Six Pinky Finger Tips For Fiddlers
Hey folks, Here are four tips on how to practice the fourth finger (pinky), and then two tips to help you decide when to use the fourth finger.
- 4th finger plucking
- Use the octave below
- Use the open string
- Practice with pedal patterns
- Use fourth finger for a warmer sound
- Use fourth finger for fast playing on a single string
Let’s get into it…
Fourth finger plucking
Do this on ALL open strings
String crossing, rhythms
Swing right elbow in when plucking.
Use the octave below
E4 is B, so play A1 (also B) as a reference.
A1 is easier to play in tune
Practice A1-1-E4-4The remaining audio snippets are only available to paid users. Sign up for a 14-day free trial subscription here.
Extend this by transposing simply simple tune phrases
Mary: E4-3-L2-3-4-4-4 | A1-0-D3-D0-1-1-1
O Susannah: A3-E0-1-3-3-4-3-1-A3 | D0-1-2-A0-0-1-0-D2-0
These are what I call “practice loops”.
Bonus tip: master 4th finger on the E string first
Use the open string
Typically I encourage students to use drones to tune the notes. So if you’re trying to play A4 (which is E), you would play it with an E drone:
But there’s a simpler way to tune fourth finger notes which doesn’t involve an external audio source. Play the open string to the right. So if you’re tuning A4, alternate between A4 and E0. The open string acts as a reference note to help you play in tune. You can do this on D4 and G4:
Do this on tune phrases, like Danny Boy:
A1-4-3-1-0 | A1-E0-A3-1-0
This is another example of a practice loop, in which you alternate between something easy and something harder. The easy thing is leverage to help you learn the harder thing.
Play double stops with 4th finger for a more advanced practice variation.
These are hard. Only attempt this if you’ve already learned and practiced double stops. Diver deeper into fourth finger double stops in this lesson: Fourth Finger Double Stops
That said, you can use the dissonance to your advantage if you resolve it.
Practice with pedal patterns
A3-0-4-0, (always alternate back to open A)
A3-4-2-4-1-4-0-4 (always alternate back to fourth finger)
More on pedal patterns: Pedal Pattern Exercises I
And now for two tips to help you know when to use fourth…
Use fourth finger for a warmer sound
On Danny Boy, alternate between these two versions of the same phrase:
A1-E0-A3-1-0-D3-1 | A1-4-3-1-0-D3-1
How do they sound different? The A4 note (when played in tune) will sound richer.
Fourth finger also allows you to add vibrato.
Use fourth finger for fast playing on a single string
For certain phrases, it’s faster to use the fourth finger because you don’t have to switch strings. Certain things, like trills, would be impossible to play without fourth finger.
Trills are the foundation for Irish embellishment. Learn more about that here: Irish Fiddle Journeys.
Return to FUNdamentals
Often after we learn something, we think, “Been there, done that. Moving on now…”
But in order to master any craft or skill, you have to keep returning to fundamental skills. Take apart things that you thought were automatic. See if you can improve them by 10%. So if you studied 4th finger awhile back and haven’t practiced it in awhile, simply return to basic exercises like E3-4.
With that in mind, here are some basic lessons on fourth finger for you to review. Make them fun by adding new things you’ve learned: slur patterns, rhythms, sliding, etc.