Re-teaching independent fingering on a frozen left hand


Ashley said: Feb 8, 2010
 Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
23 posts

Most of my students in Book One transition from “climbing up the A string” to set up B, C# and D while learning twinkles to successful independent fingering by the time they reach lightly row. While I never teach Block fingering (putting all fingers down at once), I have one student who has been doing it on her own for some time, and while I have continued to try to undo the habit with independent fingering games, she doesn’t seem to really try to correct this bad habit during home practicing. I made the big mistake of continuing on in the Book One repertoire with her, as she was learning the songs correctly, and after all, I was working on the independent fingerings with her… and now we have reached Etude and the Minuets and because of her insistence on playing with block fingering (she is a student who is so afraid of failure she has a very hard time with things she thinks will be challenging) , it is almost impossible for her to play low 2’s quickly and accurately because he hand seems to be frozen in the A major finger pattern. They always end up being high 2’s that she ether doesn’t correct or slides to a low 2 after placing it first in the high 2 position.

I am completely at fault for not insisting on correcting this bad habit before it got to this point, she was one of my first students as a new teacher 2 years ago and now I understand the difficulty it has caused. She gets very frustrated at things that she thinks are hard, and doesn’t want to change to independent fingering.

Any suggestions as far as loosening up the left hand, working on independent fingers, or any other advice you’d give as far as dealing positively with a student who is almost brought to tears when she thinks she can’t handle a change?

Thank you!!

Diane said: Feb 8, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
245 posts


I’ll take a stab at a few suggestions.

First—have a frank and honest talk. “I’m learning to be the best teacher I can be and I’d really like to help you gain flexibility in your left hand. I’m wondering if you could experiment with me and let’s just see what we could do if we change _____ (fill in the blank)” You’ll have to gauge what you change. It may just be 1 thing in a series of steps or you may just go radically different. In other words -”today’s lesson is going to be an exploration and we may not do any of our usual stuff.”

Technically speaking (I teach independant fingering too) I’d start with the thumb. What if you shape the fingers in an ideal shape but don’t put the thumb on at all. Then just wiggle that thumb around and let it go to the violin neck naturally.

I’d also have a talk about the fingers the way Galamian does in his technique book. When we talk about low finger position the finger is more curled and a high finger position the finger is more elongated. Galamian used the words contracted and extended I believe.

Here’s a finger exercise that does a lot for loosening up the joints. On E string hold down F#, take the 2nd finger and put it right next to the F#, gently slide it up the string as far as the finger will stretch out and back. Then plant the 2nd finger and move the 3rd finger up and down the string and finally with the 3rd finger planted and sliding the 4th finger. Do all this without the bow. It’s all about straightening and curling the finger.

One more idea for tonight. Take the students left elbow and just shake it around and wiggle it to see if it’s loose.

What a journey—eh?

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Barb said: Feb 9, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Not speaking from experience here—just brainstorming a few ideas in addition to the good ones from Diane…

Maybe have the student watch some videos of violinists and have her observe their left hands. Which ones use block fingering? If they ever did, they have now given it up in order to play in a more mature way (necessary for vibrato, etc). Would she like to play like them one day?

Perhaps all of your students must use independent fingering before moving on to piece X, and it will be her choice of being ready to move on or not.

Perhaps it would help to write a little tune which uses only open 1 and low 2 to start with??

Because all the early Suzuki repertoire uses one key, I have all but my youngest students do what I call mini-scales (tetrachords)—four notes up and down one string at a time. For instance on A string: A-B-C#-D-C#-B-A, then A-B-C-D-C-B-A. I teach cello, so in our case it’s getting them to use the 2nd finger sometimes rather than always the 3rd. And I have them name the notes as they go. (Hmm, maybe I should make up a minor Monkey Song variation for the youngest?)

I also have them do sirens, sliding one finger only up and down the strings. I still have one who puts a death grip on the neck, so I can’t say it’s been entirely successful!

Best Wishes!

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Laura said: Feb 9, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I’m not a violin teacher, but I will share our own experience.

My daughter started with block fingering because her teacher really believed that it helped build proper muscle memory with respect to intonation. Her approach is that the students naturally tend to “unblock” themselves as required. She has over 20 years of teaching experience and her advanced students don’t seem to have any problems with finger agility or intonation. The teacher always corrects intonation problems, as do we at home. So over the years, my daughter has simply learned to place her fingers in the right place, even with the blocking.

She is now in late Book 4/ early Book 5. Somewhere in there, she gradually started to do more independent fingering herself as she did more sixteenth note passages and vibrato. (I guess as her teacher had predicted.) If anything, we are now having to selectively learn to “re-block” to facilitate certain fast descending passages.

Jennifer Visick said: Feb 9, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts
  • if the student wants to learn vibrato, you could introduce independent fingering as the first step to learning vibrato

  • try Yost-style scales—1 octave, using only 1 finger, shifting up and down on one string, doing it for each finger….

Kim said: Feb 10, 2010
 39 posts

I’m not a teacher either, but my 5 year old started w/block fingering (at 4). She transitioned to independent fingers after Rhody. She started by doing scales up (building the block) and then down (independent fingers on A). From a couple weeks of just doing this, she started naturally to put independent fingers in her old songs where it made sense and every other song we learned after that. It was really fast how she adjusted and changed. All her songs became smoother and more natural after that too.

Ashley said: Feb 11, 2010
 Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
23 posts

Wow- what good ideas! I am so thankful for this forum in times like this when I am feeling more frustrated and helpless than creative! :D I appreciate all of the suggestions, and welcome any others with ideas. I will see this student the Monday after Presidents day and will let you know what I try and how the outcomes are.


Deanna said: Feb 19, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
90 posts

I don’t usually make too big of a deal about transitioning from block fingers to independent ones. I just start with a few places in each piece where they must use independent fingers. Almost two years ago I got a transfer student who was working on Minuet 2 but had no concept of low 2’s. We have worked super hard on this and only in the last 4 months or so has it really clicked and he can now play all the 2’s high and low in the right places. He was also the kind of student who would cry if he couldn’t do something new after one attempt.

Some things that helped are: The “horse jumping” part of Song of the Wind—F#, D, A, F#, E —Review this song and go over this section many times. I teach that finger 3 is like a horse that has to hop over the fence (the string), it can’t fall over the fence, or trip over the fence. Finger 2 stays up the whole time. Finger 1 stays down. This helps to develop the anchor between fingers 1 and 3 that is needed to play low 2’s.
There are similar places in May Song, m.2; and Allegro m.2.

Aunt Rhody goes to Egypt—with all C naturals. Every time there’s a 3-2-1 pattern, 1 and 3 go down together, 2 stays up till it’s his turn. This helps pull finger 2 down.

G major 2 octave scale—again using the 1 and 3 anchor
Arpeggio—in the upper octave make sure finger 2 stays up till it’s his turn and that finger 1 stays down.

It’s also crucial to make sure the student can tell the difference between the sound of high and low 2’s.

In Etude make sure finger 1 stays down where indicated.

You could also “trick” her into practicing independent fingers by actually practicing note names—i.e. use flash cards with notes on A string and she has to say the name and play it on her violin but only using one finger. Just an idea.

Good Luck!

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