Bonus Lesson: Keep all the Fingers Down? (Question Response)

  1. Thom
  2. March 16, 2009 10:35 pm

Hello! I get a lot of comments and questions on this site, and I do my best to answer all of them directly on the comments. Sometimes, however, questions come up that I have come across in the past in teaching but didn’t think to address on this site. This is one such question:

Nicola wrote,

“Dear Thom! It has always been a childhood dream of mine to learn to play the violin and I have been practicing by myself for at least two hours a day for two weeks so far. I’m 41 and just thought, DO IT! but I don’t have enough money for private lessons. I was having trouble with bowing and then found your site! Oh my gosh! You have helped me sooo much and made me even more determined. But I have one HUGE problem, which none of my books seem to answer, or seem to contradict themselves. When you play, for instance, G on the D string, do you keep ALL three fingers down, or just put down the third finger? And when you move from B on the A string, to G on the D string, do you have to quickly put down all three fingers again to play G? Or just play B, then reach over with the third finger and play G on the A string? This is a problem with other notes, too. As you move up the notes, do you have to keep ALL fingers down? Many thanks for you wonderful lessons. Nicola in the UK!”

Hello Nicola,

While it is not totally necessary to keep all your fingers down to produce the pitch, you SHOULD get in the practice of keeping your fingers down for ease of playing. It is much easier to do ONE action rather than TWO (i.e. lifting your 2nd finger F# and putting down your 3rd finger G).

When switching strings, you do not need to put all 3 fingers down to “climb” up to G. Like you said, going from B on the A string to G on the D string, just anticipate the G by having your 3rd finger hovering over the G, or even down on the stringer if you have learned how to put your finger down (alternating fingers exercise) without muting the string next to it 😀

Short answer: Yes, keep your fingers down as much as possible.

Thank you for the great question, keep them coming!


  1. Shiela says:
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m still a beginner (I’ve been playing for almost 2 months now) and I sometimes have the problem of keeping all my fingers down especially when I use my pinky or when I need to play the note wherein my middle finger is close to my index finger (like C natural for instance) I have a hard time keeping my middle finger close to my index finger… When I have to press my three or four fingers all together(including the pinky), my middle finger sticks out and it goes down later than the other fingers. Also, I tend to exert some pressure on my thumb (in order to reach with my pinky while placing my middle finger close to my index finger). My teacher said that my violin is a bit big for me(it’s 4/4) but that is something I can’t do anything about anymore(I’m 15 years old by the way)… It’s kinda making my fingers hurt (especially my thumb and my index finger because my having a hard time placing my middle finger close to it puts pressure on my index finger)… I hope you can help me with this problem (I’m using the Suzuki method book and I’m working on the Minuets, I started to notice this problem when I played the 12th song-Etude. I can play the songs (somehow) but sometimes my fingers don’t EXACTLY go to the tapes)… I need advice on what I can do (without having to buy another violin)… Great videos by the way!

    • Thank you Shiela!

      If your teacher comments your violin is big for you, that very well could be the case. While many of my friends switched to a full size around 13 or 14, I didn’t get my own full size until I was 16! A good friend of mine played a 3/4 through most of high school until he finally hit a growth spurt.

      Sometimes you do have to go back to basics, if you learned bad habits it can be hard to undo them. Spend some time focusing on actually keeping fingers down while playing. My Alternating Fingers exercise is a good start. Try using it on different strings with different finger patterns (ex. using a low 2 or a high 3).

      You say that you are exerting pressure on your thumb to reach your fourth finger. Try this experiment:
      -Put your 1st finger down and reach your 4th up as high as you can without moving the 1st.
      -Now put your 4th finger down and reach your first as far back as you can. Notice how much more range your hand has reaching BACK to the 1st finger rather than UP to the 4th!
      So keeping that in mind; reach back when having a long stretch of fingers, practice your basics with alternating fingers, and look into trying out a 3/4 size to see how it fits!

      Hope that helps!

  2. Jason says:
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Hi Tom,

    I’m just starting to learn the violin and find your videos to be very helpful. I now know the fingering chart and finger positions. However, my question is when reading the sheet music, for example, how do I know whether to play B with the first finger on the A string, or B with the second finger on the G string, or B played with the fourth finger on the E string. I am not sure how to read the notes on the violin in relation to the notes on the sheet music.



    • Hello Jason!
      Great question! While its great that you’re excited and pushing forward, don’t get ahead of yourself too quickly. You will notice that each note, or each B in the instance of your question is pitched higher or lower than the others.

      The first B that you will learn on Stringsavvy is on the A string, and is marked by a note on the middle line on the staff. That B will always require that pitch to be played. The B on the G string will be marked by a note one ledger line below the staff, and the B on the E string is two ledger lines above.

      Following along in your Essential Elements book will help make this clearer. Hope that helps!

  3. Shiela says:
    Posted July 20, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the reply! Now, my thumb doesn’t hurt anymore(but I am still using a 4/4 sized violin
    :(… Actually my parents didn’t want me to play an instrument because they think that I’ll just stop right away. So, it was my aunt who bought the violin for me.

    Now, instead of my thumb hurting, it’s my index finger (the joint above the base joint- still because of the above-mentioned situation= middle finger +index finger problem). I have thought of 3 probable causes:
    a.) too much finger pressure- if I don’t press hard enough it makes an unclear tone and so I can’t estimate anymore how much pressure I should exert on my fingers; so I press hard
    b.) wrong angle of fingers- really difficult to keep the index finger and middle finger close
    c.) wrong violin hold/ improper posture- my shoulder rest slips off and it doesnt give me enough comfort. I don’t know if it’s too high or too short. How should I know? (My teacher doesn’t use shoulder rest). Most of all, it’s very difficult to find high quality musical intruments and accessories here in the Philippines (i’m in Region 7, not in the capital).

    I’ve discussed this with my teacher(I changed my teacher just a month ago) and she said she’s never known anyone with this problem and now I’m stuck with it. It makes me hesitate to practice a bit because I’m afraid it’s going to swell(just a bit) again (like last time). I tried to stop playing for a week then the pain subsided a little. Then it came back, when I practiced Sevcik and it suddenly hurt (too much finger pressure I was sure of it). So I stopped playing again for a week. Until now it still kinda hurts.(just a bit- like when I knock on the door or something like that; but definitely lesser than before.) Exerting lesser pressure seems to help but sometimes I still return to my bad habit! And I also feel it has a lot to do with my posture. If you would like a video of me play i’d gladly send it to you. (please post your e-mail ad if ever. I’m sorry but I don’t like posting videos of myself in a “public video sharing site”)

    Hmmm.. and i’ll try to take your advice about changing violin size. I’ll ask my classmate if she has a 3/4 since she’s now using 4/4 and she started studying since kinder. That way, if I buy it, the it’s cheaper. Is it possible to be stuck with a 3/4 violin your whole life? Or once you become better at it,(because my growth spurt is over!) you can shift to a 4/4?

    Lastly, I’M REALLY SORRY for such a long and detailed comment(more of a problem). AND I’M SORRY FOR BOTHERING. WHAT I HATE THE MOST IS BOTHERING OTHER PEOPLE. RIGHT NOW, I’M JUST REALLY DESPERATE because I can hardly find anything on the web related to this. SORRY AGAIN AND I HOPE I WOULDN’T HAVE TO BOTHER YOU AGAIN NEXT TIME.

    Thanks for your time! And it’s fine if you don’t reply right away because it is not your obligation to do so 🙂 God Bless!

    • Hello Shiela,

      For a long time I had a bad habit of very stiff fingers and tightness in my hand. I was pressing too hard on the string, my shoulders were uptight, and my playing and comfort suffered as a result. My teacher at the time noticed it and prescribed for me to press down on the strings only with JUST enough pressure to allow the string to touch the fingerboard and vibrate popular, and not a ounce of pressure more. I spent a few painful frustrating months paying attention to the tightness in my hand and taking the time to recognize when it happened and lighten my fingers up. Playing slowly with only intent on practicing the prescribed technique described above. Over time this really allowed me to loosen up and enjoy my playing much more!

      On the top of shoulder rest, experiment with what works best for you. I have a bit of a longer neck, so I do like my shoulder rest extended a bit more so I don’t have to clamp my neck down and cause any stress. I prefer the Kun Shoulder Rest
      – because I rarely have any issues with them slipping off.

  4. cynthia says:
    Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    dear tom,
    good day.
    tom, which book i should suppose to buy to cope up with your lesson?
    God bless on your teaching =))

    its me,cinch

    • Hello Cinch!

      Click here to be taken the the lesson index. There is a link on that page to the Essential Elements book!

      Good to see you here!

  5. aiza says:
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    thank you so much for this wonderful site..bookmarked..very helpful..:)

  6. Carolann Renick says:
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Hi ~ Just discovered this site tonight. I have been playing for 2 1/2 years and have just started to use my pinky finger. My instructor who has long fingers wants me to keep all my fingers down while using my pinky. It just doesn’t reach, even straight out. I have been trying for about a month. I can use my pinky when I take my other fingers off and kind of adjust my hand. Have tried adjusting elbow, hand under fingerboard. Just does not reach on D string and G string. Help, please.

    • Hello Carolann!

      Without seeing you in person I’ll do my best to offer some help. Depending on how “big” you are (arm length, fingers, etc) you may need a smaller instrument- or you might just need to work on your hand shape. I have noticed some people who have a very difficult time extending their fourth finger. One of my teachers made the point that it is much easier to “reach back” towards the nut with the hand than to stretch fingers forward toward the bridge. One thing you could try is finding the correct position for your 4th finger and “reaching” (don’t over do it!) you hand back to allow your fingers to fall into place. Another possibility to try (and of course consult with your teacher) is to consider your instrument size. Let me know how it works out!

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