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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Swing, Plop -- finding the 3rd finger on the A string

Many teachers put some sort of tape or marker on the beginning student's violin fingerboard to indicate where to place the violin fingers. Most teachers think that we do this in order to make it easier for the student to find the correct pitches for the beginning finger patterns. Then the issue later becomes, when do we take the tapes off?

I have noticed in my teaching that many students really do not pay much attention visually to where the fingers go on the fingerboard, which leads me to ask, who needs the tapes at that point? I get my answer when I talk about removing the tapes. "No!" moans the mom, "I won't know where the fingers go!"

I ask the student, "Will you know where to put your fingers?" The student is a lot more confident than the mother usually is.

I have found a fairly accurate way to place the third finger (ring finger) on a descending scale, such as the one found in the Twinkle Theme in the third measure. Here is how we do it:

  • Make sure that the first finger and left thumb are set up in the correct place to play the correct pitch for the first finger. In the Twinkle song, the first finger needs to be ready to play F#.
  • Swing the left elbow under the violin toward the inside (toward the E string side).
  • Plop the third finger down onto the A string.

If the elbow swing is done correctly, the third finger will usually land precisely in the correct place on the fingerboard. The problem later is that the student does not remember to swing the elbow under and instead chooses to reach the third finger, often falling short of the mark.

I have seen pre-twinkle exercises that involve playing the E string and then the third finger note D on the A string, but I have had little success just playing this two-note skill alone, as the students tend to leave their elbows under the violin during repetitions. Instead, it might be more fun to practice the skill as part of another song, such as Mary Had a Little Lamb in D major:

With this little version, there are three opportunities to practice the swing-plop. This would be a great chance to practice learning a song by ear, and I would do this in a group class setting. The song can later be practiced in the key of G major beginning with the first finger note B on the A string.

As for tapes, I use them but I try not to rely on them. I remind myself of the time I watched a young student in a master class at a Suzuki Institute. The master class teacher pointed to one of several (!) tapes on the student's bow and asked what the particular tape was for. When the student did not remember the reason for the tape, the master class teacher then observed that perhaps it was time to remove the tape. I put tapes on and off a student's violin throughout the early learning stages. Some students really do not need the tapes. Sometimes students need tapes for just a few weeks when switching to a larger instrument or learning a new finger pattern. I try to remember the Institute lesson and remove unnecessary tapes whenever possible.

Happy Practicing!


  1. Use "post-it" narrow labels for the finger "tapes, so they are non-permanent! Easy to shift around for other uses too!

  2. great idea, Karmeleon! Now all we have to do is help the student to remember why those tapes are there.

  3. Old McDonald Had a Farm is another great piece for 3rd finger placement (key of D, starting on the 3rd finger on the A string). It's also a great supplemental/bridge piece for those that are working on their Twinkles that need just a bit of extra material before moving on to Lightly Row.