Flying Fingers

Flying Fingers is a rigorous and enjoyable introduction to third and second positions from Jenny Thorp, author of A Flying Start for Strings.

Introducing third and second positions for violin with enjoyable, carefully chosen tunes long enough to effectively train technique but short enough so that students don't get bogged down or discouraged.

Learn a new position, then progress steadily from simple shifts to more complex ones comprehensively covering the skills needed for able, confident playing in the first three positions

The distinctive mix of approachability and rigour makes Flying Fingers suitable for any violin student ready to tackle shifting, whether learning new positions for the first time or brushing up on existing skills.

From the Introduction:

This tutor can be used for teaching position skills or for practising those already learned. Before beginning, students need to be able to read and play—in tune—in many different keys in first position, and to confidently use their 4th finger.

Finger numbers are kept to a minimum. Tunes played in a single position have fingering at the beginning of each staff as a useful reminder. Pieces with shifts generally have only the shifts fingered. More fingering may be pencilled in as needed.

Simple bowings are used and tempi and expression marks have been omitted to focus on developing skill and confidence in position playing.

Moving around the fingerboard

From the earliest lessons, explore the fingerboard! Try left hand pizzicato with different fingers in different positions. Play glissando games along a string on all fingers or any one: sirens, ghostly music, bird songs, donkey brays, train whistles; at reduced pressure or harmonic level, perhaps incorporating these sounds into appropriate tunes.

Glissando on each finger up to the octave harmonic on each string and back again. Experiment with changing between an open string, its octave harmonic, and its octave on the upper string.

Play games using these sounds: ‘copycat’, ‘be my echo’, ‘violin conversations’, playing by ear. These activities will help develop a relaxed, free, flexible left arm and hand and pave the way for position work.

Playing in different positions by rote and by ear

Once a major scale and arpeggio starting on 1st finger and using 4th finger have been learnt, sing and play by ear tunes in 1st position then again in other positions.

These three note tunes can use fingers 1, 2, 3 or 2, 3, 4:

Hot cross buns; Burnt buns (minor Hot cross buns); Merrily we roll along; Suogan; Cobbler, cobbler mend my shoe and the other soh, mi chants.

The four note tunes are Pease pudding hot; Boil ’em cabbage down; Rain, rain go away and other soh, mi, lah tunes. Otherwise, play suitable fragments such as the beginning of Row, row, row your boat or Au clair de la lune. Play a 1st finger one octave scale and arpeggio in different positions. Then try longer, easy well-known tunes: Mary had a little lamb; Twinkle, twinkle little star; Frère Jacques.

Music can be repeated at the same pitch in fifth position on a lower string, or transposed an octave. Play a three or four note tune or fragment starting on low 1st finger, then shift up a tone (whole step) or semitone (half step) and play again. Repeat up and down a string, playing in different keys. If wished, the names of the notes used may be named.

Play in first position by rote and by ear, using finger numbers before note names, ahead of learning to read in the new position. Play target practice games: swap between 3st finger in first position and 1st finger in third position on E, A or D strings and check intonation against the open string below. Match the 2nd finger in third position on the G, D and A strings to the open string above. Listen for how a note in tune causes the corresponding open string to ring in sympathy.

Include easy shifts in well-known tunes that could be played on one string instead of crossing strings. Sing the interval before shifting. Start with shifting during rests or while playing an open string. The ‘e-i-ee-i-oh’ of Old MacDonald had a farm can be played in 3rd position. Try same finger shifts in Mary had a little lamb. Incorporate scale-type shifts into familiar tunes with a small range; experiment with different ways of playing Twinkle or Lavender’s Blue on one string only.

Play more target practice games: a short tune played with one finger shifting from note to note—good practice for awareness of tones and semitones (whole and half steps). Perhaps start with Hot cross buns. Play an arpeggio, starting on an open string, shifting on the 2nd or 4th finger and playing the octave harmonic for the top note. Sing and play a major scale by shifting on one finger, e.g.: 3 3 33 3 3 33.

Try these activities before and during learning to read music containing higher positions or shifts. The student becomes aware of the range of the violin and accustomed to playing stopped notes closer together as the string becomes shorter. Draw attention to the ease of playing groups of notes in a row with fingers in a row and the different tone colour of notes higher up a string. Developing this knowledge will lead towards natural position changes where they are musically and technically useful.

Position work and shifting basics

Teach new shifting techniques by rote, before using the written exercises. Check the student’s thumb is flexible, its position isn’t too high and that it stays in the same place relative to the fingers and is not left behind. Rather than stretching just one finger to a new position, shift the whole hand so the fingers meet the strings at approximately the same angle as in first position. Avoid gripping the neck so the hand may slide smoothly. Watch the wrist doesn’t poke out while shifting. Shifting up, pull the upper arm in and let the elbow swing in, especially when shifting up the lower strings. Only the shifting finger should make contact with the string.

Sing or play tunes initially in 1st position to memorise the sound of the intervals, then play with shifts. Anticipate shifts by singing or mentally hearing the next note or notes. Feel the distance the left arm will move and lean towards the shift for a smooth start. Take time from the note before the shift so the target note is played on the beat.

Avoid jerkiness and faulty intonation by releasing thumb and finger pressure at the start of a shift and skating or skimming the shifting finger along the top of the string, (i.e. at harmonic pressure). Slow it down and listen as the target note is approached, thus stopping on the correct pitch to achieve accuracy every time and teaching the brain and muscles the exact distance. Lighten bow pressure and slightly slow the bow during shifts. If the pitch is inaccurate, don’t wriggle your finger around looking for the missed note but stop and analyse. Too far? Not far enough? Then go back and take aim again.

When shifting to a different finger, no pitch higher than the two written notes should be audible. Emphasise the importance of the intermediate note (guide, bridge, auxiliary, grace or ‘on-the-way’ note) which is the guide to establishing the new position and good intonation. Play it deliberately at first to establish a good shifting technique, but it must ultimately be inaudible. The student can eventually learn to use the Romantic effect of portamento—and when, where and how much is musically appropriate.

Jennifer Thorp

music@flyingstrings.com+61 3 6244 4154   © 2015.