Fiddling and the Pinkie Finger
Pinkie finger fiddling lets you stretch beyond your limits, if you have avoided the pinkie. And I’ve met serious music violinists who are pinkie avoiders. It forces you to do work-arounds in playing music that are a little cumbersome.
My attitude towards this little finger changed when I began fiddling. I heard how fiddlers use the pinkie to drone with the next higher open string than the one the pinkie is on. Also I noticed how Sally Gooden required anchoring the pinkie on the D string while noting the A string with the open string and the first and second fingers. It’s “that sound” for Sally Gooden.
The first step on conquering a reluctant pinkie is the drone with the adjacent open string. When I first got into this I would spend some time every practice just playing a shuffle on the two strings. I would slide the pinkie up into the in tune position every other beat, on the long down bow. That was my drill. At first it became tiring very soon. The more I did it, the easier it got.
Building Pinkie Strength
You are developing strength when you do an exercise like this. I have shown this to almost every student I’ve had. I don’t know if any of them have done it. I see no evidence.
Of course, as a teacher it’s my job to hold them accountable. At least until they can hold themselves accountable. Holding yourself accountable is a big step in growing up.
A demonstration of incredible pinkie strength was given by Yo Yo Ma in his performance of the Dvorak cello concerto, as I saw it on TV. He got to an especially dramatic place in the concerto and went up the neck for a high note that was very important. He landed on the note squarely with his pinkie, and no help from any other finger. Then, gave maximum vibrato, just to put icing on the cake. Whoa!
After I saw that, I did not hold back from using the pinkie on any important note. It can surprise you with its singular power.
Pinkie Finger Slides
In an earlier post I mentioned a slide up and down to create a bluesy moan in Faded Love. I do that with the 4th finger. I have a tab chart for this. If you would like, I will send you a pdf file.
The way a fiddler does the fourth finger open string unison is different from how a violinist does it. And violinists are required by their concertos, sonatas, and even orchestral parts to hit a unison with the pinkie and the open string adjacent. They are expected to just nail it. Period. If it’s a little off, an instant adjustment is made.
Fiddlers, on the other hand…well, it’s really the same hand, isn’t it? Fiddlers will typically slide up to the unison. It’s easier to get that way and it also sounds more like fiddling.
In just playing notes the pinkie comes into play when we do not want to cross strings to get a note. The general rule is that if the note before the fourth finger note and the note after are on the same string, use the pinkie instead of crossing to the open string and back. That’s a classical violin rule, but it can apply to fiddle music as well.
The thing is, with fiddling sometimes you want the extra resonance of the open string. So you ignore the rule and play the open string. But, if you are choosing the open string because you fear the pinkie….Not good.
Pinkie Finger Ornaments
Also in Irish ornaments and Texas triplets, the pinkie will furnish opportunities for embellishments if brought into action. As a grace note to either the third finger or second, you will find it handy, (Pun Fully Intended).
In Florida Blues, especially the way Vassar played it, there is a mournful slide from about the high D in third position of the E string down to the first finger on the E. And it includes a nifty little slide up with the first finger. It’s a favorite lick for me and I always anticipate it with glee when I’m going to play this tune.
Finally we have the opportunity for double stops using the pinkie. For thirds, you would pair the fourth finger on the lower string with the second finger on the higher string. Similarly, you could get the interval of a fourth by pairing the pinkie with the third finger on the higher string. That’s a toughie.
Sometimes when I go for that one it’s out of tune in a cringe-worthy way. To the wood shed, I must go. And there are sixths to play sometimes with the fourth finger on the higher string and the third finger on the lower. And, one more, the fourth finger on the hinger string with the second finger on a lower string for a very rakish sounding seventh, usually a minor seventh.
The pinkie finger has a lot to offer a fiddler who has no fear of the pinkie.
As I come to the end of what I have to say now, I see that I wrote about this some time back. It’s different enough for me to leave it in place at Pinkie Finger fiddling Classic.