Developing Speed – Ring Finger is a laggard

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    Hi John and Fiddlers.

    I’ve played violin (and now fiddle) since I was a child so I’m not new to finger exercises, studies, scales etc.  (Completed Grade 9 Toronto Conservatory) and I’m definitely considered an high intermediate player.  However, no matter what I’ve tried through the years, my speed is limited due to the ring finger not liking to work independently.  When I try to do serious work on it by suggested exercises, all that ends up happening is tendinitis.

    I really want to play the “Devil Went Down to Georgia” but it must be played fast.  There is no trouble technically in any way for me to play this except…you guessed it….speed.  My ring finger (especially getting it off the string fast, not on the string fast) is my nemesis!

    Any real helpful ideas out there?

    Thank you,



    Wow, with your background, you probably know more than the rest of us…lol.  Join the club…ring fingers are ghost-fingers…always seeming to rely on somebody else to do all the work.  The only things I can think of is get one of those finger strengthening gadgets they sell for guitarists…I have one from all my guitar playing days…might strengthen, each finger individually, but it doesn’t really address the problem of independence…I feel I have strong fingers, but the independence isn’t always there.  The only other thing I can think of is what a Bluegrass Fiddler from the band I was in for a couple of years said…she told me you really need your wrist popping up away from the neck…like so much that your elbow creates enough space that you could easily push the bow between your left elbow and your instrument…so that the wrist, being perched up high, gives fingers as much independence as they are gonna get.  Instead of crawling along the plane of the fingerboard, they are more dropping down from above. Well, nice theory, but I can’t seem to do it that way.  Dont feel alone…I think it’s a common issue in fiddling…but maybe somebody who has better answers will see this post and have something more helpful.

    Steve SraderSteve Srader

    I am only into about 20 months so a newbie , How ever some of the tunes I really wont to learn my fingers do not wont to cooperate , but as I learn them by heart and use no music sheets , The more often I do the song it continues to improve as my fingers begin to know there way without thinking I am still working a lot of the same tunes and they continue to improve , You can’t force something that has to be done automatic


    Shelagh, I don’t have the answer, but there’s several points to identify.  Do you have a tendency to have the ‘flying finger’ syndrome?  Your fingers only need to lift high enough to clear the string, but sometimes we develop the habit of raising them way too high and that slows everything down.  Also, it is way too common for the strings to be strung too high off the fingerboard.  I don’t have the measurements in hand, but I’ve seen an awful lot of fiddles where the strings are too high off the fingerboard, which means they have to be pressed down farther and that also requires a lot more pressure.  Proper fingerboard setup is critical to fast, smooth playing.  Also, it is very common for players to use way too much finger pressure on the strings.  Often it isn’t even necessary to push the string all the way against the fingerboard to play the note well.  The tendinitis is a red flag that you are using too much pressure, and that will make it impossible to play fast.  Especially if you get elbow tendinitis…that is a sure sign of too much pressure.

    If you are getting your elbow under the fiddle right, and you have it on your shoulder right, and the angles right for your fingers to play on all four strings cleanly, then your ring finger (that’s the one next to the pinky…Right?)  should be the strongest and also one of the fastest fingers on the board, making it the preferred finger for doing trills.


    Here is a link to a video that addresses what Rodger is saying about lifting the fingers too high. Around the 3:30 mark on the video is an exercise that may help.  There are also other exercises listed to gain speed.

    I am guilty of lifting my fingers too high off the fret board and using more pressure than I need when placing my finger on a note.

    Also I’m going to take Rodger’s advice and have a luthier check the height of my strings relative to the finger board.

    Hope this information is useful.


    I found my string height gauge.  At the end of the fingerboard, the G string is 4 mm, and the E string is 2.5.  It’s easy to measure this and see if your close.  Some cheap fiddles that didn’t have a good setup will be way out of this range. The reason for the different heights is that the lower strings vibrate much wider than the higher strings and the height has to be set so they don’t touch the fingerboard board when vibrating.  Some factories set the strings high on purpose so the string notches in the bridge can deepen some without getting in trouble with the strings lowering too far.  But it seems rare to ever see a fiddle with the strings actually too low…although they sure are smooth to play.

    Kenny’s advise of having a luthier check your setup is always good advice, because there’s many things that need maintenance and in time go off, such as bridge & nut issues, pegs turning smoothly, fingerboard grooving, warping, plates coming unglued, etc.  There a million fiddles with a plate seam coming unglued.  You can tap the plate edge with a finger or knuckle, just over the rib and learn to hear the hollow sound where the glue seam is separated.  I guess you learn to be a fiddle psychiatrist when you can diagnose a fiddle coming unglued.

    Steve SraderSteve Srader

    Talking Strings Steel strings can be set closer to the finger board , The closer the easier to play with less pressure but not as much volume , A lot of strings like gut will vibrate to much to be lowered that much that is why blue grass and country artist prefer steel strings  ? I am using Helicore steel strings G string is 3.25 mm  and E string is at 2.25 mm , Very easy to play and they do not vibrate enough to touch the finger board when playing . I think I could even get away with the E string at 2 mm .


    That’s a great observation Steve.  Must be a big reason why fiddlers like steel strings. With that low a setup it would play smooth & easy …& make fast playing easier.  I use synthetic and the G string has a huge range of vibration.

    I have an electric acoustic fiddle I recently got and it came with a too high setup.  It’s not a lot higher, but it seriously affects play ability.

    Steve SraderSteve Srader

    Rodger thanks to the internet I have learned a lot about fiddle setup , To begin with , my Mom gave me my Dads old fiddle and it was in pieces , So I had to research and put it back together then I bought three more fiddles and each of them needed the strings lowered to suite my needs , I bought everything I needed to redo and make new bridges with , so I experimented a lot and found my happy setup ! You don’t  have to exert pressure in 1st position to get a good sound now 2nd and third position a little more pressure is needed !

    John (BGD)John (BGD)

    Wow everyone, there is some great advice in here! Thanks, Shelagh, for a great question.

    Economy of motion is key when it comes to playing fast. This means keeping your fingers low to the fingerboard, but also leaving the fingers on the fingerboard when they don’t need to be lifted.


    Kenny…I have watched that FiddleHed video before and have found it very helpful. Another source for exercises that I have found helpful are from Ed Perlman on his blog at

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