Today I wanted to talk to you about spider legs. What do spiders or their legs have to do with A Melodic Minor scale? I hear you ask. Well, next time you see a spider crawling across the table, look at how he moves his legs. Each leg moves effortlessly and purposefully and that is how your left fingers need to move on the strings of your violin.
Let’s take some time to break down why A melodic minor can be so difficult; I’ll show you some of my really helpful jump back finger exercises and before you know it, your fingers will be moving quickly, accurately and really effortlessly along your strings.
Whether you’re just starting out or if you’re not sure why your A melodic minor scale isn’t as fast or accurate as you’d like it to be, it’s important that you can identify any errors in your left hand technique. Let’s look at some of the most common problems that I see when students are having trouble with A melodic minor scale.
Tension In The Left Hand And Wrist:
No matter what we’re playing, the left hand and wrist must always remain loose and flexible. I often refer to the ‘mouse hole’ between your thumb and first finger and there is no exception here; throughout the entire A melodic minor scale, we must ensure that the mouse hole does not close.
Once the left hand or wrist become tense, accuracy of finger placement is difficult leading to intonation which is approximate rather than exact. Students also become frustrated because they cannot move their fingers fast enough to play with the desired speed.
As you play each note of the scale, your other fingers are either in their correct positions or neatly waiting their turn above the fingerboard. Once again, there is no tension in the fingers. Sticking your ‘unused’ fingers up in the air or letting them fall beneath the neck of your violin is not ok. Not only do these errors create tension (and often discomfort), they also lead to slow changes between notes as your fingers need to ‘travel’ a greater distance to reach their required positions.
Wrist Bending Out To The Side:
This one is my pet hate!
It happens commonly as students move their fingers across to the E string from a lower string. Instead of shifting the finger position across to the E string properly, there is a tendency to just lean the wrist out to the left and lie the fingers on the E string from their position on the A or D.
This is SO incorrect. Look at how the mouse hole closes and the fingers aren’t standing up well; you can even see from the picture that my left hand and wrist are tense! This is just SO comfortable and is one of the most common causes of poor intonation, lingering pain in the left hand and wrist and the inability to move your fingers quickly. Even just taking the photos for this post has made my left hand ache!
The Tap Tap Exercises:
A (not G) melodic minor scale is usually the first of the melodics that my students learn. Not only does it allow us to address two examples of what I refer to as Jump Back Fingering, it also involves jump backs that are very achieveable for beginners. I’ve included a video here to help you work through the exercises and apply them to the complete scale. Don’t forget that the techniques addressed here can also be applied to two or three octave melodic minor scales.
The tap tap exercise is one of my favourites to get your fingers jumping back correctly for A melodic minor scale. The second finger tap is probably the easiest, so best to start with that.
- Place your first finger standing up tall on F# (on the E string)
- Now place a high second finger on G# and squash the third finger on top so that it is an A natural
- Whilst leaving your first and third fingers where they are, lift your second finger up and place it squashed on top of the first.
- Lift the second up again and place it back squashed under the third
- Repeat while maintaining a loose and relaxed hand and wrist at all times.
Repeat this with the first finger, only this time your low second finger on G natural remains in it’s place while the first repetitively lifts and jumps from F natural (low first) to F# (high first). Again, be sure to maintain the correct left hand and wrist position. Also ensure that you don’t close the mouse hole!
Playing The Top Tetrachord
The difficult part of A melodic minor scale is the finger pattern in the top tetrachord. The notes we play here include E, F#, G# and A going up and then jump back G natural, jump back F natural and E going back down. Take a good look in the video at how controlled my jump back fingering is and how purposefully my fingers are placed into their high and low positions. If you struggle with this, spend more time on the tap tap exercises. Also be sure to play the top tetrachord with a definite stop between each note; this gives you time to really pause and think about moving your fingers with purpose and acuracy.
Once you’ve completed these exercises to a high standard, you can put them all together and play A melodic minor scale. Do be sure to spend sufficient time working carefully and slowly through the exercises; perhaps use a mirror to ensure that your left hand and wrist position remain relaxed and to admire how independently your left fingers start to move across the strings.
A melodic minor is more difficult than it looks but with some careful attention to basic technique, you’ll be playing with speed and accuracy in no time!
If you have any quesitons about A melodic minor scale or really anything else violin related, please do leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
(founder of myviolinbff.com)