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When reading music how am I supposed to know which fingering to use? Let me clarify. I can read the notes. However, when there is an A how do I know if I play an open A or the fourth finger on the D string?

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    If it's not specified, then you should find some balance between what is most comfortable to play and what sounds best. This mostly takes experience, but I am sure there are violin-specific aspects that someone could flesh out better than I could. – Matthew Read Jan 7 '17 at 2:20
  • In my experience, four fingers is to be preferred in most cases, but in some other cases, an open string is almost necessary. The main idea is to eliminate string crossings in any way possible. – General Nuisance Jan 10 '17 at 6:38
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You learn by starting with exercises and pieces where the fingering is marked on the score, and progress from there by experience.

If the answer isn't "obvious" in a particular situation, you try out the different options and find which is the best compromise between "easy to play" and "sounds good" - an open A string sounds different from the same pitched note on the stopped D or G strings.

Of course if you are playing music that was actually written for violin by a composer who knew what he/she was doing, that often makes the choice more obvious!

Note: you only mentioned "fourth finger on the D string" and "open A string", so maybe you haven't progressed beyond the first position yet. When you do, the will be several more fingering options available, and some of them might be easier than the two you mentioned.

  • You are correct. I have not gotten to changing positions yet. I have so far been using the fingering that is the easiest transition. – dwaters Jan 7 '17 at 3:04
  • I would just like to add that for intonation sake beginners should rely on open strings as much as they can. I let my students in the beginning use open strings as much as possible. but as their intonation get's stronger I gradually start emphasizing the 4th finger. – xerotolerant Jan 7 '17 at 18:16
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One of the skills of more advanced violin playing is just that....choosing which fingering works best. For many notes, there are many places they can be played. As you reach a more advanced level and learn more positions, you'll develop the ability to decide which pattern works best for what you're playing. Hopefully you have a teacher who is taking you through a standard progression of learning so that you will get to this in due time.

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You should improvise and try out different fingerings and figure out which works best for you. And as you get more comfortable with more positions, you'll have more fingerings to choose from.

As for whether you should play an open A or an A on the D string, in actual performances, you should play it on the D string (or G string if the music demands it). Open A (and especially open E) don't sound very good if the note is very drawn out, and not playing an open A also allows you to do vibrato. At least that's what I've learned in my lessons

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There are many aspects to choosing the best fingering such as (using your example of 4th finger vs open A):

  • The dynamics of the section. A 4th finger is often best in a quieter dynamic.
  • The tempo. In a slow tempo the 4th is usually best because it allows for vibrato.
  • The notes before and after. Always try to avoid unnecessary string crossings.
  • Period and style of the music.
  • Proficiency of the player. Open strings are 'safer' for beginners because many beginners find it difficult to consistently play the 4th finger in tune.
  • Personal preference. After other considerations, fingering is up to you. Feel free to experiment and use whatever feels most comfortable.

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