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exercise - independence of fingers


By Bayla Keyes

A) Opening up the hand – invite, encourage, do not insist

  • Play all stretching and widening exercises pp at first, to release and melt the webbing between the fingers.

  • Keyes sliding: hold one finger, slide other fingers up one at a time, do not allow held finger to buckle or move. Keep wrist in relaxed but straight line.

  • Kourgouf sliding: place all four fingers on string, slide each finger up one half-step, beginning with fourth finger; do not allow hand, wrist or other fingers to move; then slide back down beginning with first finger.

  • Dounis Daily Dozen #3 - sliding.

  • Stretching: 3 fingers in third position on E string, first finger on A string, slide first finger back to first position, do not allow other fingers to move or buckle.  Continue with successive fingers.

  • Dounis stretching: Artist's Technique of Violin Playing.  1-2 minutes maximum, no finger pressure whatsoever.  Be very careful of this one!

  • Simon Fischer Basics: “Widening at the Base Joints”

  • Simon Fischer Basics: “Minimum Finger Pressure”

  • Simon Fischer Basics: Thumb Spa, Thumb Counterpressure

  • Dounis Daily Dozen # 2 - holding and releasing.

B) Framing the hand – all the world is a quadruplestop!

  • The fourth finger is king, and the hand is balanced and energized between third and fourth fingers, while releasing and reaxing in thumb, index and second fingers.

  • The wrist is relaxed but straight.

  • The hand is melted and released to bring the third and fourth fingers closer to the neck/fingerboard.

  • Think finger patterns at all times – on string and in the air.

  • Keyes finger patterns on one string – chromatic and diatonic.

  • Galamian one-position scales. Hold fourth finger down continuously.

  • Doublestop for string crossings.

  • Sevcik Opus 1 Part IV # 2 - holding and releasing.

  • Kourguof - holding and releasing.

  • Schradieck "The School of Violin Techniques" Vol. 1 pp. 2-4 - air patterning and releasing.

  • Kreutzer #9 - air patterning and releasing.  Refinger to use second finger to fourth as much as possible.

  • Sitt 50 Daily Finger Exercises.


By Bayla Keyes

Learn to think not finger by finger but in patterns of four. These patterns are a kind of secret violin code which will speed up your ability to learn new repertoire. They are an essential part of scale and technique practice. Assiduous attention to these patterns will also dramatically improve your intonation, sight reading, and memorization.


The Most Frequently Used Patterns

Pattern 1: Half Step, Whole Step, Whole Step






Pattern 2: Whole Step, Half Step, Whole Step






Pattern 3: Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step






Pattern 4: Whole Step, Whole Step, Whole Step






Pattern 5: Half Step, Augmented Second, Half Step




Exercises for Maintaining Finger Patterns

In the following exercises, always maintain your finger pattern, either by hovering in the air with each finger directly above where it will play or by creating the pattern lightly on the string. Keep your fingers curled. If you find it difficult to create and maintain the patterns at first, try placing all four fingers lightly on the string and then, starting with the fourth finger, slide each finger up one half step. This motion will get easier with practice.

Exercise 1 – Pink and White – 1st Position

Stay in first position and do all patterns up and down. All fingers not on the string should hover directly above where they will play next. When ascending, as you put the new finger down keep the previous finger(s) on the string but release the pressure.  The finger sounding will be white at the fingertip, but the finger(s) resting on the string will be pink, because you have released it (them)! As you descend, each successive pink fingertip will turn white. Repeat in positions two through eight.

Exercise 2 – By Pattern – Positions I through XIII

Choose a pattern and shift up by half step, positions one through eight; then shift down by half step. When shifting up, keep your pattern in the air; all fingers should hover directly over where they will play next. When shifting down, keep the pattern in the air before you shift; shift onto fourth finger and make sure all four fingers are patterned on the string – three pinks below the white fourth finger. Repeat with other patterns and on other strings.



Exercise 3 – By Key– Positions I through XIII

Choose a key and go up diatonically, positions one through eight; then go down. Before shifting up, say the new pattern; as you shift, form the new pattern in the air. Before shifting down, say the new pattern; as you shift onto your fourth finger, form the new pattern on the string. Repeat in other keys and on other strings.


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Finger Patterns
Galamian 1 Position Scales
Galamian 1 position scales 4th Finger down.jpg
May the fourths be with you


By Bayla Keyes

This exercise is designed to teach you how to feel the spaces between your fingers. Keeping your fingers curled and the space between them defined and palpable, draw them back as far as you can; then drop them onto the string. The fourth is created in the air between your base joints. If you don’t land in a perfect fourth, adjust and then draw your fingers back again in the adjusted relationship. You should be able to land in a perfect fourth every time!


1.Repeat on all string pairs, in second through fourth positions, and in all possible keys:





2. Repeat on all string pairs in all possible keys:


By Bayla Keyes


The natural structure of our hands encourages us to take advantage of the springs which live in the sides of our fingers, and which operate best on an angle. The schools of beginning violin which teach a child to have their left fingernails facing them, even going so far as to paint little faces on the nails, are absolutely correct in their instruction. In recent years, however, I have noticed a decided trend away from this ideal position. Players with short upper arms or pinkies are being taught to bring the base of the fourth finger closer to the neck of the violin by twisting the forearm, thus bringing the fingernails into an angle which is perpendicular to the string.


If the fingers are perpendicular to the string in lower positions, with the fingernails facing to the left of the violin, there will be several adverse effects:

  • The left arm itself is likely to be torqued; much tension at the elbow will be induced, eventually manifesting in injury.

  • The sound will have a somewhat unattractive and pinched quality. 

  • The thumb will squeeze.

  • The action of each finger will be felt as a hit, resulting in tension building in the base knuckles.

  • The ability to stretch between the fingers, most needed in lower positions, will be limited.

  • The ability to shift rapidly to higher positions will be compromised.

  • The vibrato will be either narrow and unpleasant or wide and uncontrollable.

  • The physical sense of intervals will be obliterated.






This is an illustration of the undesirable square posture.


To avoid these negative consequences, the fingers of the left hand in the first through fifth positions should be placed on an angle, with the fingernails facing in the same direction as the string and towards your face. I call this pronation of the left hand. It can truly be said that pronation of the fingers in lower positions to a great extent determines the comfort and success of the left hand.









These are illustrations of the desirable pronated posture.

Steps for Ideal Left Arm and Hand Alignment

First Step: Raise your left arm into playing position with the palm facing you.  Use your right arm to shake your left forearm so that it will be as loose as possible. Allow your hand to rest directly on top of the forearm; do not twist or cock the wrist. If your imaginary scroll faces a mirror, you will be able to see that your forearm runs in a straight line from the base of your middle finger all the way to your elbow and your fingers are at a right angle to the neck of the violin. This is the most natural position for your left arm, but of course your fingers are not able to reach the string.


Second Step: Relax all the knuckles of your left hand and use your right hand to melt the base of the fourth finger of your left hand closer to the neck. Relax your index finger and thumb, allowing them to fall back; you will notice your radius rotating to the left, and your thumb will feel loose and open. Do this several times. Remember that as the thumb and first finger drop back and the third and fourth fingers melt forward, the palm will face you and the wrist will remain directly above the forearm throughout. Do not twist or cock the wrist.


Third Step: With your violin in playing position, repeat the above steps. (If your neck gets tired, rest the scroll on a shelf.) Use your right hand to gently melt the base of the fourth finger of your left hand closer to the neck, allowing your fingers to straighten, until your knuckles no longer protrude and the top of your palm is entirely touching the side of the violin neck; hold for a few seconds and release – your hand should immediately return to its relaxed position perpendicular to the violin, with its heel farther away. I call this ironing the knuckles. Throughout this exercise the left forearm remains relaxed and passive; the turn is initiated by the right arm. 


Fourth Step: After you have ironed your knuckles a few times, iron them forward one last time and release slightly, curving the fingers and placing them on the string. If your knuckles are loose enough, you should be able to place all four fingers on the string with your palm facing you and the wrist centered over the forearm, neither cocked nor twisted. You will notice that the hand itself has comfortably rounded in.  You may also notice that your fingernails are not facing you.


Fifth Step: Keeping your left hand position stable, put your bow down and hold the violin with your right hand. Starting with the fourth finger, slide each finger up a half-step; at the end of the movement, your finger should be leaning slightly on the inside, and your fingernails will be facing you. If your left hand fingers cannot do this at first, use the right hand to train the left. The muscles will become stronger quickly.


Sixth Step: Lean on the left sides (the insides) of your fingers; feel the springiness. Cultivate your awareness of this springiness by doing the sliding exercise frequently. Place each finger on the side of the neck and practice sliding it up and down, leaning slightly into the neck as you perform the movement. 


Seventh Step: Make a whole step with two fingers on the string in their correctly angled, pronated position. Lift the higher finger, keeping the space between the fingers open and keeping the lifted finger slightly curled. The lifting finger moves like a little railway car on a straight, though angled, track. You should be able to clearly feel the amount of space between the fingers. When the finger returns to the string, it returns to its angled position, landing on the inside of the finger. If you cannot do this at first, use the right hand to train the left; the muscles will become stronger quickly. This ability to raise the finger in an accurate and repeatable fashion, continually sensing the space between your fingers, will directly affect your intonation!

As your left hand becomes accustomed to its new pronated position, you will notice great improvement in your sound, vibrato, and shifting; you will have less feeling of strain; and you will be able to work on your intonation with lasting results, because you will be able to feel your whole steps and half steps more acutely, without squeezing.


By Bayla Keyes



Keep your hand directly above your forearm; do not twist or cock the wrist. Imagine a line runs through your second finger, across the back of your hand and all the way down your forearm and into your elbow; keep that line straight. Remember that the contact point on your index finger will change from string to string – it is lowest (closest to the base knuckle) on the G string and highest on the E string. Paying strict attention to this will improve your intonation immediately. 



Relax the heel of your hand to bring the third and fourth fingers closer to the neck. Relax your index finger and thumb, allowing them to fall back; you will notice your radius rotating to the left. Your fingernails should face you as much as possible; do not turn the forearm at the ulna, as this will introduce tension. Lean on the left sides of your fingers; feel the springs, and notice how easy it is to feel the spaces between your fingers. Playing in this pronated position relaxes your thumb and the base knuckles. 


Arch shape

Find the ideal arch shape (the “C”) for your fingers; the first joint should be below the second. You may find that you will need to play higher in the V made by your thumb and index finger in order to achieve this shape.



Loosen the first joint to broaden the point of contact to aid in the transfer of the weight from the arm in slow lyric playing. Do NOT flatten the entire finger or play lower in the V between your thumb and first finger; create the footie by playing slightly farther back on the pad of the finger and allowing the first joint to soften almost to the point of collapsing. If you slide each fingertip up one quarter step without moving the base joint you can easily find this shape. Flattening the first joint will also aid in high positions, while shifting, and in doublestops. Footies are particularly important for violinists with tapered fingertips. As you become more adept at using the footie you will find that:

  • Your sound becomes warmer and richer.

  • Your vibrato will be easier, because your first joint is looser.

  • You will not squeeze into the thumb as much; there will be no feeling of pinch.

  • Since your thumb is not counterpressing as much, your base knuckles will be more relaxed and springy, and your entire left hand will be more relaxed.

  • Footies on both notes of doublestops, but especially on the bottom finger, will make them significantly easier.


Curved Fingers  

Even when lifting, keep the fingers curved; they should feel a magnetism back toward the base knuckles of the hand. I call this magnetic attraction the Active C. When done in the air or on the string, the Active C will help you sense the all-important spacing grid between your fingers; on the string, it also helps create the footie. Occasionally for a note requiring intense or wider vibrato you may find it helpful to release the Active C and allow other fingers to straighten, but before going to the next note, drop back into your curved formation!


By Bayla Keyes

The great pedagogue D. C. Dounis taught that the left hand must function differently in fast vs. slow playing. Most of us practice a passage slowly and then work it up to tempo, only to discover that at some point in this process we will inevitably begin to play out of tune, miss shifts, play unevenly, hit a wall at a slower tempo than we want, and so on. This is because we are practicing with a balance appropriate only for slow playing, and this slow balance will not work when we need to play fast.


In slow playing:

  • The arm weight is transferred into the string through each finger. There is a feeling of stepping into each finger.

  • The hand is centered on the playing finger.

  • Each finger therefore is in deep contact with the string.

  • Playing more on the pad, not on the fingertip, is best.

  • The relation of the finger back into the elbow is paramount.

  • The alignment of the left arm is critical, with each string having the perfect position of the left elbow.

In fast playing:

  • The fingers have almost no weight.

  • Playing more on the fingertip is best.

  • Maintaining the octave frame and creating four-finger patterns is critical.

  • The hand is centered on the fourth finger.

  • Keeping the fingers close to the string before dropping them or after lifting them is paramount.


Dounis Combination Slow-Fast Scales 

This exercise is designed to develop your ability to alternate between fast and slow balance.

Without the Galamian turn, play through 3- and 4-octave scales using the rhythmic pattern of quarter, quarter, triply dotted quarter, 64th sextuplet.  Vibrate the quarters. (You will need to play through the scale several times in order to arrive back at the beginning of the scale on the first quarter note again.) This is a good one to do with the metronome.  You are working for absolute evenness and rhythmic precision; you are also working on slow vs. fast balance for your hand.  If you have any bumpy shifts or poor form, this exercise will highlight them and help you fix them.  Remember that in slow balance you balance the hand on each finger in turn; in fast balance (the sextuplet) you balance on the fourth finger.


Keyes Slur and Stop Scales 

This exercise will give you practice in alternating finger pressure between fast and slow notes, maintaining the frame essential for fast playing so that you can land accurately, and most importantly training your ear to hear intonation across fast scales. This is possibly my favorite exercise!

Put your drone on the tonic. Go through your scale slowly, omitting the Galamian turns. Use a solid and clear tone so that you can hear overtones. Stop on every note which makes a perfect interval with the drone – i.e. the first, fourth and fifth degrees of the scale. Listen carefully to each perfect interval and adjust if necessary; then back up to a few notes before and try to land on the note exactly, without having to adjust.

Feel the center of your hand in your fourth finger, not on your first finger, for this exercise. Balancing on the fourth finger, keeping the hand open, and keeping the fingers directly above the string in the formation in which they are going to play when ascending, or on the string in formation when descending, will improve your speed and accuracy greatly.

Do not allow the placement of any finger to affect any other finger. Even the slightest rolling, sideways motion, or movement of the wrist or hand will greatly lessen your ability to feel the half-step and whole-step spaces between your fingers. Your fingers move up and down as if on little railway tracks. Keep them slightly curled even when lifting.

Next, go through your scale again, slurring as much as possible, changing the bow as needed, and using rhythms in the patterns below. As in the exercise above, make the fast note(s) as fast as possible:

Groups of Two:

LONG short LONG short

short LONG short LONG

Groups of Three:

LONG short short LONG short short

short LONG short short LONG short

short short LONG short short LONG

Groups of Four:

LONG short short short LONG short short short

short LONG short short short LONG short short

short short LONG short short short LONG short

short short short LONG short short short LONG


Make the long notes very long and the short notes so fast that they are a complete blur. Remember that the long notes will have a deeper contact -- you can vibrate them if you like -- but the short ones will have so little finger pressure that they will almost feel faked.

When a long note is the first, fourth, or fifth degree of the scale, TUNE IT to the drone! If you don’t land on it exactly, back up at least one group and try again. You can also use this exercise to tune the third, sixth, and seventh degrees, using either equal-tempered or expressive intonation; in this case you would put your drone on the third degree of the scale. As you practice, you will begin to hear the relationships of these families across the scales (1-4-5 and 3-6-7) even when you are playing fast.

If you land incorrectly on a long note, figure out what your hand did or failed to do. There is always a reason for poor intonation. Did your hand crumple? Was your fourth finger too far away from the string? Did you feel and form the correct pattern before playing the fast notes? Did your upper fingers pull your first finger up? Did you adjust the contact point of your index finger for each string? Did you keep your hand open and your finger pattern in formation when shifting up and down? Did you remember the angle of the wrist for higher positions? Did you bring your thumb under the neck of the violin at an early enough point in the scale? Is your thumb relaxed and your wrist neutral, still, and loose?

Good intonation is not a game of guessing, rolling, or groping; it is the ability to feel and replicate precise measurements within your octave frame, combined with the kind of concentrated listening across groups of notes that this exercise will cultivate.

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Pronation in the left hand
Setting up the left hand
Slow vs. Fast balance
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