Hand and Finger Positions

One of the keys to playing the fiddle is knowing where to put your fingers. At BGD, I provide both notation and tablature (a numbering system) so that all players will know what note to play and which finger to use.

<a href="https://bluegrassdaddy.com/hand-and-finger-positions/">Hand and Finger Positions</a>


  • That's a great lesson",   being self taught, I never understood much, or really any of this!  Thank you...I can see I've got more work to do!   This should be very helpful to me.  I've been grappling around in the dark.
  • Your music with notes, tabs, chords, and bowings are unique, John. At the group I just joined, some people were passing around very rudimentary song sheets (some hand-written). I'm not going to take in any of your lesson sheets

    Your sheet music has notes, tabs, chords, and bowings. This is great for learning and I appreciate it. I'm eager to look into the hand and finger positions. I was watching Vivian Williams who is still playing. She does some up the neck stuff. Sometimes we need to get into higher p0ositions and you have given us the tools to do it.

    Cricket, you've done some very effective learning on your own. It's nice to have John lay it all out for us, isn't it?
  • Thanks John, I didn't know as much as I thought I did. I am glad you made this video. :)
  • I think I am the one who learned the most while making this post. Lucy Pevensie threw the question out there just before the sky fell, and I realized that I was pretty rusty on my hand positions. I'm not sure if my essay was clear, but I am hoping the videos and diagrams will be very useful so someone!
  • Justine, why wouldn't you take in any of my lesson sheets? I am hurt!  ;)
  • That was so cool, very good read, and I will read it again. Thanks for taking the time to write all the details . The video 2 play along is on my list of play along like I might get addicted to that, really smart stuff John. I haven't taken the video number one lesson yet. I was drawn to read first. Can t wait, love this stuff :O)
    Helps understand and visualize clearer !
    Thank you
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'll be studying the tabs, re-reading and re-watching this one a lot.

    When I met notes higher than B on the E string (especially 1/8 notes coming at full speed), I began to question my chances as even a second violinist in the repertory orchestra. When the conductor said, "Seconds, try playing this section in third position," I nearly cried. Now I'm more hopeful! I'll just have to do a lot of memorization to learn the new note-to-position comparisons. I think it may be time for me to get a "Don't Fret" sticker! :-)

    Thank you again, sooo much!

    By the way, it's great to see everyone back online. :-)
  • It is good to be back! I really hope this helps you, Lucy. It is very handy information!
  • Priceless :O)
  • Thank you so very much, John. This is a great lesson! This is the "book-learnin" stuff that will help me, and also allow me to better help my 7 year old  grandson. We are both beginners, learning side-by-side. I started about 6 or 7 months before he did and am his current mentor, (poor kid).  The more technical stuff I can comprehend, the less it will be like the blind leading the blind.  :)   I really appreciate your time and knowledge you share with  us.                                                A VERY HUGE MAHALO!!!
  • "Justine, why wouldn’t you take in any of my lesson sheets? I am hurt!"

    John, I've been bragging about your lessons and this site but don't want to make copies of your sheet music to pass around because I thought we were only supposed to make copies for ourselves.
  • Thank you, Barbara! I hope you two are having fun with it. Hand positions may not be the most exciting part of fiddling, but they are good to know.

    Justine, thank you for asking about that. If is perfectly fine for you to use the music in your jam group. I only ask the people don't sell them, or do any type of mass reproduction or online distribution. I have quite a few teachers on the site who use the music in their lessons, and that is also perfectly fine.
  • Very helpful! I've played piano for 60 years, the fiddle now for about 4 but haven't ventured into that territory. Thank you for all your hard work for us.
  • You are welcome, Elizabeth! I am planning a whole spate of helpful lessons like that one as part of my BGDU curriculum. :)
  • Discovery: well, for me, anyway.  I don't know if this would be helpful to anybody else.  I have seen somewhere on the forum some talk of "Sawmill Tuning," GDGD or AEAE, both of which I use a lot.  There was a time when I thought that was how fiddles were supposed to be tuned!  Anyway, I also play clawhammer banjo, and there is a "sawmill" tuning used with that for working with so-called modal tunes...but really they are in a minor mode or a minor key...the mixolydian model things, like Old Joe Clark or something won't work there in the banjo sawmill tuning.  But stuff like Cold Frosty Morning, Pretty Polly, etc., those old lonesome, minor-sounding things work great there.  Well they work great on fiddle sawmill too...but after this lesson I got to thinking about fingers, etc., and I think John said when playing in C, people often utilize the second position, which begins on a half space up, I learned from that lesson, if I got that right.  So anyway...I think a big discovery to me, maybe not to anybody else, but I'm just throwing it out for whatever reason, is that if you are tuned in a sawmill fiddle tuning, and you scoot your hand on up to that half space that puts you in second position, but instead of your fingers using the natural spaces, with the gap between index and second fingers, second and ring fingers closed in, and a gap between the pinky being the regular second position fingering in GDAE...well if you change the fingering to even gaps between second and third fingers and small gap at the pinky...in other words, I guess high ring finger and low pinky...you have the equivalent of banjo's sawmill tuning...you're in the perfect setup for some of those minor-model tunes and have easy fingering plus good drones.  If you suddenly have to go to the 7 chord...like for example if the other instruments, let's say playing in G and you are tuned GDGD...if they go to F ( which might make it mixolydian, but sometimes tunes do that but don't stay there), then you just scoot your hand on back into first position to cover those notes.  Maybe this isn't any big revelation to anybody but me, but to me it seems like one of the secrets of the fiddle's fingerboard...at least in sawmill tuning.  Hope that made sense...hard to say!
  • Hi Cricket, that is an excellent observation.

    Beginners here -- this discussion may seem a little out of our range, but give it some thought! I am going to create a short tutorial on scales and modes, and also on chord structures, in order to build a base for playing improv and backup. To become good at improv, a working knowledge of chords and scales is very important.

    Cricket -- one reason the second position works so well out of the lower strings in sawmill tuning is because the strings are already tuned up two half-steps. This means the second position is actually the third position with respect to the higher two strings.

    For simplicity's sake, let's say we are in sawmill tuning AEAE. If I put my hand in the second position on the lower two strings and sharp the third finger, I find I am playing a C major scale, also known as the Ionian mode. This would be like playing the white notes on the piano, starting on the key of C.

    However, in sawmill AEAE, you are usually playing songs in the key of A, not C. If you play the white keys on the piano starting on the key of A, you are not playing an A major scale. You are flatting the 3rd and 7th keys, and this is called the Dorian mode. The Dorian mode is a type of minor scale.

    Therefore: If you are in sawmill tuning and play out of the second position on the lower two strings, you are on the C major scale, but also the A Dorian (minor). In order to continue this scale to the upper two strings, you must now flat the 3rd and 7th notes of the A scale.

    As simply as that, you are suddenly playing hauntingly beautiful songs in A Dorian mode out of sawmill AEAE. Isn't the fiddle wonderful?

    <strong>On a side note:</strong> This is also the reason almost all songs in the key of C major will likely go to A Dorian (minor) at some point -- but I'll save that for my lesson on chord structures! For now, suffice it to say it is a VERY beautiful and natural combination.
  • John, thanks...this would be a great lesson...this is the kind of stuff, if you remember, a while back I was trying to see patterns and connections to ... I was thinking imagine the fingerboard is a bigger place and then fill in the gaps...but this is one if the ideas I was grappling to see.  But there are other things I still grapple with...that I know are secretly hiding in the fingerboard...but cannot grasp...but this is becoming clear....if you know the finger placement patterns, you can shift gears, so to speak, and find new ways they can help you.
  • This lesson helped me to see beyond what I was grappling about with...if I'm allowed to use that many prepositions in a sentence!  Just a nudge in the right direction.  Like I said before, some of these things are simple and make playing easy IF you know about them...otherwise, things seem tougher than they need to be.  I'm all for learning little secrets and how to utilize them.  I've lived my entire life that way: looking for the shortcuts...getting straight to whatever it is, the quickest, easiest way.  That's how I do my gardening now...I've watched how nature does it and try my best to just copy...much easier than a bunch of work.
  • It is good to grapple with something, Cricket -- it keeps the mind exercised! My lesson will only be an introduction to the basics, but I hope it will help.
  • I'm sure it will help!
  • What are the notes for each string like D string is G-G#/Ab-A-A#/Bb-B-G-C#/Db-D-D#/Eb-E-F-F#/Gb-G is their a finger board chart for the D-A-E strings like their is for the D string ?
  • <img src="https://bluegrassdaddy.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/fingerboard.jpg" />
  • Steve, I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you mean!
  • On the finger board illustration it shows G through G for notes is that the same for every string E-A-D-G
  • Oh, sorry! No, that's just for the G string. The D string would start on D, etc. (See the image above that Angela posted.) I don't have a similar diagram for all the strings.

    <img src="https://bluegrassdaddy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/finger-positions2.png" />
  • Elephants Always Do Grow Big Ears...take off the big ears and the sentence is still true plus you have the tuning for an upright bass or an upsidedown fiddle...from there...well I guess that's the only easy part.  But, Steve, have you seen youtubes explaining the CAGE method of guitar chords?  It's kind of an interesting illustration of something guitar players sorta knew, but might have never seen the whole picture of at one time...sort of the visual cascade of one chord morphing into another.  Why I bring this up, I have no idea...but I understand it on the guitar...and I keep thinking there is something like this going on along the fiddle neck, but hard to grasp at one time.
  • Sorry...CAGED, not CAGE...I can't type!
  • Steve:  Check out the following youtube.



  • Thanks everyone I think I got it . Click on the image and tell me have I got it figured out or not ?
  • YES! Great work, Steve.
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