Awesome Search Terms, Vol. 3

This week’s edition of Awesome Search Terms deals with a couple of left hand questions.

1. “teaching fingering violin preschooler”

I’m not convinced that teachers can actually “teach” fingering.  Preschoolers typically learn by listening, copying and doing.  Thus, most preschool students (any age student, for that matter) will “learn” fingering on their own by using aural and muscle memory.  The teacher or practice parent helps with finger (i.e., pitch) adjustments, until the student can consistently do it himself.  Usually, the easiest way to do this is to physically move their finger to the proper location and make sure that they hear the difference in pitch.  It’s a good “cause and effect” lesson.  Many teachers advocate using fingering tapes to help with “teaching fingering.”  The tapes are a good tool, but are intended primarily for non-violinist parents, who usually need a visual for the correct placement.  For older students, tapes are meant to be used for memory training, at which time they are removed.  Fingering tapes can cause more difficulties for some students than they solve.   It can also be difficult psychologically to remove the tapes later.  I use them on an as-needed basis and with extreme caution. For the vast majority of my own students,  I have had better luck leaving the tapes off.  But this is a personal preference.

2.  “biggest mistakes when learning major violin scales”

There are several things I think are helpful to keep in mind.  First, know your intervals. In a major scale, the interval pattern is always the same. It has been this way since the beginning of the major scale.  Our current laws of physics and acoustics say that it will never change. Another way to say this: know your half-steps and whole steps and where they fall in the scale.  Or: know exactly where your fingertips are close together and where there is a space between them.  The pattern is: whole step, whole step, half step, whole, whole, whole, half.  Or: space, space, touch, space, space, space, touch.  Always.

Second, use your ears.  Scales are the best, easiest tool we have to help us learn how to play in tune.  Yes, they can be boring.  I’d agree that they are definitely not as much fun as playing pieces.  But because of their relative simplicity, it becomes easier to focus and listen carefully, without a bunch of extraneous notes to distract you.  Look at the notes before you play them.  Sing them, preferably out loud, while placing your fingers without the bow.  Do not give yourself an opportunity to make a mistake.  If you do fluff a note…

Fix it immediately. Always play scales with complete attention.  The more you play flat-out wrong notes or wishy-washy notes, the more your ears and fingers think they are actually correct.  Which makes them really really hard to fix.  Don’t play wrong notes over and over.

Fourth, start at a slow tempo and use different bowing patterns.  Playing slowly helps you develop finger dexterity and precise intonation.  It also helps you develop solid bow skills.  When your tone is warmed up, try adding different bowing patterns, like slurred or hooked groupings, to help you build speed without actually going faster.

Five, review scales on a regular basis. Some teachers (or scale books) focus on a different scale each lesson.  Others recommend a different scale each day.  There are other ways of making them easy and fun to do.  The important thing is to do them, maybe even if your teacher hasn’t assigned any.  They will help you develop confidence and security in your playing in a way that merely playing through regular pieces cannot.

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