William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Working with the 4th finger on the violin

Precious tips for placing and extending your 4th finger on the violin

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick gives you useful tips to place and extend your 4th finger on the fingerboard without too much effort and, most of all, without pain.

Released on October 1, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi and welcome to VirtualSheetMusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick and I am the Temianka professor of violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music which is located on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I am as well Director of MusiShare in Irvine, California. Well, what I'd like to about in this video is how we learn to stretch your fingers in the left hand, particularly your fourth finger. In my generation - you see, I, 64, and about to turn 65 - so, I come from an entirely different generation. We grew up using the fingers, or learning to use the fingers in this order: First finger, then second, then third, then fourth. This resulted in a lot of people having, or started to have, or allowing pain when extending the fourth finger, or even placing, sometimes, the fourth finger on the string.

Now, when I was exploring the fourth finger issue, I came across Schradieck and especially in the lower parts of it when it's in the lower positions, there were three to four extensions. Now, those extensions did cause me a lot of issue and I always sort of wondered, "Should it be this painful?" Well I came across this book by a Mr. I. M. Yampolsky called 'The Principals of Violin Fingerings'. The book was printed in 1967 and he talks about the natural position of fingers, which he describes as a whole step, then half step, then a whole step. Whole step, half step, whole step. Well, I took this to heart and for many, many years, I taught it this way. I even discovered octaves this way from a whole step- I used that idea. But though I think the idea is correct, I actually have come to understand or to believe that that natural position is actually a whole step, half step, and a half step. Whole step, half, half and this creates a major third from the first to the fourth finger. So, with this in mind, if I move my fourth finger up to an E, I can stretch backwards to the B and guess what? There's no pain. Here. Now I'm going to stretch my fingers back... and I'm not stretching. I'm going the other way. In fact, I'm sort of doing it backwards. Rather... I'm going... Now, what about those extensions? Suppose I had to go to the left. Well if I target that F, I move backwards. Again, no pain. Well, the implications are enormous. At least, I think so. As then, the finger octaves, tenths, etcetera, are now in our grasp, not only limited to those with very large hands.

Let's take a close look at tenths. In particular, why don't we say from a B to a D. Now, that's a fairly, fairly large distance. Normally, we would go from that B and stretch up to that D. Well, what would happen if we did it the other way? What would happen if we started from the D and stretched back? What do you know, it's so much easier. Well, if it works for tenths, what about fingered octaves? What about a B, to a B, and a C#, to a C#, oh my god. What if I did it the other way? I'm hitting the octaves, a little out of tune, but I'm hitting those fingered octaves much easier and with much less pain than I would if I tried it the other way. You know in Wieniawski's D-minor concerto, there's a passage where everybody seems to have an issue. Some people... We do it all kinds of ways. What about with fingered octaves? Now that my finger can do it... It's just easier to do, but it's backwards.

Now, it's quite the mind change to come to grips with this set up but once you've accomplished this, well, I really, really believe it's worth the effort. Well that's it for this video. If you have a comment, question, or special request please feel free to post it. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Eileen Sephton * VSM MEMBER * on January 4, 2015 @2:52 am PST
Great tip, thank you
William on January 6, 2015 @2:42 pm PST
You are very welcome!
Meg Puckett on October 29, 2014 @1:27 pm PST
This was a very interesting lesson. My problem is more with being able to spread my second and fourth fingers, e.g. playing C on the A string with the second finger and A on the D string with the fourth finger. Is there an exercise or "trick" for that?
William on October 30, 2014 @12:50 pm PST
Hi! When you place your fingers it would be normally 2nd finger then the fourth ... try it the other way~
Meg Puckett on October 30, 2014 @5:38 pm PST
This is great; and it works for an easier way to form a chord such as
FDB, D string, A string, E string. Thanks.
Kathleen Barry * VSM MEMBER * on October 15, 2014 @8:22 am PST
Love this idea!
William on October 15, 2014 @10:56 am PST
Glad that you do!
Eugenie van Zyl * VSM MEMBER * on October 12, 2014 @8:51 am PST
Hallo William! It is Sunday morning 13/10/14 and I just opened emails, Virtual Sheet Music and your book Guide To Violin Excellence 4th Edition online and started paging through it to p13 of 53 - It just gets more and more interesting! I can not wait to start reading it in depth! Thank you very much for sharing it with us!
William on October 12, 2014 @10:49 pm PST
I am so glad that you like it! Keep me posted!
ummpink * VSM MEMBER * on October 9, 2014 @4:41 pm PST
A friend of mine grew up in a very small country town in New Zealand, where his mother was the schoolteacher and his father was the headmaster. He went straight from there to the Royal College of Music in London.

Like many (most?) students, he found using the fourth finger was not easy. So he asked his teacher: "please tell me, maestro, what is the secret of fourth-finger vibrato?"

To which the teacher replied: "whack it down really hard, and wobble like f***!" And he'd come halfway around the world to hear that great secret :-)))
William on October 10, 2014 @10:49 pm PST
This is unbelievable ...to say the least ...
Matt Akre on October 8, 2014 @2:50 pm PST
This is a very interesting idea but i would like to know how you can choreograph your left hand movements to make this work, because it doesn't seem like it is going to be the exact same fingering process?
William on October 9, 2014 @9:31 am PST
Hi and thanks for your question! I need just a bit more information to clearly answer your question as I am not sure that I understand what you are implying by choreography? If your hand is balanced to the 4th finger then one would play as one normally would. Rather than stretching upwards from one to two to three to four, the hand is set in the opposite manner. It does not at this point matter whether one goes up or down. But again is this the question that you ask? Please give me more details and I will try my best to answer!
Matt Akre on October 9, 2014 @5:52 pm PST
Oh well you actually answered it perfectly! This video was super helpful, thank you so much!
Eugenie van Zyl * VSM MEMBER * on October 6, 2014 @1:46 pm PST
Hello William! I could not help but stood still at the photo of Nina Fitzpatrick - I then Googled all I could get about Nina. She was such an outstanding art student and loved by hundreds. I gather she was your daughter, William? My deepest sympathy to you and your family with your great loss.
William on October 6, 2014 @3:23 pm PST
Yes Nina was my daughter. She died six months ago tomorrow from injuries sustained by a car that hit her in a pedestrian zone in Laguna Beach CA. Thanks for your thoughts!
Donna on October 1, 2014 @10:37 am PST
This discussion about 4th finger extension versus 1st finger was very helpful. What are your thoughts on 1st finger position. (close to the finger board or extended somewhat above). Thank you.
William on October 2, 2014 @12:21 am PST
Hi! Ideally close if not on the string but only if the hand size allows! In a normal not large hand size this would not be the case so... I would say the finger preceding the finger in use should be on (but not pressed)! I hope this helps!
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