Introduction to left hand finger movements

It would be cumbersome to rely only on anatomical terms of motion to describe all the ways we can move our fingers to play an instrument. Instead, it would be more useful to describe the ways we can move our fingers in relation to the fingerboard.

Dounis categorizes the finger movements into four groups[1]:

1. Vertical

Vertical movement is the falling or dropping movement of the fingers: trill.

— D. C. Dounis

The vertical movement of the fingers is primarily based on the flexion and extension of the metacarpophalangeal joints. In other words, the lifting and dropping motions should feel like it comes from the knuckles. The fingers should feel elastic and spring-like.

2. Horizontal

Horizontal movement is the sliding or side movement of the fingers: stretch, chromatic passages.

— D. C. Dounis

We should also add the term extensions. This will be especially relevant in cello playing.

3. Left-hand pizzicato

The pizzicato is produced by an almost lateral movement of the fingers from left to right. To produce a clear and ringing sound, great strength should be concentrated at the finger tips.

— D. C. Dounis

On the cello, the fingers move from the right to left.

4. Chord-playing

There are two fundamental “settings” of the left hand fingers which we will name the “easy” and the “difficult.” The “easy setting” is when the first finger stops a note on a lower string while the others are placed on higher strings. The “difficult setting” is exactly the opposite; first finger on a higher string, other fingers on lower strings…Chords of three and four notes use both “settings,” alternately or simultaneously.

— D. C. Dounis


  1. Carl Flesch has a similar idea in his book Urstudien. ↩︎