Thinking Creatively About Fingerings by Sara Ordonez

The following post is by Sara Ordonez.

This school year, I have been very fortunate to study with Michael Tree.  One topic that we frequently discuss during lessons is fingerings.  Even though the fingerings that are used are ultimately up to each individual performer, there are three main principals that should be followed when selecting effective fingerings.

1. Comfort is key!  Make sure that your hand is relaxed while executing any fingering.

2. The left hand must always be flexible and alive in order to create a beautiful vibrato.

3. The goal of choosing fingerings is to create as seamless a phrase as possible so that certain notes or shifts do not stick out.  As long as there are no gaps in the sound or bumps in the phrase, any fingering can work!

Mr. Tree also encourages students to think creatively.  Here are some guidelines as well as tips and tricks that can be used in finding new fingerings.  Not all of the following guidelines are applicable to every situation.  Mr. Tree stresses that if any fingering is in any way uncomfortable or simply does not sound good, then a different fingering must be found even if it does not follow one of the guidelines.  

  1. When playing in one position:

a. Keep fingers down when possible.

b. Make use of the fourth finger. The more you use it, the stronger it will be.

c. When playing in first position and on the same string, if there is a whole step between the 3rd and 4th fingers, try using the 2nd finger instead of the 3rd. This not only minimizes strain, but also allows the 3rd finger to be closer to the 4th in order to create a richer vibrato.

(Ex: Bach Partita No. 2; Allemande)


d. In general, avoid using open strings because they often sound too bright. If using the fourth finger causes too much strain on the hand, however, use the open string.  When playing an open string, always use less weight in the bow arm so it does not stick out.

e. Always avoid using the same finger to play a tritone across strings.

(Ex: Bach partita No. 2; Allemande)


f. Avoid crossing strings if it changes the color of the sound too much, especially if you want to cross for just one note.

2. Extensions are a great way to avoid shifts, which can often be noisy and detract from a seamless phrase.  When doing an extension, bring the arm around and release the lower fingers.  Don’t feel locked into a hand frame.

(Ex: Brahms Eb Sonata; Mvmt 1)


3. When shifting:

a. Shifting, in general, should be minimized.

b. Shift between half-steps rather than whole-steps.

c. When possible, shift on lower strings because it will be less audible.

d. Try to shift during bow changes, especially at the tip.

e. Open strings are always great opportunities to shift; however do not use an open string if it disrupts the continuity of the sound and phrase.

f. When doing longer shifts, always shift to the lowest possible position.

g. When shifting using the same finger (i.e. 1-1), try crossing strings as well. This way you can cover both strings with the same finger creating a smoother shift.

(Ex: Brahms Eb Sonata; Mvmt 1)


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