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I'm attempting to (re)learn some violin music using the composer's desired fingering. However, my background is not in violin but in fiddle, where fingerings and positions/shifts are rarely written (or required; fiddle style traditionally rarely uses (and music rarely requires) anything but 1st position).

I am having trouble because, while some violin fingerings imply positions on particular strings, the notation is fairly sparse. In many cases, it is underdetermined: a fingering on one string could alternately be the same fingering on the next string down.

I'm looking for feedback on whether I'm doing this correctly, or rules I may not have learned to help make sense of it.


As an extended example of what I'm dealing with, here are the first two lines of a song. There are no positions or strings notated in the music, just a few fingerings here and there:

Schindler's List Theme

My current thought process goes something like:

The first note is an A3 which, neglecting unlikely subharmonics, can only be played on the G-string.

The A4 that begins measure 6 is notated "2". I guess that means second finger, 4th position on the D-string? I suppose it could also be 7th position on the G-string, but that seems less-likely since the next note is an open D (I think; since this is not on a note that can't be played on an open string) and also that's pretty high. I guess also the 2nd-finger harmonic on the G-string from 4th position would also achieve D4.

Continuing on, the F4 also has a "2", which can't be played from 4th position, so we could shift back to 1st position, which makes sense since we need to hit the A3 again on the G-string right afterward. I guess this puts the shift in the middle of a slurred passage, but putting it two quavers earlier involves either unnecessary string crossing or a fourth-finger reach, which would be bizarre since we were starting in a position where that isn't necessary.

In measure 7, the G4 also has a "2". So is there supposed to be a shift from 1st position to 2nd position between the F4 and the G4? I suppose it should actually be at the beginning of the measure since the passage is slurred? Though, if we're already shifting, we could shift to the G-string and avoid a string crossing mid-passage.

Though, does a shift make sense? You could already hit the A4 with your 4th finger. Albeit (if the shift is to 2nd position) this explains how the "4" in measure 8 can be hit (with a 4th-finger reach).

And so on. As you can see, I'm having to make all kinds of guesses and assumptions, working from very limited information—and I think I'm doing a bad and inaccurate job of it.

I'm not particularly concerned with this particular piece; what I'm looking for is how to solve these sorts of problems in-general. All these implied shifts on implied strings—isn't there a better way? Some rules I'm missing?

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Violin playing uses frequent shifts of hand position.

The most common positions used are 1, 3, and 5. The even numbers are not used so much in normal playing, though your example uses the 2nd position several times. (Is it an exercise in shifting positions, I wonder?)

The fingerings on your example show the notes where there is a shift to a new position. For example the first A can only be played in the first position, but the 2 on the second A shows that note is the third position on the D string. The 2 on F near the end of the bar shows a change back to the first position, and so on for the rest of the piece.

You can play open strings in any position, but (unlike fiddle technique) violin technique often avoids open strings because the sound is different and the note can not be played with vibrato. Hence the open strings are often marked. Without the 0 on the third note (D) this would usually have been played with 2 on the G string, not as an open string.

You seem to be confused about how the positions are numbered - you seem to describing them more like guitar fret positions than violin positions. On the G string, the first finger plays A in the first position, B in the second, C in the third, etc - i.e. the position numbers correspond to the notes of a scale, not semitones. (Of course you can always adjust a finger position by a semitone up or down from its standard position depending on the key of the music, the same as you do in the first position).

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I'll go point to point here based on your thought process (still learning violin, but I've been playing for 13 years so far)

You are correct, this A3 can only be played on the G-string

You actually go to 3rd position with the second finger. Meaning that your first finger hits the G4 on the D-string. You need not shift back down over here, because you can play the open D4 without any fingers. Stay in 3rd position here, and lift your 2nd finger on the A4 to get the open D4.

Yes you got it right, except you shift from 3rd position to 1st position, not from 4th.

The 2 on the G4 means a shift up to 2nd position, but I would go to the G-string here, unless you really want to follow every single fingering of the composer, which is understandable. To be honest, yes, the conductor may have wanted the shift to 2nd position for a reason, but it is a lot more understandable and logical to avoid the nasty F-G-F string crossing, but at the same time, in order to stay in the 3rd position on the G-string, you must shift back down to 1st position on the previous F4 in measure 6, but cross strings over to 4th finger on the G-string.

You can understand the rest of the piece, your thought process is OK and logical, but just remember to use your better judgement of fingerings as you move your hand up the neck for the shifts. For instance, in measures 10 and 12, I'd actually suggest going to second position (1st finger on B3 on the G-string, and staying there, using your 4th finger to reach the G4)

Sorry if I may have sounded blunt or illogical in some aspects, but that's my thought process here. I think you got the rest of the piece down, but good luck and happy playing!

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The assumption that printed fingerings are of the composer, can be misleading. Unless you are playing etudes, I would consider printed fingerings as mere helping suggestions. Good fingerings are of subjective nature and you should use fingerings suiting your style and skills unless you are trying to learn from etudes.

The only cases when fingerings could be the composer's wish, are in etudes or where open strings or harmonics are printed or where only the string name is specified.

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