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To press down or not to press down that is the question.

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Apr 1, 2020 - 2:59:18 AM
1489 posts since 4/6/2014

Do you press the string down all the way to the fingerboard or not? and what are the advantages/disadvantages of either way.

I've just been exploring the different tonal qualities i can get without the "String"  actually touching the fingerboard, (The pad of my finger touches the fingerboard but not the string), never really done it consciously before. It's been a bit of an eye opener. Mostly i get a drier more intense tone than if i press down hard, and it makes it easier to get a pop at the beginning of the note. I can lean on the note with my bow just as heavily as i want, and i don't seem to lose much (if any) volume.


My fiddle (Mid 19th/Turn of the century French), is about 2.5mm at the end of the fingerboard (E string), and about 4mm G string. At the nut i would say the string height is about average, and i'm using "really" cheap  steel Chinese strings. (i gave up on expensive strings years ago, just not durable enough for the amount of fiddling i do).

Apr 1, 2020 - 5:42:58 AM
Players Union Member

boxbow

USA

2621 posts since 2/3/2011

I've found that it's harder to get good tone on double stops while using lighter finger pressure than on single stopped notes. Playing at speed, this isn't so apparent, but it's there. I assume it's because different strings initiate sound at different bow speed/pressures. Or maybe I just have crappy student fiddle set-ups on my ever so affordable student fiddles.

Apr 1, 2020 - 6:53:30 AM

1489 posts since 4/6/2014

@ joeh4232  just using lighter finger pressure so that the pad of my finger touches the fingerboard (either side or just on one side of the string), but not the string. Think I've always done this but not consciously. My finger is stopping the string, and the finger board is stopping my finger. When i played guitar more i had harder pads on my fingers and couldn't do this. But now I've got fiddle pads rather than guitar pads on my fingers, i can. Bowing is normal, or i can use more bow weight and play nearer the bridge if i want to, and still control the tone.

@ boxbow interesting about the double stops because i use the "not pushing the string right down technique" to tune the notes. it's useful in tuning 5ths because i can push down less or more on one string than the other and tune them until i like the sound of them, by rocking my finger from one string to the other. ive not thought about it on other intervals though.

Not saying it's for everyone, but its definitely another string to my bow.. or another tool in the box for me.

Apr 1, 2020 - 11:01:05 AM

851 posts since 8/11/2009

I actually play this way all the time. You have to have a basically perfect set up on your instrument for it to work, especially on the G string. I have a friend who gauges whether the set up is correct or still needs tweaking by whether he can play this way on the instrument. Black hair on the bow tends to help it too, being a little coarser and grabber. One benefit, if you're slightly flat on the note, pushing down a bit harder can bring it right in to tune. I won't say that the tip of my fingers never touch the fingerboard, but not much.

Apr 1, 2020 - 11:03:11 AM

4289 posts since 6/23/2007

On Youtube some years back a music professor discussed using less pressure when noting.
I did what he suggested, and it worked for me. I should not have been surprised. If often seems as though the less "muscle" put into fiddling, the better the result.

Apr 1, 2020 - 3:45:34 PM

2262 posts since 8/23/2008

I am a believer in 'minimal required finger pressure', but that does not mean the string doesn't touch the fingerboard, because I can actually see the marks ( silver discolouring ) along the finger board the string has caused, but this would be after hours of playing without cleaning. The amount of pressure I use is just enough to achieve a decent tone, never excessive, and when I play faster I use even lighter pressure. When I use vibrato on a long note I need more finger pressure so to not vibrate too wide, but that is some times also used to great effect. To tune up my double stops the pressure is always released, and when in the high positions the pressure is never enough to press the string all the way down to the fingerboard.

I had the idea that string height could be determined by hand size and strength, so I took my fiddles to the luthier and had the bridges cut a little above standard height, because then I would gradually shave them down to a height that I was comfortable with. This took some time between shaving and testing, but I arrived at the optimum height of 2mm=E, 4mm=G. However, this is not optimum for all my fiddles because they have varing degrees of scoop which has an affect on string height. I also took the grooves in the nut below standard.

Apr 1, 2020 - 6:35:27 PM

367 posts since 3/1/2020

This topic was covered pretty well in the other thread. The YouTube video is not particularly convincing, and as several people suggested (myself included), if you have difficulty in reaching the fingerboard when pressing lightly on the strings, there are issues with the setup, such as bridge height, nut height, fingerboard scoop and straightness on the bottom, and projection of the neck.

I agree that playing should not require much pressure, although some players tend to press a bit harder than others based on their personal styles.

Leopold Auer, arguably the greatest violin teacher of all time, also an excellent player, suggested that there is no ideal when it comes to finger pressure—it’s something that varies with the player.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:08:08 PM

1489 posts since 4/6/2014

A way i have been exploring this is to play say an A harmonic. on the D string and gradually increase the pressure on the string until the fingered note sounds. There is a point where the harmonic and the fingered note can be switched back and forth. on my fiddle when the fingered note sounds the string is not touching the finger board. And with practice a little more pressure, and the string still not touching the finger board, i get a usable controllable tone. And a reference as to how much pressure is needed for the fingered note to sound.

Apr 1, 2020 - 11:07:06 PM
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1774 posts since 12/11/2008

You guys got me to do some experimenting with finger pressure. No science, no theory, no tricks. In any case, on all strings, once I hit bottom, i.e., the fingerboard, it doesn't matter how hard or lightly I press. The same note comes out.

Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 04/01/2020 23:08:49

Apr 2, 2020 - 12:44:18 AM
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1489 posts since 4/6/2014

I'm finding myself totally agreeing with this guy on this one.

Nathan Cole

Apr 2, 2020 - 6:12:12 AM

367 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler

You guys got me to do some experimenting with finger pressure. No science, no theory, no tricks. In any case, on all strings, once I hit bottom, i.e., the fingerboard, it doesn't matter how hard or lightly I press. The same note comes out.


Agreed. Only enough pressure to stop the string is required. Any excess is unnecessary for tone production. 

Apr 4, 2020 - 9:06:02 AM
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38 posts since 3/29/2020

You all should hear Mark O'Connor talk about how he uses his fingers for phrasing. He slams those digits down.

I'd dig up the video, but I'm afraid some of you might not find it particularly convincing. wink

Apr 4, 2020 - 7:41:05 PM

367 posts since 3/1/2020

As an analogy:

Consider writing by hand--to write, one needs to touch the point of the pen to the paper. If you’re using a fine pen, it takes almost no pressure to make the ink flow. You can press harder, and different people use different amounts of pressure, yet only a certain amount of pressure is needed to get the ink onto the paper. But no matter how much or how little pressure you use, the pen has to touch the paper for you to do any writing.

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 04/04/2020 19:41:41

Apr 4, 2020 - 10:29:25 PM
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38 posts since 3/29/2020

Also consider this analogy:

I used to have a Blackberry (remember those?) that I could control without even touching the little optical sensor (this was post trackball, a 9700 if I remember correctly). The sensor was so sensitive that it picked up on my finger without being touched.

This analogy is just as silly as the pen and paper analogy, and it too has absolutely nothing to do with violins.

I can play clear and clean without the strings touching the fingerboard. Fact. Do I? No, and much like Henry said elsewhere, I see the evidence in the silver on my fingerboard. It is an entertaining little exercise to pull out when I realize I'm hammering the fingerboard too hard. I'd toss up a video to prove it, but I need a helper to run the paper and the camera, and alas, in these troubled times, I don't have someone I'd want to risk getting close to my potentially virus ridden body.

Perhaps more importantly, why are you so invested in being right? We're kind of saying the same thing here. Minimum pressure required to sound the note. Get your fiddle out, my dude, and try the little exercise. I'm not advocating that one should always do this, just that it's possible, and I urge everyone to try it, just to prove to themselves it can be done. 

Edited by - The Body Electric on 04/04/2020 22:33:30

Apr 5, 2020 - 5:54:17 AM
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11840 posts since 9/23/2009

I generally press hard because I've been playing the guitar for so long that's just how I do it. However, with so many conversations on this over the years here on FHO, I started trying to become aware of it and now realize I actually, not consciously, just sorta do vary the amount of pressure I press down with to get different sounds on the notes...I think I balance that with the bow strokes...this all sounds very involved and complicated, but it's not...it's just my awareness of what I just evolved into without thought. As far as pressure on the guitar...most of it is more or less about the same...but on the fiddle, and maybe one reason I've loved playing the fiddle so much in these past few years I've played, it seems I've sorta, without much awareness of it, come to love the way you can get so much more out of each and every note between how you are pressing, how you are bowing and all of that...not aware exactly of what I'm doing physically...just evolving in that direction without knowing what I'm doing. So...I think the conversation has helped me to just parse out what I do when I play, anyway...not sure if it's right or wrong, good or bad, but it's one of the things that I now am thinking that made me come to love the fiddle more than any other instrument.

Apr 5, 2020 - 8:11:23 PM
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367 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Benski


...This analogy is just as silly as the pen and paper analogy, and it too has absolutely nothing to do with violins...
Perhaps more importantly, why are you so invested in being right? We're kind of saying the same thing here. Minimum pressure required to sound the note. Get your fiddle out, my dude, and try the little exercise. I'm not advocating that one should always do this, just that it's possible, and I urge everyone to try it, just to prove to themselves it can be done... 


I think you must have misunderstood the analogy. Perhaps another reading would be in order. The Blackberry analogy doesn't apply because fingerboards don't have optical sensors. However small the amount, contact is required.

I am invested in accuracy because the violin field is my life and because I am firmly against the  dissemination of false or misleading information.

I have already tried the paper idea and found that it was not accurate at all. In the MVP sound video linked in an earlier post, the player calls his sound pure and clean at level 5, but that sound is neither. At the end of the video he rattles off a phrase that is clean, clearly using more finger pressure.

I think this is just a case of wishful thinking, similar to the claims that some players make that they keep their bows completely flat on the string and never tilt.

Apr 8, 2020 - 10:55:47 AM

1489 posts since 4/6/2014

Not an analogy or anything as subtle... But when i first started playing fiddle (30 odd years ago), i came from playing guitar, (steel acoustic), i busted bow hairs, made dints in the finger board, and wore expensive strings out in double quick time. This was very frustrating and lead to more tension busted strings, bow hair, and dints in the finger board. If i had watched the MVP guy, ( Nathan Cole ) and took it as red,  it would have saved a LOT of  time, money and frustration. Even if i ended up playing at number 8, 9 or 10,...Just trying to help folk out. And IMO there is obviously more than one way of looking at things ...As always.

Apr 8, 2020 - 12:42:44 PM

gapbob

USA

742 posts since 4/20/2008

I tend to push pretty hard, I feel like I get a better tone that way, but I believe that it also has to do with how fast you play. The faster you play, the faster the fingers move, and it is impossible to stop them just exactly where you want, which is what the fingerboard helps out with, because you cannot go past the fingerboard (unless you are the Hulk). When I play to softly, it does not sound as good and feels sloppy.

If you want to put your hand against a wall you can do it quite accurately by moving quite slowling, but if you want to do it quickly, you will end up slapping the wall (your hand wants to overshoot the wall, but cannot, so it hits hard).  If you do it fast, but slow down fast before you hit the wall, then the timing is slowed as well, so your mental process of playing a note when you want, exactly in time, would be skewed and very difficult to do.  I think of this as ringing.

This image shows various speeds of approaching a position.  http://www.swarthmore.edu/NatSci/echeeve1/Ref/E72WhaKnow/LoPass2Step.gif
Notice the overshoot of the higher speed approaches, this energy turns into a slap, but you get there quickly, also makes it a more strongly placed finger on the string.

Edited by - gapbob on 04/08/2020 12:50:00

Apr 8, 2020 - 12:57:58 PM

9037 posts since 3/19/2009

Probably, someone already mentioned this, but it is possible to have your finger touch the fingerboard yet NOT the string.. Remember that the finger flesh wraps around the sting..To get the String to touch the fingerboard is different than having your finger touch.. the finger touches First ..and with more pressure, the string..

Apr 8, 2020 - 1:19:59 PM
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1489 posts since 4/6/2014

quote:
Originally posted by TuneWeaver

Probably, someone already mentioned this, but it is possible to have your finger touch the fingerboard yet NOT the string.. Remember that the finger flesh wraps around the sting..To get the String to touch the fingerboard is different than having your finger touch.. the finger touches First ..and with more pressure, the string..


you must have really thin fingers Leewink

i know what you mean though smiley

Apr 8, 2020 - 4:47:13 PM
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1774 posts since 12/11/2008

My guitar callouses near guarantee that the string touches down before my fingertip.

Apr 10, 2020 - 8:30:59 AM
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4289 posts since 6/23/2007

It seems that on the fiddle "less is more". I get better results when I use less "muscle" and physical movement. When I first got interested in fiddling, the first thing that caught my attention was the fact the better fiddlers were not moving their hands and arms as much as the other fiddlers. After watching a professor on Youtube discuss the amount of pressure required to effectively play a note, I tried what he suggested and it worked for me.

I added this to a small list of reminders I keep on my music stand. I periodically glance at them after playing something. Reminders are gradually added and removed.

*** The profession recommended very light pressure.

Apr 10, 2020 - 4:30:41 PM
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2262 posts since 8/23/2008

When I began playing I was unaware of how much pressure was required, all I knew was what I heard others say...press the string firmly, and.. the fingers make a popping sound..... and, you should hear the note just by slamming the finger down. I had been playing in Bush Dance Bands for years and at some point along the way I was beginning to think things are not quite going right. I had developed thick callus from playing guitar and mandolin, but after gigs my finger tips would be really sore and I would have difficulty keeping up to tempo and maintaining stamina. This prompted me to reassess how I was pressing the string, thus I discovered the fact about minimal required pressure, all this before computers and reading about it on violinist.com, and long before I heard the MVP guy and the Professor talk about it.

Apr 11, 2020 - 11:34:45 AM

1489 posts since 4/6/2014

The other thing i heard from trained violinists was "An explosive lift off of the string" being more important than putting the finger down. What is that about ? Probably the penny will drop in a few more years (hopefully), Like the "Bowing from the shoulder" thing....

Edited by - pete_fiddle on 04/11/2020 11:35:32

Apr 11, 2020 - 3:57:38 PM
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2262 posts since 8/23/2008

quote:
Originally posted by pete_fiddle

 "An explosive lift off of the string" being more important than putting the finger down. 


The training of the fingers against gravity, it's easier to put fingers down than lift them up, especially when pressing too firmly.

I just remembered where I first heard about the 'light finger pressure thingy', it was from Stephan Grappelli in the book 'Jazz Violin' by Matt Glaser. 

Apr 12, 2020 - 1:54:47 AM

1489 posts since 4/6/2014

Yep that's it Henry, I'll give that Grappelli, Glaser interview another read as well.

i think the complete left hand exercise i was shown, was to let all four fingers fall at once, by gravity onto a single string, without pressing the string down at all, then explosively lift each finger ('individually'  leaving all other fingers on the string), then let it fall back onto the string by gravity. The 3rd finger is particularly difficult! Ouch!

BTW i saw Grappelli at what must been one of his last concerts, (Brecon Jazz Festival in the 90's). His technique had developed into a study of economy of movement which was magical!!

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