Introduction to Finger Balance

The main objective of the young violinist, as far as the left hand is concerned, should be to acquire the “feeling of balance” between the fingers. We know that the third and fourth fingers are by nature weaker than the first and second. No amount of finger exercises for strengthening the weak third and fourth fingers will achieve the desired result if the student does not constantly bear in mind that what should be aimed at is not the development of strength but the cultivation of balance between the fingers.

— D. C. Dounis

The feeling of balance depends upon Slow versus Fast technique. In slow technique, there is time to find the optimal center of balance for each finger. In fast technique, greater efficiency is necessary. Balance is centered on the highest finger so that all fingers are ready to play immediately.

The optimal center of balance in slow playing is the center of the finger pads. The angle of the hand will change as the balance changes from one finger to the next. In slow playing, it is acceptable for the succeeding fingers not to be over the fingerboard, as the focus is on having freedom for vibrato rather than being ready to play the next note.

Preceding fingers should either be in harmonic position or hover just above the string. Keeping the fingers in harmonic position will allow for keeping a free vibrato without knocking the current finger off balance due to sticking fingers up in the air. It is okay for fingers to naturally extend off the string a little, but don’t force it. Keeping at least one preceding finger down will help keep the playing finger balanced. This is especially helpful for the fourth finger.

The optimal center of balance in fast playing should be on the highest finger. The other fingers will not be centered on their finger pads. Depending on context, some fingers may even be balanced on the sides of the string. Generally, preceding fingers should remain on the string. Succeeding fingers should hover above the string.

Finding the center of balance

  • Place all fingers on the string. Position your hand so that the first finger is on the string with the center of the finger pad. Then rotate your hand so that the second finger is on the string with the center of the finger pad. Continue for each finger. Notice the change of angle, especially for the fourth finger.
  • Deliberately position your hand so that your fingers are not centered properly. Experiment with what it feels like to position your fingers on their side, then immediately try to position on the center of the pad.
  • Place all fingers on the string. While leaving all fingers down, tap your first finger lightly, then let it rest on the string in harmonic position. Repeat for all fingers. In the neck position, tap your thumb underneath the neck, and let it rest lightly against the neck. Do not force it to be in a particular position or underneath a particular finger. Let it remain relaxed.

We’ll look at how to balance the fingers in thumb position and edge cases in another post.