Finger placement

When learning how to play violin, a violin player needs to correctly land his/her fingers in the correct positions along the finger board. Learning how to correctly land your fingers in the right places can take a lot of practice.

Here are some beginner finger placement techniques.

Fingering Tape:
Many beginners who want to know how to play violin often use tape which is placed on the fingerboard of the violin. This allows them to be able to properly place their left hand fingers on the fingerboard. Once beginners know where to place their fingers, the tape is removed.

  • Use book binding or scrapbook tape (See Fingering Tape example, courtesey of Violin Online).
  • The tape is used to mark a regular 1st finger (such as the note B on the A-string), high 2nd finger (e.g. C# on the A-string), third finger (e.g. the note D on the A-string), and 4th finger (e.g. the note E on the A-string, which sounds the same as open E).
  • Rather than use precise measurements to place fingering tape, it’s best to place the tape by ear (after placing each piece of tape, press your finger down on the tape and listen carefully to determine whether or not the note sounds in tune). This is due to the fact that variations in the width and shape of each person’s finger may affect where each tape should be placed.

Over time (sooner than you expect), your ear will become accustomed to the correct sound each note emits. Fingeirng tape should be used as a temporary aid, not as a long term solution!

Fingerboard chart:

  • Fingering for notes played in the first position can be found to the right of the fingerboard (see Fingerboard Chart, courtesey of Violin Music).
  • Fingering for notes played in the 3rd position can be found to the left of the fingerboard. These notes require the violinist to “shift” the position of their hand to a higher position on the keyboard in order to play these notes. Shifting is a more advanced technique and will be discussed later on.
  • The fingerboard chart shows many instances of two musical letters being placed on the same space. This indicates those two notes are enharmonic, meaning, even though they are named or “spelled” differently, they sound the same pitch. For example, in the first position on the A-string, D# and E flat have the same sound (called enharmonic notes). The pitch would be the same.
  • All variations of notes and fingerings in higher positions are not labeled and shown in the image example above (the entire length of the fingerboard can be used to finger and play notes).

Finding the best violin teacher

When selecting a violin teacher, remember that teaching styles and personalities differ. Some teachers may work better one-on-one or in a group setting (group lessons are usually cheaper, anyway). An ideal teacher is one who will not only provide you with a solid foundation of violin technique, but also one who will teach you in a manner that motivates and inspires you as a musician.

Suggestions to find and select a violin teacher:

  • Seek violin teacher recommendations from friends, other violin students, music stores and local school music teachers
  • Attend school and community concerts and local recitals. Watch for good players and ask them with whom they study with.
  • If you have a university or college nearby, contact the music department. Many music professors run private studios or can give you a recommendation for good teachers in your area.If the professors are unavailble, ask if any of their advanced pupils give lessons. I was instructed by an Arizona State University graduate student about 10 years ago and I would say it was on-par to being taught by a claimed “professional” music professor.
  • Local chapters of professional musician unions often maintain a list of musicians you could contact for referrals. If your community has a professional symphony or chamber group, attend their concerts and ask the performers if they or their students have a teaching studio with room for new students.
  • Contact local music teacher organizations for referrals (e.g. in the United States, members of the Music Teachers National Association or the American String Teachers Association).
  • Numerous online music teacher directories are available on the Internet. For example, if you’re interested in a particular teaching approach such as the Suzuki method, use Internet search terms such as Suzuki Association of the Americas or International Suzuki Association.
  • Ask prospective violin teachers for references, and evaluate their credentials. Who did they study with? Do they ever perform on the violin? How long have they been teaching? What level or age of students do they generally teach? What approach to the study of the violin do they take? (e.g. is there a particular violin methodology they favor?) What are their expectations of students? (Reflect on your personal time commitment to learning and practicing will be. Some music teachers demand hours of practice time from their pupils.)

Once lessons begin, it’s important to ask yourself: are you motivated by this violin teacher? Are violin lessons a positive experience, or are they discouraging? Effective teaching is very personal experience, so if you feel uncomfortable with the personality and teaching style of the teacher, it is perfectly acceptable to find another violin teacher!

How to: adjust violin bridge

The bridge of the violin is the wooden wedge that supports the strings. It is important to the playability, sound and structural nature of the violin. The bridge transfers sound vibrations from the strings to the soundboard down the sound post to the back of the sound box. Improper placement of the bridge will greatly impair tone. If the bridge falls or becomes loose, the sound post beneath it becomes dislodged and the violin’s body may collapse.

Bridge Placement Tips:

  • The violin bridge is held in place by pressure and proper placement, not glue.
  • The bridge is evenly lined up with the fingerboard, and stands straight up, perpendicular to the violin.
  • The feet of the bridge should be aligned with the interior notches of the F-holes. The lower side of the bridge should be placed under the E-string, which is the string with the highest pitch.
  • When adjusting or putting a bridge on the violin, it’s very important to slightly loosen the violin strings before the bridge is placed, centered, and kept perfectly straight.
  • To adjust a tilting bridge, first slightly loosen the violin strings, then grasp the top of the bridge at its upper corners with the thumb and index fingers of each hand and gently pull or push the top of the bridge until a 90 degree angle is achieved.
  • If your bridge has become warped, or if  you simply feel uncomfortable adjusting it yourself, take your violin to your local violin shop or instrument dealer for professional assistance.
Visual how-to by Karacha Music:

Violin accessories

Here are some other violin accessories that you will come across during your violin career. As with all things, some accessories are more necessary than others.

Mutes: Mutes are devices placed upon the violin bridge to dampen or mute the sound of the violin. Violinists generally use two types of mutes:

  • Mutes for passages of music which call for a muted sound. Composers use these muted passages for special effects or a contrast of sound.
  • Practice mutes which significantly reduce the sound of the violin, so that violinists can practice and not bother others nearby.

Music stand: A music stand holds sheet music. Most music stands can be adjusted according to the height of the violinist. When the sheet music is placed on the stand, the stand should be at eye-level.

Fingerboard Tape: To assist beginning violinists, some violin teachers use thin strips of colored tape to mark where students should place their fingers on the violin fingerboard.

Violin Polish: To clean your violin, all that is generally needed is a dry, lint-free cloth to wipe rosin from your strings after each playing session. Although polish is rarely necessary, there may be times when you need to clean your violin. It is important to never use commercial furniture polish and/or water to clean your violin (doing so could damage the varnish and acoustics of the violin).

Extra violin strings: As you progress as a violinist, it is thoughtful to keep on hand some extra violin strings, particularly A- and E-strings, the ones that tend to break the most frequently. Having an extra string in your violin case will quickly solve the problem of an unforeseem string breakage. Nothing is worse than having a string pop before a performance or speical event!

Changing violin strings

Throughout your career as a violinist, you will find yourself changing the strings on your violin often.  As I have mentioned before, it is useful to always keep an extra set of strings in your violin case, just to be precautionary.  Here are some useful tips for changing strings on your violin:

  • When replacing all of the strings, violinists generally replace one string at a time. Do not remove all of the strings on a violin at the same time, or the fingerboard could collapse.
  • Although the order you replace strings isn’t critical, many violinists start with the G-string, and work their way up to the E-string.
  • If the string you are installing has a fine tuner, insert the ball or loop end of the string over the tuner cartridge in the tailpiece, and pull the string toward the bridge.
  • If the string does not have a fine tuner, insert the ball or knotted end of the string through the tailpiece string hole, tug firmly to make sure the knot or ball is securely in the slot and pull the string toward the bridge. You may need to hold the ball or knot in place with your finger while increasing the tension of the string as you turn the peg.
  • Slightly pull out the peg the string will go in until the peg hole is just inside of the pegbox. Thread the end of the string through the peg hole (let the string slightly protrude), and evenly begin winding it.
  • Push the peg in as you’re turning the string to keep the peg from slipping.
  • Generally, fine tuners are used only on the E-string, but beginning violinists often find it useful to have tuners for each string.
  • When replacing all of the strings, violinists often tune all of the strings to an approximate correct pitch, then do the fine tuning to get each pitch precisely in tune.
  • Be aware that when you put on all new strings, it will take more adjusting than usual to tune the violin.
  • If your pegs are slipping or are too tight to securely adjust the strings, you may want to purchase a peg compound.
  • If you don’t have peg compound and need a temporary quick fix for slipping or tight pegs, you may want to try these options:
    For sticking pegs, pull the peg partially out, and rub pencil graphite on the sticking part of the peg.
    For loose pegs, pull the peg partially out, and rub candle wax on the peg to help it stick.
Here is another useful video presented by SHAR on ‘Changing a Violin String’:

Best violin shoulder rests

Using a shoulder rest is extremely important to maintain correct posture. It lends support and security, allowing the left arm to move more freely. Using a shoulder rest may also reduce shoulder tension and muscle strain.

There is another school of thought that a shoulder rest is unnecessary and players should learn to play without one, however personally, I am not a proponent of.

The general shoulder rest
The Kun Violin Shoulder Rest is regarded as the most popular and widely used shoulder rest. The Kun offers a wide range of adjustment to fit your violin size and the height of your neck.  Many companies have tried to make cheap imitations of the Kun, do not be fooled. Kun also sells junior sizes and collapsible shoulder rests for a better fit in violin cases. Two of the higher-end Kun shoulder rests are the Kun Bravo, made out of hardwood and brass fittings, and the Kun Voce,  created from authentic aerospace-grade carbon fiber. Both the Voce and the Bravo boast increased acoustic properties. The Classic, Super, and Collapsible models are made from composite materials with brass fittings and latex-rubber feet.

The Kun is priced between $20 and $100 depending on size and style selected.

Shoulder rest for long-necked violinists

  • The Bon Musica shoulder rest is perfect for long-necked violinists, however it can also be used as a general shoulder rest. It has a longer metal platform that wraps over the shoulder lending greater height and stability than a normal shoulder rest. The platform can also be bent to a small degree to customize the shape.
    The Bon Musica is priced at about $60.
  • The Wolf shoulder rest can adjust in height up to three inches. The platform can be bent for customized fit as well. The Wolf Forte Primo and Secundo are best-selling versions within the brand.
    Wolf shoulder rests are priced up to $50.

Shoulder rests for short-necked and child violinists

  • The Play on Air shoulder rest is great for short-necked individuals, children or violinists who dislike the bulky hard shoulder rests. The shoulder rest is blown up manually with air and provides cushion and comfort as an end result.
    Play on Air shoulder rests are priced at $20 or less.
  • Another easy shoulder pad is simply a piece of sponge or foam. It’s perfect for the violinist that doesn’t like the restrictions of playing with an actual shoulder rest, but still wants a little protection and cushion.
    Hand make your own for a couple of dollars using foam from your local craft store for less than $2!

Violin Care and Maintenance

Common Violin Damages
You should not worry too much if your violin suffers from one of these common violin damages:

  • An unglued fingerboard
  • Snapping/collpase of the bridge
  • The snapping of the bow

How to care for your violin

  • Avoid extreme climate temperatures – Do not store a violin in or near areas that are subjec to extreme changes in temperature, such as a basement or attic. When violins are continually exposed to extreme temperature changes, they eventually break and fall apart over time.
  • Proper storage – When not playing the violin, store it in its case at all times to ensure protection.
  • Too much rosin – In light of my last post on violin rosin, avoid putting too much rosin onto the violin bow. If too much is applied, the rosin will drip onto the violin and cause straining.
  • Quality strings – Cheap strings, like the ones that usually come with a beginner’s violin, will bring tension on the violin and cause cracks and warping on the instrument.

If you ever feel that there is something wrong with your violin, even minorly wrong, it is important to get it checked out by a luthier, an experienced professional in repairing stringed instruments. Most little damages will eventually become bigger problems in the future.