Fiddle Fingering Follies

Left hand fingering technique for a beginner is not easy and is fraught with pitfalls that will keep from producing the desired pitch with clear and pure sound. When it comes to left hand fingering, there are many do’s and don’ts. Here, I’ll discuss what I feel are the five most basic mistakes.

Poor Pitch

The first and most obvious problem is where to place each finger to get the desired pitch. To make things easier as a beginner, I use a helper called Don’t Frets, a decal has that has 12 lines indicating a complete chromatic scale of one octave. Other helpers include buying or using thin strips of tape and placing them on fingerboard to mark the finger positions. (If you don’t want to buy tape made for this purpose, the only other tape recommended is painter’s tape. Other tapes will damage the fingerboard.) Both help find the correct note, and can help to train for correct pitch, but they can also retard progress if left on too long and become a crutch. Eventually, the training wheels should come off! I find a good practice once fingering is learned for an exercise or a tune using my Don’t Fret is to practice whatever I am learning with my eyes closed not looking at the fret markers.

Don’t Fret and Fret tape

Tight Grip

Also known as The Death Grip with beginners, squeezing the neck too tight with the left hand will make placing the fingers correctly more difficult. If the chinrest and shoulder rest are fitted properly, the left hand is not even needed to hold up the fiddle. The three points of contact for the left hand are the finger that is playing the note, the outside portion of the index finger between the first and second knuckle from the hand, and the first knuckle area of the thumb closest to the finger nail. A visible space should be kept between the crook of the hand between the index finger and thumb.

Besides concentrating on relaxing the left hand, there are methods that can be used from taping a small piece of sponge or a small bottle cork between the index finger and thumb to buying an aid like the Wonder Thumb. Also, remembering to move the thumb along the neck helps to check that Death Grip.

Incorrect thumb position

Another method that I really like is one I read on a Q and A about a tight left hand grip. The responder explained try not holding the violin close; try holding out the hand, offering the music to the world. And, that brings me to the next problem.


Added on March 16, 2019

Here is a super easy way to set up the left hand before you try it on your instrument. It’s also a great way to correct incorrect technique.


Crooked Wrist

While at times it may be necessary to unnaturally bend the wrist to play certain notes and chords, for the most part, the wrist should be straight, not bent in or extended back. Remember, offer the music to others; don’t pull it back just for yourself. If the wrist is bent, it will make fingering more difficult and result in missed notes and bad sounds. The image below is a good example of both proper thumb and wrist position.

Proper left thumb and wrist position

Moving Fingers with the Wrong Joints

Another fingering mistake is not lifting the fingers from the base knuckle joint at the hand. Once again, this usually results from excessive tension. If the fingers drop using the second joint, or middle joint, they will change shape and chances are they will not strike the intended string with the tips. This will affect intonation and/or cause hitting two strings when only one is intended. Once again, this leads me to the final fiddling finger folly I will discuss in this post.

Fingering with Tips not Pads

Using the wrong joint to move the fingers up and down, and pressing too hard on the strings, a common beginner trait, usually results in playing the notes with the pads of the fingers rather than the tips. This can create a pitch that is usually more flat or sharp depending on where the sting meets the fingerboard under the pad of the finger.

A good video that speaks to these five fiddle finger follies, and some others, is Eddy Chan’s Top 10 Violin Left Hand Mistakes.


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