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Friday, May 25, 2012

Independent Third Finger

Today I want to show you some work I did earlier this year with my student Sky, who is four years old. Sky knows all of her Twinkles, but here she agreed to model how we learn to use our left third finger (the ring finger) independently. By independently, I mean that the finger stands up alone on the fingerboard without other fingers placed not he fingerboard.

When I first begin a student, I note that many of my students have little strength in their ring fingers alone and are unable to stand up the ring finger strong enough that the bow can draw a good tone from the note. For this reason many teachers teach the "stacked" finger pattern, which is stacking up one finger on top of each other when ascending and generally leaving the fingers down. For example, in Monkey Song, the student walks up and down the notes of the A string:

Monkey Song
This is to help the student to learn the walking down fingers of Twinkle in measures 3 and 4. In fact, you will find a similar exercise in the early pages of Suzuki Violin Volume 1.

When I combine all the elements of the Twinkle song that we learned from the Pre-Twinkle songs of Flower Song and Monkey Song, we have a decision to make when it is time to play the third finger. In the beginning, I teach the student to play the first four notes: A-E-F#-E. Then we pause and set up the three fingers on the A string: prepare 1-2-3 (B-C#-D). After the student has all three fingers in place on the appropriate tapes, we then play the descending line: D-C#-B-A, which is the second half of the Monkey Song. My students call this the "Flower-Monkey Song":
Flower-Monkey Song
I continue with this manner of playing Twinkles until the student is able to stand up the ring finger independently and make a good sound. I encourage this finger to grow stronger in several ways:
  • I teach the student the plucking song, which has the student plucking all the notes on the A string and using all the fingers, both ascending and descending. I find that the student will not make a good sound while plucking unless the finger has just the right amount of weight in it.
    • If necessary, the parent or I will "help" the finger to be a little stronger by giving it a little bit more weight. We put on our "heavy boots," and the parent or I will give a little more emphasis on the finger.
    • I make sure that my student's elbow is under the violin so that the ring finger can stand up as tall as he can on his "tiptoe." I find that if the student stands the finger up appropriately, then the finger will have strength and will develop independence quicker.
    • With older beginners, I just ask the student to "swing-plop," which refers to swinging the left elbow under the violin so that the ring finger can "plop" down on its fingerboard place, landing on his tiptoe. If a student performs the swing-plop correctly, the student usually lands the ring finger in the correct place.
  • I then teach the student a three-part finger tapping exercise:
    • We tap the ring finger on the fingerboard on its colored tape mark in a rhythm. We practice this for a week or more until the student appears comfortable standing the ring finger up alone and with the proper posture.
Tapping Exercise
    • We do the ring finger tapping exercise, but then we leave the finger down on the string. We use the bow to play Mississippi Hot dog on the ring finger note D.
      Tap and Play Exercise
    • We do the ring finger tapping exercise and then play the play the note D. Then we put the second finger down behind the ring finger, lift off the ring finger, and play the second finger note C#. Then we continue to the first finger B and play it, and finally we end with the A string. After a week or so, the student appears completely comfortable doing this exercise and using the fingers independently on a descending finger pattern.
Getting Ready for Independent Twinkle Ring Finger!
  • After completing the above steps, we incorporate this new fingering ability into the already learned Twinkle Variations.
Here is a short video of my four year old student Sky demonstrating how we perform the descending tetrachord finger pattern with independent fingers. I find that students are sometimes confused about where each finger goes on the fingerboard when they first learn how to play their fingers independently of each other. In this video, I also discuss a coloring tip I use to make it easier for young students (and their practice partners) to learn which finger goes where.

When do we use independent fingers? I think a general rule of thumb is that we leave fingers down and stacked on an ascending pattern, and we use just the fingers that we need on a descending pattern. Now, there are many exceptions as we go along, but this is a general rule that makes a good starting point. As we work through the repertoire, we will discuss where it is appropriate to leave other fingers down or to pop some fingers off.

Happy Independence Day!

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