BY LAURENCE VITTES
You’ve got your instrument, it’s in tune, and you’re ready to start playing the violin, but what are the correct finger positions? There’s something magical about that moment when a beginning violinist can suddenly hit the correct notes for the first time. When the relationship between the fingerboard and muscle memory meld. But like most instruments, it takes practices. Strings asked virtuoso violinists and teachers Myroslava Khomik and Laura Bossert about developing the feeling for where the notes lie on the fingerboard and how to get familiar with violin finger positions.
Bossert believes that providing tape or other kinds of visual aids “can be helpful to an extent, but ultimately they don’t facilitate in training the most essential left-hand skill, the mastery of the physicality of the left-hand.” Introducing the concept of where the notes are with stickers is a great exercise for novices during their first week of playing, but we don’t want the players to build up a reliance on the visual aid.
Khomik echos the same sentiment—that the popular method of stickers in places of notes and positions are not useful “beyond roughly a week after their introduction,” and should be considered on a case by case basis. “Anything much longer than that,” she says, “has the opposite effect and trains a young student to rely on visual memory more than on what is crucial in this case, auditory and muscle memory.
“Once you are comfortable with the physicality of your left hand, you will be able to wean yourself off of the props, and just like exercising, your body will have learned the feeling of the distance and stretch necessary to implement a stellar left hand. The physicality of the left hand will be felt, not just seen and heard.”Laura Bossert
“The subject of shifting on a fretless instrument like the violin is very broad,” Khomik adds. “And it all starts with the basics of learning the first three positions.” She has three basic rules for introducing positions and shifting between positions to younger students for the first time. Her aim for students to train the students ears and hand muscles to work in tandem:
- Know the actual number of the position you are shifting to and from. For example, are you in first position going to second position?
- Mentally define the exact notes that are involved each shift. What is the note supposed to sound like? Where should your finger aim for on the fingerboard?
- Know the exact physical hand and arm placement you will adopt for those positions, and then adopt them precisely together.
One of Khomik’s favorite go-to books to work on mastering violin. finger positions is Henry Schradieck’s School of Violin Technics. “Each of these extensive exercises focus on one position at a time,” Khomik says, “gradually combining them together as it goes up by position, while also aiding in developing finger speed and intonation.” Of course Strings also offers tips on improving your violin’s tone, too.
Laura Bossert has written extensively on the left hand, developed a methodology and exercises including block fingering, and worked with beginners, college and conservatory students, and adult amateurs. She demonstrates left-hand physicality by interlocking her right hand fingers in between her left hands, “providing the sensation of whole-step finger patterns and the feeling of the left hand as one unit.” She also has beginning students play simple pieces and nursery rhymes that incorporate the different kinds of finger blocks on every string that can be easily transposed to each string and other positions. For more advanced students and positions, Bossert recommends using Mozart’s G Major Concerto, K. 216.
“Once you are comfortable with the physicality of your left hand,” Bossert says, “you will be able to wean yourself off of the props, and just like exercising, your body will have learned the feeling of the distance and stretch necessary to implement a stellar left hand. The physicality of the left hand will be felt, not just seen and heard.”