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‘Tuning’ the fingers: the importance of practising in 5ths

How the ability to play in perfect 5ths can help you to hone your position, intonation and vibrato



Professor of violin, Royal Academy of Music, London; artistic director, Cambridge International String Academy; ex-concertmaster of the BBC Symphony, London Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic orchestras


Bradford, UK


Frederick Grinke, Endre Wolf, Henryk Szeryng


Students aged 10+, privately, at conservatoire and in masterclasses worldwide

In his book The Dounis Violin Players’ Daily Dozen, the 20th-century violinist Demetrius Dounis shows two hand positions. Position A (figure 1), with the first finger on the G string and the fourth on the E string, gives a straight line between the hand and the arm; Position B reverses the order of the fingers, as illustrated below (figure 2), so that it is only possible to use the fourth finger effectively without tension if we soften the wrist, to eliminate the stretch. For many years I played using these two positions, which had been taught to me when I was a child. But when I met Ruggiero Ricci, who was a great fan of Dounis, he explained that Dounis was principally a mandolin player. When you play the mandolin, the arm stays straight, the wrist is soft and it is always the hand that dictates the position of the fingers. Similarly, pictures show that great violinists of the past (figure 3) used a straight left arm with a soft wrist, whether in first position or sixth. To reach the higher positions, the arm negotiates the ribs using the natural forward fall of the hand, placing the pads in a natural position.

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About The Strad

We talk to the members of the Belcea Quartet and ask why more young people are turning to period performance. Students of Kató Havas pay tribute to the late violin teacher, and there’s a look at asymmetric instruments. Plus a Mendelssohn Masterclass and Renaud Capuçon’s Life Lessons.