Once you have learnt to play open strings with a clear and smooth intonation, you are ready to start playing notes with your finger.
Most beginner level pieces play in what is called the ‘first position’.
What are positions?
You play notes on a violin string by cutting off the vibrating length of the string using your fingers. Practically, you can play about 13 notes on each violin string – technically it’s infinite but realistically you can play about 13 notes. Any violin fingering chart will show you the notes you can play on each string. But you only have 5 fingers. And the thumb is on the other side, supporting, so only 4 fingers.
Although you can just use one single finger to play each and every note on the violin, for convenience and speed, we use what are called positions. A ‘position’ is simply the placement of your left hand holding the violin neck. When you hold the violin neck such that your index finger and thumb are at almost the end of the finger board, you are holding the ‘first position’. If you slide up your left hand till your index finger and thumb are at around the middle of the finger board (Index finger at 5th note on the string, to be exact), you reach the ‘third position’. In case you’re wondering, 2nd position is when you slide up to the 3rd note. Let’s not get deeper into positions and shifting, for the purpose of this article is to teach the first position.
The First Position
First position is simply holding your left hand at the very end of the finger board. You can play the first 8 notes of each string in this position – including the one open string note where you don’t use any fingers. For example, in first position, on the A string, ‘A’ is the open string note. The index finger plays the first two notes on that string – namely A# and B. The middle finger plays the next two notes – C and C#. The ring finger plays the next two notes – D and D#. Finally the little finger plays one note – E. Note that these are only suggestions – for example you can choose to play D# using your little finger if you prefer.
The first position is the only one you might need as a beginner and you can play quite a large number of pieces in this position.
Practicing First Position Playing
If you’re just getting started with playing the violin, a good starting point to learn first finger position is to practice playing the D major scale. You play on the middle two strings – the D string and the A string, to begin with, and then you can expand to play all four strings.
D Major Scale
Audio (90 BPM)
First Position, Using only D string and A string
Refer the fingering chart below, make note of the finger positions roughly and play in first position. Listen to the audio each time after playing to reinforce precise fingering and ear training. Another (optional) thing you can do is keep your electronic tuner in front of you and make sure you hit the correct notes.
Finger Positions for playing D-Major Scale
- Start by playing D on the open string, use your first finger to play E, second finger to play F♯, and place the third finger close next to F# to play G.
- Do not remove your fingers after you play a note. When you play F# after E, keep the fore finger on E and ‘add’ your middle finger in position to play F#. Again, without removing those two fingers, ‘add’ your third (ring-finger) finger in position to play G.
- After playing the 4 notes on D string, lift up all fingers and then continue the same way on A string to finish the first part.
- At this point, three fingers will be in position on the A string. Remove one by on in the reverse order to play the second line. That is, lift up only the ring finger to play C♯, then lift up the middle finger to play B, then lift up the fore finger to play A on open string.
- Place all 3 fingers back on the D string, in correct positions to play G. And lift up fingers one by one till you finish playing D on open string.