One of the most challenging aspects of learning how to play the violin is finger placement. Below, violin teacher Naomi Cherie S. provides a lesson in proper violin fingering…
So you’ve just started to learn how to play the violin. Before you can start wowing crowds like famous violin players Lindsay Stirling and Joshua Bell, it’s important that you first learn the basics, starting with proper violin fingering.
Learning the proper violin finger placement is a great place to start, as it will serve as the foundation of your violin playing. Below is a beginner’s guide to proper violin fingering and placement.
Let’s get started!
What is First Position?
There are several violin finger positions one must learn. However, as a beginner, the first one you’ll need to learn is called first position.
First position includes the first (or lowest) five notes that you can play on each violin string.
Since violins don’t have frets or marks that show you where to put your fingers the way guitars do, one of the most challenging aspects of learning the instrument is knowing where to place your fingers.
If you don’t have your finger in exactly the right spot (even if it’s just a hair off) the note can come out sounding out of tune.
The most common way to get around this issue is to place finger tapes on the fingerboard that show you the proper violin finger placement.
Over time, your fingers will develop something we call “muscle memory,” and eventually you’ll be able to remove the tapes and play in tune without them.
Most beginners keep their tapes on anywhere from six months to a couple of years depending on the student.
What You’ll Need
- Finger tape: You can find a roll of violin finger tape online or at your local violin shop. You can also purchase pinstripe tape from an automotive shop.
- Chromatic tuner or smartphone tuning app: See our list of the top 10 violin tuner apps here.
- Your violin
How to Put Finger Tapes on Your Violin
You will first want to make sure your violin is in tune. You can tune it using a chromatic tuner or smartphone violin tuner app, as explained in this instructional video.
It is imperative to get each string exactly in tune before applying your tapes. Therefore, check your tuning a couple of times just to be sure.
Once you’ve tuned your violin, place your first finger about two inches down from the top of the fingerboard on the G string and pluck the string.
Look at your tuner and move your finger around until the tuner reads A and lights up green with the tuner needle in the middle of the dial signifying that your A is in tune.
You can use a pencil to mark the spot and then slide a three-inch long strip of tape under the strings and press down firmly to go across the entire fingerboard and around the neck of the violin. This will be your first finger tape.
Place your first finger (index finger) on the tape and pluck one string at a time, looking at the tuner to make sure it reads A on the G string, E on the D string, B on the A string and F # on the E string.
If the tuner reads each note as in tune, the tape has been placed correctly. You may need to adjust it a few times and double check with the tuner before it is perfectly placed. The same process will follow for the placement of each tape.
The second finger tape will be placed roughly one inch away from the first tape. Adjust your second finger (middle finger) on the G string until the tuner reads B and then place your tape down.
When the second finger is placed on the second finger tape on each string, the tuner should read B on the G string, F # on the D string, C # on the A string and G # on the E string.
The third finger tape will be placed about a half inch or less away from the second finger tape. Adjust your third finger (ring finger) on the G string until the tuner reads C and then place your tape down.
When the third finger is placed on the third finger tape on each string, the tuner should read C on the G string, G on the D string, D on the A string and A on the E string.
The fourth finger tape will go down about an inch away from the third finger tape. Adjust your fourth finger (pinky finger) on the G string until the tuner reads D and then place your tape down.
When the fourth finger is placed on the fourth finger tape each string, the tuner should read D on the G string, A on the D string, E on the A string and B on the E string.
Please note that the rough one-inch etc. measurements I am using for spacing are based on a full size or 4/4 violin.
If you’re putting tape on a smaller violin, everything will be the same except that the tape will be placed closer together.
The main thing to pay attention to is getting the correct readings for the notes on the tuner.
And that’s it! Now that you have all four tapes down, you’ll know the proper violin finger placement while playing in first position.
How to Label Notes
Once you’ve put your tapes on, the next step will be to learn and memorize where each note in first position is and how it corresponds to the tapes.
In music, we use the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F and G to describe each note.
Once you’ve gotten to the end of the cycle and played G, you’ll start back over with A again and the sequence will repeat.
See violin fingering chart below:
Memorizing the Notes in First Position
So looking at your violin, start with your G string and place your first finger on the first finger tape. This note would be A.
Then place your second finger on the second finger tape. This note would be B. Your third finger would be C and so forth and so on.
You can look at the violin finger chart below to see where all of the notes fall on your tapes.
Over time, you will memorize all of these notes and become so familiar with them that you’ll be able to identify them without having to stop to think.
Making flash cards with a drawing of the note on one side and a label of the note on the other side is a really great way to help you memorize the notes.
See violin fingering chart below:
There are a lot of other notes that fall in between the notes on the tapes.
However, the reason why we start with the notes in the above chart is that these are the most commonly used notes and therefore the easiest to learn.
For instance, most beginner violin books will contain songs or exercises that use these notes.
Once you’ve memorized all of the notes on the tapes and where they fall on the violin, you can start to learn the notes that fall in between the tapes as illustrated in the chart below.
You won’t need to put down tapes for all of these other notes because after getting familiarized with the first set of notes on the tapes you’ll be able to rely on the tapes, your fingers, and muscle memory as guide.
See violin fingering chart below:
Understanding Sharp and Flat Notes
Chances are you’ve noticed that there are the standard notes labeled as A, B, C etc. and then there are other notes such as C#, B♭, G#, and A♭
So what exactly do those funny symbols mean? Below are some basic guidelines to understanding these other notes:
When you see a # symbol it means “sharp.” A sharp note, for instance a C # (C sharp), is a half-step higher than just a regular C.
When you see a ♭ symbol it means “flat.” A flat note, for instance B♭ (B flat), is a half-step lower than just a regular B.
If you look at the violin fingering charts above, you’ll see that some of the sharp notes fall on the tapes, but for many others, such as B♭ or G #, your fingers will need to stray from the tape.
By sliding the nearest finger either above or below the tape, you can accomplish these notes.
For instance, in order to play the B♭ on the A string, take your first finger which is normally positioned to play a B on the first finger tape on A string and slide it a half step below the first finger tape to turn that note into a B.
You can use your tuner to make sure your finger is in the correct spot at first.
Now You’re Ready
Once you’ve memorized all of the notes in both of the violin fingering charts above and mastered playing them fluidly, you’ll know all of the notes in first position.
Most beginners spend the first couple of years studying first position, while they’re developing their violin fingering technique, bow technique, etc.
Once you have a good foundation and grasp on proper violin fingering, you can delve into learning other more advanced positions on the violin, such as third and fifth position.
In the meantime, I hope this information on the proper violin finger placement has helped you and I wish you the best on your musical journeys!