How would you like to make teaching scales and fingering super easy? This lesson is going to transform how you teach scales and fingering to your string classroom, or your private violin, viola, cello or bass students. And it is absolutely fun because once you realize how easy it is going to make everything, you will jump for joy!
For years, I struggled with trying to get students to see the patterns on the fingerboards that seemed obvious enough to me. Why couldn’t they memorize the patterns that seemed so simple? But to most of my students, the fingerboard was a vast uncharted territory that they could never seem to master. As a student, I remember feeling like anything past third position seemed like a mystery to me as well.
Teaching Fingering Can Be Made Easy
I don’t know if many teachers use this method, and I certainly never encountered this at school or in private lessons. I think this is the one thing that would transform string teaching if we all set up our students with some basic fingering vocabulary. Especially in the string classroom, this terminology makes it so easy to discuss fingering, teach scales, and correct students as they are playing because it will be common to all the instruments. There is no need to shout out note names or different fingerings for each instrument, and with the support of good fingering charts, the students can easily see and figure out the fingerings for themselves.
Once you establish the following basics, which only takes one lesson, you not only have the foundation for fingering, shifting and intonation success, I have found that there really is no limit to where you can take your students.
In order not to overwhelm the students with terminology in the beginning, I introduce this after the students have had two or three months of playing, and can play fairly well using tapes on their instrument.
Six Basic Terms For Teaching Fingering
Although I call this the Four Basic Finger Patterns, there are actually SIX basic terms you need to establish with your beginner string students that will make fingering not only easy to teach, but will actually help them visualize where their notes should be.
1. Establish how to play SEMI-TONES on each instrument.
- VIOLIN & VIOLA: any two fingers that are touching. Stress to the students that although there is a space on the chart, in reality, their fingers should actually be touching.
- CELLO: any two consecutive fingers.
- BASS: between 1 & 2, or between 2 & 4 (3rd finger is not a note, but can help give the pinky strength)
2. Establish how to play WHOLE-TONES on each instrument.
- VIOLIN & VIOLA: any two fingers that are apart/have a space.
- CELLO: skip a finger, i.e. 1 & 3, or 2 & 4
- BASS: between 1 & 4
3. Name the Major Finger Pattern.
- This is the pattern that they are already familiar with playing.
- Note how the Major Pattern sounds. It sounds like half a scale, and it sounds ‘happy’
4. Introduce the Minor Finger Pattern.
- Note that the Minor Pattern differs from the Major Pattern by only one note. This puts the semi-tone in a different place, and makes the pattern sound ‘sad’.
5. Introduce the Whole-Tone Pattern
- This pattern is made up of all whole-tones.
- This pattern involves introducing the extension of the 2nd finger in the cellos.
- Relate the Whole-Tone Pattern back to the Major Pattern so students can see that it only differs from it by one note.
- This pattern starts off sounding like the Major Pattern, but the last notes sounds… awkward!
6. Introduce the Backward Whole-Tone Pattern.
- I sometimes save this one for later, depending on how many patterns the student(s) can seem to handle at one time.
- Again, relate this pattern back to the Minor Pattern so the students can see that only the first finger changes by moving back into half position.
- When you introduce the whole-tones and semi-tones, get them to guess which one you are playing to see if they can hear the difference.
- Get them to play semi-tones and whole-tones starting on different fingers.
- Introduce the 4th finger semi-tone and whole-tone to the violins and violas.
- Get them to listen and guess which finger pattern you are playing.
- Have the students test each other.
- Have the students play their Beginner Tunes using the Minor Pattern instead of the Major Pattern, just for fun!
Finally, I give the students a very quick quiz to make sure they understand the vocabulary by asking them to demonstrate a semi-tone, whole-tone and each pattern starting on a note or string that I ask for. I also have them draw the fingering patterns for me.
And that’s it! Now you are ready teach them to read fingering charts, and play in any key and any position you want!
For teachers who don’t play strings, and for students to review at home, I am working on videos of these patterns, which I will post here when I am done.
Meanwhile, in the next post in the Teaching Fingering, Shifting and Intonation Without Fear series, we will learn how to put these patterns to work!