tunneling”. Even as a college student, I remember my teacher is telling me to leave scale fingers down until lifting is necessary, such as on the way down the scale

Tammantha Ashworth said: Oct 1, 2015
Tammantha Ashworth
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Lakeview, OH
1 posts

Keeping the fingers down those three things. First It help set up overtones In the music so that the Violin sounds as a whole instead of a single note. Second It helps train the fingers to hold a good shape which makes double stops easier among advanced students.Third it helps with more advanced dexterity with the hand in the proper shape you’re able to play faster and more accurately.

Lauren Baker said: Oct 1, 2015
Lauren BakerInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
10 posts

Brava, Tammantha!

Amy said: Oct 2, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

I always teach students to hold down lower fingers in Twinkle because I think it’s a really good skill to have for the reasons defined above. However, I also feel that students need to develop the skill of placing only one finger at a time. This begins to be helpful in the third line of O Come Little Children as the child needs to place the first finger on the E string while the 2nd finger is still on the A string to facilitate a clean string crossing. It is also a very helpful as children are learning to use their 4th finger—they must rebalance their hand in order to successfully use the 4th finger, and they can’t do this while holding the 1st and 2nd fingers on the string.

Shulamit Kleinerman said: Oct 2, 2015
Shulamit Kleinerman
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
9 posts

You’d find another take on fingers in eg the teaching of Ronda Cole—for the times when balancing the hand around one finger is looser and healthier than holding down all fingers. (Possibly there’s some rationale on this in the writings of Kato Havas too?) Truly we have to be able to do both—there are obvious times when leaving a finger/fingers down gives the hand more stability with less effort, and times when releasing the unused fingers allows flexibility and release of unnecessary tension. I teach my students to leave a finger down when they are soon going to return to it or when the hand shape is pivoting around an anchoring finger (such as the first finger in tonalization arpeggio), but to use independent fingers in other cases (in my studio we call this “walking fingers”). The Fingerboard Geography book by Barbara Barber is very interesting in laying out both situations, along with ways to teach and practice them in very simple/quick ways, and how they can be applied in the Suzuki rep.

Christopher Cavanaugh said: Oct 2, 2015
Christopher CavanaughViolin, Cello, Viola
Manchester, NH
2 posts

I have them put 1 2 3 on for Twinkle at the beginning but eventually
convert them over to 3 2 1 separately before they get their twinkle
award. The blocking of 1 2 3 is a hard habit to break and it must be
broken early.
-Chris Cavanaugh

On Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 2:15 PM, SAA Teachers’ Corner Discussion <
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Chris Cavanaugh
603 785-1884

Lauren Baker said: Oct 3, 2015
Lauren BakerInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
10 posts

Agreed, Chris!

Brecklyn Smith Ferrin said: Oct 3, 2015
Brecklyn Smith Ferrin
Suzuki Association Member
Kaysville, UT
28 posts

I really think that blocked and independent fingers should be taught—they each have their place. (See Shulamit and Chris’s comments above.) I start teaching the finger patterns from Barbara Barber’s Fingerboard geography early in book one (around Go Tell Aunt Rhody). I have my students leave the fingers down as they go up the 4-note scale. ( A B C# D E (4th finger)) then play open E D C# B A (independent fingers, place 3rd finger touch down 2nd lift 3rd, play 2nd touch down 1st finger lift 2nd, play 1st then lift 1st and play open.)

I hope that makes sense!

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Oct 3, 2015
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Such a big and important question, this little deal of 123! I’ve been following the discussion and finally felt I should chime in. 

 I am glad to have trained on books 1-4 with Ronda Cole, and she stressed just how important it is to rebalance fingers as the hand places different notes, right from the start, for twinkle and bk 1 purposes chiefly. That includes at the very beginning, and precisely for the reasons so many of you have said; that block fingers is a terribly difficult habit to break once it’s been made even though it may feel like a logical way to find the 3rd finger placement.

 And why not build up to the D, 123, and keep fingers all down until you lift them off in descent for twinkle? Because right from the start we’re building a hand that moves efficiently, plays in tune, with fingers that are balanced and getting set with the independence they need for vibrato which can be started by the first minuet. Just as important, it is vital to form a child’s hand to be soft, the fingers dropping onto the “thumb side corner”, the hand free from clutching the neck so that a window is formed to the right of the fingerboard. 

The process of how to go from 1 F# to E to 3D, on thumb side corners, is a 3—step deal, a crucial transition to the next lower string, that takes physical demonstration. Not really conducive to verbal description here. And it’s also crucial that the teacher be able to do it properly, before demonstrating and teaching it to a child. 

Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

Wendy Caron Zohar

Friederike said: Oct 4, 2015
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
71 posts

I agree with Wendy. I took a class from Susan Kempter( she also wrote a book: How muscles learn) Which has influenced my teaching very much. She also teaches to teach independent fingers from the beginning. I just took someone else’s students over and find it hard to break that habit of blockfingers( well beginners shouldn’t really learn blockfingers at all, but do the 123 finger set up, though often it seems to change into blockfingers) Susan also teaches to first let the students play with “Harmonics ” to teach their fingers to be soft, besides “Tickling” the violin( gently moving up and down the finger board( great prep for shifting and vibrato).She also talks about many other ways to keep our body as natural as possible while playing the violin. It’s a great book.

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Elise Winters said: Oct 7, 2015
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

I have never had difficulty getting a student to use independent fingering … it seems to happen pretty naturally as the patterns become more complex, they are moving between strings, and the need for blocking is obsolete because they know where all the notes are.

I have, however, experienced many transfers into my studio who have (1) very inefficient playing due to unnecessary lifting of fingers and (2) unpredictable intonation because their hand is in constant motion. The independent fingering can disguise some basic setup problems because they simply move their hand for any note they cannot reach. Perhaps someone who teaches independent fingering can speak to this.

For me block fingering (in the first few months) facilitates keeping the hand position stable enough to develop muscle memory and accurate spacing. With increased proficiency their movements will become more flexible and their position can be more context-sensitive.

To prepare the hand position, my students do an exercise away from the violin in which they keep the index in a square while wiggling all the other fingers & thumb. We call it “praying mantis” (the index is the head, others are legs). This trains the 1st finger position & helps avoid bunching of the other fingers. Make sure the praying mantis doesn’t get a “crick” in his neck (keep the index base joint flat). They enjoy wiggling their “bug” at mom & siblings.

To find their initial hand position on the violin, they make the “first finger square” (with flat base joint), and position the index fingertip on the violin on the E string. The 1st finger square ensures adequate reach for the 3rd and 4th finger. The thumb should fall naturally. This is my basic hand frame for beginners.

With block fingering, I do not worry too much about the student pressing the fingers not in use; I think it is natural to balance onto the “active” finger and very difficult / unnatural to keep them all pressing. I do make sure their thumb is as loose as possible; this usually also loosens the fingers since relaxing one area tends to also relax neighboring muscles.

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