First Position Fingering

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.

Playing for the First Time

Once you have got down how to hold your violin and bow, you have got your violin tuned (or have it tuned by someone else), and you have applied rosin to your bow, you are ready to start playing.

Self-Learning Recommendation

If you are just starting out playing the violin and you have decided to teach it to yourself rather than have a teacher, you have two options – one is to use a fingering sticker, another is to use a digital tuner (either an electronic device, or a mobile app).

My opinion is that, the digital tuner is a way better option than fingering stickers. Because it does what you are supposed to learn. You need to hear the sound coming from your violin and judge whether it’s the right note. But as a beginner there’s little chance that you can recognize notes by yourself. If you had a teacher, they would tell you whether you need to move your finger up or down based on hearing your sound. The digital tuner will do exactly this. Make sure you get a chromatic tuner which can recognize all notes. Turn on the chromatic tuner and put it on your music stand where you can see it prominently, without straining or having to turn your head. Now as you play, the tuner will try to identify the closest note and you can find out from it whether you are playing accurately.

Play on Open Strings

First, get the basic bow stroke right. Hold the violin in position, and let the violin neck rest between your thumb and forefinger (but not touching the web between those fingers). Place the bottom of the bow on the A string. By bottom I mean about an inch above where your index finger is touching the bow on the wood. Do not place anything other than the bow hairs on the strings. Not the frog, not the hard tip of the bow. The ‘range-of-play’ of the violin bow, is approximately an inch from where the bow hair starts on the tip, and an inch before where your index finger is (while holding the bow in playing position).

So, place the bottom of the bow on the A string and draw it downwards while making a smooth sound, till you reach the top (an inch from where the bow hair starts at the tip). This is called a ‘down-bow’ or bowing downwards. Without removing the bow from the string, draw it upwards again, making a smooth sound, till you reach back to the starting position. This is called an ‘up-bow’ or bowing upwards. The sound has to be smooth and clear.

Things to Take Note of

There are a lot of nuances and details to bowing but as a beginner, these are the first things you should watch out for –

1. Wrist Action

Note as you draw the bow, your bow holding hand rotates at the wrist. When your wrist moves away from the violin, it has to turn anti-clockwise. And when it moves closer to the violin, it has to turn clockwise. This rotation has to happen to keep the bow straight. You don’t have to consciously do this but it’s important that you keep your wrist relaxed so that this happens. If you keep your wrist tight, you will prevent this rotation and in-turn, the bow-to-string angle will change as you draw, creating bad sound. Keep the wrist loose and relaxed.

2. Maintain Draw Straightness

As you draw the bow across, it should be a clean straight draw, fairly parallel to the bridge. You have to minimize movement ‘along’ the string. Imagine a thick dot is there on the string, roughly in the middle between the bridge and where the fingerboard starts. Your bow should travel all along without slipping above or below this dot.

3. Bow Pressure

If you put too much pressure on the bow you will make a scratchy sound instead of the smooth violin tone you expect. Too little pressure will make incomplete, sliding sounds. The weight of the bow, and any small weight added by your forefinger is enough to make a nice sound. Don’t add more pressure consciously.

4. Bow Speed

Draw with a moderate, uniform speed. And maintain the same speed from start to end of your bow stroke. To begin with, make each stroke about 1 second long. Try to be accurate and uniform. Every up-bow and down-bow should take the same length of time. Once you are comfortable with this, you can speed up slightly or slow down slightly. Both slow bowing and fast bowing are important.

There are way too many bowing techniques and it would be simply overwhelming to read about as a beginner. But the above points are the most important for beginners.


  1. Patiently practice till you get a smooth clear sound while bowing. Be mindful of how you are holding the violin, and your posture.
  2. Repeat the bowing on all strings. Play a few strokes on the G string, some on the D string, then A and then E.
  3. Practice switching strings. That is, do a down-bow on the E string, then without removing the bow off the string, switch to the A string, and proceed with the up-bow. Then again, without removing the bow off the string, switch to the D string and proceed with the down-bow. Then finally finish with and up-bow on the G string. Then come back to start from there – down-bow on the G string, up-bow on the D string, down-bow on the A string and finally up-bow on the E string. Repeat till you are comfortable doing this. Note that your right-arm has to move up as you go from E to G, and come down as you go from G to E.

Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Tuning Your Violin

‘Tuning’ the violin (or any musical instrument) means to make sure the instrument is playing the right sounds for the right notes. For example plucking the G string on the violin can sound like anything but you need it to sound the G note (technically and commonly, a 196 Hz sound).

What frequency the string vibrates in, or in other words, what note the string sounds like, is determined by two things, one is the length of the string and another is the tension in the string (means how tight the string is). We control both these things to play the violin. What we actually do was we place the fingers on the fingerboard, is quickly change the vibrating length of the string. As you move your finger upwards along the fingerboard, you’re actually restricting the vibrating part of the string shorter and shorter – making the sound higher and higher. But before we are able to do that, we should fix the correct tension (or tightness) in the string. Fixing the tension in the string is what we call ‘tuning’ a violin.

How is Tuning Done?

All violins have tuning pegs and many have fine-tuners. As a beginner, you will be using the tuning pegs to tune approximately, and then use the fine-tuners to accurately match the tone you need. As you advance with time, your ears will improve and so will your ability to use only the tuning pegs to tune your violin – at which point you might include violins without any fine tuners to your choice of violins. The basic tuning action is this – tighten or loosen the string using the tuning peg a little bit and then pluck the string or play with the bow to check the sound. Adjust the peg and check the sound again and again until it’s almost the note you wish to hear (G, D, A or E) based on which string you’re tuning. Then do the same adjust-check-repeat using the fine tuners until the sound is accurately the note for that string.

You can turn the pegs and fine tuners, but how do you check? How do you know the string is tuned to whatever note it should be playing ? There are 3 ways to do this as listed below. You can start with the first option (electronic devices), then advance to the second one (using your ears). The third option is just a luxury – you can learn it if you want or you might simply acquire it automatically as you become an advanced player.

1. Using Electronic Devices

This is the simplest way for beginners to tune. Use an electronic tuner or one of the several mobile apps available for your smart phone. How this works is you turn on the tuner (or your app) and then play sounds on your violin, and the device checks and shows you how close you are to the actual note. These tools are designed to ‘hear’ the incoming frequency and compare it to reference frequency of the note you are trying to tune to.

2. Using Your Ears

Use another instrument – a little keyboard, a mobile app / website that can play note sounds or simply record a clear sample sound on your smartphone for reference. Play the note, and tune your violin by checking if the sound from your device and your violin sound the same. It’s not that difficult as some beginning students feel. It is not easy to miss the resonance when the two sounds match. You’ll know it clearly when the sounds are same. Set aside time to do this in your daily practice exercise. Not only will you be able to tune without electronic help, you will also improve your hearing abilities by doing this regularly. Tuning your instrument is like ear training 101.

3. From Sensing the Note

You will need perfect pitch for this – the ability to simply hear a sound and judge what frequency/note it is. Instead of using your ears for a reference note, you simply know by heart which note you’re hearing – by practice or memorization or simply having heard the notes so many times. Don’t worry much about this third option – if you can do this, you’re probably at an advanced level and won’t be reading this article anyway.

Other Tips

  1. If you’re tuning your violin for the first time, or the strings are too loose and out of tune, you might want to adjust the 4 strings evenly. Because if you tune one string, when the others are lax, by the time you finish tuning other strings, the tension in the first string would have changed. So bring all the strings to approximately the same tension (and corresponding note) and then finish tuning one by one.
  2. Be patient and very careful. Tuning the violin is when most people break their strings. Don’t try to hurry up and turn the tuning pegs too hard. Make tiny adjustments, listen and repeat.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with having fine tuners. You can become a virtuoso in future and still use a violin with all 4 fine tuners. Don’t worry about people arguing whether it’s good or bad to have fine tuners. The difference is only indirect and not even noticeable for most audience. On the other hand, fine tuners make the tuning process much quicker and easier. I find violins with fine tuners more encouraging for practice.
  4. Do not ignore tuning. For a lot of students, their teacher just tunes the violin every time they are in class and the students usually don’t even think about tuning the instrument themselves till they are more advanced. I suggest you don’t do this. Treat tuning as a fundamental requirement to start learning your violin.

Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

Holding the Violin

There are so many texts and almost every beginner violin book begins with a short set of instructions with some photos on how to hold the violin. So I suppose this article is very redundant, but still this is a site to learn and practice the violin and it will not be complete without this. If you’re having a teacher, they would have taught you how to hold the violin. But if you’re trying to learn by yourself, I’d say this – don’t spend too much time and overthink this. That’s what self learners tend to do a lot of time they assume there’s some perfect position which makes it completely comfortable to hold the violin, and get frustrated that they’re not finding that sweet spot. There’s not. Playing the violin does tend to strain your neck, shoulders and hands, atleast in the beginning. Sometimes your back and fingers too. There’s only so much that can be communicated with words. You will find your sweet spot as you progress playing the violin – by making small adjustments that make you feel more and more comfortable as you go along through the days.

Holding the Violin – The Shoulder and The Jaw

My first advice is – use a chin rest and a shoulder rest. They make it way more comfortable and easier to hold the violin. Don’t debate about using them. If you are in a rare situation where one of them actually inconveniences you, debate about not using them. Otherwise, use the chin rest and a shoulder rest. Put the violin slightly pressed against your neck and rest your jaw on the chin rest. I find a center chin-rest suits short players and a side chin-rest suits others. A tall player might need some padding to avoid bending the neck too much. The violin will hold fine with just the natural weight of your head – you don’t have to press and hold it with force. It will feel doubtful when you’re just starting. It’s supposed to. Because the hold of the violin is not fixed rigidly. Your neck, shoulder and left hand adjust in intricate ways as required when you’re playing. Just be confident that things will fall into place after a few days of practice.

Holding the Violin – The Left Hand

Rest the neck of the violin between the first knuckle of the thumb and the third knuckle of the index finger. Don’t clutch it. Don’t grip it. Just rest on it. Remember that as you advance in playing, you should be able to move your hand up and down the neck of the violin, for shifting to higher positions. If you grip the violin’s neck or you have too much contact supporting the violin’s neck, it’ll be uncomfortable to shift. Some weight of the violin will be supported by the left hand but not as much to restrict shifting your hand up and down.

Holding the Bow

Playing violin requires dexterity of both hands and the fingers of both hands. Holding the bow requires just as much attention as holding the violin itself. The proper way is to hold the bow between the tip of the thumb and the middle part of the middle finger, and then rest the index finger and ring finger naturally on the bow. Usually, the first knuckle of these fingers contact the bow – but not strictly – don’t try to force it. Rest the tip of the little finger on top of the bow. It works like this – the hold between the thumb tip and middle finger is basic hold on the bow, the other fingers work subtly on positioning the bow and to differentiate the pressure as you play. But this happens automatically. You wish to play louder, your fingers will adjust automatically. Don’t worry about it. It’ll happen.

Shoulder Rest

Although there once was a time very long ago, when people played the violin without chin rests or shoulder rests, it’s not really a good idea in the current times. Unless you have a rare structure that makes it easier for you to play without them, it’s better to use a chin rest and shoulder rest. That way, it will be easier for you to hold the violin comfortably and focus on what actually matters – the sound that comes out of your violin. I’ve read some articles on the internet that talk about the impact of shoulder rests on the sound quality. Ignore them for now. Several successful violinists today take advantage of chin rests and shoulder rests. If you’re still in doubt, just watch some videos of popular violinists on YouTube to know how common it is to use a shoulder rest.


Standing is best, but if you’re sitting, sit on a stool. Chairs with backs aren’t suitable for playing violin. The most important things are that your back isn’t hunching and you won’t accidentally hit on something as you pull your bow back and forth on the violin. Put your music stand in front of you and adjust it’s height such that you don’t have to depend on your neck to look up or down on it. You’ll need your neck for playing the violin and won’t always have the freedom to move your head as you like. Wear good clothing even if you’re simply practicing at home. Whether you’re wearing a shirt or a t-shirt, whether it has thick collars or the violin is in contact with your skin – things like this matter. If you practice all the time wearing a collarless t-shirt and suddenly have to play wearing a suit – you’ll be uncomfortable.

Before You Start

Internet is a treasure. There are countless videos explaining how to hold a violin. Search for ‘how to hold a violin’ and watch at least five or six such videos and just let those different perspectives sink in. Then watch the performances of some acclaimed players – pay attention and observe how they hold the violin, and how they lift up their violin and put it in it’s position. Do this for a few days and your body will find it’s own way to be comfortable while playing.

Your posture, the way you hold the violin, the clothes you’re most comfortable in while playing – all these are unique to you. Have patience and let things fall in place. Don’t think too much – let it come naturally. Just be mindful of what you learn everyday and let your body adapt by itself. Remember that it’s a frustrating journey in the initial few days until all this is behind you and your only problems are those tricky fingerings and playing in tune.


  • Watch atleast 5 videos on the internet that teach you how to hold the violin – try to imitate what each video explains.
  • Watch atleast 5 accomplished players performing on the internet and observe carefully how they hold the violin and the bow.
  • Hold the violin properly and move your left hand up and down the finger board – as if you’re playing. The neck of the violin should not touch the web between your thumb and forefinger. Don’t grip the violin’s neck. Be comfortable with holding the violin and moving your left hand.
  • Hold the bow properly and place it on the strings. The bow should rest on one of the strings, centered between the bridge of the violin and the finger board. Lift up and bring the bow down. Then keep it back on a different string this time. Observe how different it is to place the bow on the different strings. Repeat with different points of the bow touching on different strings.