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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Using the Fourth Finger

I like to teach my students how to use the fourth finger as soon as I can under the belief system that "it's just as easy to use the fourth finger as it is to use the other fingers." I find that if I do not make a big deal out of something, then the students will approach the new concept with little trepidation. The students will respond as if it is just another thing that we do.

In earlier posts about starting a beginner, I have mentioned the left hand pizzicato exercise as a way to get all fingers involved in the learning process from the beginning. I do not, however, introduce the use of the fourth finger formally until Perpetual Motion (song #9 in Suzuki Violin Volume 1). Although I have introduced the fourth finger in the very beginning, and the student and I have practiced using it, I formally include it later at the half way point of book 1, beginning with the fourth finger previews in Perpetual Motion in measures 2, 4, 10, 12, 14, and 16, and in subsequent songs in book 1 and thereafter. Sometimes a student will voluntarily go back to earlier songs in book 1 and add the fourth finger. I think that is great, and I encourage it.

My main reason for waiting to introduce the fourth finger formally in book 1 is that it gives me half of the book to teach the student how to cross carefully and correctly between the A and E strings. Another reason is that the student's playing the open strings leads to a strong development of warm, clear, and ringing tone. Later when we introduce the fourth finger "again," the student automatically strives to make the fourth finger sound as vibrant as the open E string.

Dr. Suzuki worked quite extensively on the development and progression of the Suzuki repertoire teaching materials. He carefully introduced certain fingering and bowing concepts at certain times after particular concepts had already been developed and mastered. I want to honor and respect his choices, because I have found from personal experience how wise Dr. Suzuki was in the formation of his method. The students learn to use the fourth finger very nicely later on in the Suzuki repertoire, so nothing is lost by waiting until Perpetual Motion. However, I do not advise waiting beyond this point.

As I progress through the Suzuki repertoire, there are many opportunities to introduce the concept of fingering choices and philosophy. I am mindful of when it is a good idea to introduce a particular fingering sequence to make it a habit for the student now for later use. I found that Perpetual Motion was a good place to build that fourth finger habit in the measures I indicated earlier.

The next piece, Allegretto, uses the fourth finger in a different way than Perpetual Motion, and it also introduces the idea of using the open string when going up to the next highest string. Andantino reinforces this idea with the different fingering for measures 1 and 3, for example. I definitely use the fourth finger options contained in the Minuets and thereafter because I believe that Dr. Suzuki was building the skill of extending the left hand, which continues from the mid-point of book one and throughout book 2.

I wrote a post earlier about the case for having a system for things. How one is to teach the usage of the fourth finger is just such a concept that a wise teacher will take the time to develop a system for teaching.

Happy Practicing!


  1. Dear Paula,

    Thanks for all the info on your blog.

    I am having a hard time listening to lots of out of tune A note for all the fourth finger positions in Allegretto. My daughter always extends her pinkie beyond the A note to produce a higher wierd warped note, partly because she isn't pressing the string down enough too. She does pinkie exercises but it doesn't translate to allegretto as results.

    1. When I start my students using their pinkie finger regularly, I have to watch carefully that the students use a curved pinkie. I ask them to put the pinkie down on its tiptoe. If the student does this correctly -- curved pinkie on his tiptoe -- then the sound will be more in tune. When my students extend their pinkie finger out straight, it tends to land incorrectly on the pitch. The fleshy part of the finger contacts the string. This is a squishier sound and works quite well in the more advanced books when we try to create different tonal colors. However, the curved pinkie on his tiptoe means that the student's left elbow is underneath violin correctly (or else the pinkie could not curve), and the pinkie bones are helping to make good, centered contact with the string. The tone sounds clearer. Also because the elbow is around enough to curve the pinkie, the pinkie has cleared the A string, leaving it free to resonate when the student plays the fourth finger on the D string.

      How about making a game of this? Ask your student to play F# (2nd finger on D string) and curved pinkie on A (4th finger on D string), and then see if you can pluck the student's A string at the same time. Use a bead counter or M&Ms and see if you can get 10 good ones. That should help to build the good pinkie habit.