7 Reasons why you should play on your Fingertips
7 Reasons why you should be Playing on your Fingertips
I come across a fair number of violin students who have got into a habit of playing with flat left hand fingers. These can differ from almost completely flat fingers to varying degrees of uprightness.
What are the advantages of playing on fingertips compared with playing with flat fingers? What are the most frequently seen possible causes of playing with flat fingers?
Playing on fingertips is beneficial for almost every aspect of the left hand technique:
1. Playing fingers on fingertips helps improve intonation
When we play on our fingertips, intonation is more pinpointed and it is easier to hear the precise centre of intonation. When using flatter fingers, and there is more area of the finger on the fingerboard, there is more of a ‘grey area’ where playing is not wildly out of tune, but the tuning is not precisely centred either.
- Playing fingers on fingertips helps improve coordination between fingers
While we play on our fingertips, the shape of the left hand fingers is more rounded, which helps improve coordination between fingers, as fingers are generally more relaxed when they are bent. Round fingers are being operated from the base knuckle of the hand and finely directed by the smaller muscles in the fingers, which makes for better coordination and an improved sense of direction of the fingers.
- Playing fingers on fingertips helps us to play faster
When fingers are curved on the string, they are therefore more relaxed, and relaxed fingers can play faster than stiffer fingers.
- Playing fingers on fingertips helps improve vibrato
In vibrato, fingertips should be able to roll forwards and backwards on the string, which is impossible to do when fingers are flat. We are also looking for flexible finger joints in vibrato, which is not the case when fingers are straight.
- Playing fingers on fingertips helps string crossings
When left hand fingers are curved rather than straight, fingers can hop easily from one string to another and it is easier to coordinate crossing strings with the bow and the left hand when there is a clear moment of crossing the strings. Crossing the strings with flat fingers often causes a sluggish crossing, when is much more difficult to coordinate precisely with the bow.
- Playing fingers on fingertips helps double stops
When playing double stops, fingers sometimes need to be placed very close together, which is impossible to achieve when fingers are flat on the strings. Fingers, which are played on their fingertips are more relaxed and allow for space between fingers, which gives more balance to the hand and makes double stops easier.
- Playing fingers on fingertips helps position changing
Similar to what was said earlier about playing in tune, having fingers on fingertips aides position changing, as having a more precise focus of where the finger is going makes it easier to hear when the note has shifted far enough or not quite. Especially when shifting is done from the elbow, rather than by extending the finger, the hand will be more relaxed when the fingers are on their finger tips.
One word of caution is required here: the extent to which the 4th finger (pinky) is curved while playing depends on the strength and shape of the individual 4th finger. Having a bent 4th finger is not for everyone. I would even state that for some, a straight 4th finger is preferable. In any case, it is of lesser importance to have the 4th finger bent than it is for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers.
Some possible causes of flat fingers:
Tension in the left arm, elbow and wrist is the main cause of playing with flat fingers. Try playing with your left elbow further under the violin, rather than it sticking out to your left, will probably already be an improvement, as will getting the wrist straight. Checking that the row of knuckles where the fingers are attached to the hand is level with the fingerboard instead of below the level of the fingerboard may help, as well as having very short fingernails.