teaching shifting and playing in positions

June 1, 2017, 9:11 AM · Hello,
I would like to ask for feed back about the following: I teach private lessons in public schools. Students start violin in 6th grade and by the end of the year are taught shifting to third position. Physically they are (just) able to, but they have hardly a clue about key signatures, and their finger patterns at that point, making playing in third position really tough.
For instance: questions like: "oh this is a "low 2" for c natural, so is this a natural as well?" (playing Bb on g string.....) I am running into this issue often: kids can play the notes, but do not understand the context or reason why their fingers make a certain pattern, and how they relate to each other. I am teaching as much as I can in half an hour once a week. I have used Whistler volume III, Expressive Techniques For Orchestra, (shifting chapters) and Muller Rusch bk 3 so far.
Many books teach shifting by finger pattern per string. I like it better to teach by key signature.
The books are either way too thorough (for orchestra setting) or too condensed. I wish I could have kids work through Whistler completely, but there is just no time for it.
Any suggestion for literature, practicing materials, methods to teach shifting and playing on positions is very welcome.
Thank you!

Replies (6)

June 1, 2017, 9:27 AM · Kudos for doing a very tough job. Perhaps you could direct students to online materials to complement your limited in-class teaching. Check out professorV on YouTube, and violinmasterclass.com. Hope this helps.
June 1, 2017, 10:01 AM · How many classes a week do you teach, and how many students total in a week?
June 1, 2017, 10:29 AM · Perhaps these would help? Fairly basic overview of scales, intervals, etc. w/ examples


June 1, 2017, 10:46 AM · My favorite book to teach beginning shifting is Essential Technique for Strings (Essential Elements book 3). It does teach more by finger pattern than by key (mostly 1-2 basic finger patterns) but I think you are asking (or are being asked) too much for students to be able to shift and play in different keys in 3rd+ position after just one year of lessons. I also teach the 2 octave scales in this book, which helps students to understand key signatures and includes a little bit of shifting. The book focuses on 3rd position, with some 2nd and a tiny bit of 4th and 5th position. I think Whistler assumes a very strong background in music reading and key signatures that is unrealistic for 1 year of study for the average kid student (could possibly work for a very motivated student). Most beginning orchestra literature is in the basic keys anyway, assuming a start in D/A major and students will be able to gradually fill in the gaps of their theory/key signature knowledge as they improve, while being able to play the required music.
June 1, 2017, 12:09 PM · Maybe they should have to know key signatures before they learn how to shift. I see know problem with giving them a key signature worksheet along with their practicing. Also, I strongly believe the key to learning to shift effectively is to focus on notes, not finger numbers. For example, G on the D string should not be thought of as 3rd finger in first position and 1st finger in 3rd position. It is G, period, with the hand in a different place.
June 1, 2017, 4:18 PM · I'm not a teacher, and I don't know what would work best in a group setting; but I can tell a little of what worked for me. If I were a teacher, I would prefer, as you do, to teach shifting by key signature. This is how I learned it.

My first studies in position-playing were Harvey Whistler's Introducing the Positions. I just pulled out my old copy of Volume I for positions III and V a few minutes ago to review how the book proceeds. The first six pages, basic exercises in C Major, precede any shifting exercises. Then the author takes up other keys, one at a time, and follows the same pattern for each key -- first basic exercises in position, then shifting.

I started playing violin younger than these kids in your class did. I had started piano as a first instrument at 7 y/o but then switched to violin. I was originally to start in the elementary public school program but ended up going with a private teacher in 1:1 sessions instead.

From basic piano training, probably no more than 6 months, I had already absorbed a good deal of music theory and could read notes and key signatures. So thinking in terms of key was no big deal. No idea what it's like for these kids, though. No idea, too, of how many of them are self-motivated, as opposed to parent-motivated. That can make quite a difference in learning.

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