Finger Angles – Slaying Your Intonation Monster

This is going to be a quick post*. This little tweak is one of most useful adjustments you can make to improve your intonation and it’s quite often overlooked. Simply changing the placement of your finger on the string from the tip to the pad will pay huge dividends. This is the magic bullet to dealing with those nasty high and low twos and threes. It’s quick and easy, so let’s get going!

Here’s a basic rule of thumb (finger!) for your finger angles. It’s a little difficult to explain so bear with me. You’ll need your violin/viola for this, as well. Put your second finger down on “F#” on the D string. Put “3” down a half step above F# on G natural. You’ll want your finger to touch the fingerboard on the tip.

Now slide your third finger to the G# by lengthening the finger and flattening out the knuckles ever so slightly. Now you’re slightly more on the pad.

Here’s a little video that shows you how much range of motion you have with the second finger:

Tip to Pad Slide

You still want to retain some curve in the fingers for the sake of relaxation and strength. That’s it! When you place your finger a half step above the finger below it, you’ll be more on the tip. For a whole step, more on the pad. Quick! Say “half step tip – whole step pad” five times! Now you’ll remember it forever. There is an important caveat here: players with long fingers need to be more on the tip, in general. I had one learner who was about 6’3” and he basically had to be on his fingernails on a half step, especially between 1 and 2. Learners with shorter fingers will tend to be more on the pad in general, but the basic sensation of being on the pad or tip will remain the same. This difference is felt most acutely by those with very long fingers.

I’ve had some learners ask exactly where the pad is so let’s clarify. I’m going to try and be as specific as possible with the arrows, but this needs a little tweaking depending upon your finger length,



I find this little heuristic (half step tip – whole step pad) to be insanely useful for the notes that are almost always out of tune. My personal bogeyman is the first C natural above B on the E string.

This note is always sharp. It drives me nuts. Getting the finger that’s playing it on the tip will finally bring you the relief you need. Now to the first C# above B on the G string.

Placing that C# more on the pad will finally get it high enough. Galamian explains this in his book Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching. I’m no Galamian, which is why this is all much more simply stated, but the principle is tried and true.

There are a few ways to practice this:

  • Finger Taps. Do five or ten taps on the tip followed by five or ten taps on the pad.
  • Play just the left hand of your music slowly and pre-decide whether to land on the tip or pad. Be sure to encourage your learners to keep an eagle eye on their fingers. Also, go slowly at first!!! Just a few bars of this for five minutes a day will have you doing this habitually in a short time.

A few suggestions

  • Be certain that the student is using parallel motion to align the fingers over the string
  • At the beginning, it is very helpful to do these exercises guitar style so that the learner can see their hand in action and assess if their fingers are spaced optimally.
  • This is easily turned into a short written exam
  • And it’s great in group settings because it can be done nearly silently.

That’s it! See you next time for:

The Unsung Beauty and Utility of the Two Octave Scale

Parallel Motion

*I’m actually just saying that so that I quit procrastinating and write, so it might be a long post.

Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)

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