Why Carl Fresch’s scale system is mediocre (31.Aug.2017)

We’ve all seen it.

We’ve all used it at some point in our development of violin playing.

Whether that’s for the sake of school exams/auditions or in general learning situations, the simplicity of the whole scales & arpeggios has stunned those who go through them and contributed to a rapid growth in their technical abilities ever since its publication.
Which, of course, was sort of a revolution in some respect.
You grab that thick 150-paged book and place it on the music stand.
You open the book and flip those pages around for the key of your choosing ― D minor.
You look at what’s written above and below the scales & arpeggios and start playing No.5, 6, 7 ,8 ,9 , 10, thinking to yourself “So this is all I need to do? My god, that’s so easy!”


Here’s the problem:

What you’re seeing is usually a single one set of fingerings for each system provided by Fresch himself, and there are MANY other ways to be fingered that you don’t care to experiment.
For instance, with a D minor three-octave scale, you just play the first note at the 3rd position because that’s what’s written ― as if to declare that’s the only way to play it.
But what if you start at the 1st position instead?
Or the 2nd position?
Or even the 4th position?
You’ll very likely have a different outcome since the point at which you shift and cross strings will change altogether.
Sure, some of these fingerings may not be as frequently or commonly applied as the others in real life.
Most concertos written by composers who were violinists themselves or at least knew how to play the violin are very much straightforward in the way the passages fit the traditional fingering.
Otherwise, however, it requires different solutions to work out the passages and the “traditional fingering” simply won’t cut it.
That’s why you MUST be ready to play them with various fingerings should an occasion come forth.
Personally I’ve practised them in all types of fingerings and I have absolutely no problem with any of them.
But I’ve witnessed more students than I can remember who stick to a single type of fingering and then struggle the hell out of them while woking out a difficult passage.
They’ve grown too blind to come up with any other fingering.
And oftentimes, through helping them or working with them you’ll find out where they get the limitation from:

The Fresch fingering!

Yes, it’s orthodox.
Yes, it’s safe.
Yes, it’s logical.
But it’s mediocre at best, lacks variation, and deludes you into thinking that there’s only one way to play a scale or an arpeggio, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Because it is NOT the only way ― Fresch gave the fingering merely as guidance and the rest was left up to your decision.
Stay there for too long, and you’ll be severely limited with options in a number of technically and musically critical situations.
It’s almost like a chef who doesn’t know how to cook eggs other than frying them.
That’s useless.
Our duty as musicians is to determine which type of fingering is most appropriate in terms of the context of the music and technical fluency (hence the absence of any unnecessary accent or interruption) and keep refining your wardrobe on a day-to-day basis.
And yet, the vast majority only seem to look at it from the angle of playing it in tune (if not less).
Remember that there are 3 essential dimensions in musical playing:
  1. pitch
  2. rhythm
  3. sound
(There’s also the 4th dimension which is “ease” or “lack of effort”, but will discuss it when the time comes.)
So how do you work on all of these in a scale & arpeggio exercise?
The answer to the above question comes with both a good news and a bad news.
The good news is that there is an extremely valuable scale book written by Simon Fischer a few years ago under the publication of Peters Edition which gives you a complete A-Z guide through scale & arpeggio exercise in a most organized fashion.
As he explains in the book, the chief purpose of scale practicing is to achieve all three of the dimensions ― good pitch, good rhythm, and good sound. To get to that level of playing, he’ll walk you through various unconventional exercises to help you understand the position of each note to the key and its relationship to the rest of the scale, and build up the scale brick-by-brick, plus showing how to play each exercise in time with metronome marks.
You’ll discover:
  • How to tune each note of the scale
  • Exercise for tone-semitone patterns
  • Exercise for two-octave scales & arpeggios
  • Exercise for three-octave scales & arpeggios
  • Exercise for overlapping the first and fourth fingers
  • Exercise for timing shifts
  • Done-for-you warm-up exercise for left hand’s independent movement
    And so much more
The bad news is that there’s too much to handle while working on scales & arpeggios, so you’ll be forced to consume the bulk of your practice time before getting onto the repertoire or other studies if you don’t specify your focus in the realm of scale practicing.
So instead of trying to do everything at once, you should, for example, work on two-octave major scales & arpeggios on Day 1, two-octave minor scales & arpeggios on Day 2, three-octave major scales & arpeggios on Day 3, three-octave minor scales & arpeggios on Day 4, major & minor 3rds on Day 5, major & minor 6ths on Day 6, then major and minor octaves (and fingered octaves) on Day 7… and so forth.
In this manner, you’ll get to practice these exercises in far less time and make faster improvement. This is you having “effective” practice, not “hard” labor.
Warning: This training book is for intermediate, advanced players and upwards. If you’re a beginner or haven’t completed the earlier studies, this is NOT for you.