Mastering Finger Patterns

In a few of our earlier lessons, we stressed how important it is to create a reliable hand frame (you can find these lessons by searching for ‘hand frame’). This basic idea serves as a cornerstone for precise finger placement and smooth execution. Now, let’s delve deeper into the concept of finger patterns within the hand frame. We’ll examine how focusing on these patterns, as opposed to individual notes, can seriously level up your violin technique.

It’s important to understand that the hand frame’s limitations mean that there are a finite range of possible finger patterns: You can only use 4 fingers (if you’re lucky) and, without moving the hand, the fingerboard distance you can cover with them, is limited. The space between neighboring fingers often boils down to either a half step or a whole step. For instance, consider playing a major scale, starting with your 1st finger. You’ll notice that the same finger pattern applies to both halves of the major scale.

Between the 1st and 2nd fingers, as well as the 2nd and 3rd fingers, you’re dealing with a whole step, and a half step between the 3rd and 4th fingers. Placed on a single string, a half step creates a minor second interval, and a whole step an interval of a major second. But this exact finger pattern can span across multiple strings too, producing different intervals between the notes.

When you’re exploring new music, the ability to quickly figure out how the notes fit within your hand frame is tremendously beneficial. Instead of staring at each note individually, getting the hang of finger patterns for consecutive notes can make your playing way smoother. It’s like your fingers already know where to go! And this knack for finger patterns can seriously level up your violin game in more ways than one. Here’s why thinking in finger patterns, instead of just isolated notes, is a game-changer:

When you can instantly spot and use the right finger patterns for a passage, learning new pieces becomes much less of a headache. Your fingers just fall into the right spots, making your playing cleaner and more precise. This is freeing you up to focus on the music and how you want it to sound. Additionally, finger patterns awareness helps you realize how the same patterns are used over and over again, all across the fingerboard. You train your ears to know how the different patterns should sound. Plus, it organizes your hand frame and helps to keep your fingers closer to the strings (either on the string or hovering just above), which further enhances intonation.

Now, let’s take a look at this passage from the Mozart violin concerto in D Major. Can you determine which finger patterns you use?

Whenever possible anticipate the finger pattern you are about to use. For example, before playing the note B in bar 51, have the appropriate finger pattern ready in your hand frame (the distance between the 1st and 2nd finger should be a half step, between the 2nd and 3rd a whole step, and between the 3rd and 4th a whole step). Then, when actually playing the note B with the 1st finger you can drop the 3rd finger according to the finger pattern on the note D. Together with dropping the 3rd finger to play the note D your 2nd finger can already be placed on the note G on the E-string. This way, you only need to make the string change from the A to the E-string and your pre-placed 2nd finger is waiting to be played. Then you can drop your 4th finger on the note B, still utilizing the same finger pattern (and keeping the 2nd finger down on the note G). When dropping the 4th finger on the string, drop the 3rd simultaneously on the note A, a whole step below the 4th finger B. This way, you only need to lift the fingers in the next bar and your fingers are pre-placed on the wright notes, resulting in a smooth execution of this passage. Explore the rest of the passage in the same manner!

In conclusion, structuring your hand frame with finger pattern awareness can transform your violin playing. Whether its learning new repertoire, improving your intonation or the clarity of your playing: Embrace those patterns and reap the benefits!