Pinkie Finger Fiddling
Many fiddlers do not use the pinkie finger when they play the fiddle. Some not at all, others use it very little.
Advanced players use their fourth finger, the pinkie, just like the other fingers. Sometimes they employ it for that whiny droning sound with the adjacent open string. Tammy Murray once described it to me as the “greasy sound.”
If you have the book, 43 fiddle Tunes in Tab, you will see this technique introduced with the tune and tab chart for “Cripple Creek.”
I’ve found in my studio teaching that it’s too soon to start this pinkie technique as early in the book as I have it featured. Usually I come back to it after about ten tunes.
Beginners can, and should, play tune after tune using simple fingering patterns. There are several foundational abilities to learn ahead of the pinkie skill.
The irony is that it’s the hardest finger to use, yet it’s indispensable for certain fiddle techniques. And using the fourth finger in notey tunes speeds up your playing.
Mastering the pinkie gives your fiddling a polish and flexibility you will not gain without it.
Here is a plan of action for learning to use the pinkie.
Beginning Pinkie Violin Drill
If you are at the earliest stage of beginning fiddle, your first goal has to be to use the pinkie finger in a simple scale.
My approach is as follows–
Play an A scale starting from the open A string.
Instead of crossing to the open E on the fifth note of the scale, place your fourth finger
on the A string.
Stretch high enough up the neck to get a good whole step.
Finally, cross to the open E to check the unison pitch.
The order of the fingering, from the open A is 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and open E. Make the fourth finger pitch sound as close to the open E pitch as possible.
After getting somewhere with that drill, here is the other side of the same coin.
Play the open E.
Cross to the A string with the pinkie in place to get the same pitch.
Then, play down the scale 3, 2, 1, 0 to reach the open A.
When I introduce this five note scale pattern to students, the most common challenge is physical, just getting the pinkie in place. You must stretch your finger more than you expect to get the accurate pitch.
You will attain this extension, and enough strength, little by little. Be patient. Keep at it. It will happen. Don’t force the matter and get a strain injury.
Can you imagine telling your boss, “Well, I can’t come in to work today. I strained my pinkie playing the fiddle.”
Intermediate Pinkie Fiddling Skill
When you can execute that five note scale with relative ease, you are ready for the next skill. This is a valuable ability that violinists don’t know how to do. I refer, of course, to the “greasy” sound.
To get this sound you must start with your fourth finger in place a little bit low or flat to the in tune pitch. You are doing this on purpose.
Playing both strings, listen to the clashing whine of the two different pitches. They should be close enough to be the same note. But, your pinkie is playing the note on the A string a little out of tune. (You gotta love that sound.)
Now slide the pinkie up the neck just a little. Get it in tune with the open string. Enjoy the resonance and power of the unison blend of the two strings. That’s fiddling!
When I began fiddling I used to do a move along with the barn dance shuffle. As I went along, I would throw in a power stroke with the slide every four beats:
Ya-di-di, Da-di-di, Da-di-di, Da-Yee-Ah-di-di, Da-di-di, Da-di-di, Da…etc.
Advanced Fiddlers’ Pinkie Skill
The ultimate tune with the pinkie is “Sally Gooden.” This is where you use the fourth finger on the D string as a drone while you play the melody notes on the A string at the same time. Not easy!
There is a similar move in “Flop Eared Mule.” It is the same move only on the D and A strings. When you can do this securely, go on to Sally Gooden using the pinkie to play the drone note on the D.
I must confess that I have seen only very advanced fiddlers play this with any real flair and enjoyment.
Did I mention that it is not easy?
But you can get there by following the Pinkie Pathway to Perfect Fiddling.