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Thread: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Holding my fingers down as I'm changing notes is a constant battle for me, as I suppose it is for many of us. Does anyone have suggestions as to how to improve this aspect of playing?
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Spend some practice time holding fingers down while playing scale.

    So if you play a D major scale starting from the open D string, use finger 1 on the 2nd fret E, hold that finger in fretting position and play the 2nd finger F# at fret 4; keep both fingers down, then play the 5th fret G with finger 3, keep all 3 fingers in place, and play the A at fret 7 with finger 4.

    Do the same on the A string; keep up the idea as you practice scales.

    Using those "support fingers" while playing ffcp scales is a great exercise.

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    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Like David says.

    Also, fingers remain "in playing position, but not at playing tension", as Janos Starker told all his cello students. As each new finger takes over, the other finger relaxes but without moving from its position on the fingerboard. You should feel the transfer of tension/pressure from one finger to the next.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Clausen View Post
    Like David says.

    Also, fingers remain "in playing position, but not at playing tension", as Janos Starker told all his cello students. As each new finger takes over, the other finger relaxes but without moving from its position on the fingerboard. You should feel the transfer of tension/pressure from one finger to the next.
    Great point - keep the fingers in place, but not tense.

    As a matter of fact, only use the smallest amount of tension needed to fret cleanly.

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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Play while looking in mirror.
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    In the real scheme of things there are many things more important. I tend to raise my finger unless there is some odd reason not to ( rocking between the two notes etc.) what difference does it make if your finger is left on finger board but tension is released or finger is above finger board. Don't tell me speed, you couldn't even measure the time it would take to set the finger down. You set finger 2down as you lift finger 1 up once again you couldn't measure the time involved with out some very precise equipment and you sure couldn't detect it by ear.

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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Yeah, it's a speed thing, it really does work. It is really noticeable on fiddle, fast runs are far easier when you keep your fingers down. YMMV, but try it a bit. There are some good comments here about not pressing any harder than you have too, you have to be relaxed to play fast.
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    To build the habit it can help to focus just on that and no other aspect for a little time every day.

    An exercise that helped me a lot in establishing that as well as in learning to control string pressure is to get the fretting hand in position over the first four frets. Do not do anything with the picking hand, just let it set relaxed in your lap or at your side. Just touch the fourth string at each fret position, focusing on not moving it at all and on moving your fingers as little as possible do this on each string going up then back down. Focus on touching in the right spot behind the fret each time. Move up a fret and do it again up and down the fingerboard or till you get bored.

    Within a few days you should notice some difference in your playing. The same exercise can be done pressing the strings down to the fret with the minimum pressure to make the fret but it is best to do the other exercise first.

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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    The following question came to me in a private message, but I will respond to it here so others can see it as well.:
    I read you below post on holding the left fingers down. It sounds interesting and that it could help me too, but I don't think I understand it clearly. Could you explain it again please.
    This is in reference to the immediate prior post here. I am not sure if I can explain any better but will try. The point of the exercise is to train the left hand fingers. To do this we are trying to isolate just those movements and take out everything else. To do that we do not use the right hand at all and do not try to play a song or scale so you are not having to deal with remembering the right notes to hit.

    In setting the fingers down first you need to line the fingers up with the string, one just behind each of the first four frets. They should be close to the string, about one eighth of an inch away. bring them down, one finger at a time, to just touch the string without moving it and without lifting up the other fingers, first fret, second fret, third fret, fourth fret. Then move them to the next string and repeat through all four strings till you get up the top string. Then start on the first string on the fourth fret down to the first, again trying to touch the string with moving it going from the first string one at a time back to the fourth.

    Then move up a fret on the fourth string and repeat the exercise on all strings and keep repeating one fret at a time up the neck till you get to the twelfth fret or you get tired of doing it.

    Focus at all times on minimum finger movement, watching your hand, never lifting your finger more than one eighth of an inch off the string and string to keep from moving the string as you touch them. It is best done to a metronome on a slow to medium speed.

    Done every day for a while it should help lighten up your touch, improve finger coordination and reduce finger movement when you go to play. Hope this helps and is more clear for you.

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Carl, I was confused also. Not sure I understand yet, but I'll give it a shot.

    Thanks for taking the time to post and clarify.
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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    It just occurred to me I meant to ask if anyone responding also plays violin. My teacher has (repeatedly!) told me not to let up on the pressure of a finger closer to the nut when also having other fingers down on the same string. The opposite is being said here. I hope I'm making sense.
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Sherry, lots of variables on this.

    If you are playing runs, or fast scalar passages, yes, it helps to keep the fingers you will be using next on the strings. I'm not convinced, though, that every time you play a note with your third finger, your first and second need to go down behind it.

    You ask about violin technique. There are times when you keep them down—in quick passages, or as an anchor in a high position. On the other hand, in a more melodic passage, having more than one down can interfere with your ability to play with an expressive vibrato. Beginners are usually taught to keep all the fingers behind the one that is playing the note down. As a player advances, and learns to incorporate vibrato, one-finger-at-a-time comes into play.

    The parallels are tenuous, though. Frets give one a bit of wiggle room in exactly where your finger lands, and vibrato doesn't seem to be much of a thing in Mandoworld.
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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    I think, rather than thinking of holding them down, it might help to think of leaving them down.
    One of the basic tenets of both violin and mandolin is using the least force possible to stop a string.
    Following on from this you could assume that it takes no more effort to leave it down, however we're after the overall relaxed hand, so fretting another string would change the tension in the hand, so you might find you do need to relax the tension while leaving it in situ, but the benchmark is keeping relaxed and using no more effort than necessary.

    Lifting off the fingers takes effort and can change the force needed to put the required fingers down, if one part of your hand is lifting & the other trying to fret they’re going in opposite directions. You can end up having to rotate the hand at the wrist to compensate for the lift & fret of different fingers. That’s all stuff you have to compensate for as you move through the tune. With the fingers just relaxing in situ where possible you avoid starting the rocking and tipping of the hand.

    But what do I actually do? With everything downstream of the fretted or sounding notes on adjacent strings I lift. This is because my fingers are veryfat tipped & no matter how pointy or vertical I try to make them, I need to get them off the adjacent strings or I mute or cause a harmonic screech on the fiddle. So when moving on to fiddle I had to learn compromises which were never an issue with ‘cello & add inneficiencies to my left hand that I find a bit inelegant. But needs must & it’s a trade-off between efficiency & style I’m having to just go with.

    The main thing is keep the left hand relaxed & efficient, don’t waste effort or give yourself more work by moving off the strings more than the minimum needed. Minimum effort, relaxed fretting.
    Eoin



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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    The main thing is keep the left hand relaxed & efficient, donít waste effort or give yourself more work by moving off the strings more than the minimum needed. Minimum effort, relaxed fretting.

    In his last sentence Eoin has expressed what I think is the most important factor in getting a good fretting hand technique. It is so easy to over-exert one's pressure on the frets (and cause early fret wear as a result). With larger frets, and especially on guitars with jumbo frets, it can also lead to playing out of intonation if you press too hard while fretting. The same can happen when you put a capo on too tightly. This is why I favour the Shubb type of capo which can be adjusted for pressure.
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Louise NM View Post
    You ask about violin technique. There are times when you keep them down—in quick passages, or as an anchor in a high position. On the other hand, in a more melodic passage, having more than one down can interfere with your ability to play with an expressive vibrato. Beginners are usually taught to keep all the fingers behind the one that is playing the note down. As a player advances, and learns to incorporate vibrato, one-finger-at-a-time comes into play.
    .
    Actually this does happen to a much smaller extent in fretworld.

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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    I won't go into the technique as that has been addressed. But I will reinforce the use of a metronome. With a metronome you add the "urgency" or the reason why you keep fingers closer, rather than straighten them out. This needs to become automatic. It some how worked better for me to not think about it, but to play something fast. Again, a metronome will help this technique to be learned correctly (within the rhythm/time to the music) rather than irregular fits and starts or slowing then rushing.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    It just occurred to me I meant to ask if anyone responding also plays violin. My teacher has (repeatedly!) told me not to let up on the pressure of a finger closer to the nut when also having other fingers down on the same string. The opposite is being said here. I hope I'm making sense.
    I am not sure of the context of the specific advice you quote. My violin teacher was adamant about keeping my fingers down, to the extent of keeping some pressure with each finger as I go up the scale on a string.
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    It just occurred to me I meant to ask if anyone responding also plays violin. My teacher has (repeatedly!) told me not to let up on the pressure of a finger closer to the nut when also having other fingers down on the same string. The opposite is being said here. I hope I'm making sense.
    It's a matter of degree of pressure. Your teacher may be wanting you to emphasize this while you are learning. Later you can lighten up.

    I'm not sure you should wait, though.

  28. #20
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I am not sure of the context of the specific advice you quote. My violin teacher was adamant about keeping my fingers down, to the extent of keeping some pressure with each finger as I go up the scale on a string.
    Jeff, it's interesting you should mention context. I was thinking earlier today, prior to reading your post, I should have elaborated more as to the kind of responses I was seeking when starting this thread. I'll do that now.

    When I play a melody, I often tend to play staccato, when legato is intended. When I do that in a lesson, my teacher will say "hold your fingers down." I always think I'm doing it, but obviously I'm not. The same goes for playing scales, which I do daily - just as David described (but apparently without the holding-down-fingers part).

    I think Carl has the right idea in suggesting I focus on nothing but holding my fingers down a few minutes every day and I've started that when playing scales. I've also decreased metronome speed to better do this.

    And, yes, Eoin, I believe "leaving them down, rather than "holding them down," better describes the meaning I intended to convey.
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    Jeff, it's interesting you should mention context. I was thinking earlier today, prior to reading your post, I should have elaborated more as to the kind of responses I was seeking when starting this thread. I'll do that now.

    When I play a melody, I often tend to play staccato, when legato is intended. When I do that in a lesson, my teacher will say "hold your fingers down." I always think I'm doing it, but obviously I'm not. The same goes for playing scales, which I do daily - just as David described (but apparently without the holding-down-fingers part).

    I think Carl has the right idea in suggesting I focus on nothing but holding my fingers down a few minutes every day and I've started that when playing scales. I've also decreased metronome speed to better do this.

    And, yes, Eoin, I believe "leaving them down, rather than "holding them down," better describes the meaning I intended to convey.
    I'm a firm believer in "tai chi" practice, slowing everything down in order to emphasize and attain perfect form. Speed can come later after perfect form is consistently achieved.

    Doing scales very slowly while actually playing legato will reveal when fingers are being released or placed prematurely. Even at the speed of slow molasses, a metronome is essential.
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Thanks for clarifying that Sherry.

    In case they help, here are a few ideas from my journey through expressiveness on the mandolin;

    My legato with the mandolin came on pretty quickly when I began playing Italian tunes wilth long tremolo passages, O’Carolan harp tunes and Nordic tunes with double stopped drones.

    The tremolo tunes helped me to give the full value to the long notes, when not tremoloing it can be tempting to get out early to get on with the fiddly bits. By using tremolo and shaping that tremolo to crescendo / diminuendo across the full note time I got more sense of the singing needed to make those tunes work. I also found it helped to play them standing up and imagining a person to whom I was playing the tune, real ham acting stuff. What that does is get the full theatricality of those tunes going and made me realise just how much you have to over do things in your head to get an appreciable difference to an outside observer. Once I had that feel I experimented with removing the tremolo or stopping early or at the top of the volume curve to let it ring to the end of the note, sometimes this really works well, giving a much more accomplished feel to the tremolo note than just start to end tremolo. But above all it gets you exploring how best to make a mandolin sound legato.

    The O’Carolan tunes helped by getting me to listen to how I attacked and finished notes to get different effects, but always thinking ‘harp’ sound while playing them. By playing well up the fretboard on the long notes I gave myself a rounder fuller sound to work with, having more complexity than further back. This meant that I was really listening for the decay of the bell-like notes while making sure I wasn’t too near the fret so there was no damping from the finger either. This meant that I coukd search for the right moment to move off the note, normally after the next one or two faster notes had sounded. So maybe try some O’Carolan tunes up the fretboard and experiment with releasing the fingers at different times to change the effect and get the feel for what’s possible on the release of a note.

    The Nordic tunes helped by getting clarity in my drone notes. I practiced playing the ones from hardanger fiddle in their original keys, which is normally done by using alternative tunings, but by sticking to standard tuning I made it more of an exercise in clean double stopping. Not always successful, but it really helps with keeping the fingers down.

    Hopefully there might be something in that which helps you to get that legato expressiveness into your bag of tricks.
    Last edited by Beanzy; Apr-19-2018 at 12:50am.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    When I play a melody, I often tend to play staccato, when legato is intended. When I do that in a lesson, my teacher will say "hold your fingers down." I always think I'm doing it, but obviously I'm not.
    This may be the issue.

    Getting a good smooth legato on a plucked stringed instrument like a mandolin - short scale length, high string tension, etc. - is harder than people think.

    In this case, as a teacher myself, I'd suggest that it's about connecting the notes, and that does mean holding the fretted note full length note value, not releasing the fretting finger off the fret too early, and making the next pitch in the melodic line sound clearly.

    That would help with legato.

    I'd also use a tremolo exercise, long notes with as fast and even a tremolo that you can play, and make the notes connect as you play simple scale patterns of 2-5 notes.

    The idea is to make it seem like a legato, unbroken melodic line.

    "When I play a melody, I often tend to play staccato"

    This part is all mental effort - now that you are aware of the issue, focus and concentrate on NOT playing staccato unless specifically desired. This takes some discipline, but will also help, since the music is conceived in our mind before we play a note.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Sound advice from David (and the others).

    I will add that legato playing can also be in the mind as much as in the fingering, in that if we are new to a tune we can tend to play it one note at a time rather than thinking in phrases. We read the note, pick it and count carefully its notated value then do the same with the next note. This leads to the tune becoming a succession of notes rather than being phrased. Work at the tune until you have the notes memorised without having to look at the score, and you will find that everything becomes smoother as your confidence is greater and you can deliver the tune fluently. Pick phrases and repeat them till they are automatic, then learn the next phrase, etc. This is how Scottish traditional fiddle is regularly taught, the tutor playing a phrase then the student repeating it in a cycle.
    Last edited by John Kelly; Apr-19-2018 at 12:20pm. Reason: typos
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    Default Re: Looking for Advice for Holding Fingers Down

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    And, yes, Eoin, I believe "leaving them down, rather than "holding them down," better describes the meaning I intended to convey.
    Amen. That is the better wording because it more accurately describes what we want to accomplish.
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