William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

How much pressure does it take to push the string down to make a sound?

A simple approach to an often overlooked question

In this first expert video, Prof. William Fitzpatrick of Chapman University explains how to apply the right amount of pressure with the finger on the violin fingerboard. Too much pressure is usually bad, but how do you find the right pressure or force to put on your left hand fingers?

Released on November 4, 2013

    
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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 professor of violin at The Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music at Chapman University in Orange, California. Today, I thought we could talk about how much pressure or force it takes to push the string down to make a sound. How much pressure or more importantly, force it would take to do this? Well, the first thing that we might really consider is that pressure is in no way squeezing. By squeezing, I mean the use of muscles in our fingers that might not necessarily be needed to accomplish what we are trying to achieve. What we are trying to achieve is to get the string to vibrate on the upper part. What we are trying to achieve is to get the string to vibrate on the upper part from our finger, not the lower part. So we need enough force to stop the vibration from occurring on that lower part. Now, I don't know if you've noticed or not, but I think you probably have, strings have gotten stronger. In my day, the string was gut wound with aluminum; that was the big thing. And before that, it was just gut. Now, the string, that inner core is synthetic, which makes it a lot stronger. As well, the distance or the projection between the string and the fingerboard has gotten larger. What all of that means is that the fingerboard is no longer that opposing force that it was needed to get the string to not vibrate in that lower part. In other words, we don't need to go all the way to the fingerboard. Now, this reminds me of a story that was told to me by my teacher, Ms. Dorothy Dulay, while I was a student at the Julliard School. She said to me, "Okay, Billy. Do you have a really good imagination?" And I went, "Of course." Then she said, "Well, the distance between the string and the finger board, let's say that it's the Empire State Building." "Fine." Then she said, "How many stories are there on the Empire State Building?" And I said, "I have no idea. Maybe 150?" She goes, "Very good. 150 floors." Here we go. My finger is King Kong. Yes, King Kong from the movie and at the end of that movie, King Kong jumps off the Empire State Building. He hits the ground and he bounces up. She said, "That's what your finger should do. Your finger should go to the string, take it down to maybe the 10th floor and then bounce up to maybe the 30th and that's where it stays." When you do this, the sound that occurs is called, "ping." Let's hear it. Do you hear that ping? Well, my students, some of them are a bit skeptical, especially my French students when I first started to talk about this. They would look at me and go, "Mais messieur?" If we don't press the string down, there is no sound." Well, I developed this little thing, which is a piece of paper and I take the paper and I put it underneath the string between the string and the fingerboard. Now, I am going to make a sound. Can this paper go underneath my finger? Yes. It can go underneath my finger while I am playing this sound. So what do you think about that? I didn't go all the way to the fingerboard to make a sound. Well, that's it for this video. If you have any questions, comments or special requests, please feel free to post them on the comments section. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Federico on November 4, 2019 @2:36 pm PST
Please help! I stopped adding pressure to my left hand and I did what you say. I can play with out touching the finger board but I notice I cannot play with a light bow now....do we have to play always like this?
reply
William - host, on November 5, 2019 @8:38 am PST
Hi! Not sure what you mean by light bow? The goal, amount many, is to increase the range of your LH expressiveness, touch and yes the RH will follow! But again all is to increase your range so ... Thanks for the comment!
Federico on November 5, 2019 @11:57 am PST
Thank you William for your response. Light bow...I was refering that I was putting weight on the bow all the time after your video.
Jacob adame on September 12, 2018 @1:49 pm PST
Hi. Question my daughter has been playing violin for about 4 years she is 8 now. She has been with the same teacher since day one, but it seem that she is not going improving at all. I have been watching Some videos in you tube and I noticed that all good violinist they do many types of practices for the right hand left hand fingers exercises. My daughter teacher since day one have not shown her any type of exercises to improve. What do you think that I need to do for my daughter to help her get better on her playing?
reply
William - host, on September 17, 2018 @9:07 am PST
Hi! The first thing that I would do is present my concerns to the teacher and get their ideas on your concerns. I believe that having an open line of communication between teacher and student is critical and so encourage you to take this step...
Barby on August 13, 2017 @2:46 am PST
Hi sir did the violin is have to push the string or just touch the string to make the tone
Carl Shelton on May 16, 2017 @12:32 am PST
Thanks Prof. Fitzpatrick for you many videos, is it possible for you to measure your string height at the end of your finger board, I'm like many others have always had lower strings
reply
William - host, on September 17, 2018 @9:03 am PST
Will check and get back!!!
Barry Conrad on May 4, 2017 @10:59 pm PST
another great lesson, with such an eye opening topic, this has opened my mind to a whole new level of possibilities, thank you so much for publishing this video, Cheers
reply
William - host, on September 17, 2018 @9:03 am PST
You're welcome!
Zoey on January 27, 2017 @3:33 am PST
sir I tried this technique but I only created small and mushy sounds? unlike if it is pressed down the sound is louder and clearer but if I press it my thumb is squeezed, oh what am I to do?
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William - host, on January 27, 2017 @9:31 am PST
Hi and thanks for asking this question! A lot depends on the distance that your strings are from the fingerboard! If this distance is not great enough you would have to press all the way to get a clear sound as physics does come into play! Hope that this helps!
Victor on December 3, 2015 @4:30 am PST
Hello Prof. Fitzpatrick!
I watched this video of yours for "How much pressure from the left hand fingers?" several times on YT and later I had a little argument speculating on your approach with another YT instructor, Eddy Chen. I made a reference for him to your video so I'm in an honest position.
He is a very capable violin player and he insisits that it's better especially for beginners to have the string fully pressed down as a starting point. Only when doing fast passages he agrees that he uses less pressure.
He demonstrates in his video that if the string is not fully pressed down, the sound is weak and whining.
Here he proves his point: https://youtu.be/Jbge9yDTc9Y?t=621
I provided the timed reference so you don't have to wait.

Thank you,
Victor
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William - host, on December 10, 2015 @10:08 am PST
Sorry that you had an argument! In France people share their beliefs and opinions constantly and then continue to be friends so I hope yours was from this point of view! As for who is right I think one should experiment with many ways and ultimately do the one that you believe works for you! Thanks for the comment!
Eileen Sephton * VSM MEMBER * on September 16, 2014 @3:33 am PST
Interesting - I'll go and try it!
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William - host, on September 16, 2014 @8:19 am PST
Let me know what your results are! Take care!
Fred Schlereth * VSM MEMBER * on July 3, 2014 @7:22 pm PST
very interesting. I'm shocked that it is true. However it takes a bit of practice to get used to it. Question! How is that related to pressure, which is force per unit area. So, for the same force, the pressure is higher if the area of contact is smaller. My question is, how do you define the area of contact. String alone, string and fingerboard? It takes less force if the string is not pressed onto the fingerboard, but since the string area is smaller the pressure might be the same.
Clearly I'm confused about your use of the terms pressure and force.
Also how can you produce a vibrato if there is no contact with the fingerboard?
Thanks,
David De Lisle * VSM MEMBER * on May 8, 2014 @5:11 pm PST
Kato Havas
reply
William - host, on May 9, 2014 @9:34 am PST
Thank you for the name as I did not know about her!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 9, 2014 @11:18 am PST
Yes, Kato Havas is well know for her book "Stage Fright" that I have read several times in the past! That's a very good topic we could approach in some of the next videos.
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