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Drew Lecher

“GPS” –– 2.2 Shifting

December 17, 2007 at 8:17 AM

How do you think of, view and order the movement?

Plan actions > Accuracy, Fluidity > MASTERY

Your Global Positioning Satellite/Mental Positioning Satellite is all-important.

This is Shifting-Part 2 in a series of blogs dealing with:

1. Left Hand
2. Shifting
3. Right Arm
4. Right Hand
5. Bow

They will be kept under the heading of ”GPS” for those who wish to follow the articles. I hope it is of benefit to you.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the numerous variables — they will free you to maneuver, easily flowing into any setting for the left hand to accomplish the passage.


Everything affects everything.

Intonation is one of the primary areas of focus in all we do. This applies to the intervallic measurements set about for the left hand fingers and arm, and also the contact variables of the Bow Hair to the string — the 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number are brought together in order to accomplish the desired dynamics and character of the music.

The above statement is also true of shifting. The various parts of the arm and hand always work in concert together.

A variety of Shift Types must be "in the hand" of the accomplished string player.

"End-over" or "Old/new" Shift
DEFINITION: At the "end" of the shift ("old" finger), the "new" finger comes "over" and hits the new note.

The most used shift is the "end-over" or "old/new" shift, as it offers a clarity of intonation combined with a beauty and sophistication of phrasing that is suited to many musical styles.

From this the musician will add the "special effects" that are so important for the various idioms and characters used by composers.

(Excerpted from Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… and
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…)


B2 on the Ging to Eb3 on G. (In descending shifts the reverse method will apply.)

1. Keep 3rd finger hovering over the string while shifting with both 1 & 2 on the Ging.

2. 1st finger is light as a feather and 2nd p to mp, hearing and sensing the measure of every micro-millimeter as you slide to D2.

3. At the end of this move the 3rd is to be already over its note poised to land squarely on pitch.

4. Do not play the 3rd finger if the shift is not accurate — master the shift first, or you might fool yourself into thinking it is successful should you happen to luck-out and hit the Eb with an inaccurate measurement of the shift via the missed arrival of the guide fingers.

Be sure to maintain the shape, form and interval of the fingers relative to the key. There are times when a player will decide to have a more open hand as this lends itself to a broader vibrato when appropriate artistically, but when in doubt remain true to the key and therefore the correct Hand Group.

The above example has a very different feel, proportion and balance when shifting the 2nd finger to a Db with 1st arriving on the Cb. This would create the Open Hand Group (all whole steps) and potentially assist in a very broadened style of vibrato with greater depth and amplitude. It could quite logically be used if going to the Eb3 on G followed by Ab2 on the Ding or Eb2 on the Aing.

Often missed in studying and practicing shifts is the thorough practice of the 1st finger in all shifts.

1.) In the original example above — B2 on G to Eb3 on G — the 1st finger must accurately shift to C1 and therefore be in tune with the arrival of the D2 and eventually the Eb3.

2.) The left hand is to continually be in tune during shifts, adjusting as we maneuver to various positions, contracting upwards toward the higher finger for shifts up and expanding downwards from the higher finger for shifts down.

When a change of string is required:

B2 on the Ging to F3 on the Aing.

1. Practice the same above shifts with 1st and 2nd fingers on the Ging and, completing the Knight’s move in chess, move perpendicularly across the strings to the F3 accompanied with the appropriate left arm pendulum action for the string crossing. The 3rd finger must land squarely on the F and not favor the Ding side — the fingers should always be evenly balanced on the given string excepting the necessary adjustments for various interval combinations and hand size.

2. Then alter the Knight’s move by taking the 1st finger (momentarily keeping B2 on G) directly across from A1 on G to B1 on A and shifting up to D1 on A for the arrival of the F3.

3. Release the B2 on G before shifting in order to complete the pendulum move of the left arm for the shift.

4. In the above shift I would not do the equivalent move with 2nd finger, but would play the E2 on the Aing developing greater accuracy and reliability.

We are drawing boxes giving total assurance of location when combined with the diagonal sweeping move — the Bishop — that is part of the shift when simultaneously changing strings. These maneuvers blend into the Bishop’s diagonal move as we finally release the fingers for the finished end-over shift with string crossings involved. The above example necessitates a leap over the Ding and is therefore a bit more challenging than a similar shift to the neighboring string.

It is having 3 points of reference on the compass to accurately determine location.

Open string — another aspect:

The end-over is essentially the shift used via the open string when the fingers are released with the shift and land on the new note and position out of thin air. Of course, we are actually measuring in great detail the distance and touch of the thumb, hand and arm while accomplishing this feat. I give a thorough initial working out of this in Basics V and it should be further elaborated upon, as the player is able to proceed.

This is tremendously helpful for the release and/or lightening of the fingers in shifts. I am not a fan of the “staple” shift — play the note, lighten the finger (which flattens the pitch), slide lightly up and weight down the finger upon arriving on the desired note. This last movement again alters the pitch requiring one to weight down early or adjust accordingly after arriving “on the note.”

A simple and clear example of this would be to play the A harmonic on the Aing hearing how the pitch raises approximately a half tone when depressing the string. The degree of change is affected by the height of the string setting above the fingerboard.

Do lighten for shifts as appropriate for artistic integrity, but take care not to cause false pitches and tentative movement to hinder the beauty of tone and musical flow.

Other shifts exampled in the books:

1. "Connecting" or "Same Finger" Shift.
2. "Into" Shift.
3. "From/into" Shift.
4. "From beneath" or "From under" Shift.
5. “Walking Shifts”

In all of these shifts the timing of departure and arrival combined with inflection of vibrato and weight of the finger can give an enormous variety to the mood and character of the phrase.

Experimentation with attention to the minutest of details will make all the difference as to the musical success of such technical endeavors.

The examples above are simply a hint of the many possibilities available to the artist in their quest for the correct inflection of the phrase. The combination of these shifts can be used to great advantage if not taken to extremes.

Applied correctly they are capable of producing the most beautiful of musical moments.
Conversely, they are capable of totally destroying any musical sensitivity, if misapplied.

Always add rhythms to develop speed, accuracy and agility.

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.

To be continued…


Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

From Tara Shaw
Posted on December 18, 2007 at 8:09 PM
Thank you again for these blogs. Do you have any suggestions for smooth shifting in high positions? I'm struggling with shifting in the uppermost octave of 3-octave scales.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 19, 2007 at 4:17 AM
Ditto what Tara said. Shifting beyond 4th position is still a bit of a struggle as well as a little painful (moving the thumb and hand position during the shift). Especially on a viola! Large upper bouts :)
From Drew Lecher
Posted on December 19, 2007 at 9:17 AM
Tara & Mendy,

Yes. (I am a violinist, but play both instruments.)

Rhythms are always a tremendous help. Let’s begin in the 3rd position — D & G Majors on your respective instruments.

Initially slide the 1st finger very lightly from its note to the destination — say 3rd to 5th and later, 5th to 7th positions.

Having played the 2nd finger before shifting up, return to the 1st finger and use it as your guide and measuring tool. (Tara, look at page 76 #1a and incorporate some slower quasi grace notes in the shifts). Mendy, I hope you can decipher my examples and am using position numbers instead of note names so everything will instantly apply equally to the viola.

Shift from a shorter note to a longer note, similar to an 8th slurred to a Dotted Quarter, but be loose and smooth with the rhythm concentrating on total balance and flow of motion going gradually over the top of the instrument. Watch the “face” (fingernail) and maintain its angle. By the way, a good initial slide for this is the 8va in a moderately slow even rhythm — I do this long before I introduce my students to the 3-8va scales and arpeggios. (8va Slides, pages 22 & 23.)

Do not curve the hand around the shoulder, but rather ascend over the top pivoting from the thumb, which should be under the neck (in a hitch-hiking pose — don’t hitch-hike!) just before the need to rise up and over. Imagine throwing something over your left shoulder with your left hand and slightly to your left side.

As the arm lifts the hand (entering the 4th/5th position range) and the hand and fingers begin their elongation — keep the fingernail’s “face” angle — the 1st finger will naturally pivot further away from the neck. Do not press hard and do not tighten the wrist or arm, just maintain the form of the fingers, hand and arm during the motion.

By then you should be totally supporting the instrument via the thumb and arm with the back of the instrument resting on the collarbone and/or shoulder rest — no gripping. If the instrument wants to fall to the front — stand/sit taller. (Tara, check the posture section in the Terms & Tips section.)

Lift the chest with back straight, ala Heifetz, and lighten any head weight. Do not hunch/round the shoulders or pull them excessively back like a soldier at attention — that is far too extreme. Simply be “at ease” and with an alert and tall posture.

I will have my students lift their face to the heavens, completing the shifts up (as long as the thumb is still securely and freely supporting the instrument). Oh, DO NOT GRIP THAT THUMB AT ANY TIME!

These are called “Headless Shifts,” but keep using the brain:-)

After arriving safe and secure, gently return the jaw to the chin-rest without changing the chest, collarbone and shoulders. Also, do not tilt the posture forward as this will immediately throw the balance off. Move freely around the instrument, not the instrument around you. Although, that will be achievable as you master this choreography — we are dancing on the violin strings after-all.

You must remember to keep the finger(s) well balanced on the string — do not roll toward the lower strings — with the chosen finger weight (vary this for greater flexibility and control in various passages of differing musical character, style and temperament) applied directly toward the fingerboard and not pulling the strings toward your hand.

This is all about the Guide Note/Guide Finger (1 in this case) and as you modify the tempo and vary the speed and rhythms of the shifts and the weight of the finger, your hand will gain greater agility and responsiveness to your every thought.

The finger must not wiggle, twist, collapse or rock & roll:-) When these "Connecting" or "Same Finger" Shifts with 1st finger are accurate then incorporate the sequence of your scale fingering, i.e., 12 shift, 12 shift, 12 shift.

Again, use varied rhythms such as 2 fast and 2 slow with permutations. (Tara, these are in Basics II, pg 12 & 13, under R1-8.)

In down shifts, simply reverse the order by shifting the 1st finger to the new position before dropping the hovering new finger (2, 3 or 4) directly on the string, and its note of course:-)

Have fun!

Hope this is of help. I am also putting this out as a blog so others might read it if interested and having similar questions. Hope you both don’t mind and I trust it is not improper etiquette.

Thank you for your interest —

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