Touch Typing

April 07, 2010

When I was in high school in the late 1970s I took a touch typing class. We weren't allowed to use erasable typing paper and assignments handed in with more than two errors per page were downgraded severely. By the end of the semester I was able to type about 22 words a minute.

In the thirty odd years since then I have spent considerable time in front of keyboards of one flavor or another interacting with automated systems. My words per minute number has greatly increased but I am not a touch typist. I use the first two fingers of my left hand and the thumb and first two fingers of my right hand to reach about 60 words a minute. I get the job done, but in a manner that would make my high school typing teacher cringe.

It occurs to me that playing a string instrument like the cello has some similarity with touch typing. Ideally one is able to train themselves to quickly and accurately intonate notes without having to watch their fingers. As my teacher puts it, "you have to see with your ear." For the first several months of playing I had two slim pieces of tape across my fingerboard, one for 1st finger and one for 4th finger (notes D-A-E-B and F-C-G-A respectively). At my teachers suggestion I have removed those visual guides now, and I am worried about developing a six-finger typing approach to cello.

No, I can't play cello with only some of my fingers the way I type. But I can develop muscle memory of the wrong finger position for notes. I can develop my ear to become accustomed to a slightly flat F# or a consistently sharp C on the G-string.  Several weeks ago I had a chance to visit a large string instrument store in the Kansas City area and saw in their display case a vinyl fingerboard sticker that had all the fingerings through 4th position. I had just removed the tape from my fingerboard and didn't want to buy a crutch that I hoped I no loner needed.

In hindsight I wish I had bought the vinyl sticker as I could use it for scale practice and take it off for the rest of my practice. It seems to me that the most critical foundation cornerstone I can lay right now is perfect intonation of each note. The hundreds of notes played in a practice session times seven days a week times 52 weeks in a year adds up to tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) repetitions of the action of playing each note. The old axiom about "practice makes perfect" is wrong. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Rather than fret (pun intended) about playing my notes incorrectly, rather than try to watch the tuner as I play a scale to adjust my fingers, I am going to order a fingering sticker for my fingerboard and make good use of it until my ear can truly tell me that my 2nd finger F on the D-string is flat, and hopefully until my 2nd finger just goes to the right place with out adjustment.

As for typing with 5 or 6 fingers, thirty plus years is hard to overcome. I think I'll stick with my unorthodox but effective approach.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.