William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Knowing Where You Are Going

An important tip for placing your fingers on the fingerboard

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick tells you how important it is to know, in advance, where you are going to place your finger on the string.

Released on February 1, 2017

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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

I'm reminded of the story about a French violin student who was talking with his teacher and said to him how difficult it was for him to play in tune. Well, the teacher looked at the student and said the following, "But, you know, what's the problem? I mean, all one has to do is to figure out where the note is, and then you simply keep putting your finger there." Some of my colleagues have been annoyed by that story, but you have to admit that, just like the teacher said, he did solve the student's problem, at least from a certain point of view.

So, what exactly do I mean by telling the story? Well, I guess I'm simply saying that you need to know where you're going in order to get there, that you need to understand where you're going to put your finger on the string, before you can know where you're going to put your finger on the string. So how can we know this? Well, it requires a slight shift in our understanding of how to practice, as practicing will become the understanding of, or knowledge about what you need to do to get your finger to a predetermined place. In other words, knowing where you're going before you get there.

So, I guess this all starts by determining where you're going, like this. Suppose I wanna find a C-sharp. Well, now I know where that C-sharp is. And what do I need to do? I keep putting my finger there. How do I know that? Well, let's look. First off, there's an A, a B, a whole step away and a C-sharp. So if I find that pattern, I keep putting my finger there, and, voila, it's done.

So, why don't we look at a shift on the G string, say, from a first finger A on the G string to a harmonic, very high up, like in the last movement of the Wieniawski D minor concerto. Rather than trying to get to the note from the bottom to the top, wouldn't it be simpler, maybe a better idea to find out where the note is and then slide back down to the A first finger and then immediately return to the harmonic the same way we came down, like this? I mean, isn't that logical? We started from where we were going, went back to where we started from, and then went to where we were going. That seems very logical to me. But, you know, my students often tell me that what I say is a bit counter-intuitive. Well, perhaps that's true. But, I mean, it does work.

Okay then, what about trying to get from an A first finger on the G string to a third finger C-sharp on the E string? To do this, I need to introduce you to my fingering board. This fingering board came into existence when I was teaching in France. You see, I needed a tool to help the students visualize the fingerboard, and, voila, I came up with this graphic. Each dot is a half step away from the other so we can map out how to get from one place to another. Over the years, though, it's gotten more precise, so the latest one looks like this.

Now that we have it, let's map out a way to get from that A to that C-sharp. First, let's do it on the fingering board, my fingering board, okay? Here is the A. From there, we will go straight across to the F-sharp, then to the A with the third finger. That's on the E string. Now, I'm gonna replace it with the first finger, then my C-sharp is only two whole steps away.

So, tell you what, using that diagram, why don't we look at my fingers doing this on the violin? First we have the A. Now, going across E, B, F-sharp, I'm now going to go whole step and a half step, and I have an A. I'm now going to go and replace that A with my first finger, whole step, whole step. So, here we go. You see, I've now mapped out how to get from here to here. Doesn't mean I have to do all the steps. I reduce the steps. Now, when I have to play, I can find it, it's reliable, it's accurate.

Okay. So, once I wanted to visit my cousin in Gary, Indiana. I decided to drive to Gary from Nashville, Tennessee, where I lived, but I didn't have his address. I just remembered what it looked like the last time I was there. Well, I got to Gary, but five hours later, I still had not found his house. I finally went to a phone booth and called my grandmother to get the address and telephone number so that I could call them and ask for directions. What a waste of time. You know, it would be like leaving from an A on the G string and trying to find that harmonic without having an address, or without having any knowledge of where I'm going. It would be like leaving from the A and trying to find that harmonic I have no idea where it is. It'd be like leaving to Gary, Indiana without an address. I think you really need to know where you're going.

So, as I've just explained, knowing where you're going is something quite useful. One might say that it is a prerequisite to achieving, as you really do have to know where you're going before you can figure out how to get there. 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, and I am the Artistic Director of the MusiShare Young Artist Program.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Kevin Collins on September 1, 2019 @3:16 pm PST
This method of mapping a path is aligned with how neurons that fire together wire together. It also seems like a great way to, secondarily, map all of those landmark note positions to one's muscle memory and cognitive memory.
William - host, on September 3, 2019 @11:46 pm PST
Thank you!!
Neil Dickson on June 24, 2017 @1:55 pm PST
I like the examples! The harmonic corresponding to the one in the Wieniawski sounds pretty rough on cello, so in the cello version, I do almost the same triple string crossing as your second example to hit it with 2, and then I'm in position for the double stops. Any general advice for playing the Wieniawski on cello? I know getting a light, clear tone on cello is a challenge in the 3rd movement, but what are some other things that are important to capture in the piece in general, or what are potential pitfalls to avoid?

(By the way, sorry VSM, I'm still editing the orchestral parts for it, but I'm mostly done a rough draft at letscello.com I'll get back in contact when it's finally ready. Good layout in the current version of Noteworthy Composer takes way more work than I expected.)
David Giardino on March 5, 2017 @2:25 pm PST
Dear Professor, I just discovered your wonderful channel and am in awe of such amazing inspiring teaching. Thank you so much!
William - host, on June 7, 2017 @11:23 am PST
You are so very welcome! Thanks!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @7:15 am PST
Some comments about learning to play notes properly on the violin:
1. if you can't "hear"in your head so to speak exactly what the note is supposed to sound like, before you actually play it, you will probably play it out of tune so listening very carefully to what you are doing is key 2. many "edits" of music by famous violinists have the performer jumping up to more difficult higher positions where for a novice it becomes a mess trying to get a passage in tune....try playing the passage in a lower even the first position to get the tuning correct, before trying the upper position that's written in the score 3. some passages written in very high positions on the E string, e.g., 5th, 6th, 7th, etc., should be practised first an octave lower to get the tuning correct 4. where the music is often in the upper positions, a lot of times, it's easier and better sounding to "stay" in an upper position for notes say going from the A string to the E string and vice-versa, instead of shifting unnecessarily up and down on the E string...as a young naive student I used to take the "edited" fingerings etc. as gospel truth...now I adopt a more logical approach, which simply is whether a fingering or position "sounds better", so that quite often instead of jumping up to a higher edited position, I'll just play a passage in the first position which on a violin has much more brilliant resonance anyway than the same notes on a lower string in a higher position. 5. my final comment is that it helps to practice a lot of different passages that are written in very high positions in order to make the playing of notes up high unremarkable or easier, because you've become much more familiar with these high positions.
William - host, on May 10, 2017 @12:30 pm PST
Cool response!
Jan Booth * VSM MEMBER * on February 15, 2017 @5:44 am PST
Thank you so much for your suggestions for me to learn to play better and help my students. I am now ready to work on harmonics to regular notes differently. I can sense my success. I look forward to your videos. Please keep them coming.
William - host, on February 22, 2017 @8:59 am PST
Will do and thanks!!!
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on February 5, 2017 @5:50 am PST
Well the fingerboard schematic has survived, and I see teachers using it here in Belgium on the actual violin fingerboard with colored dot stickers, at least some stickers helping find the steps and half steps.
It takes a lot of practice to get from step by step movement to a quick and more fluid movement of hand and fingers, buit it is indeed to only way to get accuracy and a robust in tune playing.
William - host, on February 6, 2017 @11:56 pm PST
Very happy to hear that its alive and well!!!
Meg * VSM MEMBER * on February 1, 2017 @10:24 am PST
After many years absence from playing the violin, I'm getting reacquainted with my "old friend." Thank you for your instruction and diagram. Very helpful.
Beforehand, it was like a scavenger's hunt finding some notes!
William - host, on February 2, 2017 @1:02 pm PST
You are welcome!
Shirley Gibson * VSM MEMBER * on February 1, 2017 @9:32 am PST
I look forward to Prof. Fitzpatrick's videos so much - he always has some nifty tidbit of insight to pass on - Thanks to him, and to Virtualsheetmusic.com
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 1, 2017 @1:41 pm PST
Glad to know that, thank you Shirley for watching and being such a nice Members of ours! Please, feel always free to contact me with any questions or ideas you may have, I will be glad to hear from you.

Thank you again!
William - host, on February 2, 2017 @1:02 pm PST
Very pleased to hear this! Thanks!
Becky on February 15, 2017 @11:30 am PST
I teach this way also, however, I shift to the desired position on the string and finger, I like to use same finger shifts, that I am leaving. So in other words in your example, I would shift on the G string. What are your thoughts?
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